A Perfect Vacation

Map of Catalonia

Hubby Rick and I just returned from a perfect eight-day vacation to the Catalonia Province. We explored three cities on our trip: Girona, Barcelona and Tarragona. Each place was delightful in its own way.

We decided to go there for my birthday and our wedding anniversary. To reduce the stress of travel, we decided to take trains to these cities from Alicante, one hour from our Costa Blanca home.

Taking a train from Alicante to Girona took from 1:30 until 7 pm, including a half hour stop in Barcelona. So that’s where the first day of our trip went. Luckily, on Trip Advisor we learned there was a fantastic Basque restaurant one block from our Girona hotel. We had an outstanding meal there of padron peppers, fried eggplant, baked clams for me and roast duck for Rick. We washed this down with a bottle of cold Albariño white wine. The restaurant is called Txalaka and we highly recommend it.

I think this memorable dinner set the tone for our entire trip as it exceeded any expectations we might have had. We sat outdoors on a quiet terrace and finished off our meal with two different kinds of Spanish cakes, complete with Spanish liquors. Wow!

The next day, Tuesday, we had arranged a private tour of Salvador Dali’s museum in Figueres and his seaside home in Cadaques. The company we hired is called Girona Experience. I booked it online about a month ahead of time through a tour company called Viator. See https://www.viator.com for details.

Our guide, named Ramon, picked us up from our Girona hotel at 9:45 am. Then we were driven to the Dali museum for his guided tour. We had to buy tickets to both the museum and Dali’s seaside house about a month ahead of time to ensure we would get in on the desired day. Girona Experience staff member Carmen helpful advised me via What’s App to do that right after we booked the Dali tour.

Here is some of what we saw at the Dali Museum in Figueres. It was really crowded there but we still managed to enjoy ourselves.

Outdoor space at Dali museum
Ceiling in one of the rooms of the museum
Notice how you see different things in this painting depending upon your perspective?

In the afternoon, we were driven to Cadaques and Rick and I had a delicious lunch by a seaside cafe. Ramon and our driver Alex decided to eat at a local sandwich shop.

Here is a photo of the sea by Cadaques

In the afternoon, Alex drove us to Dali’s house nearby. We toured this most unusual house with a group of eight other people.

The house is on many different levels so you go up and down lots of stairs to see the different rooms. Probably the most interesting rooms for me were the room where Dali painted and his bedroom.

Dali’s studio with adjustable mechanism to allow him to sit down while painting
Bedroom for Dali and his wife Gala

Dali and his Russian-born wife Gala also had a nice outdoor space to relax by their pool.

Dali’s pool and outdoor place of relaxation

After touring Dali’s home, Alex drove us back to our hotel around 6 pm. It was a whole day experience and we enjoyed all of it.

The next day, we walked around Girona, exploring the old part of the city on our own. We saw the massive Catholic Cathedral there and walked on a path along the wall that surrounds part of the city. We had excellent views from up there.

Girona from the medieval wall

Later that day, we took the high-speed train to Barcelona, where we would spend four days.

The next morning, Thursday, we had arranged a guided tour of Sagrada Familia, the famous Barcelona church designed by Antoni Gaudi. Hundreds of other people were also there. But it seemed as though people who were part of guided tours got into the church quicker than people lining up without one. So I recommend a guided tour for that reason plus the guide will point out different things you might not notice and give you background about Gaudi and about the construction of Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family).

Photo of outside of Sagrada Familia
Stained glass inside the church
The columns look like tree branches
This is a Sagrada Familia church door containing the Lord’s Prayer in dozens of languages.
The highlighted AG in the prayer refers to the architect Antoni Gaudi, our guide told us.

I don’t think anything else we saw in Barcelona topped that church visit. But it did inspire us to want to see more Gaudi works. The next day we walked to Casa Mila from our central Barcelona hotel. This is an apartment building designed by Gaudí and it was impressive too. Gaudí tried to imitate nature when designing this building while also displaying a sense of fun. The structure is also known as La Pedrera.

Outside Casa Mila staircase, on building’s roof
Chimney coverings that resemble
Star Wars figures
This was the top floor of the building Gaudi designed. It looks like the inside of a whale!
This is a model of La Pedera
You can see Sagrada Familia from
Casa Mila’s roof

We couldn’t seem to get enough of Gaudi. So we took a cab to Parc Guell. This park was designed by Gaudi in 1914. Although you could see some of his work there, the pretty mosaic designs part of the park required a separate very long line and we weren’t in the mood for that given how hot it was there the beginning of July.

Parc Guell cave-like structures
Main entrance to Parc Guell. We weren’t able to go up these stairs. That required waiting in a long line in very hot weather

I would say that this very big park would be nice for a picnic lunch with family under one of its many trees but if you are going there to see Gaudi sights, I would give it a miss, especially during the crowded summer months.

One of the days we were in Barcelona we did a Tapas and Wine tour in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. This is where Las Ramblas is, and it’s near the Barcelona harbor as well. This tour can be found by going to the Viator.com site and typing in Barcelona. We went to four different places for food and wine. The first stop, around 11:30 in the morning, involved a glass of Rioja red wine and a glass of Ribera Del Duero red wine. Both were delicious. The wine store also served us jamon Iberico and Spanish cheese. There were 13 people on the tour. All but one person were from the U.S. Then we went to another small cafe and had crunchy fish, complete with its head and tail. I tried one of those and that was plenty for me. We also drink white wine out of jugs that you had to pour into your mouth rather than use a glass. We then walked to another cafe by the harbor for a few fish tapas and sweet vermouth. Finally, we had a four-course meal with Cava at a restaurant in the Gothic Quarter. The tour was a fun birthday treat for me but I don’t recommend it if you don’t like to drink as it was an alcohol-filled affair. After the tour, Rick and I spend the whole afternoon napping!

On our last day in Barcelona, we went up to the top of Montjuic and saw the castle there. This fortress dates back to 1640. I had no idea how conflicted-filled the city of Barcelona has been over the centuries. In the early nineteenth century, the castle was occupied by Napoleonic troops, and to stop a citizen revolt, the French army bombed the city for 12 hours in a row, killing many and destroying many city buildings. And, according to a Montjuic Castle website, “On 15th October 1940, the president of the Catalan government, Lluís Companys, was executed by firing squad at the castle. The castle was then used as a military prison until 1960.” It now contains a museum of the castle’s troubled history.

Montjuic Castle
We took a cable car down from the top of the park
We had a great view of the city from the cable car

After we got off the cable car ride, Rick said there was a Joan Miro museum nearby. Since we had time to see the museum before our train ride to Tarragona, we checked it out. It’s a short walk from the cable car exit/entrance to the museum. Here are two of the photos I took there of Miro’s art.

If you are a Miro fan, I would highly recommend this museum. After this, we took a cab to the Barcelona Sants train station. We arrived in Tarragona in the early evening and were able to walk to our hotel, the H10 Imperial Tarraco Hotel. This was a four-star luxury hotel but I though the price was reasonable for what we were getting. The hotel was right by the beach with a rooftop restaurant, bar and pool, along with a spectacular view of the city. It had one of the best breakfast buffets I have ever experienced, which was included in the price of the room. The hotel was also next to a ancient Roman amphitheater. http://www.h10hotels.com/en/tarragona-hotels/h10-imperial-tarraco.

View of the ancient Roman amphitheater from our hotel

We knew very little about this delightful city. We discovered it is rich in Ancient Roman history. In fact, in 2000, UNESCO declared the ancient Roman archaeological complex of Tarragona (called Tarraco back then) as a World Heritage Site. According to a booklet I received for free at the tourist information site in the city, Tarragona became the main military base in Hispania beginning in 218 B.C. “Over the next 200 years, the entire Iberian Peninsula was conquered from this base and Roman civilization penetrated all of Hispania.” (present day Spain and Portugal). That’s pretty impressive!

We wanted to explore all the monuments and museums but we discovered that most things are closed on Monday. Pro tip: Don’t plan to see sights on Monday in many cities in Spain because Sunday and Monday are typically days off for the staff. We did get to see the main church in Tarragona, its garden, and the small religious artifacts museum that is located there.

Tarragona catholic church exterior and lovely attached garden
Photo of some of the walls remaining from ancient Roman times

Tarragona also has an aqueduct built during Roman rule. However, it was a few kilometers out of town and we didn’t want to take the bus to go there. It was very hot and humid in Tarragona but that’s to be expected in July. I chose to swim in one of the two hotel pools instead. Later on, I took a tram around the town for 7 euros. I recommend this if you go to Tarragona.

This is the front of the tram I took driving into the oldest part of the city, where the cathedral was

I discovered on the tram tour that Tarragona has a Rambla similar to the one in Barcelona. It is called Rambla Nova and it goes on for many blocks, ending at the Mediterranean Sea. We crossed this busy promenade on our way to the Central Market, where we enjoyed a selection of fresh sushi on this last night of our perfect trip.

The next day we took the high-speed train from Tarragona, through Valencia, to Alicante. We had parked our car in the lot beside the train station. But we had to pay about 215 euros to get our car out of the parking lot. So next time I think we will hire a car to take us to and from the Alicante station as that would be closer to 100 euros. But that is what travel is all about. You learn what works and what doesn’t.

I would recommend this whole trip for people looking for a plan of what to do and see in the Catalonia region of Spain. I would suggest the sites we saw (except Parc Guell) and I would recommend the Tarragona hotel I mentioned. The other two hotels were okay but you may find something you like better. I booked them all on Booking.com. This is a site I use when we travel. You don’t have to pay in advance to book and you can typically cancel shortly before your planned trip, if necessary. Plus, you can read the hotel reviews to help you decide what sounds good. You can also see maps that show you where in the city the hotel you are considering is located. Lastly, I would recommend the Txalaka restaurant in Girona. They are famous for a variety of Spanish tapas. Here is a link to the restaurant on TripAdvisor. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187499-d2369642-Reviews-Txalaka-Girona_Province_of_Girona_Catalonia.html.

I think you would enjoy these three cities and I recommend using the train to see them. It’s really a low stress way to travel. I cannot guarantee you a perfect trip. That depends on you and your travel companion, if any. But I can affirm that there is much to see and do in Girona, Barcelona and Tarragona. Catalonia rocks!

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