Stuck in Barcelona – Thanks Lufthansa

My return travel plans have been changed by the Lufthansa pilot’s strike that has now entered its third day.  All flights from Barcelona to Frankfurt have been cancelled for the day and I have had no choice but to rebook for the next day.  Of course, this means another night of hotel and meals which I will have to work on being compensated for when I get home.


It will be interesting to see how Lufthansa reacts.  Typically, the European Union has some very defined protections for consumers in these situations and it is possible that I could be compensated up to 600 euros which would cover the expense, if not the inconvenience.  However, the language does make exceptions for strikes but I’m not sure if this relates to external strikes or internal ones.  I’m not sure why a problem with their own workforce would be exempted from the provisions.

I just wrote about the “protest culture” in Europe earlier this week and have posted about strikes in France previously.  On a few occasions this has had a minor impact on my plans, e.g. train strikes that require taking a different line or mode of transport, but I’ve never had a flight canceled.  But, this is not a completely unheard of thing in Europe.

I guess Barcelona is not the worst place in the world to have to spend an extra night.  I gave brief consideration to staying another couple of days in order to see Sunday’s El Clasico match between Real Madrid and Barca at the Camp Nou but I’m ready to get home to my family and a more normal routine.


Barcelona – Les Ramblas, Camp Nou, and Le Meridien

After finishing up in Madrid, I walked down to the Atocha station and caught the high speed train to Barcelona.  This trip only takes about two and a half hours and arrives at the Sants station where you can get an easy connection to the Metro for your final destination.

Again, I was using Starwood points and staying at a hotel that I have not been to before this trip – Le Meridien Barcelona.  This elegant property is directly on Les Ramblas just south of the Plaza de Catalunya.  In other words, it is the heart of the nightlife, restaurant, and shopping scene.  The nightly rate using points was 12,000 points per night versus a cash rate of 229 euros plus VAT.

Despite being directly on the main drag, my interior room was very quiet even with the window cracked.  Staff was top-notch and attentive and fluent in multiple languages.  I had a chance to have lunch in their restaurant and it was a good meal at a decent price.


Barcelona is very different than Madrid and has many fans.  I have been here several times and have enjoyed it but I never felt it has the same attraction to me as London or Madrid.  Barcelona feels more like Paris – a bit more rushed, harder to find a place to sit down and relax, and a bit more pretentious.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a wonderful destination but not a place I will go back to over and over again.

However, two of the highlights of my trip occurred here.  First, I got to see the Champions League match between Barcelona and Manchester City.  A few weeks ago, I got to see the first leg of this match in Manchester City and Barca was bringing a 2-1 advantage into this game.  Not only did Barca win, they played brilliantly.  It will be hard for my American friends to understand how a game that finished 1-0 could be so one-sided and dominated.  It was an incredible display by the team and by Lionel Messi, the best soccer player of all time.

Second, my daughter was traveling around Spain this week with a concert band from her university and I got to see their final performance at a small church near the center of town.  For some reason, she has developed an attraction to international travel and had a great time on this trip.  She has said she might want to write a guest post on the blog, so we’ll see if she comes through with it!

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and Toledo Day Trip

Lest readers think that I hate art given my review of the Prado, I can assure it is not true.  I just didn’t like the style of art in the Prado and I pretty much knew that going in.  The same thing was true years ago in Amsterdam in regards to the Riijksmuseum.  I knew I didn’t particularly care for the “Dutch Masters” but it is hard to not go and see given the reputation of the institution.

Before leaving Madrid, I knew I wanted to visit the Thyssen-Bornemisza.  The second of the “big three” art museums in Madrid, this collection spans a wide range of the art continuum from old masters to impressionism to the Hudson River school to modern art.  In other words, there is something here for almost anyone’s taste in art making it many people’s, favorite in Madrid.  Obviously, I am firmly in this camp [I’m not even going to the Reina Sofia, the museo de modern art as I already know how that will be].

Having exhausted most of the things I wanted to do in Madrid, I took a quick daytrip to Toledo – a 30 minute trip by high speed rail – departing from the nearby Atocha station.  Toledo is famous for its pivotal role in Spanish history with influences from Jewish, Muslim, and Christian traditions.  Toledo was a much more important city in central Spain than Madrid for most of its existence.  Built on a massive crag and surrounded on three sides by the Tagus river, it was a strongly fortified city that experienced many a siege.

It is also the origin of the phrase “Holy Toledo!”  The cathedral in Toledo is one of the more spectacular ones I have seen, at least on the interior.


It is hard to take in the exterior as it is surrounded by buildings all bunched up against it.  But, the altar, the choir, the Transparency, and the overall effect of the building is as impressive as I have seen around the world.  Pictures really don’t do it justice.

The rest of the time in Toledo can easily be spent walking the narrow alleys of cobblestone streets and looking in on the famous swords and blades of Toledo lore.  It is really worth a day trip from Madrid, if you have any time to spare.

The Westin Palace – Madrid

The contrast between the two hotels I used for this trip in Madrid could not be more dramatic.  From the hostal, La Perla Asturiano (below), to one of the grand dames of Madrid, The Westin Palace.  As previously commented, I had a great stay at La Perla but wanted to use some points for my last three nights in Madrid and experience a different location.

La Perla Asturina, Madrid

La Perla Asturina, Madrid

View from my balcony

View from my balcony

The Westin Palace is a Starwood property and I was redeeming 12,000 points per night in lieu of the cash rate of 389 euros a night – a price I could never imagine paying for a stay.  Commissioned by King Alfonso XIII in 1912, it is located across the street from the Museo del Prado, Museo de Thyssen-Bomemisza, the Congress buidling, and short walking distance to Plaza Cibeles, the Reina Sofia, Atocha Rail Station, and the Puerta del Sol.

The Westin Palace

The Westin Palace

While the location is great, the neighborhood – not surprisingly, I guess – feels a bit stuffy.  When looking for a restaurant or tapas bar, I inevitably ended walking back up by the Puerta del Sol and Plaza de Santa Ana areas.  I did not try the restaurant but did have a 13+ euro beer in their bar, if that gives you any idea of prices.

All in all, it was a very nice stay, as one would expect, but I would have to hit the lottery before I stayed here for cash and, even then, I’m not so sure..

Museo del Prado – El Greco, Goya, y No Voy a

Actually, I did go but “Voy a” worked a lot better with Goya than “Ojalá no hubiera ido” which means “I wish I had not gone.”  The Prado is considered one of the most important art galleries in the world and the best representation of Spanish art anywhere.  In addition to El Greco and Goya, there are numerous works by Velasquez, Titian, and Rubens.  But, I can save you the entry fee of 14 euros if you’ll just read along for a few minutes.

Probably 90% of the art here falls into one of three main types of paintings.  This is about all you will see at the Prado..

1.  Paintings of Christ – the birth of Jesus, the crucifixion of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus.  Room after room after room of paintings of Jesus. I mean really, even the most devout painter must have gotten tired of this subject.

Wife: [to husband as he hangs up the phone] “What was that all about?”

Artist: “Another commission for a painting.” [sighs]

Wife: “That’s good news, right?”

Artist:  “It is another request for baby Jesus. Why can’t anyone ever ask for a ship at sea or a field of flowers in France?”

Wife: “Well, it pays the bills.  What are you going to do differently this time?”

Artist: “I have no idea.”

2.  Paintings of a rape incident, an attempted rape, or punishment of someone for rape.  When not painting Jesus, the masters drew upon a rich heritage of myths from the Greeks and Romans.  While I know the major gods of Olympus, there are some sick story lines that most of us are not that familiar with.  I counted at least three different paintings of Tityus being punished for attempting to rape one of Jupiter’s lovers.  His punishment includes having birds eat at his liver fro eternity.

Wife: “At least its not another order for one of those rape paintings.”

Artist: [to himself] “I kind of enjoy those.”

3.  Portraits of corpulent patrons that are apparently designed to make them look ridiculous.

That’s it in a nutshell.  You’re welcome.

Europeans and Protests – A busy day in Madrid

One of the things you can count on in European capitals is a high likelihood that someone will be having some kind of protest while you are there.  Today, there was a cornucopia of protests to observe around the Plaza de Cibeles.  First, I ran into this group who were marching for the right to water.  I didn’t even know Spain had a lawn watering ban in place.


Then, we actually had a few protests stacked up on each other.  I didn’t catch what the first group was marching for but his one was marching about fibromyalgia.  I assume they think it is a bad thing but could not make up what they are seeking.


The most entertaining group was protesting against the banks and fraudulent finance folks.  They were the most entertaining because they brought a small band to accompany them.  I’m not sure what music you can play on drums to signify your outrage at the bourgeois but it attracted attention.


If the Spaniards are anything like their neighbors, the French, they are probably sitting on la terraza by now drinking wine.

MadrEAT – Fiesta de comida

I did something last night that one is not supposed to do in Madrid – I went to sleep at 11:30 p.m. on a Friday night.  Madrid is famous for their late nights with dinner being served at 10 or 11:00 p.m. and clubs not getting busy until 2:00 in the morning.  But, I just couldn’t hack it.  A bunch of wondering around last night tired me out and set me up for some quiet time walking around the streets of La Latina this morning with hardly another soul on the streets until about 10:30 a.m.

Today’s main event was an annual food festival, madrEAT, which is held in the Plaza de Pablo Ruiz Picasso near the Santiago Bernebeau stadium in the financial district.  It also gave me a chance to hop on Madrid’s metro which is clean, convenient, and inexpensive.  A ten-journey ticket costs only 12.20 euros and can be shared by multiple people.

It was somewhat ironic that one of the “hot” items this year were gourmet hot dogs.  This is not dissimilar to the craze in London last year over Five Guys burgers.  I guess every food is exotic somewhere.  It was not, however, as ironic as small village Irishmen drinking Coors Light in their local pub which I witnessed back in September.  The other popular item was squid with at least five stalls and trucks selling them to long lines of people.


It was a beautiful day and a crowded event by 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon.  Lots of families and locals enjoying a nice relaxed Saturday.

Now, I’m simply waiting for a paella at a local restaurant and then it will be time to find a place to watch the Barcelona game and, hopefully, the UK Wildcats in their SEC tournament match.