• Travel Stories
  • A Day Trip to Montserrat from Barcelona

    When I had my trip to Barcelona, my sister suggested a day trip from Barcelona to Montserrat. I was not familiar with Montserrat, but once I arrived in Barcelona, it is well advertised. Going to Montserrat is one of the most popular day trips from Barcelona, Spain.

     

    Montserrat is a rocky mountain in Catalonia, Spain and just 50 km away from Barcelona. Sitting atop the mountain range is Santa Maria de Montserrat, a Benedictine monastery. Within the monastery is “Our Lady of Montserrat aka the Virgin of Montserrat.” The monastery itself has been in place since 1025. It is not only a popular place for retreats and pilgrimages but also for nature lovers and hikers. It is a stunning mountain with a natural park on it.

     

     

     

    How to Get There:

    Getting from Barcelona to Montserrat is easy by public transport. There are two options. First is, you can go by train and cable car. From Placa Espanya in Barcelona, take the R5 line to Aeri de Montserrat. The trip is approximately one and a half hours. From Aeri de Montserrat, take the cable car to the top. The ride is only a 5-minute ride. The view is breathtaking however you will need to stand for the journey. The tickets can be bought at the Placa Espanya Station.

    Aeri Montserrat

     

     

     

    View from the cable car

    Another option is train and rack railway. From Placa Espanya in Barcelona, take R5 line farther to Monistrol de Montserrat. Change to Cremallera, a green railway that runs to the top of the mountain. The funicular ride will take 15 minutes to the monastery. The combined tickets can be purchased at the Placa Espanya station. Other options are by bus or private transportation, but these options are less popular and time-consuming.  I bought the Tot Montserrat that costs 42.65 EURO / 19.4 OMR/ 2,500 PHP that includes the entrance to the museum and buffet lunch at the restaurant.

     

    Things to Do:

    1. Ride the Funicular. The Funicular de Sant Joan will take you to the top of the mountain. The climb is steep and not for those with a fear of height. You will find hiking routes once you reach the top which leads to the tallest mountain peaks like Sant Jeroni and a tourist walk to the chapel of Sant Joan. I was not able to do the long hike but hopefully when I get back.

     

     

     

    2. View the Benedictine Abbey and the Basilica. The Black Virgin of Montserrat is located inside the basilica. It is said to have a healing power. It is one of the highlights of the church so be prepared to wait in line.

     

     

     

    3.Visit Art Museum of Montserrat. The museum has a huge collection of artistic masterpieces from the 13th to the 20th century. 

     

    Souvenirs

    4. Walk and Hike in Montserrat. It is a huge natural park where you can find numerous routes of different complexity. You can just go for a picnic, walk around having an amazing view.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    5. Watch a performance by the boys’ choir. L’Esconia de Montserrat is the boys’ choir at the abbey. They didn’t perform when I went there, but it is said to be one of the charms of Montserrat. It is one of the oldest choirs in Europe and usually performs daily in the Basilica. Historical records show there was a choir in Montserrat as far back as the 13th. 

    Tips:

    1. Don’t arrive too late but leave early from Barcelona and calculate whole day to explore the place.
    2. Research the train schedule from Barcelona to Montserrat.
    3. There are good food and drink in Montserrat but can be pricey. If you are on a budget, pack some snacks with you.
    4. Take the rack railway instead of the cable car from Montserrat to Barcelona. You will get off earlier, but you will board the train to Barcelona last on your way back. Most of the time, the train is full, and if you board last, you will end up standing for hours back to Barcelona.

    If you want to do something unique for your Barcelona experience, this trip is the perfect thing to do. The best month to visit Montserrat are from March to May and from September to November.

     

    Planning to visit Montserrat? Share in the comment below.

     

     

  • Travel Stories
  • Travel Guide: Barcelona Spain

    Barcelona is the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region. It is one of the tourist destination in Spain. With its unique architecture, diverse culture, UNESCO World Heritage sites, museums, delicious tapas, it’s not hard to fall for Barcelona. It is a city that never sleeps and has a lot to offer for every traveler.

    Placa Catalunya

     

    Placa Catalunya at night

    Where to Stay:

    There are popular places to stay in Barcelona. The area around Placa Catalunya is the most central area of Barcelona. It is very near to most tourist spots such as Las Ramblas, La Boqueria, and Placa Reil. Ciutat Vella is close to Barceloneta, El Born, and Gothic area.

    Getting Around Barcelona:

    Barcelona is a big city. The quickest and convenient way to go around the city is through public transport such as the metro, bus, and tram. I used the ten ticket (T10) card which lets multiple travelers use the same card. It is cheaper than the individual tickets. It’s also walkable for the most part, but you may want to take public transport for some further out tourist destinations.

    Places to Go:

    When you are traveling, and in short of time, you like to make most of your destination. Here is the list of places to go and visit:

    La Boqueria. It is the famous food market located just off La Rambla. It is popular with the locals and tourists.  There are numerous stalls with abundant displays of fruits, vegetables, cheese, seafood, meats, and sweets. Don’t leave the place without trying Spain’s famous ham (Jamon). My sister and I spent a lot of time trying different grades of Jamon.

     

     

     

    Jamon Jabugo and Queso Manchego

    Sagrada Familia.If you need to see one sightseeing, this should be it. The UNESCO listed church stands in the northern part of the city. It is said this will be the tallest religious building in Europe and it’s still under construction after more than 130 years. Although it is under construction, the majority of the building is open to the public. Entry is timed so best to order ticket online in advance and pick a slot that suits you.

     

    Interior design of the church

     

    La Rambla or Las Ramblas. It is a wide boulevard that runs through the heart of the city. It is usually crowded every day until the wee hours. It is lined with many shops, restaurants, and cafes. There’s a lot of pavement artists and living statues all part of the lane.

    Gothic Quarter (Bari Gothic). The most ancient part of the city, where gothic architecture can be found. You will stumble a lot of historical monuments by just walking through this part.

     

    Park Guell. It is park composed of gardens and architectonic elements located on Carmel Hill. It is another UNESCO World Heritage Site designed by Antonio Gaudi. You can enter the park for free, but there is a charge for an area called “Monumental Area.” The Monumental Area includes a section where you can have a magnificent view of the city.  I suggest booking a ticket online in advance.

    Barceloneta. It is Barcelona’s seaside district.

    Placa Reil. If you like people watching, then Placa Reil is the place to be. It is palm-fringed square enclosed by historic buildings.

    El Born Cultural Center. A place where recently recovered remains and buildings from the Roman period of the city.

    Casa Batllo.It is UNESCO listed and another creation of Antonio Gaudi.

    Parc de la Ciutadella. If you want to visit a park within the center, a good option is to Citadel Park or Prac de la Ciutadella. It is perfect for a picnic or a take a rest from all your exploration of the city.

    Tips:

    1. Join a walking tour for free. There’s a lot of group offering free walking tours in Barcelona. This way you will see the sights and learn about the history. I took one walking tour to see the Gothic Quarter.
    Our tour guide in Barcelona

    2. Don’t miss tapas and sangrias. Barcelona is known for savory and amazing food. There are tons of restaurants and cafes along the beach of Barceloneta and on the side of La Ramblas. Don’t forget to try seafood paella, a popular dish in Barcelona. I recommend eating at Can Sole at Barceloneta.

    Sangria every night, why not?!

     

     

    3.Be careful with the pickpocketers. Always keep an eye on your belongings. If you’re in a restaurant, put your bag on your lap.

    4. Learn the local language. The majority of the people speak Catalan.

    5. Read blogs. You will learn from the experiences of other travelers and local.

    Hope you enjoy your coming holidays in Barcelona.  Any questions? Share your comments below. 

     

     

  • Travel Stories
  • Travel Guide: Day Trip to Cinque Terre,Italy

    The laidback style of Italy’s Cinque Terre made this area a must-see, same as Rome, Florence, and Venice. Cinque Terre is comprised of 5 small towns in the region of Liguria, which is just above Tuscany. It is a National Park and territory protected by UNESCO. It is characterized with colorful towns and terraced agricultural land.

     

    How to Take There:

    Florence to Cinque Terre

    It takes approximately 2.5- 3 hours each way for travel from Florence to Cinque Terre. I booked a random trip when I was in Florence through an organized travel group going to Cinque Terre. But if you’re more of an adventurous type, you can do it yourself.  To travel to Cinque Terre by train from Florence, take a train departing from Firenze S. M. Novella. You can purchase tickets online from the Trenitalia or Italo website or at the ticket window at the train station.

    Once in Cinque Terre, take a Regionale Train to La Spezia Centrale. From there, take a local train to Riomaggiore which is the first town of the Cinque Terre.

    Cinque Terre is magical; I wish I could have stayed at least for a night. It is a kind of place that needs to be taken slowly, allowing you to enjoy all the five villages and have enough time to see the sophisticated side of the area.

    Getting Around:

    The easiest way to travel between the villages is through a train. The train line connects all villages, so it is easy to go around the area. Cinque Terre pass covers all the train travel between La Spezia and Levanto including the hiking fees.  The card has discounts on museums and if you wish to stay overnight to some of the registered hospitality providers.

    When I was there, I visited the villages by hiking. It is one of the best things to do in Cinque Terre. It is the best and cheapest way to go around. If you want to stay overnight, it is bit expensive. But with the beautiful views, it will take your breath away. and it is one of my favorite places in Italy.

    The Five Villages

    Though every village is picturesque, each has its flair and beauty.

    Riomaggiore

    Riomaggiore is the largest of all five villages and acts as Cinque Terre’s unofficial capital. It is the village nearest to La Spezia and the easiest to reach.

    Manarola is a one- street town with a small area where you can swim. It is similar to Riomaggiore with a chill vibe and atmosphere.

     

     

     

    Corniglia

    Corniglia is the smallest of the five villages. It is the least popular with tourists since it is the hardest village to get reach.

     

     

     

     

    Vernazza is the most famous and picturesque villages in Cinque Terre.  There are a small piazza and little boats on the harbor, mysterious alleys, multicolored red, yellow and pink houses.

     

     

    Monterosso

    Monterosso, Cinque Terre’s only resort town with hotels, restaurants, wine shops and a thriving late-night scene. It has the best beaches of the Cinque Terre villages. You can also visit the ruins of a 16th – century castle built as a defense system after a Saracen attack.

     

     

     

    Tips:

    1. Be prepared to walk. Hiking is the major activity there. The different towns are hilly, so it is common you will walk a lot. Make sure to wear a comfortable shoes or sandals for hiking and walking.
    2. The hiking trails are quite challenging. Bring a bottle of water. Wear a hat and sunscreen on summer time.
    3. Buy a Cinque Terre Pass. It provides access to all the trails plus and wifi at each train stations. It can be purchased in any stations in Cinque Terre or at the checkpoint of each trail. It cost around 12 EURO/ 14 USD/ 5 OMR/ 700 PHP for a day.

    Have you been to Cinque Terre, Italy? Tell us your experience. Share in the comments below. 

  • Travel Stories
  • My Travel Adventure in the City of Romance, Venice Italy

    If you were to ask me, Venice is one of the places to see in Italy. It is in the northeast and world famous for its unique and intricate transport system of interconnected canals. There are 118 islands, and the islands on which the city was built, are connected by about 400 bridges and 170 boat canals. Just like any other places in Italy, the city of water didn’t fail to overwhelm tourists with its beauty. The “City of Bridges” has been described as one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in Europe. It is a city that has a lot to offer – architecture, art, and culture.

    View from the hotel

    I took a train (Italo) from Florence to Venice with an average time of 2 hours.  The ticket costs 22.5 EURO/ 10 OMR/ 27 USD/ 1,360 PHP. Make sure to book in advance if it is a planned trip to save money.

    The view from the train station

    Where to Stay

    There’s a lot of places to stay in Venice.  I booked my accommodation through Booking.com and stayed in Bed and Venice. It was near San Zaccaria water taxi stop which is ideal and walking distance to many beautiful views, shops, and restaurants. It is just a few minutes away from San Marco Square which is the heart of the city.

    Booking.com

    Water Taxi Stop near San Marco Square

    View from the hotel

    The hotel was clean and practical. The staff was pleasant and helpful. Breakfast was good with bread, croissant, jams and coffee/milk/juice. I stayed in April which is high season in Italy. I paid 81 EURO/ 33 OMR/ 86 USD for two nights and three days stay in Venice.

    Getting Around

    Because of the unusual construction of canals and bridges, the most pleasant way to explore the city is by foot or by (water buses) vaporetti or gondola. By wandering around, you can find many charming and squares and streets which will make you appreciate more the city. Don’t forget to bring a map with you.

    Things to Do:

    1. Ride a Gondola

    A trip to Venice, wouldn’t be complete without riding a gondola. These traditional boats are used as transport around the narrow waterways for more than ten decades. You can opt to have your gondolier sing traditional Italian ballad during the ride. It is bit expensive, but I guess worth it for a first-time visit to Venice. It cost around 80 EURO/95 USD/ 36 OMR/ 4,800PHP for 40 minutes. But if you’re on a budget, an alternative way is to take the vaporetto. The Vaporetto that runs the Grand Canal is the equivalent of a city tour bus.

    Gondola Ride

    2. See St. Mark’s Square (Piazza de San Marco)

    It is the only “piazza” in the city. There are multiple sites near the square including the St. Mark’s Basilica, St Mark’s Campanile, and the Doge’s Palace. There are plenty of restaurants and shops which makes the place perfect for people watching.

    St Mark’s Basilica
    The Bridge of Sighs

    3. Walk along the Rialto Bridge (Ponte de Rialto)

     Another symbol of the city is the Rialto bridge which crosses the Grand Canal. Built in 1591, it is the oldest bridge across the canal and probably the most famous. It is recommended to go early to take photos because it gets busy in the afternoon. It’s hard to miss the bridge. From the train station or the Piazzale Roma, just simply follow the signs to “Rialto.”

    The view from Rialto Bridge

    4. Explore the Streets of Burano Islands

    The islands of Burano are filled with brightly colored houses which makes it perfect for a stroll. Legend says that the fishermen were the first to paint their houses in bright colors so they could see them while they are out for fishing. The typical houses are squared type and are divided into 2 or 3 floors. Other than the bright colored houses, Burano is also famous for lacemaking.

    One Vaporetto line runs from Venice (main) to Burano:12. It takes about 45 minutes and costs 6.50 EURO/ 7.7 USD/ 2.9 OMR/ 339 PHP per person. There is water taxi but sure will cost you more.

    5. Watch Glass Making Demonstration on Murano Island

     Murano is a collection of 7 islands connected by bridges. It is the place to go for the Venetian glasses where you can watch a glass-making demonstration and buy a glass as a souvenir. Vaporetto line 42 from Mark’s Square goes to Murano. Other things to see are Basilica di Santa Maria e San Donato and Chiesa di San Pietro Martire.

    6. Stroll Through Venice’s Quieter Neighborhood

    The charm of Venice can be found not only by visiting the famous spots but also wandering aimlessly along the small alleys and canals.

    Tips:

    1. Stay in Venice proper. It is not recommended to stay in Mestre. It is far from the main tourist attractions especially for first timers in Venice.
    2. Book a hotel near a water taxi stop. I swear, it ‘s hard to drag the luggage around Venice.
    3. Eat in a place unexplored by the tourists. Find places serving local dishes. Research the best restaurants frequented by the locals.
    4. Get up early. Venice is beautiful but crowded with tourists.
    5. Venice is a stylish and sophisticated city. Wear something nice.

     

    Do you want to visit Venice? What are the things you want to do? Share in the comments below.