Thursday, November 3, 2022

The foodie trails to Spain (travel itinerary of 9 days in Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona )


In October 2022 we decided to finally step foot on foreign soil – after two years of COVID pandemic. Here is a detailed itinerary of the places we visited and the experiences, hope this helps you plan your own holiday well.

COVID regulations:

Spain needed a compulsory 3 vaccines certificate, so we got our booster vaccinations and the certificate. The certificate was only required at Immigration. No certificate was required for our 7 year old. On return, however Govt of India needed a RT PCR for my son, and we had to get an RT PCR done in Barcelona. The best way is to google RTPCR centers at your destination, or to ask the pharmacies in the city to guide you to a centre. The RTPCR cost 49 Euros. If you have vaccination certificates no need for RTPCR.

Spain itinerary overview :

Arrive at Madrid , 3 nights in Madrid

Travel by train to, Valencia (2 hour train journey from Madrid ), 3 nights in Valencia

Travel by train to Barcelona (2.5 Hour train journey from Valencia), 3 nights in Barcelona

The Hotels and train tickets were prebooked on Make my trip and while I don’t recommend the hotels that we stayed at, I do recommend the train travel. The trains are clean, fast, comfortable free wifi and provide a scenic journey to the next destination. There is a basic bag screening which takes 5 minutes at train station. No need to book flights within Spain, it will take longer and more cumbersome.

Madrid itinerary

We travelled from Madrid airport to our Hotel by taxi at the airport, while Uber is also available, Taxi is faster and same cost. They have a cap of 4 persons to a car.

Once at hotel ask for the map of Madrid, infact each of the cities had their maps at the hotel receptions making travel very convenient. And we travelled using the Metro train. The main stations are Atocha and Sol. Atocha is also the station where we get the train to Valencia, the station closest to the Yellow bus tours and to the meeting point for our travel to Toledo and Segovia. Sol station is close to the city center, night clubs, Gran Via road, shopping and sight seeing.

Day 1 Madrid

 We took the metro to Sol, and visited the San Miguel food market, Tapas, sangrias and local food. Also the Gran via road has all the top fashion houses and malls. Perfect to see the city vibes.

Day 2 Madrid

 We did a day tour of the city via Yellow bus tours. Yellow bus tours is a 2 hour panoramic city tour, they have a guide who talk you through the sights, you cannot get off the bus in the 2 hours. This is different from a Hop on Hop off bus. A hop on-Hop off bus is preferrable, visit 3 places definitely – the Madrid castle one of the largest castles in western Europe, The Bull fighting arena one of the only places in the world where bull fights are still seen and one of the grandest bull fighting arenas in the world bull fighting season is March to October so you can book tickets to watch, and Park Retiro which is UNESCO heritage centre 128 hectares and 15000 trees, also has lots of monuments, buildings and parks within the park, plus a lake for boating. Would recommend ‘steak burger’ restaurant for their premium steaks, ‘san gines’ for churros, and la Polleria for the Instagram waffles.

metros and buses every where , accesible tourism

steak burger on Gran via road

Day 3 Madrid

We did a half day tour of Toledo and a half day tour of Segovia, from Madrid via yellow bus tours. Toledo is about 1 hour by bus from Madrid, and then we return to Madrid and travel another 1.5 hours by bus to Segovia. We went by the yellow city bus tour. Highly recommend both the destinations. Toledo is stunning, like a scene out of Arabian nights, a Middle-eastern Muslim inspired city with winding roads, built on a hill, and you can lose yourself for hours in this magical medieval place. We spent way too much time in a sword and damask shop, would recommend you discover the city instead. If you can take a full day tour of just Toledo, or better still stay a day or two in Toledo to catch the night scenes. We left Toledo at 1 pm (had a mere 4 hours of Toledo), to head for Segovia , Segovia has the Roman aqueduct 2000 years old, an Alcazar castle and the grand cathedral. Segovia has a lot of history as well. I would a full day tour here aswell. Both places have a lot of history the Muslim and Modejar (muslims converted to Christianity), and Jewish influence. The bus journey was comfortable and our guide was excellent, both Spanish and English guides available.

the alcazar in Segovia

roman aqueduct in Segovia

Day 4 travel from Madrid to Valencia by Train.

Day 1 Valencia

Unfortunately because of the bookings by Make my trip we found oourselves staying outside of Valencia near the airport ! This meant it used to take us a minimum of 40 minutes to reach city center (Plaza Espanya is the most popular bus/metro station) , and multiple bus and metro changes to get to any of our destinations. Big mistake! Please please stay near the Valencia old city (near plaza espanya), or closer to the beach (playa something). We stayed in a place called Bonnaire, which had a mall close to us, since each night we needed to come back to Bonnaire by 10 , we spent most evenings, perusing the Bonnaire mall. The largest Mall in Valencia with 120 shops, and lots of eateries. Would recommend the 100 Montaditos restaurant in the mall, for beer on tap and tapas.

Day 1 Valencia

We reached on a National holiday and all malls, and market were closed. We headed to the beach in Valencia. One of the busiest beaches in Spain playa, Valencia is the nearest port to Ibiza and if you travel here in the summer, you will get to see the true Valencia playa beauty, but early October was not bad. Since we come from Goa, we are used to seeing the sunset over the sea, but since Valencia is on the east coast, the sunset is over the houses. Valencia is THE BEST PLACE to try Paella.

 The national dish of Spain originated from Valencia, and the best Paella places are to be found lining the beaches (playa). All Paella dishes are made after the order is placed and when we finally sat at one of the highly recommended Paella places, the waiting was too much with a 40 minutes waiting time, since we had changed two metros and a bus to get to the place, and had a deadline to catch our last bus- we missed out on dining by the beach. I know it was just a meal- but it is a learning experience to not trust ‘tour guides like make-my-trip’ to book hotels.

fideua - paella with noodles/pasta

the beach at Valencia 

wearing the colours of spain in spain, also beer on tap at 100 montaditos

Day 2 Valencia

We spent the day in the arts and sciences city of Valencia. They have 6 buildings,the entire complex is known as one of the 12 treasures of Spain.It houses the largest under water world in Europe with Oceanographic, a Massive interactive science city museum which resembles the skeleton of a whale, and IMAX cinema and planetarium L hemispheric built like a human eye. This place is sci-fi at its best. We took some 400 pictures and videos on this day and a pass cost 42 euros per person. Just brilliant.. Plus we reached the place by just changing 2 buses. Buses were the preferred mode of transport rather than metros in Valencia, bus number 95 goes to oceanographic. So ask around for the bus map, also google bus routes. We also had a very easy travel card, that saved us a lot on travel each day, so in any city, just go to the train/metro station and ask for the trave card. Available at airports aswell.


pics at the art and science city

Day 3 Valencia

We had a pre booked hopon-hopoff bus tour of Valencia this day. Hop on hop off is an excellenct idea if you plan on going to the beach (as I mentioned it is really far and out of the way), but if you plan on visiting the art science center it is a waste, since you will be spending the entire day at one place, and also if you plan on spending time in Valencia old town . Valencia old city has no cars or buses allowed that means no hop on-hop off buses within this place. Places to visit within the old city are plenty, there are guided tours for the entire old city, walking tours, and cycle tours. The Valencia cathedral that houses the famous Holy Grail the chalise from which Jesus drank his last sips is breathtaking (take the guided tour it is worth it) special significance if you are pregnant or hoping to conceive , the Valencia mercado central is one of largest enclosed markets in western Europe (closes at 3 pm), the La Lonja next to the market is a free entry Unesco monument, apparently we can climb the 144 steps to get a panoramic view of the old city, but it was closed on the day we went. The Iglesia San Nicholas church, and a meal at the Plaza de la Virgen and the Neptune fountain were all highlights of the old town. We finally had our Paella over looking the Valencia cathedral and it was everything we had hoped for. We had the traditional Valencia paella with chicken, rabbit and chorizos, we also had the sea food paella, and a vegetarian paella. Also sangrias.

Day 4 travel from Valencia to Barcelona scenic train journey by the Spanish sea side.

Day 1 Barcelona

We spend each of the first days understanding the metro and the bus stations. In Barcelona you need either the travel card or pay by card, no cash is accepted on buses, and so we chose to the card. Buses were the best way to travel. Barcelona has a lot of the places extremely well located around two bus stops /metro stops. Plaza Catalunia and Plaza Espanya. Take any bus/metro to Plaza Catalunya. Day 1 we walked down La Rambla road conveniently located along plaza Catalunya. We also attended a Flamenco dance performance.We went to Flamenco Barcelona SL, close to plaza Catalunya, they have shows every 2 hours , show lasts 1 hour 15 min, no food provided and at 20 euros this was the most economical. (shows in Madrid started at 35 euros) this show has certificate of excellence from trip advisor, has extremely high ratings, and children watch free/discounted.  Must experience once.

Day 2 Barcelona

We did a hop on hop off tour of Barcelona, and this audio tour was much much better than the Valencia hop on hop off. (I do not recommend the hop on hop off tour guide of Valencia, waste of money and time) but Barcelona was very enjoyable. We got off at Park Guell which was underwhelming, over crowded, and miss-able. It does not exemplify Gaudi’s best work, for which I would recommend La Pedrera (read next). We also went to the Football club of Barcelona, and it was super fun to take pictures outside the building. Since we had done a tour of the stadium and museum in 2013, we didn’t repeat it, but you should visit if you have not done it before. We also visited the marines, and the Barcelona Cathedral and all the beautiful lanes around Gothic part of Barcelona. No cars/buses are allowed in this region between La Rambla and Via Laetana , and this place has narrow walking lanes, picturesque shops, cheaper eateries, a very enjoyable walking discovery, with live musicians, and street performers and art museums.

Day 3 Barcelona

We spent the morning soaking in the magnificence of Sagrada Familia, and Casa Mila or La Pedrera. This was our second time visiting Sagrada Familia, we had visited in 2013 dec, and in the past 9 years a few new additions have been made, but more than that there is a proper system for tickets, we get to fix a time and buy the tickets. You don’t need to stand in serpentine queues for half a day to get in! You can even buy the tickets online! We bought it outside the cathedral at an additional cost of 2 euros, since our online booking was not happening. But it is still very convenient. You get a free downloadable audio guide. This time we also went to La Pedrera, the last time we were cash strapped youngsters who found the ticket too expensive, also we had just 12 hours to explore Barcelona the last time around. This time we were really able to understand more about Gaudi and his work and workings inside the La Pedrera building.

 The Sagrada familia has very little of Gaudi’s original work, and much of what has been built, is over the past 96 years since Gaudi’s death! So the real genius is in the la Pedrera building- La Pedrera means a stone quarry or stack of stone, people used to joke that it looks like a haphazhard pile of stones, but from an attic shaped like a whales spine, and glass reptiles and warriors on the undulating roof and the butterfly wing gate at the entrance, everything in this building has Nature and meaning. That is why even though people criticised the building when it was made, and made fun of Gaudi, the entire city of Barcelona is literally a celebration of Gaudi a century after his death.

Day 4 : Early morning flight from Barcelona back to India.

Over view of our holiday.

Well just recollecting and writing this holiday guide has brought back vivid memories and if you found just reading all of this overwhelming, believe me the sights, sounds, stories, tastes and experiences will leave your senses overwhelmed.

But, since we had 3 days each in the places we had a very enjoyable pace, and a deep understanding of each place. There is a lot of walking, with each day we were walking over 20000 steps. The roads are not like cobblestone roads of Italy so it is much easier to walk in Spain, all signs are in English, but people don’t speak much English. All hotels, restaurant managers, and major stores have English speaking staff so you can ask them. All metros have someone who knows English, most bus drivers do not know English. When in doubt ask locals/ other tourists for help. We were told Barcelona is filled with thiefs and pick pockets, we thankfully did not face such experiences. Of all the places we visited, Toledo and Segovia were the perfect European castle experience, Valencia is the perfect east meets west experience, Madrid had the most local city flavour, Barcelona was the most touristy and welcoming.

Food wise lots of Sangria (fruits and red wine), churros (doughnut type stick desserts), tapas (small bar eats with drinks our favourite were tortillas, patatas bravas, gambas and calamari fritters, pollo croquettes) , jamon(smoked meat), paella (one pot rice dish), and try the local Mercados (markets) for seasonal local products. And try the fixed meal combos, which give you a starter, mains, dessert at a fixed price. All malls and most shopping places close on Sundays and national holidays.

For more : follow my Instagram page @thefoodietrails for pictures from our trip it is under insta highlights.

Search for my posts with the hashtag #thefoodietrailstospain #shreyshtinspain on Instagram  

breakfast tortillas loaded spanish omlettes

paella !

audio guided tours everywhere

the pretty neptune fountain in Valencia

camp nou in Barcelona

The bay area in Barcelona

Night life in Madrid

patatas bravas and meat balls tapas

park guell barcelona





Saturday, May 21, 2022

Summer vacation to Imagica Theme park and Imagicaa water world


Summer vacation to Imagicaa 2022

After 2 summer vacations spent in COVID lockdown, it was time to reclaim the ‘high point of childhood ‘, and we did it in style by spending 2 days in Imagica theme park, and 2 nights at the adjacent Novotel Imagica.

Why Imagica?

I have had a huge fascination for the gorgeous theme parks of the world, be it Disney land, or Lego land, or Singapore’s Sentosa Island with Universal studios. And ever since Shreysht was born, I wanted to take him to these theme parks, and fulfil my own curiosity.

 And, Imagica is the best option for a theme park in India, also, since my parents live in Pune, it was a short 2 hour ride to the park (Imagica is in Khopoli, outskirts of Mumbai, and an inter city drive from Pune) It has both a Theme park and a water park. And even though we chose summer to go, they have lots of greenery and shade places especially the water park, there are indoor rides, even some of the queues are in air conditioned rooms, and it was very comfortable even in the Height of May.

We went to Singapore when Shreysht was 3.5 years old, and he enjoyed as much as a 3 three and half can, but now that he is six and half, he had a much more exciting time, and we did too.

Why stay at Novotel Imagica ?

-        If you are traveling from around the country (other than Pune, Mumbai ) I would highly recommend you stay at Imagica Novotel. The theme park and the water park, each take a day each to complete, and so doing one of them on two consecutive days, with an overnight stay at a 4 star hotel absolutely adjacent to the park is the best way to maximise your time and experience of the theme parks.

-        Even if you stay in pune/Mumbai, but are traveling with kids to the park, and do not have your own vehicle to drive to the theme park, I would say , stay overnight at the hotel. The theme park, and the water park are both very extensive , tiring , funfilled days, which extract every ounce of your enthusiasm, and none of us had the mental bandwidth, not to mention physical capacity to drive back in city traffic to any home. With the Novotel, we could go back to our room, regresh and rejuvenate, and then head down to an extensive dinner buffet.

-        The stay at the imagica, comes with attractive options for the theme park entries, as well as a breakfast buffet. They also have free stay for children under 10, and special rates for senior citizens.

-        A cheaper option would be other hotels near by, or an air bnb style option near the Theme park, but to really indulge in the immersive experience , we chose the Novotel. And not just one night, but we chose 2 nights, so that we were rested after both days of the theme park.

-        ONE MAJOR TIP – check in is at 2 pm, and check out at 11 am. For some reason, we thought we have to check in before going to the park! You do not need to do that, you can bring your bags in early, head to the park at 10:30 am and check- in later. Or you can checkout and then head to the other park.

A note on the food at Novotel Imagica, it was excellent. The 4 buffet meals we had here, 2 breakfasts (included in charges) and 2 dinner buffets were all very thoughtfully planned, not repetitive and extremely well prepared as a food blogger, I was in food heaven, and yet have no food pictures because i used to not carry my phone for meals. a chance for me to be more mindful with the food, and be with my family.

More about the Imagica park

-        There is the Imagica theme park with 35 attractions, the water park with 14 rides , and a snow world that has a different entry and charges. The theme park has special rates on Tuesdays, and the water park has special rates on Wednesdays , so if you plan to visit both then a Tuesday +Wednesday would be the most value for money.

-        There is a height cut off on most rides , one of 3 feet 1 inch , and 4 feet 4 inch. If you have a child and two parents, then there is a special entry where the second parent does not have to stand in the line a second time.

-        On extremely busy days you can upgrade your tickets to beat the lines. But we made the mistake of taking these upgrades on a day it was not busy. You can upgrade at any time during your visit to theme park, these upgrade shops are outside every popular ride, and you can decide if you want to upgrade if the lines are especially long any time of the day. Even if you have the upgrade pass, you get to do the rides only once using the pass, that means the second time you do the ride, you still have to stand in the long queue. The upgrade does not mean unlimited access.

-        The indoor rides shut down by 5 pm, so it is best to start the morning with these rides, namely all the indoor shows (motion box theatre, cinema 360, I for India, Mr India , detective bow wow show ) , and also the indoor rides (our favourites were Ali baba and Rajasaurus ) . The outdoor rides are open till 6:30. Ask the attendants, when the ride will close. Also, start with the furthest rides from the entrance first, before the crowds come.

-        Four scary rides for thrill seakers – the Nitro , the scream machine, the dare to drop, and deep space, all need a height requirement of 4.4 feet. But, if you have a high on thrill child, then Gold rush and Rajasaurus have height cut off of 3 feet 1 inch and provide ample screams aswell.

-        You get the pictures for Rs 300 it is online pictures. Which makes it convenient to get the entire set.

-        Water park – as mentioned earlier, we mis-timed our entry, and went to the park after checkin, at 2:30 pm, and were told the park would close at 5 pm. Thankfully for us, the park was crowded that day, on crowded days, they keep the park open till 6:30. They have lockers to keep bags, no towels are provided, so carry your own, dry fit wear or swim suits are a must, carry a waterproof ziplock for your phone if you want to take it into the park, there are shoe racks to keep your slippers outside the rides so please don’t try and walk bare foot around the park.

-        Food and water was surprisingly allowed inside the park! This is a blessing if you have young children, water is easily fillable in the many drinking water kiosks, even the snacks available in the park are at MRP and not at a hiked price! The restaurants and eateries are all very affordable. We liked the pizza place near the wave pool and rain dance area in the Imagica water park for eating.

-         A super cool tip to win you some freebies – so at the entry you are given a raffle ticket. Most people do not fill this raffle ticket, because they don’t have apen, or they are in a hurry to get to the games, but fill this lucky draw ticket and drop it in the souvenir store at the beginning. Every evening they choose 3 winners from the theme park and 3 from the water park. There is a high chance you will win. We did ! we got third prize on the day we went to water park.

-        Can you do both water park and theme park in the same day… not recommended. Choose 2 days. Infact as we were allowed 2 days, we asked specifically if we could go from one to the other. But there is a 5 minute bus travel (inhouse buses) from one to the other, you cannot wear wet clothes from the water park to the theme park, and it truly does take a day to do justice to any of them.

-        The night parade , happens in the theme park after 7 pm. Even if you went to the water park, you get free access into the theme park for the parade, it has all the characters from the park, like Mr India and even snow white and seven dwarfs, also some very talented acrobats. It is definitely worth a watch.try and get a place near the pirate ship to get the best views.

Final words

It is a real feat to make such a theme park in India, and keep it running well. Yes the park opens late (10:30 ) and closes by 5 pm (indoor rides and water park )- 6:30 pm  (outside rides ). But that is for the safety checks, they do diligent safety checks of the rides, multiple times. They need to check there aren’t anyone in the park after hours, they need to check the rowdy crowds, the staff is courteous, helpful and we need to extend that respect to them aswell. The park is really value for money, for all that it offers, including lifetime memories.

 want to watch more of our shenanigans in Imagica? 

Here are few links to my instagram reels from Imagica