Sintra Day 8: Tap Air Portugal Disaster, Bus to Lisbon, Relaxing at Sintra

Today, is the day when disaster strikes. After waking up early at 3am and going to the airport at 4am, we found that our 6.30am flight with Tap Air Portugal to Lisbon has been cancelled. There was no prior notice via email and none of the airport check in counter is open for us to ask any questions. Panicked and stressed, we looked for alternative transport to get to Lisbon, trying to avoid being stuck in Seville again for the night and missing our hotel reservation in Sintra.

Unfortunately, train is not really an option given the complicated route, leaving us only public bus as the viable solution. We were still on the airport trying to buy Alsa – said to be the best provider for this route – bus ticket online only to found out later that we could only buy it on a machine in the bus station. Luckily there was a taxi just dropping off its passengers outside the airport, and we took it to go to Seville’s Plaza de Armas bus station. There, we bought the ticket to Lisbon’s Sete Rios station on a self-serving ticket machine for €55/person – much cheaper than our €185/person flight but took 6.5 hours instead of 45 minutes.

Lisbon Cityscape from Ponte Vasco de Gama

It was not even 5am yet when we got our ticket, and the bus will only depart at 8.30am, meaning that we have to spend 3.5 hours waiting. Nothing was opened yet at that time inside the Plaza de Armas bus station, and there were few sketchy people outside that made me feel uncomfortable with the prospect of waiting there with my girlfriend – probably the only tourists around. Hence, I decided to take an Uber back to our hotel and waited on the lobby until 8am. My girlfriend fell asleep on my lap while I read my Kindle to fill the time. Thank you to the nice receptionist at Hotel America Sevilla! We took advantage of the long sofa in the lobby and bought two bottles of water from the bar.

My Girlfriend Sleeping on the Bus Ride from Seville to Lisbon

When we got back to the bus station at 8am, pretty much everything was already opened, including a small café where I bought some breads for our breakfast on the bus. Throughout the journey to Lisbon, all I thought was how lucky we were to be able to buy the few remaining seats on that bus and managed to arrive on the same day despite all the chaos from the flight cancellation. After reading the news related to Tap Air Portugal, we found out that the airline is close to bankruptcy and owed billions of euros to customers for refunds. Never again will I ever purchase a flight ticket from this company! Consider this as a warning. Two out of three flights from Seville to Lisbon on that day (July 2nd) was cancelled, and the other one got delayed.

*Upon returning to Montreal, two weeks later we requested for a refund to the Montreal office via phone call and learned that most of the passengers of that flight was rerouted for the next day flight to Madrid, then Lisbon. We have never received any information related to the flight cancellation nor the flight replacement until today. We were also told that we will get our refund in 1-2 months. One to two months! Can you believe that?

We stopped at four other bus terminals on our way and had a 30-minute lunch break at a gas station, which surprisingly served decent meals. The waiting to order and pay took roughly 15 minutes, shortening our time to enjoy our fish gratin and vegetables.

The bus arrived at 3pm sharp at Lisbon’s Sete Rios station, and we proceeded by walking to a cafe nearby (with our luggage) to rearrange our (ruined) itinerary. Initially we were planning to go with a bus to Sintra Castle that is located at the top of the mountain before heading to our hotel on the beachfront, but given the time and energy constraints, we went straight to Arribas Sintra Hotel with Uber, costing us only €27 for a 40-minute plus ride from the city.

Relaxing at Arribas Sintra Hotel, Portugal
Arribas Sintra Hotel, Portugal

Our hotel is located directly in front of the ocean, with a large swimming pool on the ground level facing the sea. After checking in we went directly to the café’s terrace located at the second floor to enjoy the scenery, before taking a slow walk on the beach. There was not plenty of people on the beach as it seems that there were no other large hotels nearby, and only few locals visited that day.

Ice Cream Shop at Praia da Adraga
Praia da Adraga Beach, Portugal

We were quite hungry after our walk, so we went straight to the hotel’s restaurant for dinner. Both the service and food were excellent, and the whole experience is even better given the sunset ambience seen through the window next to us. After the meal, we watched the sunset on a large terrace built directly on top of the ocean – with waves crashing to the wall below us.

Dinner at Arribas Sintra Hotel

It was a tiring day, and we were lucky that we managed to arrive at Sintra on the same day despite the flight cancelation. When we got back to our room, my girlfriend showered and went straight to sleep while I sat for a bit more time on our room’s balcony to watch the sky turned dark over the water and listened to music. La vita bella.

Sunset, Sintra, Portugal
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Seville Day 7: Plaza de España, Royal Alcázars of Seville, Setas de Sevilla

To our own disappointment, we woke up very late today, ruining our plan to go to Plaza de España early in the morning when the lights are softer. The sun was already high and the weather was hot when we were out of the hotel, which makes a twenty-minute walk to the landmark a challenge. In general, Seville was not crowded by tourists when were there, but there were some when we arrived in the landmark. Due to our lateness the sun was already shining strongly against the building, creating undesirable shades on the front façade of the building.

Plaza de España, Seville
Plaza de España, Seville

The Plaza de España, designed by Aníbal González, was a built on the edge of Maria Luisa Park to showcase Spain’s industry and technology exhibits during the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition World’s Fair. Today, it is mostly a tourist landmark where local artists perform.

Plaza de España, Seville

Not far from the landmark, we had a breakfast at a nice café under a hotel called Cappuccino Sevilla. We were seated on the patio just next to the pedestrian walkaway that allows us to watch locals’ activity while eating our croissant. Sitting next to us is a group of well-dressed seniors chatting and an American family on a vacation.

The main attraction of Seville, and perhaps the most visited site in the city is the royal palace complex built for the Christian king Peter of Castile over a thousand years ago. To find the entrance to Royal Alcázars of Seville, however, is a challenge on its own. We went around the large complex twice in a temperate weather before finally finding a small road that leads to the ticket counter.

In the map below, Patio de Banderas is where you have to go to buy tickets, and Puerta del Leon is where the entrance door for the complex is located.

Royal Alcázars of Seville’s Ticket Counter and Entrance

The royal palace is an enormous complex with a large garden attached to it. There are five main buildings to visit following the entrance door, which then lead to the garden. It took about an hour to visit all of the buildings while listening to the audio guide provided online. The site also features a small museum showcasing different ceramics tile used across the complex, several water fountains, and beautifully decorated rooms.

The Court in Royal Alcázars of Seville
Balcony in Royal Alcázars of Seville
Garden in Royal Alcázars of Seville Complex

We took a break on a table under the trees at a small café located within the garden complex, alongside other visibly exhausted tourists. The relatively cheap ticket price and variety of things to see within the complex make Royal Alcázars of Seville rank the highest in our trip on a price-to-value metric.

The Small Alley of Seville

Following two-hour visit of the palace we walked to Casa de Pilatos, another local landmark, through the small alleys of Seville and passing several local shops and restaurants. The defining features of Casa de Pilatos is its azulejo tiles – a form of Portuguese and Spanish painted tin-glazed ceramic – throughout the palace. The complex itself is rather small and took under 40 minutes to tour around.

Garden in Casa de Pilatos

It was around 2.30pm when we finished touring the complex and my girlfriend had a headache due to the scorching hot weather, so we took an Uber to Brunilda Tapas – our lunch place that we booked months before. I had a grilled octopus (for the hundreds time during the trip) and my girlfriend opted for the duck confit, which she said was delicious despite being not in the mood for eating.

The summer weather in Seville could be really punishing and it would not be enjoyable to walk under such condition, so we decided to go back to our hotel, showered and took a nap – the first time ever during the trip.

Two hours later, we woke up feeling refreshed, and most importantly the sun was finally blocked by the clouds. Due to our disappointment in the earlier visit to Plaza de España, we wanted to go back, and this time we took a taxi rather than walking. Fortunately, the lightings condition was much better in the late afternoon.

Plaza de España in the Late Afternoon
Plaza de España in the Late Afternoon, No Shades!

From the landmark, we took another taxi ride across the river to Centro Cerámica Triana, although we noted that the store will be closing in less than 30 minutes. Our taxi driver, an avid anti-vac supporter, tried to convince us the conspiracy theory he believed on covid-19 pandemic with his broken English. I simply hum and shake my head in agreement with him rather than trying to argue with him along the way. We were relieved to arrive safely in our destination and got out of the taxi.

The workshop section was already closed when we arrived, but we went to the shops to look for interesting patterns to buy, only to leave empty-handed five minutes later. However, we did enjoy the walk back across the Puente de Triana, where locals are busy taking selfies with Canal de Alfonso XIII as the background.

View from Puente de Triana, Seville

Our dinner was a quick Chinese meal at Ming, a restaurant located at La Encarnación square just across Setas de Sevilla, our next destination. The dinner was an uneventful one.

Setas de Sevilla is a wooden structure designed by the German architect Jürgen Mayer that was completed in April 2011 and said to be the largest wooden structure in the world. The tickets to go to the top of the structure cost €8/person, and when arrived there was a line up at the underground ticket counter, which made us worried that we would miss the sunset. Fortunately, the line moves quickly and we were on the top fifteen minutes later through the elevator located next to the ticket counter. The pathway on the top of the structure leads to a walking path that allows visitors to go around and enjoy the scenery. We wandered around and waited until the sunset before walking back to our hotel to prepare for an extra early day tomorrow.

Skateboarders Playing Under Setas de Sevilla
On Top of Setas de Sevilla
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Seville Day 6: Barcelona to Seville Train Ride, Catedral de Sevilla, Seville Museum of Fine Arts

Today we traveled from the eastern coast of Spain to the southeast by train. It was an almost 6.5 hours ride from Barcelona to Seville, one of the largest cities in Western Europe in the 16th century and known for the beautiful mix of both Roman and Islamic architecture. Our train departed from Barcelona-Sants Train Station at 8.30am, and we woke up at 6.30am. By the time we went to the lobby, a taxi was waiting for us thanks to the request we made the night before to the hotel receptionist. Going from the hotel (Hotel Suizo Barcelona) to the train station costs us €18.

Train Route from Barcelona to Seville

Sants Train Station is a large and modern-looking building, resembling closer to an airport and hosts several stores and cafés inside the station. We had a breakfast at a small food court inside before passing the security check, knowing that we will likely have a late lunch later in Seville. The boarding process is quick and orderly, and the interior of the train is clean and proper – much above my expectation – and certainly looks more modern than Canada’s VIA rail car.

I spent most of the six hours inside the train reading my Kindle, progressing several chapters, and observing the landscape of rural Spain. The train route passed several vineyards and small cities, where we stopped to drop and pick up passengers. It is important to note that the temperature inside the car is rather cold. So despite the scorching hot Barcelona summer it would be wise to layer up during the ride.

A Small City En Route from Barcelona to Seville
Landscape from Barcelona to Seville by Train

Unlike in Barcelona, the train station in Seville is a much older. A taxi stand is available outside the station where we took a €5 ride to Hotel America Sevilla – a relatively new hotel located in Seville’s city-center. Among the three hotel we stayed during the trip, our hotel in Seville has the best room interior.

We were already hungry when we were in the train, and we had a lunch reservation at a tapas bar nearby our hotel called Perro Viejo. The two-stories restaurant is in an alley connected to the main street and has a small patio in front of the entrance door. We ordered a pork ribs, fish tataki, and an appetizer, which is more than enough to fill our stomach thanks to the large portion of the former. Both main meals are equally good and well recommended.

Avenue de la Constitución, Seville

The first landmark we visited for the day was Catedral de Sevilla, a Roman Catholic cathedral located in the old town area of Seville. It became the largest cathedral in the world after its completion in 16th century, replacing Hagia Sophia in Turkey that previously held the title for a thousand years. We found the main altar of the cathedral to be similar to those we had seen before, but bigger, and were more interested in the smaller wing of the cathedral that has a more interesting interior and decorated with beautiful painting on the ceiling.

Catedral de Sevilla

Connected with the main cathedral is the Giralda, a bell tower of the cathedral that previously was a minaret of the mosque under the Muslim rule. Visitors can hike to the top of the 9th floor tower, which we did through the seemingly endless elevated floor. At the top, visitors are rewarded with a 360-degree view of the city, which unlike Barcelona, has no structure – highlighted by the random spread of small alleys that is part of the city’s charm.

View from the Rooftop of the Giralda in Catedral de Sevilla
View from the Rooftop of the Giralda in Catedral de Sevilla
One of the Small Alleys in Seville

Following the visit to the cathedral, we went to Seville Museum of Fine Arts that is located in the other part of the city. To our surprise, the museum is free to visit and houses more than hundreds of paintings. In front of the museum there is also a small park and an ice cream shop where my girlfriend and I shared a scoop.

One of the Small Alleys in Seville
Seville Museum of Fine Arts
Seville Museum of Fine Arts

The main shopping street in Seville is located at Calle Tetuán, where we headed next. While my girlfriend shopped around – despite the stores being the same to those she went already in Barcelona – I had a coffee at the patio outside Robles Laredo while observing the street scene. On my way to the café, I was surprised to find a luxury watch store that display several Patek Philippe watches on the window, amid the city’s much smaller population and lower GDP per capita.

Calle Tetuán, Main Shopping Street in Seville

Our dinner is at a Japanese restaurant just at the back of our hotel named Hiyoko. We had a Japanese-style salad for appetizer, a boat of sushi and a ramen for €52 in total. It was around sunset time when we finished our meal, so I flew my drone at a park just across our hotel and went back to my room afterwards.

Sushi Boat at Hiyoko, Seville
Seville at Night
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Barcelona Day 5: Shopping in Passeig de Gracia, Around University Area and Torres Gloriés

Following a night of drinking and a good meal, we woke up very late today at around 9am, and we took time to pack our luggage in preparation for the next day – when we were going to Seville. We were out of the hotel door by 10am and took the metro to go to La Papa, a brunch place not far from Passeig de Gracia. The place was selected by my girlfriend as it is popular among young and health-oriented urbanite living in Barcelona. The interior of the restaurant is layered by some sort of a sand wall that makes it cooler than the temperature outdoor.

People in Front of La Papa, Barcelona
Mushroom Truffle Sandwich at La Papa, Barcelona

The service was great and the food is equally good and comes in a large portion. I had a mushroom truffle sandwich while my girlfriend opts for the avocado toast. When we were eating, I noticed that most of the visitors are very typical of the middle-upper class youngster living in other metropolitan cities across the globe, meaning that there was plenty of folks with yoga pants and running shoes. I read a research – or joke – once that it is correlated with the real estate prices in the area!

We walked around the area while heading to Passeig de Gracia (again) because my girlfriend had an unfinished business shopping at Oysho, a Spanish clothing company under Inditex Group – the parent company of Zara. I learned that it could take a while for ladies to shop, so rather than following accompanying (read: annoying) her shopping experience, I sat on a bench on the street before moving to café Farggi that is located near Plaça de Catalunya. I had a café con leche while reading my work emails.

Cafe Farggi, Barcelona
Having My Café con Leche While Waiting

Barcelona is a very vibrant city. I could feel the rebellious attitude of the people, their antipathy towards authority, and the love of street art. The locals in Barcelona dress in bright color, with Christmas tree green, daisy purple, and bright yellow color prominent in the street and almost every clothing stores. There are graffiti everywhere in the city, but not vandalism – of which there are few.

Barcelona Cityscape

It was around 2pm when my girlfriend finished her shopping and arrived at the café, which means we had to start walking towards our lunch place, a sushi restaurant called Shunka that was said to serve one of the best Japanese food in town. On our way there, we passed a luxury watch boutique and they happened to have a Jaeger-leCoultre Reverso on display – the model I have looking to buy. Due to the weak euro the pricing is very attractive, especially after accounting for the 15% GST refund. The problem is that I will likely have to pay tax and duty once I arrived in Canada that is worth around 20% of the purchase price. Under that scenario, I calculated that the savings will be worth only $500, which is not worth the trouble of bringing the box and dealing with the custom at the airport. I decided to skip it and in hindsight it was a good decision as I had to declare such purchase once I arrive in Canada.

Street Musician at Avenida portal de l’angel, Barcelona
My Girlfriend Favourite (Left)

The quality of the sashimi at Shunka was decent. The seafood tastes fresh and was served in an interesting platter combination. However, the ambience of the restaurant is flat and rather unflattering given the lack of natural light indoor. To close our meal (read:dessert), we walked to Pastisseria Hofmann that is located 15 minutes away. It was once awarded as the best patisserie in Barcelona and know for their uniquely shaped cakes. We ate the cakes we bought – three of them – at a public bench nearby.

Patisseria Hofmann

Since we had couple hours left before the sun goes down, we decided to explore the university area in the Northeast part of the city, initially planning to go to the library that has a cool, 18th century style interior. We took a long walk and a tram to go to the area, but failed to find an entrance door to the library even after going around it twice. Instead, we went to Torres Gloriés’ observation deck and I flew my drone on a park nearby.

The University Area, Barcelona
My Girlfriend at Torres Gloriés’ Observation Deck

The observation deck at Torres Glories is a meh, mostly because there was a steel bar outside the window that blocks the cityscape view and made it impossible to take a decent picture. More interesting, however, is the exhibition next to the ticket counter showing the implementation of big data to track the mood of Barcelona – its weather, sounds, temperature, and humidity on a live basis – based on various sensors located throughout the city. The ambience of the exhibition is very futuristic and showcase the potential of real-time data mining to spy agencies all over the world.

Flying My Drone Towards Sagrada Familia During Sunset
Street Art, Barcelona

Our last dinner in Barcelona was at Teleferic, a small restaurant located nearby Passeig de Gracia, where I flew my drone for another time from a park across the restaurant. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel and pack our luggage again.

We took metro on the way back to the hotel, and had a near-miss accident with pick pocketers. We noticed that there was three man watching us in the metro station, two as a watcher and the other one as the executioner, that tried to discreetly take my wallet in my shorts’ left pocket. Luckily, my girlfriend noticed the executioner getting a jacket out of his backpack to cover his hand before trying to reach my pocket, so we left for the next car and stayed away from the group. Before traveling to Spain, I have been briefed about elevated petty crime rate in Barcelona and prepared one “sacrificial” wallet to give if we got mugged. There was almost €500 on the wallet. Be careful people!

Teleferic Restaurant, Barcelona
The Street of Barcelona from the Sky
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Barcelona Day 4: Shopping at La Roca Village, Tibidabo, Amazing Dinner at La Flautes

Our plan today was to go to La Roca Village Factory Outlet that is located one hour away from the city. To get there from our hotel (Suizo Hotel Barcelona), we need to walk roughly 20 minutes to Barcelona Nord terminal. To avoid missing the bus schedule, we woke up at 7.30am and had a quick breakfast on our way at café 365 in the Carrer de la Princesa street.

Buying the bus ticket is not so straightforward, as there is not counter visible in the entrance door where we could ask questions. Walking further inside the terminal, we found a reception counter and asked the lady on duty where we should buy our ticket and wait, only for her to point to outside the terminal. It turned out that the bus is available almost every hour during the day and tickets could be bought on a machine located just outside one of the terminal’s door for €15/person round trip. We took the 9.00am bus and arrived at the outlet at 9.45am, 15 minutes before the stores opened.

The complex is not crowded, perhaps due to the lingering pandemic effect, and there was probably only 10-20 customers at that time. But even later in the afternoon, there was much less people than normally seen in such factory outlet. We saw no line up in any of the stores, contrary to our experience visiting Toronto factory outlet just months before.

La Roca Village Factory Outlet
Crowds in La Roca Village

The complex itself is not too large either – smaller than other outlets I have visited in other European countries or in North America – but carry most of the brands we were interested in. I lost track of what my girlfriend bought, but I got myself a pair of Tod’s shoes and a Montblanc laptop briefcase. The discount in most stores range from 15-40%. For example, the Tod’s shoes that I bought were on a 33% discount, although there were others with only 15% discount.

There was nothing worth seeing or doing in the surrounding area other than shopping, and we were not interest in going to a Nike shoe factory nearby, so after a quick paella meal at Restaurant Pasarela (within the complex), we walked to the same bus stop we were dropped earlier and departed back to Barcelona at 3.05pm. It was around 4pm when we were back in Barcelona Nord bus terminal and decided to walk back to our hotel to drop off our goods, which took a good twenty minutes walk passing Arc de Triomf and Palau de Musica under the scorching sun.

To balance our itinerary for the day with cultural sightseeing, our plan was to go to Tibidabo – the tallest hill in the Serra de Collserola overlooking the whole city. Going to Tibidabo from downtown Barcelona requires several transit. First, we need to take the metro S1 or S2 line to Peu del Funicular station, then a funicular to go uphill, and then bus number 111 that stops on the right side of the station following the exit door. We were grateful that we bought a 96-hour unlimited metro pass on our first day, as it saved us plenty of time buying single-use tickets for each of those transit.

The Front Side of Sagrat Cor Church, Barcelona
Restaurant building in Tibidabo, Barcelona

There is a small amusement park in front of the Sagrat Cor Church where visitors could take a picture of the whole Barcelona. We spent our time there exploring the church and going to the top of the tower, first by elevator and then by a spiral staircase, which cost an extra €5/person. Being at a higher ground means there were several good angles for photographing the cityscape. We took many photographs there and were initially planning to wait for the sunset, but considering that we must wait for another two hours before it gets dark, we decided to go back to the city and have a nice meal instead.

The Landscape from the Top of Sagrat Cor Church
Barcelona Cityscape Taken from Tibidabo
The Funicular Station to and from Tibidabo

On our way to the Chinese hot pot restaurant the day before, we passed a tapas bar called Vinitus with long line in front of the entrance door – something that made us curious. Our plan today was to go there for dinner. But on our way from the metro station, we spotted another good-looking restaurant named La Flautes located in Carrer de la Diputació. Since we were expecting a long line up at Vinitus and there were only few at La Flautes, we decided to give it a try.

The service and ambience were great, and more importantly the food was amazing. In hindsight, we both agree that La Flautes is the best meal we had during the whole Spain and Portugal trip. We ordered 9 plates of tapas and a bottle of red wine to fill our belly. Among our favourites are octopus on top of a mashed pumpkin, a veal steak, prawn skewers, and duck breast. When we left the restaurant and walked home, I had a feeling that it will be a while before I could find such an impressive food again. Must go!

People Crossing the Street in Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona
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