Imposing cathedrals and hedonistic tapas bars; fiery flamenco and placid coastlines; museums dedicated to Picasso or futbol. Spain pulls out all the stops, making it tough to choose among them. I’ve taught English in white-villages, and I’ve checked out the three largest cities in Spain. I’ve discovered barns where impromptu flamenco performances take place, and I’ve been to the oldest tablao in the country. I’ve enjoyed paella, and I’ve also bitten the bait of tourist traps.
1. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte, Reina Sofia, Madrid — Madrid is the capital of Spain, but what really gives it an edge over others, are its museums. While the Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza are popular choices, a local friend recommended the Reina Sofia. The museum showcases contemporary Spanish art within the international context. It houses the works of Picasso, Dali, Miro and other greats. But if there’s one piece-of-art that’s synonymous with the museum, it’s Picasso’s Guernica.
Entry: €6. Free entry: Monday-Friday 19:00 to 21:00; Saturday 14:30 to 21:00, Sunday 10:00 to 19:00
2. Bernabeu Stadium, Madrid — When in Madrid, you must visit the home of Real Madrid. I took a self-guided tour of the museum and parts of the stadium. I learned about the team’s history through interactive machines; admired the pitch, and held up a fake trophy to pose like a pro.
Entry: Adult €19, Children €13
3. El Rastro, Madrid — This flea market consists of thousands of stalls snaking across streets. Everything under the sun is sold here. I chanced upon a stall selling a packet of agarbattis with “Om Namah Shivaya” printed on it, and I knew I’d seen it all.
Where: Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores, open only on Sundays and public holidays.
4. Corral de la Moreria, Madrid — Spain’s oldest tablao, the talent of this humble outfit has attracted visitors such as Richard Gere and Michael Douglas. Like them, I too caught an electric Flamenco show here. I didn’t understand a word that left the singer’s lips, yet I sensed the passion in every tap of the dancer’s foot.
Where: c/Morería, 17. Reservations required. Rates start at €38.90+ tax for dinner and the show.
5. Casa Batllo, Barcelona — The skyline of Barcelona is defined by Gaudi. The Sagrada Familia is his most famous structure, but the home he designed, Casa Batllo, offers an intimate glimpse into his psyche. The facade dotted with pastel mosaic made the house fit into a fairy-tale. But as I admired it some more, a sinister side emerged. The oddly shaped windows resembled a gigantic open-mouth ready to devour all. The balconies resembled a mask, hinting at something menacing within. Let your imagination run riot and come away with myriad views on the thought-process behind this masterpiece.
Entry: Adult €18.15, free entry for children under seven.
6. Mercat de Sant Josep de La Boqueria, Barcelona — This is one of the oldest food markets in Europe. A stroll here is an assault on the senses — colourful fruits, the smell of sea-food, samples of cheese, etc. I treated myself to local delicacies and washed them down with sangria.
Where: Ciutat Vella district
7. Barraca Toni Montoliu, Valencia — Eat paella in its region of origin. For an authentic experience head to Barraca Toni Montoliu, a Valencian home converted to a restaurant. The owner himself, Toni, greeted me at the door, took me around his farm on horse carriage, and introduced me to his cattle. Then he demonstrated how to make paella which I enjoyed along with a lavish spread.
Where: Municipality of Meliana, 20-minutes by metro from the city-centre. Reservation required (Tel: +34 629 689 805). Cost: €25 for multiple-courses.
8. Self-driving tour in an electric car, Valencia — Valencia is renowned for its medieval-gothic architecture, giving the city an old-world charm. Check out the old in an electric dinky that has a GPS system. I made regular stops to admire the 15th century Government Palace, the Plaza de la Virgen and its gothic cathedral, the bell tower and other gems.
Rentals start at €19.99, from Happy Drive (http://www.happydrive.es)
9. Sitges — Skip the popular beaches and head to this seaside town with a fascinating history. Originally a fishing village, Sitges became home to Santiago Rusinol, who ushered the Modernist movement. A guide-book led my walking tour and I saw the last standing fisherman’s home, and Rusinol’s home-studio. Under Franco’s regime Sitges became a centre for counterculture. Today it has re-invented itself as a hedonistic seaside resort, while continuing to house budding artists.
Sitges is a half-hour train-ride from Barcelona.
10. Cazorla, Jaen — Head to Cazorla to experience life in a little white-town. I drove through winding roads, admired the mountainous back-drop, and glimpsed the olive groves. What touched me most was the friendliness of locals who greeted all with “Buenos dias”.
Cazorla, Jaen, falls in Andalucía. Trains/buses connect Madrid, Valencia and Cazorla.
Visas: Spain falls under the Schengen zone. A visa for the same allows you entry into Spain and other select European countries. Apply for a visa at the embassy/consulate/ VFS (an outsourced visa application centre) of the country where you intend to spend the longest time. If you intend to spend equal amount of time in each country, then apply from the country that is your first port of entry to the Schengen zone.
Costs: Visa costs vary from one country to another. A tourist visa to Spain costs Rs.4,277 (for adults), Rs.2,495 (for children between 6 and 12 years); Children below six years at time of application are exempt from tourist visa fee. In addition VFS charges Rs.1,426 + courier charges. For more information visit http://vfsglobal.com/spain/india/tourist_visafees.html
Getting there: Fly from Mumbai or New Delhi to either Madrid or Barcelona on Turkish Airlines, with a stop-over/change of flight in Istanbul, Turkey. You can enter Turkey with a valid Schengen visa on your Indian passport.
Getting around: Buses/trains ply between cities of Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia. Sitges is closest to Barcelona; Cazorla can be reached from Madrid or Valencia. While buses are cheaper, the AVE (Alta Velocidad Española) trains are an experience in themselves. Purchase tickets in advance to avail of cheaper fares.