Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Date with Spain...Day 6...the Final Day

To start off...missed out on mentioning some more stuff I had done on Day 3 in Amsterdam (darn, sure did do a lot of things that day)...we visited the house where Rembrandt passed away. Unfortunately, he died a very poor man. We also visited the house of Anne Frank where she and her family had hidden in Amsterdam. We did not go into the 'secret annexe' however as the queue to enter it was huge and would have taken us agood 1 1/2 hours to enter it.

Coming back to Madrid, this happens to be the bull fighting season and since Spain is so well associated with the Matadors and the bulls...we wanted to go see a bull fight (they have massive stadiums for these fights), until I learned in the course of conversation with the hotel receptionist that the bull is always killed at the end of the fight...that too a slow, torturous death. Never knew this...didn't want to pay money and support asport where animals are killed so skipped this. 

We went on the city tour as planned. Madrid is a relatively young city as it was never Spain's capital in ancient history. Therefore, most of the buildings are relatively knew. Visited a couple of churches and the Royal Palace of Madrid Now we come to the highlight of the day. Madrid is famous for housing some of the world's masterpieces by the greatest artists the world has ever known and you have tons of art galleries for the same. We visited the most popular of them all...Museo del Prado  Got to see the work of those artists that we had read about years back in our textbooks.Saw a ton of paintings, but a couple of masterpieces that I will mention are:

Artemisia by Rembrandt

And the Prado museum can be seen in Google Earth and so can the paintings in a resolution of...14,000 million pixels! Read more on how these masterpieces can be seen in Google Earth at

So we spent a good two hours in the museum before heading back...spent the evening walking around the Gran Via which is also the area where our hotel is located. 

So that ends my vacation in the Netherlands and Spain...6 delightful days filled with some Starbucks coffee (their hazelnut lattes and caramel lattes).

Till the next adventure...adios amigos!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Date with Spain...Days 4 & 5

To start with...I forgot to mention some more exciting things I had done in Amsterdam on Day 3...we went to a place called Madurodam This place is also better known as 'mini Holland' and is the smallest city in the Netherlands...and when I say small...I mean small! Madurodam is an entire miniature city based out of real Dutch buildings on a 1:25 scale. The town has everything...the Schipol airport, the canals, the railway stations, stadiums with people going into the airport, citizens waiting for the train, walking about town, planes awaiting take off and anything you can think of in Amsterdam. The entire mini city actually has it's own real human Mayor! This was awesome and if at this age I loved it...I can imagine how kids must be feeling when they see it. Check out a picture here

On Day 3, we also visited a wooden show factory where Dutch wooden shoes are made. Also, nearby there was a diary where cheese made and not only just cheese but 100% vegetarian cheese. Now anywhere in the world, cheese would technically be considered non-vegetarian as it is made with renee (visit the link for more details). In India, cheese is not made with renee as cows are considered sacred and there are religious sentiments (along with legal restrictions) in place, therefore to give the cheese it's taste, all companies use chemicals for the same. There are alternatives to renee for making cheese but it's extremely time consuming, high in labour costs and would mean that if 100% natural, chemical free vegetarian cheese were to be produced, the end product sold to aconsumer would be very expensive (as this method cannot be done on a large scale). So at this farm we went through how 100% vegetarian cheese can be made and got to taste the same and this cheese was the best cheese I have ever had. I now at least know how cheese is really supposed to be taste.

Day 4

Contrary to my previous email, day 4 was spent in Barcelona again and not Madrid. We left in the morning to see the Camp Noustadium which is the home stadium of the football team FC Barcelona. Not only is this this the largest stadium in Spain, but it is also the largest in all of Europe with a capacity of over 98,000. It used to be 120,000 once upon a time but as the premium seating area was increased, the overall capacity came down. 

We then had to drive quite a bit to reach the Codorníu Winery. Codorníu is today the world's largest producer of sparkling wine and it makes all it's wine using the traditional champagne method. We had an entire tour of the winery, how it is fermented, stored and manufacturered. We were taken 20 metres below the land to check out the original dug out areas which were used for fermenting and manufacturing the wine. Codorníu is a family wine business and goes back to the middle of the 16th century. The underground areas shown to us are still in use today. The capacity of this underground area today is 125 million bottles...the area was huge withhundreds of thousands of bottles undergoing the fermentation process...if could get lost in might as well say goodbye to seeing daylight again. It made me realise why certain wines are so expensive and the amount of work that goes into producing that one perfect bottle. The more expensive variants are kept in storage as long as 9 months to a couple of years even. Of course at the end of the tour we given the different types of wine to taste and though I don't know heads or tails about wine and wine tasting...all I can say is that most of the wines tasted great...some of these wines can cost as much as 3000 Euros for a bottle!

We then headed to Montserrat which is a mountain Catalonia. Montserrat contains a monastery known as the Santa Maria de Montserrat and this is what we went to visit. The altitude of the area is 1236 meters (4055 ft). The monastery is well known for a statue of the Virgin Mary known as the Virgin of Montserrat. As with most monasteries and churches in Europe, the monastery was very well maintained and restored. Oh and just like how we stand for hours in Tirupati for a blessing of the Lord, a lot of people have faith in this statue of the Virgin Mary and people come from all over Europe and stand in line to wish or thank the Virgin Mary here. Never seen so much faith in a particular God here so figured it was worth a mention.

We also had lunch in the monastery and I had the best lasagna ever. No restaurant can beat the taste. Also, it was after 4 days that I got good, decent vegetarian food after living on bread and fruit.

We then headed out for the beaches in a place called Sitges which is near Barcelona. I am not too fond of beaches but my brother loves to swim and since this is away from Barcelona, the crowd is far less. The water was great...deep blue and spotless clean (even the beach). Spent around 3 hours here before heading back to Barcelona.

The night plans got screwed up as we had booked our Barcelona hotel and flight through Travelocity who suddenly emailed us canceling our reservation. When we went to rebook the difference was we had to sit and search around for a last minute deal and finally we got a good deal from Orbitz.

Day 5

Not too much to write here...took a flight to Madrid...our hotel is luckily bang in the city center and the most popular shopping streets in Madrid so my bhabhi went shopping. I went for the 1st half but got dead bored and tired later on so just went back to the hotel and slept. I had heard of Spanish fashion but was initially pretty disappointed in seeing the stuff for sale in Barcelona. However, Madrid isa different story and the stores here are far better and classier. There seems to be no sign of a recession in Spain with no big sales like the USA.

It's past 2:00am now on a Monday here and people are partying out on the streets...of course no comparison to Barcelona's sights and sounds.

We have booked a city tour for tomorrow on one of those open top buses. It's a half-day tour so tomorrow should essentially go in that and tomorrow is the last day of what has been a fantastic trip so far.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Date with Spain...Days 1, 2 & 3

Day 1

So it begins...a long due vacation after 6 months. Starts with me flying to Delhi, then Istanbul and finally Amsterdam. Though I have touched Amsterdam a few times in the past, this was the first time I actually got to spend 2 complete days here. After a long 5 hours halt at Istanbul. My Priority Pass came in handy for the lounge where there was a shower, food and free WiFi, though I kind of regret opening my email at this point in time as it just got me all tensed up on my holiday but the good news being that it got sorted out over the next couple of days due to some great advice from a swell person (who seems to always put me back in the right frame of mind whenever I am uneasy) back home.

Amsterdam started off by getting to the Move 'n' Pick Hotel (which co-incidentally is next to a Philips office). After checking in, went for a city tour followed by a cruise in the canals which was great...the weather is lovely so everybody were by their house boats...oh, in Amsterdam, people actually live in houses that are boats parked in the canal (Amsterdam is said to have the finest and costliest examples of house boats in Europe) and it is amazing to see each one of them. The cruise was lovely which essentially gave a great view of Amsterdam and there was some Dutch belly dancing on the cruise in the evening which was extremely graceful. A new unknown fact that I recently learned was that Amsterdam's airport 'Schipol' means 'ship hole.'. The airport stands where there was sea once upon a time and then a lake and when the water was pumped out to make land, a ton of ship wrecks were found and so the name. Also had a view of the Heineken brewery. And Amsterdam is so was 10:00pm and the sun was still up and it seemed like afternoon. At this time of the year, the sun only sets at 10:30-11:00pm. It's great if you are atourist cause it just enables you to see so much more.

We were extremely tired so after the cruise hit the sack.

Day 2

It was raining outside and the weather was delightful. Headed out to a place called Breda where we had to visit the Dremel headquarters. This is the first time I had heard of this company and was amazed at the tools manufacturered by them. It's an extremely niche category with tools focused on users with hobbies such as plane and car modelling enthusiasts. A great tool I saw was a tool for cleaning out the dust from yourLego collection and as a huge Lego fan when I was a kid...I remembered how tedious it was washing them. A nice point to note here is that they have a manufacturing unit in Breda where they have employed around 400 specially challenged people in order to give them dignified living.

The evening was spent at a city tour again followed by spending the remaining evening near the Central Station which is Amsterdam's main area for socializing in the evening.

Day 3.

Left for Barcelona in Spain. Wasted a good one cause our chauffeur took us to the wrong Hilton. We are staying at the Hilton Barcelona (on Avenida Diagonal) and he took us to the Hilton on Diagonal Mar.Anyways, this gave us a good tour of the city. To start with Barcelona is nothing like any other European city. It looks like an extremely new city and a metro with high rise structures and bustling with people unlike other laid back European cities. Oh and Barcelona has just way too many traffic signals. I am not kidding...there is literally a signal every 500 metres. What ertr they thinking? Barcelona is known for some of the best preserved Gothic architecture and the day was spent on a city tour seeing such Gothic structures such as the old shipyard buildings which date back to the 13th century. The preservation and maintenance is simply brilliant. Also saw the Olympic stadiums.

Now the main attraction...I had always wanted to see the The Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (simply put and more well known as the Unfinished Temple of Sagrada Familia) and today that desire was fulfilled. It is by far on of the most impressive structures I have seen till dateand it's so sad to see that the original architect couldn't complete it. The structure has been under construction since 1882 and till date has not been completed! It's current completion date is set at 2035. Had the original architect Gaudi completed it, it would have given today's wonders arun for their money. 

Spent the evening at the La Rambla street which is the most famous street in Barcelona. Visiting this street...I would say that Barcelona seems to be one the most active party cities of Europe. The street is full of tourists (especially teenagers) from all over Europe celebrating life like never before. Terrific nightlife. It's one crazy party street. Also saw the Spanish Flamenco dance which is an experience and must watch.

Heading to Madrid tomorrow...