[Day 5] Off to Seville

Our last day in Barcelona. We were lucky that our airbnb had a late checkout. We left our luggage and headed into the city for the last time. A lot of the places were closed on Sunday and because of this, a lot of cafes had lines out the door. So if you had a place in mind, make sure to make reservations!

We ended up at a Korean style cafe called Bing Bing Cafe and it was pretty legit. They had several bingsu flavors that are authentic to Korea which was pretty rare. We wanted to try some bingsu but we were here for brunch. And their brunch menu was also pretty good. They had several different bowls, smoothies, pancakes, hamburgers, and more. I got their poke bowl and it wasn’t too bad. If you are looking for something with a kick, I would recommend the Benedict Thai.

After our brunch, it was time for us to head to the airport to fly over to our next location, Seville. The check in line was long but we were able to check in online and only needed to tag our bags and send them off. The check in desk lines were long here so please check in online before coming to the airport. After we checked out bags, we headed through security. Weirdly, the line for the security seemed long but moved really fast.

Once we were inside, we headed to one of the lounges to relax before boarding our flight. There were several lounges but we settled in Canudas VIP Lounge. They had a decent food selection, mostly finger foods and snacks, as well as their drink selection. One thing about their drinks were that they were all bottles and you could not take them with you. It was weird to see glass bottles but also felt fancy.

When you are at the lounge, just check the time of your flight gate frequently. The airport is rather large and it might be at the end of the terminal. We had to run at the end and we were practically the last ones on board. But we made it to Seville safely.

We took an Uber to our airbnb and the driver could not get us to the front of the house. He ended up dropping us off a block away and told us which way to walk. So if you plan on bringing a lot of luggage, ask the airbnb if a cab can drop off at the front of the house.

Once we settled in, we started to look for a place to eat. We were pretty close to all the major attractions and had an array of restaurants to choose from. We didn’t want to go too far so we ended up at place called La Bartola. It was a small bar and we were lucky to have gotten the last seats at the bar. And this place was really good! They had an extensive wine list and a full list of tapas. Again, we wanted to try everything so we ordered one of each. They did have several tapas that also had meal size available. One that we really wish we got the meal size was the pork cheek stew. Carrillada Iberica con Parmentier de Patata. This was so good. We definitely need more. Everything here was good and I would recommend it. It is small so make reservation if you would like to try their pork stew!

With the travel, we wanted to be at our best condition the next day, so we decided to relax at home. We bought some snacks and wine from the local store and headed home. Nice day to relax a bit.

[Day 4] Gaudi, Gaudi, and more Gaudi

Today was our grand Gaudi tour. We started the day with a visit to La Sagrada Familia. We had purchased tickets from the official website for Sagrada Familia with Towers and picked the Nativity Facade. One of the reasons we wanted to see the Nativity Facade was that it was completed by Gaudi himself in 1935. And it was really a good thing that we purchased from the official website. I’ll explain in a bit.

We bought morning tickets and the line was pretty short. You have to go through security similar to the airport and they have several lines so it moves quickly. Once inside, you have to get in a separate line to pick up the audio guide. And with the audio guide, you are really left to venture around yourself until the time for the tower rolls around.

And wow. This place is just amazing. The gothic details on the facade are definitely a sight you don’t want to miss! Just standing here, you are facing one the world’s most prominent architecture that is still being built. We spent a lot of time here, carefully listening to the audio guide, learning about Gaudi and his masterpiece. The nativity scene here is decorated with different plants and animals and all was intended by Gaudi himself. Just wow.

And when the time for us to go up to the tower came, we realized that there was no line. At first, we were excited to the first one but saw the line was blocked off! We asked the staff what was going on and they told us that because of high wind, the towers were closed for the day for everyone’s safety. WHAT?! No!!! I was looking forward to going up to the tower but weather was something out of our control. And this is the reason for buying with the official website. They told us that within a month, we should we getting a portion refund for the towers. If you buy with a 3rd party, most of the time, you would not be able to get anything back.

We were sad that we couldn’t go up the towers but we were able to spend more time inside and see the sunlight start shining through the stained glasses and wow. What colors! I would really recommend staying longer to see the colors.

Once we were done with the inside, we came out to the other side and you see a whole new style of detailing. The Passion facade is a bit more bulky and more masculine. The scene here is the Crucifixion of Christ and the feel here is different from the nativity side but still amazing.

After seeing all around, we headed to La Boqueria. During the day time, the market was packed and they had so many different types of foods, from raw materials to cooked meals. While here, we tried all of them. From sandwiches to juices. They were all very good. It isn’t really cheap here so I would suggest that you share the snacks to try different ones together.

Afterward, we headed to Parc Guell. We did not buy tickets in advance since we were not sure what time we would head over but please buy it online. The line gets really long and during busy season, they can even sell out. When you buy tickets, there is a time of entry so make sure you buy the one that works. The staff were very strict on time. We bought our tickets when we arrived and we had about one hour to kill. We were able to look around the free parts of the park beforehand. The free portion of the park is higher up so you could get a good view.

And once our time came around, we were able to go inside and see the park. However, there were lots of construction going on and some parts were even closed off. Even with that, the park was very pretty and interesting. We first started off with Casa del Guarda, the gatekeeper’s house. Inside, they had an exhibition about the park and it was worth a look. The blue colors of the walls were really pretty.

The architecture here is interesting too. There are lots of arches and curves. I really loved their use of mosaic tiles in multiple places, including on the colorful chameleon. He was much smaller than I expected but cute regardless. And once you follow the road up to the top of the park, there is this huge open space and the view of the city from here is spectacular. The tiles on the benches and the backdrop of Barcelona cityscape is just perfect for pictures.

After spending some time here, we wanted to check out more of Gaudi’s work so we headed back to the city. We didn’t know which one we should go into since we didn’t have much time. We had to pick one between Casa Mila and Casa Batlló. They were the same price and they were only 2 blocks from each other. After some deliberation, we decided on Casa Batlló.

Casa Batlló also used lots of colorful stones on the exterior and the sunlight made the building sparkle. Even the roof was colorful. And their audio tour was very interesting. They used AR technology with their audio tour which provided a more interesting walkthrough of the building. When we arrived, the sun had already set and I think it would be better if you visit during the day.

As interesting the exterior is, the interior is also fascinating. Starting from the entrance, the floors, the walls, everything was made with intent. And t he blue tiles on the inside makes it seem like you are outside and they had snow flurries and it really looked as if you were looking into a courtyard. And through the audio tour, I learned that the tiles were placed inside to reflect light into part of the house and I really loved the idea.

After seeing the house, we headed back to Font Màgica de Montjuïc to see the Magic Fountain show. We arrived perfectly for the show at 9:30pm and it was very pretty but cold. The wind was strong this day and the water from the fountain got everyone wet. But the music, color, and splash of water was truly magical. They used different types of music including classical, pop songs, and traditional songs. It was really fun to watch.

The show as quite long so you don’t have to be there at 9:30pm but if you want front row, you should come early. I wouldn’t recommend it since you will get wet and even the view from the back is really good.

We headed to grab dinner at Ciutat Comtal and I highly recommend this place and you 100% should make a reservation. We had a huge party and luckily, they had a table for us. I was recommended this place by a friend and she told me that we have to try their honey cod and I agree! We had several tapa dishes including the honey cod and we ended up ordering more cod. Look for Bacalao al Allioli de Miel. We also tried their gambas, calamari, razor clams, and of course, sangria. They are all very good and the price wasn’t bad at all for the quality of the food.

After our delicious meal, we wanted to end the night on a sweet note so we made our way to a churro spot. Both my brother and I found a same place named Xurreria. It had really good reviews and we were down. What we didn’t know was that the one we picked was an outdoor stall. But do not look down on these stalls. The staff made the churros fresh in front of us. And eventhough it was cold and late, there were several locals who came by for takeout.

What a day!

[Day 3] Full day of City tour

Our first full day in Barcelona together. We were super excited to explore the city. First we headed to Firebug for some delicious brunch. They had variety of cuisines to pick from and also some good brunch drinks. The restaurant was very cozy and the staff were very friendly.

TIP: Most restaurants in Europe are not in any hurry. The staff are slower and they take their time. If you are in a hurry, please let them know.

After our meal, we headed to the Arc de Triomf. The only other Arc I knew was the one in Paris and I was excited to compare the two. The one in Barcelona was smaller in size but quite impressive as well. It’s a reddish terracotta color and it definitely has a presence. The brickwork really stands out and you cannot miss it. It is a gateway into the Ciutadella Park and there were many tourist working through. If you have more time to spend here, I suggest walking through the park.

We decided to skip the park and walked along the path from the Arc towards Santa Maria del Mar. This cathedral was in a residential neighborhood and at first glance, we weren’t sure if we were in the right place. The entrance we saw was the side entrance and did not have any signs. However, once we were inside, we were in awe.

The east end had these impressive pillars and stained glass and we just stood here, taking it all in. There were many student groups on field trips so I knew this was a popular spot. They had a view point that you could climb up but we were ok being at the bottom. We were walking around the cathedral and they started ushering people out. We assumed they might be preparing for a mass.

After leaving Santa Maria del Mar, we decided to walk around the neighborhood. I really liked the multi-purpose buildings were the first floors were shops and the upper floors were residential. Some of the streets were decorated for Christmas.

Following these streets, you will see the Museu Picasso. It was about 20 minute walk and I sort of expected the museum to be on the main street. There were several options for audio tour and I highly recommend the audio tour if you are interested in learning more about Picasso’s life and what and who influenced him.

I had imagined seeing several of Picasso’s artwork including Guernica and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. However, what I did not realize was that both of these paintings were in a different museum! So if you have artwork you are particularly interested in seeing, see where they are and then pick the museum.

After seeing the museum, we headed towards Barcelona Cathedral. On the way, we saw a Valor, a chocolate cafe. He said that this was a famous brand and that we should get churro and hot chocolate here so we took a short break. It was pretty packed but luckily we found a table. The waitress came to the table and we ordered chuuro and hot chocolate. Eating them on the spot was the best!

The chocolate was closer to a rich, dark chocolate and the churros were crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. So good!! And after finishing the churros, we drank the rest of the chocolate and that was good too. Not too sweet.

After a bit of rest, we headed to Barcelona Cathedral. It was even more grand than Santa Maria del Mar. The Gothic architecture was just divine. Again, we were just speechless walking through the Cathedral. This place also had a viewpoint that you could visit and it even had a little gift shop.

Right outside the cathedral was the Fira de Santa Lucia, a Christmas market. It was bustling with tourist and locals and many of the shops were selling handmade nativity scene pieces. Very different from American city’s Christmas market where there are handmade goods that are not exclusive to nativity scenes and foods and more.

Once we were done looking around, we took an Uber to Barcelona Pavilion. My sister-in-law wanted to see it. It wasn’t too far but it also was not walking distance. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when we got there but it was a small house, very simple. Even the inside was very minimalist with only 4 chairs. But the water basin in the front and the back were great features of the house. If you are into modern architecture, you might like to see this.

After seeing the house, I wanted to stay for the water fountain show, the Magic Fountain, but we were all really hungry so we decided to visit again tomorrow and headed to eat!

We went to Bo de Boqueria, a quint restaurant next to La Boqueria. The market was closed but the restaurants around it were all open. Even during the winter, they had outdoor seating available. We ordered several dishes including arros negre paella, jamon, and of course, wine. When we ordered, we weren’t sure if we ordered enough but the portions were good here and with 2 paella, 1 salad, and 4 appetizers, it was enough for the 5 of us. (€85.90)

After the meal, we were stuffed and decided to walk down the street to see where we would end up. And we ended up walking all the way to the pier! We were on Rambla de Mar. It was practically empty but I really liked that feel.

We walked around the whole place, including the mall area and most of the shops were closed. We just enjoyed the night air and enjoyed each other’s company. What a great way to end the night.

[Day 2] Montserrat and family

Full day ahead! We had time until our other brother and his wife were landing in Barcelona so we decided on a quick day trip to Montserrat. We had found Julia Travel agency the night before and made a last minute booking for a Montserrat Mountain and Basilica half day tour and it started at 9am.

We walked to Julia Travel and checked in around 8:55am and received our tickets, discount coupons, and the audio receiver. We met up with our tour guide, Clara, at 9am and boarded our bus. It was one of those greyhound bus with lots of seats. Our tour wasn’t full so we had plenty of seats to pick from. While on the way, Clara talked about the history of Spain and Barcelona in both Spanish and English.

We also learned about the history of Montserrat. It was destroyed many times by fire and other accidents but several architects participated in restoration of the monastery over the years.

As Montserrat is built on a mountain, they used a lot of curves to fit with the nature. So on the way, the mountain roads had a lot of hairpin turns. The right side had mountain views and the left side had the cliff view. If driving is not your think, you can take the cable car but our tour did not include other transportation options.

When we arrived, it was very cold compared to Barcelona. Make sure to wear lots of layers here! But we all hurdled around our tour guide to listen to the legends of Montserrat. She said that there were 2 legends. One was about how a ray of light pointed at one location. When the people went to check, they found the Black Madonna statue there. They tried to move her but she was too heavy. So they left her at the same place and built a house on a cliff.

After a brief history lesson from Clara, we had free time. So we hiked up to the view point, which was only about 30 minutes away. It gave us a panorama view of Montserrat. Follow signs to Cami de Sant Miquel. It is about a 20 to 25 minute walk uphill. But the panorama view and the fresh wind makes it all worth it.

Once back, we stood in line at the Monastery to see the Virgin of Montserrat(the Black Virgin). The line seemed long but it moved rather quickly. The line led us upstairs to the front of the chapel and we got to see the Virgin and there was a small part that you could touch. I noticed a lot of people in front of us, touching her and praying.

Once we were out, we headed back inside to listen to the L’Escolania choir. This is an all boys’ choir at Montserrat and our guide highly recommended them. These boys all lived at Montserrat and only got to see their family a few times a year. They were schooled at Montserrat in all areas including music and had published hundreds of albums. They performed at 1pm inside the basilica so we were able to enjoy about 15 minutes of the singing before heading out.

TIP: If you would like to spend more time in Montserrat to hike around more, the public transportation is a good option!

After arriving back in Barcelona, we walked around the neighborhood and found cute popup shops. There were a lot of handmade goods and all the stores were full of cute knickknacks. We also tried to look for a place to eat and most of the restaurants were closed for Siesta or had reservations. We ended up at a restaurant called El Raco. More like stumbled upon it. The staff were very friendly and seated us right away. Their menu had various things including tapas, pasta, pizza, steak, and more. They also had a good list of wine and beer.

We didn’t understand the full menu but with some recommendation from the staff. we ordered a risotto, a crepe, and a steak as our late lunch. When we got the food, the risotto was the only one that looked like the ones in the States. The crepe was open faced? and the steak was more of a open faced sandwich with only the bottom bun. It was interesting but it tasted good! We enjoyed our meal (€34.45), relaxed a bit, and headed back to our accommodation and waited for the rest of the family.

My brother and his wife arrived a little later then expected due to flight delays but when they arrived, it was perfect time for dinner. We didn’t want to go too far from our place since everyone was still tired from traveling. So for dinner, we visited a place called Oporto. It had high reviews on tripadvisor and we were excited to try new food. What we didn’t realize was that it was Portuguese food.

When we arrived around 8pm, we were the first ones there. We ordered multiple tapas to share including pulpo salsa verde(octopus), gambas aguillo(shrimp), arroz marisco(seafood pot), and bottles of wine. When you order at this restaurant, start small. The size of these tapas were huge. And the Arroz Marisco can be ordered in 1/2 sizes so make sure to ask! The food was really good. Everyone enjoyed the meal (€117.50)

On our way back home, we stopped by the local super market to pick up more wine and snacks. I picked up a lemon beer (Damm Lemon) and it wasn’t what I was expecting but very refreshing. It was a pretty good match with some jamon.

[Day 1] San Diego to Barcelona

A start to a new trip! This trip is the longer trip I’ve ever taken so I’m so excited to write about it.

First day was mostly travel day. I’ve never flown to Europe from the West Coast and wow! It was long! I try to be a frugal travel when I can be and usually that means cheap(er) flights.

I usually fly with Star Alliance because I have good status with them. So this time, it was with TAP Air Portugal. And my schedule was the following.

It was long but since it was broken down and at each airport, I got to rest up at the lounge, it didn’t feel that bad. And maybe because I took the breaks, I wasn’t hit with jetlag.

My first stop, JFK, I was in terminal 5 and it did not have any lounges I could use. So I sat close to the gate and waited. While waiting, there were people who are asking if anyone wanted to join an auction for the first class seats. I’ve never heard of this before but seemed interesting. By joining the auction, you may be able to get cheaper first class seat for a 5+hour flight. I saw several people sign up for it but this wasn’t for me.

At my second stop, Lisbon, I would have gone out to venture the city if I had more time. But with 3 hours, it wasn’t worth it. Lisbon had Priority Pass lounges as well as Star Alliance lounges. Usually, I go for Priority Pass but this time, I tried the Star Alliance lounge (TAP Premium lounge).

This lounge was great! It had a great view of the runway, had lots of great amenities including a shower, and great food and drink selection. If you are a wine drinker, this place had a wine dispenser! They also had several cheese and meat selection to go with the wine.

And after another flight, I landed in Barcelona airport. This place was a bit of a nightmare! The signs were so confusing. It took me awhile to find the exit to baggage claim and once I got my bag, I was looking for a taxi symbol. I found one and followed it and suddenly, it disappeared.

I had called a taxi using an app called FREE NOW (similar to UBER) and the driver called me to ask where I was. He did not speak much English, he waited for me to find the taxi loading area.

The taxi area very difficult to find if you follow the signs. It was very close to the exit and had a huge TAXI written on it. So keep your eyes open. You take a sloped escalator down and you will see a line of taxis. Not all taxi pick up is here so make sure you check the app to see where the pick up is exactly!

TIP: If you are going to use FREE NOW, use my promo code jin.moon to get a €5 coupon. Also, this app has a feature that presets the cost and even if the meter goes over, you will only pay the set price. Another option is that you can pay either via the app or pay in person, credit card or cash. All options are open.

I got to the airbnb and met up with my brother and sister-in-law. The place was pretty big and had separate rooms for all of us. I put my luggage in my room and we all went out for our first meal.

My first meal in Spain ended up being Italian! But no complaints because it was actually really good. We visited the restaurant BelleBuòn around 7pm and it was empty! They asked if we had reservation and even without it, they were able to seat us. We ordered a bottle of wine, pizza, and lasagna. And everything was delicious!

TIP: While in Europe, a lot of places asked for reservation. Even small cafes. So if you are set on visiting a specific restaurant or cafe, call and make a reservation!

Afterwards, while walking back to our accommodation, we noticed a beautiful building. It was the Sant Pau Art Nouveau site. We did not go inside but just the building itself was gorgeous. I couldn’t wait to see more of Barcelona.

Spain! And where else in Europe?

Back in September, my brother and his wife moved to Madrid, Spain. So since then, my family started to plan for winter break in Spain. My parents have never been there before and same with me so I thought it would be perfect. So I talked to the family and they all agreed! Spain for winter break for my parents, 2 brothers, 2 sister-in-laws, and me. This was exciting! So I started planning right away.

However, planning for this trip was difficult. I’ve never been a long vacation like this nor have I planned a trip for so many people. So this was new to me.

First thing was to figure out what day to fly out to Spain. What days can we all be available. We had to figure out our parent’s schedule and work around that. We were able to find 9 days that worked for all of us.

Second, we decided on what cities to go to. Usually, I like to go from city to city and hit up all the major spots. However, this time, we wanted to take it slow. Take time to enjoy the city a bit more. So we all agreed to do 3 cities. But which ones? The major must were Barcelona and Madrid. Barcelona was unanimous between the kids and Madrid because my brother and sister-in-law moved there.

So which city would be our third?

I was stuck between Seville and Granada. Seville is the bigger city but Granada had Alhambra. I ended up making a powerpoint presentation for my parents and they decided on Seville by just looking at pictures from the internet. Here is my presentation. Which one would you have picked?

Photos from Google images
Photos from Google images
Photos from Google images
Photos from Google images

Third, after we had the dates and the cities, I picked a route that fit our schedule. Barcelona in – Seville – Madrid out. So once the route was set, I went ahead and purchased my parent’s flights using my Chase Reserve card. It was going to be an early Birthday gift to them from the family. When I told them the news, they were so excited.

I wanted to make sure that they were not arriving in Spain and being strained alone. So I looked for flights that arrived before my parents. And perfectly enough, I found a KLM flight for my parents that arrives at 5:05pm and a TAP flight for me that arrives at 5:00pm. Perfect!

Once, we had our dates, flights, and cities, we booked our accommodations. I did not realize that booking a place for 7 people would be so hard. Hotels were out because we would have to book 2 rooms and would not know how to separate the family members.

So we started looking at Airbnb. We were looking for apartments that had multiple bedrooms and bathrooms and living area. With a whole apartment, our family could spend more time together. So we all looked. All the cities we picked were tourist cities so there were a lot of Airbnb rooms and apartments to choose from.

However, there were some issues with some of the places for family use. A lot of the places had room for more than 7 people.However, it would be 2 bedrooms with several bunk beds. This was not suitable for my parents. So when making a booking on Airbnb, don’t just look at the number of people the apartment can host but what type of beds they have and how many rooms they have.

After all the arrangements, we are just all looking forward to this family vacation!

I’ll write about my experiences when I come back!