Montserrat – Don’t miss this awesome day trip from Barcelona!

Montserrat is about 45km outside of Barcelona and should be a “must do” day trip during your visit to Barcelona.

It is a beautiful monastery with amazing views of Barcelona and the surrounding area!

We went with our great friends (so it was even more fun and special!) and hired a private driver and guide for the day and that was really enjoyable. You can check out this link for travel tips to Montserrat.

It’s home to the wooden statue of the Virgin Mary of Montserrat-or the black Madonna. In fact, the monastery was built around worshipping her. You will have to wait in a very long line if you wish to touch her hand and pray!

Photo credit: Montserrat Tourist Guide.

Montserrat means “saw mountain” in Catalan. To me, it looked like fingerling potatoes…but maybe I was just hungry!

It’s easy to spend the entire day touring Montserrat, at the very least, a few hours.

You can walk around, tour the abbey, see the Madonna, ride up the funicular, have lunch, buy local products, listen to the famous boys choir, tour the impressive museum or, if you are really adventurous, go rock climbing.

We started our day with a private tour of the Museum of Montserrat. It was quite impressive-Picasso, Monet, Dali, Caravaggio and an excellent collection of ancient artifacts. We were even surprised with some delicious cava and local pastries at the end of our tour. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

After the Museum, we went inside the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey. It was beautiful.

Next up was a steep funicular ride on the Funicular Sant Joan to the viewpoint.

It was gorgeous!

As with all my posts and pictures from our travels, you just can’t get the same feeling by looking at pictures. You’ve got to get out and experience it for yourself!

Next up…Gaudí

Barcelona-a city so nice, we visited twice!

Barcelona is a vibrant and exciting city on the Mediterranean Sea. It has amazing architecture, beaches and tons of nightlife. And the average temps range from the low 70’s to the mid 80’s Fahrenheit from May to October.

It’s got over 1 1/2 million residents but it gets over 30 million visitors per year. That’s insane!

We had a late flight into Barcelona from Italy and rather than a layover and a long night continuing our travel on to Seville, we decided to spend two nights in Barcelona.

For these two nights, we stayed at the fantastic Hotel DO in Plaza Reial. What a fabulous boutique hotel set in the perfect location!

Note: I don’t always post about where we stay. Sometimes because I feel indifferent towards the place and I try to keep my blog positive and sometimes it’s really a fabulous place but it just doesn’t fit into what I’m writing about. I might eventually go back and write about some favorites but I’m still deciding. Also, I do review the places that we’ve stayed on TripAdvisor, Booking.com and Airbnb.

But, if you are curious, just ask me!

We had a great time exploring the Gothic Quarter, which was a short walk from the hotel.

Gothic style architecture is really cool so we returned to the Gothic Quarter when we were back in Barcelona a few weeks later.

In the Gothic Quarter, we heard some lively music and we followed it. What we saw was a jaw dropping Castell or human tower. These towers originated in the 18th century and have become popular in the last 50-60 years. Women started participating in the 1980’s. Record setting human towers can be 10 stories high and children are at the top! Incredible!

From the Gothic Quarter, we walked down La Rambla, the big pedestrian street that is super crowded and touristy. We ended up at the Christopher Columbus Monument (from 1886) and Port Vell, which is a lively harbor built just before the 1992 Olympics.

I wasn’t a fan of La Rambla and we only walked down it one more time during our trip to Barcelona. It had too many drunk tourists and street performers -and not the talented musician performers but creepy mimes and people in costumes.

Speaking of crowds, you should visit La Boqueria, a large public market that’s close to the opera house. We were in awe of all the delicious foods!

Another fun thing you can do in Barcelona is go to the beach. Or, better yet, you could rent a poolside cabana at the W Hotel and look at the beach while you swim and have cocktails! So decadent!

The beaches in the city can be crowded But if you travel outside of the city, you can get away from the crowds. Here is a link to the Barcelona beaches. Top Photo credit Timeout.com

It’s really fun to see the beach and stroll along the boardwalk. We ate lunch at a great little place and soaked up the beach views and the scene.

And this is random but there were so many bachelorette parties in Barcelona! We saw multiple groups every night. Some had t- shirts, some had matching dresses, some were wearing sashes. I didn’t get any good pictures but I guess Barcelona is like Las Vegas…a crazy, pre-wedding destination!

Of course, you can’t go to Barcelona without visiting the Sagrada Familia or taking a tour of some other Gaudí masterpieces but that is coming up in a separate post…stay tuned!

This is the Plaza Reial at sunset. Pretty spectacular huh?!

Next up…Gaudí and a day trip to Montserrat

Granada, the Alhambra and the Albaicín

Granada, also in southern Spain, is much smaller than Seville and very different geographically. It sits at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and is a higher and drier climate.

Since they were working on the train line between Seville and Granada, we rented a car for this 3 hour drive. The fields of sunflowers were beautiful!

The main attraction in Granada is The Alhambra, a moorish citadel and palace.

We stayed in the medieval moorish neighborhood called The Albaicín. It has narrow, windy cobblestone streets and is located on a hill facing the Alhambra.

See the crane and tower in the picture below? That’s where we stayed.

We stayed just below Plaza Mirador de San Nicolas, where everyone (including some bus loads of tourists because the Alhambra and Albaicín became UNESCO sites in 1984) came each night to admire the views of the Alhambra and watch the sunset.

I was a little nervous about staying in the Albaicín because I had read a few mixed things on TripAdvisor. Whoever thought the Albaicín was sketchy or unsafe has obviously never really traveled before. Just use common sense. Geez! The only dangerous thing in this neighborhood was all the dog poop!

We loved spending the week relaxing in our apartment, swimming in the pool, walking to everything and taking in these incredible views from the top balcony!

Of course, you can’t go to Granada without touring the Alhambra!

Tip– you must get your tickets well in advance to see the Alhambra! You can’t just show up on the same day and expect to get in. Get ticket information here.

We had a private, guided tour that lasted about 3 1/2 hours. I’m glad we started early (it gets hot) and I’m glad we had a guide.

Although, our very friendly and knowledgeable guide spent a lot of time discussing Roman aqueducts and Arabic writing. I had to force myself to concentrate and listen in case she asked me a question!

By the way, the Alhambra and the Alcazar in Seville were built by the same architects. Cool huh?

The gardens of the Alhambra were especially beautiful and peaceful.

There is more to Granada than the Alhambra…

I already mentioned the Albaicín-just wandering around the streets is a fun way to spend the day.

There are many teterias or tea rooms in Granada. They are typically informal with a selection of teas, juices, water pipes or hookahs and moorish pastries. Mmm.

You can also spend time wandering around the Alcaiceria in Granada. It was once a great silk bazaar but there was a fire in 1843 and it burned down. Today, it’s filled with souvenir shops but we had fun strolling through!

We could easily walk to the lovely and clean center of town from the top of the Albaicín. Getting back up in the scorching hot temps was another story…but that’s what taxis are for!

On our last night in Granada, we headed out for a flamenco show and dinner at Jardines de Zoraya. We had seen a terrific show in Seville so we had low expectations. The show was actually very good!

The appetizers were good, dinner meh and the dancers were very good particularly one man at the end of the show. However, we were blown away by the amazingly talented female singer (cantaora) and the guitar player. Incredible!

One thing that we didn’t get to do was visit Sacromonte, the Roma cave community above the city. Arabs first inhabited these caves but after they were driven out during the 1500’s, the Roma settled there and still live there today. It’s full of shops, restaurants and flamenco. Well, I guess we gotta save something for next time!

Next up…Barcelona, Gaudí and a day trip to Montserrat

Sevilla, Seville…Call it what you will!

We arrived in Sevilla by high speed train from Barcelona on Father’s Day. It was about 5 1/2 hours. You can easily fly too, of course, but after all of our flights (18 by this point in our trip), the train was a welcome change!

This city in southern Spain is incredibly gorgeous and like much of our trip, it also happened to be incredibly hot during the week in June that we visited. (The week before had been raining and about 55 degrees Fahrenheit and that actually sounded great…but oh well!)

Seville is the capital of Andalusia. It’s famous for Flamenco and amazing architecture- like the world’s largest gothic cathedral, the Seville Cathedral, which was totally awesome!

Did you know that Seville is a popular movie filming location?

This is the Alcazar – where some of Game of Thrones was filmed. (Lawrence of Arabia was filmed here too in the 1960’s).

The upper floors of the Alcazar are actually currently in use by the royal family and it’s one of the oldest palaces still in use in the world!

It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987 as as we discovered during our travels around the world, if it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, it will have tour groups arriving around 9:30/10am. So go early.

Tip– buy your tickets ahead of time so you don’t need to wait in line, in the hot sun, for like an hour!

It’s really special here-don’t miss the Alcazar!

And Star Wars, Episode 2 (which I like to pretend is the trilogy that never existed!) was filmed at the incredible Plaza de España. The Plaza de España was built for the 1929 World’s Fair. It’s a really cool half- circle of buildings with a moat and bridges.

A great way to get a nice overview of the city is by horse drawn carriage. There are multiple places throughout the city where you can get one. They are all a fixed price and non-negotiable. Easy!

Even though we decided that we didn’t want to see a bullfighting event while in Seville, we really did want to tour the museum and the bullring. This is so unique to Spain that we felt it couldn’t be missed and we weren’t disappointed!

Another really cool “must do” thing in Seville is to go to a flamenco show. Flamenco is a Spanish dance that is passionate, intense and full of incredible dance steps and intricate hand movements AND amazing singing and guitar playing! One of us even cried-but I won’t name names!

If you don’t go see a professional flamenco show in Seville, you are really missing out! We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the venue but we loved the show so much! Wow!

By the time we got to Seville, Harry was majorly overdue for a haircut but he had been holding out because he really wanted to get his haircut by The Barber of Seville (you know, it’s an opera). And he got it cut here…and it looked good too!

Seville is probably one of the prettiest cities that we visited during our trip around the world. It seemed that there was a unique and beautiful building around every turn.

Seville was beautiful, clean, the people were friendly and the food was good. There was live music everywhere and dancing too. It’s a great city to walk around in or ride a bike. In fact, it’s pretty flat and there are bikes to rent everywhere… if only it hadn’t been so hot!

So, is it Sevilla or Seville? Either way, you should visit!

Laurie Eats Sometimes-Italy Edition

There is so much great food in Italy! I don’t even know where to begin…

The food is delicious, fresh, mouthwatering and even the take out pizza boxes are sexy! Wow!

I guess since I mentioned pizza, I’ll just start there. The pizza is so delicious in Rome and along the Amalfi Coast-I could have eaten it every day! I’ve been craving pizza since the last time we were in Italy years ago and it didn’t disappoint me.

I don’t know how I will survive with the crappy pizza joints in our neighborhood! Cooking it ourselves is the only option and it won’t be the same.

One especially delicious pizza place was Pizzaria Criscemunno in Salerno-so good that we ate there twice! And you get an amazing view of the duomo.

Then, of course, there is the pasta! Fresh and made daily, if you are lucky. Fresh ingredients and minimal toppings.

We loved our delicious meal at the third generation restaurant, Colline Emiliane, in Rome.

Tip-Don’t forget to use quality olive oil in your cooking! (Cheap olive oil just doesn’t taste good in anything).

Speaking of pasta, we had a fabulous ravioli at Trattoria da Armandino in Praiano. In fact, we also had amazing anchovies and prosciutto with melon there too. The food, setting and staff were incredible and made us feel like family!

Yes, that’s an Aperol Spritz in the picture. I love that refreshing Prosecco drink and I don’t care if it’s not really “trendy” anymore. It’s delicious and tastes even more delicious in Italy! Saluti!

As I mentioned in my Salerno post, the food in Salerno was outstanding…and…the prices were really reasonable.

We had a delicious dinner at Pazza Marea. They described the entire menu to us and then you could fill your own wine pitcher downstairs, just choose red or white, which we loved!

And an equally delicious lunch at Botteghelle65. Here, you will be greeted enthusiastically then shown a case of mouthwatering entrees to choose from-and served up family style.

Both places are highly recommended and worth a visit! You won’t be disappointed!

Along the Amalfi Coast, you will find lots of fresh fish and seafood. So many delicious dishes to choose from.

And you will see lemons everywhere on the Amalfi Coast. These aren’t just ordinary lemons, they are specific to the Amalfi Coast. We loved how the pastas and risottos were flavored with lemon. We enjoyed lemon sorbet and limoncello-delicious! You can read more about the lemons here.

Limoncello Photo credit: appetite magazine

And I suppose you can’t talk about the food without mentioning how great Italian wines are! Brunello, Barolo and Chianti Classico are some of my favorite reds…a glass of proscecco is always a delicious way to start a meal and you can check out this link for some delicious whites.

If you aren’t a wine fan, how about an Italian beer?

No Italian food post would be complete without talking about gelato. We sampled lots of gelato in Italy and most were great-it’s pretty hard to mess up gelato.

La Romano, in Rome was particularly good! It’s been around since 1947. Here is a great guide to gelato in Rome.

La dolce vita indeed!

Next up…Sevilla, Spain

Rome! (If you want to)

Ah Rome! It was so great to be back and just as fantastic as we remembered!

The last time we were in Rome was 2012. It was fall, the Trevi Fountain was undergoing a multimillion dollar renovation and Rome was having a heat wave.

We loved visiting Rome-the people, the magnificent sights around every corner, the history and, of course, the food! This time did not disappoint! It was just as good as our first time!

So, we only had 2 nights in Rome this trip and we had a few things on our list.

Trevi Fountain, of course, Pantheon (as we missed going inside last time), and a refresher of the Spanish Steps, Trajan’s Column, Forum, Arch of Titus and the Colosseum.

For something new, we toured the Basilica di Saint Clemente. This was cool because it had churches underneath from 1AD, 2AD and 4 AD as well as a house from Roman times.

We stayed at the small and charming Hotel Golden, where we had stayed years ago. We were well taken care of and it was centrally located to everything that we wanted to see. Giuseppe took great care of us, along with the entire family and his mama made the most delicious pastries every morning for breakfast!

We loved Rome so much and wished we had more time here. Helena said she wants to live in Rome and I can’t blame her…in fact, maybe we will join her!

Piazza Navona was really pretty but then again, there is no shortage of awesome squares to hang out in while in Rome!

The food was so delicious-I’ll write a post with some highlights but I can’t even begin to describe how great the food is in Italy! You just have to go and try it for yourself!

One thing we did last time and wanted to do again, was get a drink at the famous Harry’s Bar. It was fun! And, when your husband’s name is Harry…

There is so much to see in Rome! I recommend 4-5 days, at least. I can’t wait to return!

Next up… Laurie Eats Sometimes-Italy Edition.

Salerno, Italy-3 nights in an underrated city

We originally decided to stay in Salerno so we could tour Paestum and then take the train back to Rome after our week up the Amalfi Coast.

We really didn’t know what to expect from Salerno. I was sad we were leaving Praiano and I was wondering if maybe I didn’t plan this part of the trip very well. But, I was wrong! We loved Salerno!

We hired a driver to take us on the hour and a half drive from Praiano to Salerno. It was a very scenic drive!

We arrived in Salerno and were warmly welcomed into our small B & B, Il Reticolo by Carmine and Giuseppe.

They gave us excellent recommendations for lunches and dinners as well as the top sights to visit while staying in Salerno.

We knew we wanted to take a day trip to Paestum as well and they helped us with that. (see my Paestum post). I highly recommend their perfectly located B & B!

We had so much fun walking around the scenic and charming historic district and the strolling along the seafront promenade.

We really enjoyed the view from the Castello di Arechi.

From the castle, we hiked down, about 15-20 mins to the Minerva Gardens.

We had great food in Salerno too! Super quality and much lower prices than Rome and Praiano! Oh-the delicious pizza! You can read about that in my upcoming Italy Food post.

It was easy to spend three nights in Salerno and I would return in a heartbeat!

Next up… Rome (if you want to) and Laurie Eats Sometimes -Italy Edition