Posted by: David Stewart | June 26, 2013

Slipping across the Spanish frontier

These are some notes I took on our Spring 2013 trip

Monday, May 6

Barecelona

Prepping cars for the auto show in Barcelona at Fira Palace

Our first morning waking in Barcelona, we were finally able to track down a laundry service, the the lowest floor of the shopping mall in the Arenas, the old bullfighting ring off of Placa Espania. With the laundry now in their capable hands, we had a coffee and took off for various things – Deb did some shopping in Arenas, and I had some reading to do. I walked up through the Fira Palace convention area and up the hill to the MNAC, the National Museum of Catalan Art. I found a shady bench to do my reading, enjoying the remains of the old Olympic Park.

The Fira Palace was setting up for a big auto show, and we were able to see several cars rolled out of trucks and prepped for the show.  I met Deb at noon in the Arenas and we lunched around the corner at a sidewalk cafe. We learned later that in Barcelona, they actually charge more for an outside seat, versus just eating inside or at the bar. But it was a nice day and worth the extra cost.

Barecelona

Sidewalk cafe for lunch in Barcelona

We spent the afternoon wandering around various side streets in the Gothic Quarter of the city. One of our best purchases there was a little one-cup portable water boiler that we found in a little hardware store. This was to really improve our self-catered breakfasts on the trip, since most of the little places didn’t have a tea service in the room. We could now make our own coffee with a couple of commuter mugs from the local Starbucks. We were set!

We eventually hiked back to the Arenas, picked a restaurant at the top floor of the mall. After we had a seat, I hustled down to the bottom floor, obtained the clean laundry, and hoisted it back up to our restaurant table. Nice to have that taken care of! After dinner we spent browsing through an exhibition showing the progression of the renovation of the Arenas from bullring to shopping center.

Tuesday, May 7

Barecelona

Barcelona side street

After two weeks in Turkey and a week in Israel, we had planned about two weeks in Europe, mostly on the back roads of France, traveling from south to north on the eastern side of the country.

Barcelona seemed a good entry point from Israel, but car rental was considerably cheaper if we rented in France for a return in France. So our plan was to take a day or so to relax in Barcelona and then take the train to Montpellier to rent our car.

Our train was scheduled to depart at 4:42PM, so we had plenty of time to sleep in, get packed and get over to the Sants train station, not far from the Gran Via hotel where we were staying.

Given the really unreliable internet connection from our hotel, I had a lot of pent up things to do, like securing hotel reservations for the next leg of our journey.  It’s amazing to me how much I have become dependent on the Internet for everything from finding local services to directions to booking hotels.

We decided the morning would be best spent finding a reliable place to connect. We breakfasted at the hotel (with one comped for us because of the bad internet) and took the subway over to an internet cafe off of the Ramblas to take care of trip business. We took a lead from our guidebook for a place and after some abortive attempts, we found it in the basement of a building next to an arcade. This was really great – for a few euros, we were offered wireless connections which were of excellent bandwidth, and a couple of reasonably quiet cubicles to sit in. Here I was able to try to arrange places to stay for the remainder of our trip in France, since I decided with some of the back country places we might appreciate having a firm reservation in hand.

For lunch, we were shooting for a couple of empty stools at one of the little counter places in the Boqueria, the open air market in the Ramblas, but we settled for a table in a little place in the market instead. After lunch, we hiked back to our hotel to check out.

Due to lugging all of our stuff, we decided a brief taxi ride was a better option to get us there rather than hauling it.

The train actually left after 5PM, although it arrived on time in Montpellier just after 9PM. The route of our journey took us along the Mediterranean coastline of Spain and France. We zipped through a lot of agriculture on the initial part of the trip, and then as we got close to the international border, we climbed up into the Pyrenees Mountains and some stunning coastlines, with our position on the tracks looking out into the Med.

The frontier crossing into France was a non-event, as expected. At one point the train slowed down and stopped for no apparent station, and then started up again. The signs outside the train were now in French – welcome to a new country!

The Montpellier train station looks to be a bit under the weather, and under renovation. I made a comment that Penn Station in New York City was actually a bit more attractive. My Google Maps directions called for about a one mile walk to the hotel, but we decided that in the dark we were better off with a short taxi ride. Unfortunately, there were no taxis waiting at the station!

We might have tackled the walk anyway, but without a working French SIM card in my phone I admit I was a bit lost outside the station and didn’t want to chance heading the wrong direction when we were loaded with luggage.

Fortunately, the Montpellier Metro came to the rescue. They have a very nice streetcar system in town and I was able to recognize the tram line and station which was close to our hotel, just two stops away. We bought tickets (after I bought a package of tissues in the train station to get change for the ticket machine) and hopped on the next tram. Two stops later, we arrived near enough to our hotel to walk the rest of the way easily.

In retrospect, it was a good thing that we had some transportation help getting to the hotel, as it would have made us crankier than we already were.

The Mercure Montpellier Center hotel is right off of the main square of the city, called the Comedie, and close to a good-sized shopping mall, so it is a convenient location. And happily, it had a working internet.

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