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   Spain Vacation...

In June we left the kids at home and traveled to Spain!
 
It was a great time and a wonderful country to visit and as a result we probably took too many pictures.
 
So, if you are in a hurry, see the Condensed Spain Vacation Highlights photos.
 
Otherwise, you can click on any of these cities on our itinerary:
Or simply scroll down through the thumnails and descriptions to get an overview before diving in fully.
 
Note: When you click to enlarge a thumbnail, you will be able to scroll through the full size pictures very quickly as it buffers ahead and there is no waiting for them to download.

Madrid
 
Day 1 - We arrived in Madrid around noon local time after a long flight from Colorado and checked into the Hotel Catalonia Las Cortez. This hotel is perfectly situated in a great location and we were basically able to walk to everything that we wanted to see during our short stay in Madrid. After taking a short nap immediately upon arriving, we awoke and began exploring the city.
 
We began with a stroll through the Parque Del Buien Reitro, a beautiful 320 acre park in the heart of Madrid originally created in 1632 as a royal retreat for King Philips IV. The park was full of Spaniards enjoying the day especially at the Estanque del Reitro, a lake overlooked by a monument to Alfonso XII.
 
Hotel Catalonia Las Cortez
Parque Del Buien Reitro
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Estanque del Reitro
Alfonso XII monument
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Cathedral near the Parque
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After the park we strolled through the high end Salamanca district and its shops and cafes mostly along the popular Calle Serrano. On the way back to the hotel we passed the Puerta de Alcala, a neoclassical monument completed in 1778 and the iconic Palacio de Comunicaciones in the Plaza de Cibeles.iWe also took in other sights on the Calle de Alcala, the longest street in Madrid.Text
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Puerta de Alcala
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Plaza de Cibeles
Plaza de Cibeles
Palacio de Comunicaciones
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Later that evening we strolled over to Plaza Mayor, passing several other busy and vibrant plazas along the way. The Plaza Mayor is the central plaza in Madrid and its origins go back to 1576, though it was most recently rebuilt in 1790 after a fire. Later we had some tapas at a wonderful cafe in Plaza de Angel and finally capped it off with dinner at Vinoteca Barbechera in Plaza Santa Ana which was a lively plaza popular with locals and less touristy than the chaotic Plaza Mayor.
 
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Plaza Mayort
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Painted facades
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King Philips III statue from 1616
Plaza de Angel
Plaza Santa Ana
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Madrid Reina Victoria
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Day 2 - On our second (and last) day in Madrid our first priority was taking in the renowned Museo Del Prado which houses one of the world's finest collections of European art. Many pieces are from the former Spanish Royal Collection including many works by Spanish masters such as Velazquez, Goya, Ribera and El Greco. One of the most famous pieces is Las Meninas, one of most analyzed works in Western painting and one which would later fascinate Pablo Picasso.
 
Museo Del Prado
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Francisco de Goya
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Las Meninas
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San Jeronimo el Real Church
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Later in the day we visited the astounding Palacio Real de Madrid and the adjcent Plaza de Oriente home to the Opera House. The Palacio Real de Madrid is the official Royal Palace of the King of Spain and is used now only for ceremony.
 
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Royal Palace courtyard
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Plaza de Oriente
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Street Performer
 
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On our last evening in Madrid we again breifly visited the Plaza Mayor and some very interesting neighboring streets. We also visited the Mercado de San Miguel, a wonderful covered market near the Plaza Mayor. That night we ate at the Sobrino de Botin, the oldest continously operating resturant in the world, founded in 1725, just to say we did.
 
Plaza de Angel
Plaza Mayor
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Sobrino de Botin resturant
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Mercado de San Miguel
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Seville
 
Day 3 - We departed Madrid early in the morning via the amazing Renfe high speed rail system. We arrived a scant 2 hours later in Seville and checked into the Hotel Amadeus in the Barrio de Santa Cruz quarter near the center of Seville. The Barrio de Santa Cruz is the city's old Juderia or Jewish Quarter and is the most visited part of Seville with many important historic sites and charming whitewashed houses and its labyrinth of narrow streets.
 
Seville is in the Andulasia province of Spain which was conquered by the Islamic Moors between 711 and 1492 at a time with Islam was more enlightened and tolerant than Christian Europe which was mired in the Dark Ages. Consequently, there is a wealth of beautiful Islamic inspired architecture in Andulasia and Seville. The Christians re-conquested Seville in 1252 (leaving only Granda to the Moors until 1492) leading to some interesting mixes of architectural styles.
 
After checking into the hotel we grabbed lunch and ventured through the Jardines (gardens) de Murillo until we reached the Cathedral area.
 
The Cathedral of Saint Mary (better known as the Seville Cathedral) is the third largest church in the world and features the largest altar piece in the world which stands at more than 60 feet high. The Cathedral took over 100 years to build and was started in 1402 and was built on the site of an ancient Mosque to demonstrate Christian power after the re-conquest. The Cathedral features 80 chapels. The altar was designed by Pierre Dancart and took 80 years to complete. The detail is almost overwhelming and impossible to photograph. The builders of the Catherdal are recorded as saying "let us build it so great that those who see it will think we were mad."
 
Two other features of the Cathedral are the famous La Giralda tower which precedes the actual Cathedral being completed in 1196 and the beautiful courtyard or Patio de los Naranjos.
Renfe High Speed Trains
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Santa Justa Train Station
Amadeus Hotel
Jardines de Murillo
Monument to Ribera
Universidad de Seville
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Facade of Cathedral
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Cathedral Detail
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Cathedral outside Patio walls
La Giralda
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Cathedral Interior
One of many Cathedral Chapels
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Choir Section
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Cathedral alter
Largest alter in the World
Tomb of Columbus
 
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View from Patio de los Naranjos
La Giralda from Patio
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View from La Giralda
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Bull Fighting Ring
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La Giralda Bells
 
Later that evening we wandered the streets of Seville near our hotel. We found an interesting bar named the La Antigua Bodeguita in the Plaza del Alfalfa where lots of locals were congegrating for early evening cervezas. Later in the night we had fabulous seafood payea at Modesto a great Tapas bar and terrace packed with locals.
 
Narrow Seville street
Narrow Seville street
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Plaza del Alfalfa
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La Antigua Bodeguita
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Modesto Resturant
 
Day 4 - On this day we used the Renfe high speed train to take a day trip to Cordoba. To keep the webpage organized by city, you can find the Cordobal day trip photos below.
 
View Cordoba Pictures Here
 
When we returned from Cordoba, we again ventured into the streets of Seville for its vibrant night life scene. We walked across the River Guadalquivir and past the Tore del Ora, a 13th century military watchtower and prison. We returned to the Cathedral area where the La Giralda is bueatifully lit at night and finally ate at the Casa Tomate Tapas Resturant.
 
Music Room at Hotel Amadeus
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Doors of Igelsia de Santa Cruz
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La Giralda
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Carriage in front of Cathedral
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Toro de Oro
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Toro from River Guadalquivir
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Plaza Nuevat
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Casa Tomate Tapas Resturant

Day 5 - On this day we rented a car in order to drive to Arcos de La Frontier, one of the many "white villages" that can be found in Andalusia. From Arcos we planned to drive down to the Atlantic coast to the city of Cadiz. Again, to keep the webpage organized by city, you can find the Arcos and Cadiz day trip photos down below along with the story of our adventure of driving back into Seville.
 
View Arcos de la Frontier Pictures Here
View Cadiz Pictures Here
 
Returning to Seville proved to be quite an adventure. It is literally impossible to drive in Seville without GPS or without having memorized the labyrinth of streets. The street names are not easily visible even on the major roads. We ended up having to follow a cab back to the hotel. By the time we returned it was late and we simply enjoyed a quiet night at the hotel.
 

Day 6 - On our last day in Seville we took in the marvelous Reales Alcazares of Seville, a royal palace in Seville which was originally a Moorish fort dating to the 9th century. The Alcazares was built in the 14th century though many changes have been made since then. It is the oldest palace in the world that still serves European royalty as the current King of Spain stays there when visiting Seville.
 
The Alcazar is the one of the most complete examples of Mudeja architecture in Spain -- built by Moorish craftsmen in the Moorish style for Christians after the Reconquest. The amount of detail is impressive and overwhelming. A wing built by Isabella features the painting St. Mary of the Fair Winds which is said to feature the most accurate portrait of Christopher Columbus and the first to depict Native Americans.
 
Reales Alcazares entrance
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Reales Alcazares Courtyard
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Main Alcazares House
Looking Back to the Entrance
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Detail of Entrance Tile
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St. Mary of the Fair Winds
Interior Room
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Entrance to Gardens
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Hand Painted Tile Detail
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Garden View from Above
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Court of the Madiens
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Outside Kings Chamber
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After visiting Alcazar we spent our last afternoon in the streets of Seville including a brief visit to the Plaza de Espana in Maria Luisa Park. (Maria Luisa of Spain was a prominent figure in Spanish history and was Holy Roman Empress by virtue of marriage to Leopold II. She was prominently featured in many paintings in the Prado.)
 
The Plaza de Espana was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition World's Fair. It features tiled alcoves representing the history of each province in Spain. And was used as a location for the movies Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones.
 
For our last night we went to a local Flamenco Show. Flamenco originates in Andalusia and so this was our last chance to see an authentic representation. We caught a very intimate show at the Casa de la Memoria de Al Andalus, a cultural center converted from an 18th century palace and features very authentic style and locally well known performers.
The show exceeded our expectations and it was a great way to end our experience in Seville and Andalusia.
 
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Plaza de Espana
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Alicante Alcove
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Tapas Bar
Flamenco Group
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Seville really struck a chord with us despite not being overwhelmed by its initial appearance. In the morning we said goodbye and boarded an airplane to Barcelona...
 

 
Cordoba
 
Day Trip to Cordoba (Day 4 from Seville) - On this we day caught a short range Renfe high speed train from the Santa Justa station for the 45 minute ride to Cordoba. Cordoba was an ancient Roman city in Iberia which later became a capital of an Islamic caliphate. In the 10th and 11th centuries it was possibly the most populus city in the world.
 
The most prominent tourist attraction in Cordoba is the Great Mosque of Cordoba, also known as the Mezquita, a mosque whose origins date back all the wasy to the year 600. The Mezquita reached its current dimensions in 987 and most of its 856 columns were taken from Roman ruins. In 1236 Cordoba was captured by the Christians and the mosque was converted into a Christian church with a huge Renaissance cathedra build right in the middle of the mosque. It was very interesting to contrast the natural forms and patterns of the Islamic architecture with the highly ornate and busy look of the Christian features.
 
Carriage in front of the Mezquita
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Mezquita Courtyard
Mezquita Minaret
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Christian Chapel inside Mezquita
Chapel Ceiling
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Ceiling Woodwork Detail
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Islamic Arches
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Alter of Main Christian Nave
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Choir Organ
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More Islamic Arches
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After a nice lunch and after walking through the narrow streets lined with white Moorish buildings, we visited the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos (Palace of Christian Kings) which was originally a Visigoth Fortress before being made into a retreat in 1386 for Spanish royalty after the Reconquest. The most prominent feature of the palace is its lavish and beautiful gardens.
 
Streets of Cordoba
Etrance to the Palace
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Fortress Walls
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Looking Back to the Entrance
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Palace Gardens
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Typical old town Cordoba Home
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Back to Seville Day 4....
 

 
Arcos De La Frontera
 
Day Trip to Arcos De La Frontera (Day 5 from Seville) - On this day we rented a car in order to drive to Arcos de La Frontera, one of the many "white villages" that can be found in Andalusia. Perhaps the most famous white villiage is Ronda, but we deemed too far to make if we also wanted to go to the coast. Arcos sits upon a high sandstone ridge and gots its name because it was on the front lines in Spain's 13th century battles against the Moors during the reconquest. Driving on its narrow and very steep streets was a major challenge and there is really barely any room for a car to fit betwen the walls of the buildings.
 
Arco de la Frontera
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Plaza del Cabildo
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St. Peter's Church
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Body of a 12th century Saint
Another Saint's tomb
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Orange trees in the plaza
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Driving the narrow streets
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After spending a few hours in Arco de le Frontera we continued down to the Costa Del Sol to the port town of Cadiz.

 
Cadiz
 
Day Trip to Cadiz (Day 5 from Seville) - We departed Arcos De Le Frontera and continued to Cadiz on the Spanish Atlantic coast. We didn't really know where we were going but managed to find a decent beach. After lunch and a few hours relaxing on the beach we visited the old center of town with its cathedrals and fortresses.
 
Cadiz Beach
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Cadiz Cathedral
Plaza de la Catedral
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Streets of old Cadiz
Our trusty Skoda
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Barcelona
 
Day 7 - We flew from Seville and landed in the sleek and modern Barcelona airport in the late morning and proceed to our Hotel in the L'Eixample neighborhood of Barcelona. Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city that rivals Paris as the most hip and fashionable city in all of Europe. Barcelona is the capital of Catalunya, a province of Spain with fiercely independent roots and its culture is distinctly Catalonian. Barcelona was founded by the Romans some 2,000 years ago. Its oldest currently surving neighborhoods such as the Gothic Quarter and El Born go back to Medieval Times.
 
We stayed in the L'Eixample, a neighborhood built in the 1800s a model of modern city planning and features many "Modernista" houses constructed at the dawn of modern art and architecture. While the L'Eixample is beautiful, it turned out to be too far from where we spent most of our time in Barcelona. The upside is that all that walking allowed us to burn off those lavish meals.
 
On the first day we walked past several Modernista houses including the Gaudi designed Casa Mila on our way to the iconic Gaudi designed Sagrada Familia. The Sagrada Familia is nothing short of mind blowing. It is Gaudi's most famous work started in 1882 and still under construction today. The Sagrada has overwhelming detail, but everything has a purpose and a reason. It was fascinating to take the tour to learn about the history of this iconic structure.
 
View from Hotel Cram
Gaudi Modernista House
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Another Modernista House
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Yet Another Modernista House
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Sponge Purses
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Gaudi's Sagrada Familia
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Cathedral outside Patio walls
Glory Facade
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Glory Facade Detail
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Main Door Detail
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Interior Facing Alter
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View from Patio de los Naranjos
La Giralda from Patio
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Outside Nativity Facade
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Storefront on Passeig de Gracia
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Day 8 - On this day after a late night and sleeping in, we grabbed some pastries at a lovely pastry shop in the L'Eixample and walked to the famous La Rambla, a long pedestrian street running through the heart of old Barcelona adjcent to the Gothic Quarter and running from the Plaza de Catalunya down to the water front. There you will find shops, cafes, bars, street performers and thousands of tourists. One of the landmark places on the La Rambla is La Boqueria, is a market (similar to a Farmer's Market) whose origins date back to 1217. The current structure was built in 1840. One of the most famous stand in La Boqueia is the Pinotxos Bar, a Tapas Bar run by legendary server Jauanito Bayen who is in his '70s and has been working there forever.
 
After the La Boqueria, we strolled throught the Gothic Quarter (Barrio Gotic) and walked down to the Medeteranina Sea where we hopped on the Bus Turistic for a sight seeing ride of the south part of Barcelona including the Olympic area and Mt. Montjuic with its fabulous views of the city and former palace.
 
Later that night, we ate at Origens in the Gothic Quarter where the best nightlife is and we also visited several tapas bars and enjoyed the people watching.
 
Las Rambla
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In Front of La Boqueria
 
Famous Pinotxo Bar
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Famed Jauanito Bayen
Inside the Boqueria
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Facade of Cathedral
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El Quim in the Boqueria
Boqueria Entrance
La Rambla Flowers
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Plaza in Barrio Gotic
Famous Street Lamps on Jaume
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Columbus Monument
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Port of Barcelona
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Top of Columbus Monument
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Egg shaped Torre Agbar
Entrance Parc Ciutadella Zoo
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The old Cathedral
Basque Tapas
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Street in the El Born district
Church Santa Maria del Mar
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Inside Santa Maria del Mar
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Narrow street in El Born
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Plaza de Catalunya
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Catalunya Museum of Art
Museum of Art (former palace)
View from Museum on Montjuic
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View from Mt. Montjuic
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Modernista House at Night
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Day 9 - On this morning we awoke to the sound of bicycles and roller bladers riding down Arago as part of the annual Bicycle and Skate Festival. Later we visited the famed Park Güell, a park designed by Gaudi for his biggest patron Count Eusebi Güell at the turn of the 20th century.
Biking Event
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Gaudi's Park Guell
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Gaudi's home, now museum
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View from top of Park Guell
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Ceiling Detail in Park Guell
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Famous Gaudi Iguana
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In the afternoon we took the famous blue tram to the top of Mt. Tibidabo. For those who have read Shadow of the Wind, the mansion shown below is the childhood home and grave site of Penelope Aldaya. We also saw other locations from the book such as the previously mentioned Santa Maria Del Mar in the Gothic Quarter, and the Sempere & Sons bookstore on Calle Santa Ana near the Ramblas.
 
At the top of Tibadabo is the Sagrat Cor, a church built in the 20th century in the neo Gothic style. It features a large crypt on the bottom (the brownish stone) and a towering cathedral above. Views of the Pyrenees foothills and of the city of Barcelona are plentiful.
 
Later that day back in the Gothic Quarter we ran into a huge protest of Austerity Measures that was part of a larger nationwide string of protests. There was a sea of protesters as far as the eye could see down the major artery of Via Laietana.
 
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Blue Tram to Mt. Tibidabo
Tibidabo Mansion
 
Sagrat Cor Church
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Interior of the Sagrat Crypt
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Main Interior of the Sagrat Cort
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Inside Tibidabo Tram
Protest on Via Laietana
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Day 9 - On our last day in Barcelona we visited the Picasso Museum in the El Born and ate lunch at the Irati's Basque Tapas restaurant. In the late afternoon after having thoroughly taken most of what Barcelona had to offer we decided to spend a few hours at the beach....
 
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Gothic Quarter Plaza
 
Tapas at Irati's
Hotel Cram in L'Eixample
View of Sagrat from L'Eixample
Hotel Cram Rooftop
 
 

 
Sitges
 
Day Trip to Stiges (Day 9 from Barcelona) - As previously mentioned, we decided to spend our last afternoon at the beach in Barcelona, but instead were steered to visit the seaside resort town of Sitges. Thanks to the wonder of high speed trains, we arrived in Sitges in no time and enjoyed the afternoon on the beach and topped it off with a dinner before heading back to Barcelona for the night.
 
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Sant Bartomeu Church
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