A Travellerspoint blog

August 2009

Being Accommodating

Somewhere to stay in Spain

Spain is not a new country for us. We spent a week in one of the Costas many moons ago (Brava or Blanca, I can’t recall), and weren’t terribly impressed. The place was set up for – and heaving with - Brits, so we didn’t really get much of a feel for the country at all. The highlight of that holiday was a day spent driving through the Pyrenees Mountains, so we knew there were authentic Spanish experiences to be had – the Costa Whatever-It-Was just didn’t provide it, is all.

This time we decided we would do a two-centre stop, trying to limit our time in the popular British tourist spots. First we stayed in Barcelona for a little over a week, and then we headed south towards Seville, where we’d booked an apartment for a month.

One of the problems we have had travelling on a whim has been finding affordable last-minute accommodation. As you may recall from my last post, we’d only decided to come to Spain a couple of days before, so had left it horribly late to find a hotel. Add in the fact that it’s high season, and you can find yourself making a huge hole in your budget. Pete’s mum and dad had generously given him with a Hostelling International card for his birthday, but our experience has been that these places are usually booked solid, so you have to make your reservations well in advance.

This left us with a dilemma: a) pay extortionate prices in the city centre, or b) head for the outskirts and put up with the extra travelling to and from the main tourist spots. We chose option b), as this had worked out wonderfully for us in the past.

We ended up in an area called Sabadell, in northeast of the city. It meant that we had to take a train to get to the centre, which took a little under half an hour, but as we noted at the time, it’s not like we’re in any hurry! The trains in Spain are cheap, fast, frequent and air-conditioned, so the journey was quite pleasurable (especially with a good book or a fully-charged MP3 player!) Also, to make up for the (minor) inconvenience of longer travel times, we ended up in a very affordable 3-star hotel. The rooms were gorgeous, the Wi-Fi was free, they had a bar downstairs, mini-bars in the rooms, and would deliver pizza to you any time of the day or night, even on a Sunday when everything else was closed. What more could we ask for?

The hotel was also conveniently located for bars and cafes (at least one on every corner, it seemed!), there was a supermarket next door, and if you wanted a more serious shopping experience you could walk into Sabadell centre in about 25 minutes.

One other downside to our location was that we were outside of the tourist areas, so the merchants weren’t really used to dealing with English-speaking patrons. We got a few funny looks as we sat and ate our I-dunno-what-I’m-ordering-but-I-hope-it’s-edible lunches outside the cafes ‘cos we so obviously didn’t belong there, but we had few problems making ourselves understood. (Pete is very good at combining sign language with a few words of the local lingo and getting results!)

Our first proper excursion into Barcelona proper confirmed that we had made the right choice. The centre is crowded, noisy and expensive, and we would have ended up paying upscale rates for a downscale room had we chosen to stay there. Our long-distance solution isn’t for everyone - we found that many people criticised our hotel’s location in the online reviews - but it works well for people like us who value peace and quiet over convenience. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes ‘nice’ hotels but can’t afford city centre prices.

So, on to Seville!

Here we decided to do something a bit different and stay put for a month. It was a good move, as the cost of renting an apartment is way cheaper than booking a room in a hotel. (Pete actually worked out that it'd be cheaper to live here permanenntly than go back to New Zealand. Interesting idea, hmmm?)

The apartment itself is lovely (combined bedroom/living area, separate kitchen and bathroom, plus outside terrace area), and in a quiet area of town. I’m going to be lazy and let someone else provide the photos today. Have a look at this website for pictures of the apartment and more information about booking, etc.

The owners (also lovely) live in the apartment downstairs, although they are actually away on holiday themselves at the moment, so we are having noisy parties every night and terrorising the neighbours. (No, we’re not. We’re being good... ish.)

We are situated next door to a monastery, so we do hear bells throughout the day (though thankfully they don’t start at 4 o’clock in the morning or anything silly like that!) For the first couple of weeks the bells were barely audible, but I reckon Quasimodo has moved in recently ‘cos the ringing has become increasingly enthusiastic. I shall have to see if I can see anyone swinging from the ropes and shouting, “The bells! The bells!” (Or “Les cloches! Les cloches!” Well, we are in Spain, after all.)

I shall do a more typical 'out and about' type of entry very soon, complete with pictures.

Until then,

Ding dong from Julie & Pete

Posted by Julie1972 11:21 Archived in Spain Tagged lodging Comments (0)

Sprouts, chocolates, lace and chips with mayonnaise:

Where else could we be, but Belgium?

Well, my computer’s finally fixed (thank you, Pete. Please don’t break it again!), and, after much procrastinating, I have decided it’s high time I caught up with my blog entries.

After Amsterdam we decided to spend a bit of time trudging through the Siberian Wastelands. Actually, that’s a lie: we decided to go to Brussels, which comes a close second to Siberia in terms of temperature. We had howling winds, rainstorms... I’m amazed it didn’t snow!

We went to Belgium on a bizarre whim: Pete and I both really liked the comedy series The New Statesman, the final series of which was set in Brussels. (I wish we could say we had deep and meaningful reasons for travelling to these places, really I do! Maybe I can think of some for my next entry.)

Actually, we were a bit disappointed with the place at first. We expected that the centre of the European Community would have a certain vibrancy about it; in reality the city was dingy and run down, graffiti was everywhere, and many of the buildings needed a good clean. Not what we were expecting, at all!

Of course, one of the wonderful things about new places is their ability to surprise you, just when you least expect it. We were on our way to nowhere in particular, when we turned into the Grote Markt, the central market square in the city. After a morning spent walking down boring, shabby streets, this place was a feast for the eyes! All four sides of the square were surrounded by beautiful medieval buildings. I wish these photos could show just how impressive it all was:

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Pretty-looking buildings on a pretty cloudy day!

It is commonly described as one of the most beautiful town squares in Europe, if not the world (although Pete overheard another tourist remark to his companion, “This is my second favourite square in Europe.” I’d love to know what his first favourite one is!)

As I’ve mentioned previously, having seen many typical tourist attractions in the last five months or so, we are now on the lookout for places to visit that are can be considered unusual in some way. Brussels had a few of these, enough to keep us busy for the two days we were there.

The Comic Strip Museum

I have to confess that a large part of the appeal of this place was that it was indoors. It was blooming cold outside that day, and I think we would have happily gone into The Museum of Watching Paint Dry to escape the weather. As for comic books, the only Belgian cartoon character either of us knew was Tintin. (Incidentally neither of us liked Tintin when we were kids. After comparing notes, we discovered that, in both our households, when Tintin came on, the TV went off!) Happily there was a lot more to it than that. The first part of the display covered the A-Z of comic-book production, which was interesting, and we got to spend a happy half hour watching really old Smurfs cartoons in black and white.

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Pete and a troll. Pete's the one on the left, by the way.

The Atomium

I have only one thing to say about the Atomium: balls. Big metal ones. This weird-looking monument was built for the 1958 Brussels World Fair:

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The Atomium was designed to look like the cell of an iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times.

Once the expo was over, the Belgians decided they liked it and decided to keep it, and now it is one of those tourist attractions like the Eifel Tower, where you get to queue for a silly amount of time so you can get a lift to the top and get a bird’s-eye view of the city. (Though, to be fair, the queue at the Atomium was nowhere near as bad as the one for the Eifel Tower. In Paris we waited for 3½ hours; here it was a little over 30 minutes!)

Miniature Europe

Next door to the Atomium, they’ve built a model village containing replicas of some of the major monuments and landmarks in the EU. Given the lousy weather, we didn’t know if we’d get to see this or not, but, on the day we were due to leave, the weather decided to clear up for about ten minutes; shocked and amazed, the entire city went outside to gawp at the strange round yellow thing in the sky. Having been to Asia and places where sunlight is not a novelty, we passed on the sun worshipping and went to look at some diddy buildings instead:

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Miniatures of the Town Hall in Leuven, and Big Ben in London.

The models are actually very detailed (and some of them cost a fortune to make. The Brussels’ Grand Palace model cost 350,000 Euros!) Pete walks around for a while then says, “Well, that’s saved me the bother of going to any of those places, then.”

Honestly, I can't take him anywhere!

We only had a few days in Brussels, and I think that was more than enough to see the main attractions and get a feel for the place. We aren’t especially keen to return, but we both agree that the Grote Markt will be one of the memorable highlights of our trip.

Leaving Belgium, however, presented another problem. We had only 2.5 days in which to decide on our next destination and book transport and hotels. Quite frankly, this process is more of a pain in the backside than I’d anticipated. Pete and I generally agree on where we want to go next, but sometimes arranging to go there is an effort. (I see now why some people pre-plan their trips and buy round-the-world tickets!)

We needed to head south through Europe towards Spain, and decide that the best way to do this would be via France. Okay, then. I get on the Internet, and after two hours of Google-ing, fail to find information on a single flight or train to Paris, or any other major destination in the country. Pete says, “You’re doing it wrong!” and takes over. He also gets zip (at which point I gleefully tell him he must be doing it wrong, too. Immature? Me? Yup, ‘fraid so.) We come up with a Plan B, and brave the gale-force winds to get to the train station, where the nice man behind the counter also draws a blank. (Note: I resisted the urge to tell him he was doing it wrong as well!) Finally his colleague solves the mystery: France is on strike! Airlines, baggage handlers, air traffic controllers, train drivers and taxi drivers are all striking; the only way we could get there would be to hire a car and drive ourselves.

We decided to bypass the entire country and booked direct flights to Spain, glad that we hadn’t already pre-booked flights to France. (Could you imagine how annoying it would be to have tickets that you couldn’t use?)

The moral of this story: Spur-of-the-moment travel, although tedious, sometimes has its advantages!

Sorry about the delay; I'll try and post again very soon.

From

Julie & Pete

Posted by Julie1972 05:37 Archived in Belgium Comments (1)

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