It was 11.15 p.m. of 29th January 2009. After immigration clearance I waited near gate 3 of Indira Gandhi International Airport to board Air France flight AF 0147 departing Delhi at 1.20 a.m. of 30th January. The flight was scheduled to reach Charles de Gaulle, Paris airport at 5.40 a.m. From there I was to take connecting flight AF 1148 at 7.45 a.m. arriving El Prat, Barcelona airport at 9.25 a.m.

I went to Barcelona to participate in EXPOHOGAR Fair 2009 which was held from 31st January to 2nd February at Gran Via Exhibition Centre, Pavillion 2, Barcelona. Central Cottage Industries Corporation of India was allotted stand no. D 491. Two cartons of handicraft products were already despatched by DHL. I carried further one bag of handloom products and western design garments as accompanying baggage. Though my personal bag weighed only 12 kgs.but the products for display at exhibition kept in separate baggage weighed 16 kgs. My economy class ticket allowed only 20 kgs. check-in baggage. Hence I had to pay Rs.10,050/- for 5 kgs. of extra luggage as airlines officials waived off 3 kgs. of extra weight. I paid the extra baggage charge through my credit card. After the exhibition was over on 2nd February I returned that bag also through DHL who were paid for return transportation also.

New Delhi to Paris flight AF 147 had taken off from IGI Delhi airport at 1.50 a.m. of 30th January. The scheduled time was 1.20 a.m. The plane landed at CDG Paris airport at terminal 2C at 5.30 a.m. The temperature outside airport was 0 Degree C. But inside the airport building, it was cozy and warm. As I was already suffering from mild influenza I took medicine at night. In the aircraft in early morning I took medicine for thyroid also. I had to be careful about my health particularly when I was travelling abroad.

After the EXPOHOGAR fair was to be over at Barcelona I intended to visit some other places of tourist attraction in Spain. Besides Madrid, I wanted to see Sevilla, Granada and Cordoba. South Spain had unique culture impacted by Moorish arrival and their rule of over eight centuries.

On 30th January 2009 the aircraft arrived at Paris airport as per schedule. I sat at restaurant Espressamenreilly near gate number 36 of terminal 2F of Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris. I was to board connecting flight AF 1148 departing Paris at 7.45 a.m. which arrived at Barcelona at 9.25 a.m.

The inside of boarding terminal was a big and the long hall which prominently displayed gate numbers. The sitting arrangements near the gates were comfortable. Besides restaurant there were also toilets facilities. Even there was a dispenser machine which gave tooth brush, paste and razor as per requirements. There were some non-Europeans mostly Asians working in different jobs. Morning newspapers and weeklies were dumped at racks for passengers to take them as complimentary copies.

To board the aircraft the passengers were taken on shuttle bus to cover a short distance. The temperature outside was freezing. Smoke air was blowing while taking breath on opening mouth. However, the temperature in bus was also pleasant.

Though the departure time was 7.45 a.m. the flight took off a bit late at the runway. There was no sun till after some time of flying. The plane was flying over western France. The Pyrenees mountain range was covered with snow. The travel time to Barcelona was 1 hour and 30 minutes. The scheduled time of arrival at Barcelona was 9.25 a.m. But due to a delay the plane landed at about 9.45 a.m.

On the aircraft the person sitting next to me was a gentleman from Paris. About the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, he told me that in international matters he was more successful than in domestic matters. Regarding Carla Bruni the French people have even opinion. Some people admire her and some people despise her.

The airplane landed at Barcelona airport few minutes later than its schedule time of 9.25 a.m. While crossing green signal of customs an official asked me where I was coming from. When I told him New Delhi, India he did not ask me to open my bags but took away the airlines luggage identification wrapper. Outside, Jaswinder Kumar an Indian businessman settled in Barcelona was waiting for me. He drove me to my hotel apartment located in city centre, adjacent to the posh localities of Ramblan and Catalunya. On the way I got connected my Matrix mobile phone number after some calls to help lines done by Jaswinder Kumar. I could not get enough time in hotel as the delivery boy of DHL was waiting for me at the Gran Via Exhibition Centre. DHL also gave me some worrying moments as they could not locate my consignments through account number of Delhi office of DHL. Apparently there was lack of standardization to trace the parcel.

Jaswinder Kumar helped me by escorting me to the site of the exhibition of Fira Barcelona and also arranging a porter of Indian origin to open boxes and display items. Due to the non-availability of hanging nails and long tables by the exhibition service provider, the display could not be done as per my expectation. At about 7.30 p.m. there was some reasonable display of products. I left the venue and reached Bollywood, the Indian restaurant of Jaswinder Kumar. The restaurant is popular among Indian and Spanish communities. Besides good Indian meals Indian classical music and Bollywood dances by Spanish girls were organized on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. He treated me with extra courtesy and he personally brought me to my hotel at 11.15 p.m.

As I was suffering from bronchitis, I took anti-biotics besides my normal medicines. Before sleeping I tried to search Indian channels which were absent but there were few adult channels. As I was to get up early in the morning I did not have time to waste in seeing any channels.

On 31th January 2009 after coming out of the hotel apartment I encashed a traveller’s cheque. It appeared to me that the person at the counter of money changer charged high commission. In fact I was subsequently confirmed that traveller cheques are unwelcome in Spain. It is the Euro currency or credit card which is accepted everywhere. From morning it was challenging hectic. After three days of ailment I had a bath though I still had impact of influenza and bronchitis. It rained in the morning as well. The taxi driver, a local Spanish youth tried to take longer routes as he charged about Euro 17 though it should not be more than 9 or 10 Euros. Off course, the language barrier gives advantage to drivers. Even if they understand the language they pretend not to know the foreign visitor’s language to exploit the passengers.

At the exhibition venue I took some snacks at Mabrouka, a food stall selling Arabian food, but not shawarma. Throughout the day there were some persons who visited my stall but none could become my bulk customer.

In morning I travelled to the south west of Barcelona, said to be centre of most of attractions and activities. The exhibition centre of Fira Barcelona, little smaller than Pragati Maidan of ITPO at New Delhi,  at Gran Via was located on little outskirt of the town. From there it was short walk to catch a bus on Av. De La Granvia to reach Espanya which was not only junction for metro but also the royal palace Montjuic was located nearby. The previous night I took line 3, green line metro which reached me at Paral-lel. Bollywood restaurant was located at Av. Drassanes. From there my hotel was located nearby at La Rambla, a posh tourist walking area. In one day I could see a fair bit of Barcelona.

On 1st February 2009,I could start my day better organized as I woke up at 6.30 a.m. After breakfast of sandwich in room itselfI went to Rambla, a posh walking and tourist area. I took green line metro from Catalunya for Euro 1.35 and reached Espanya which is also a posh tourist attraction. The royal place is also located here. From Catalunya I took a taxi to reach Fira Barcelona exhibition centre. I reached at 9.30 a.m., half an hour earlier than scheduled opening time. The whole day I remained at the exhibition centre. I kept on highlighting the handicrafts and handlooms of India. Near to my stall there was a candle stall of a Bulgarian businessman. His son was a student and daughter worked and lived in Barcelona while the family lived in Sofia. He knew about India’s handicraft products on permanent displays at Sofia. I informed him about big industry of special type of candle with fragrance in India. His daughter and perhaps his son also would not like to marry in life. Marriage was not on their life’s agenda.

At 7.30 p.m. I could leave exhibition centre and reached hotel by bus and by taxi. It had been drizzling for the last two days. I got wet in the rains and my clothes were soggy. To take dinner at Bollywood restaurant I left my hotel and walked at Rambla. It was raining and my umbrella was proving to be of symbolic use only. On the way I saw several grocery stores run and managed by people of South Asian origin, mostly from India. There was a visible presence of the Indian community particularly in small business in Spain. After dinner I returned in drizzling rain. That day being Sunday and also due to rains the walking road was not crowded. But there were many couples, boys and girls moving in the area displaying their intimate affection to their partners. Love birds were enjoying thedrizzles. I was told that there were incidents of robbery in all such areas, particularly at night. I reached my hotel at 11.00 p.m. and went to sleep by 12.30 a.m. I could see large parts of south west of Barcelona inspite of the continual drizzle.

On 2nd February 2009I got up early in morning at 6.30 a.m. I took breakfast comprising butter and jam toast. By 8.45 a.m. I was at Rambla. At adjacent Plaza Catalunya I took green line metro to reach Plaza Espania. That morning the weather was a bit better. I took a taxi and reached the exhibition centre before 9.45 a.m.

That day also I met all types of customers. Some were doing business and some were interested in individual purchases or doing window shopping. At the exhibition the sale of products were not allowed. Only orders for supply could be obtained. But there were many participants who were selling their products. Like CCIC’s stand some other big companies were taking orders only. As the venue of the Fira Barcelona exhibition was located at outskirt of Barcelona there were not many casual window shoppers. Some people who participated in that exhibition in past told me that due to economic meltdown, more so in Spain, there were less number of visitors that time. Many people whom I met told me that economy had broken down, there was no money available. Even government’s rescue package had been exploited by bankers who did not pass on benefits of the rescue package to their customers. Immigrants from several countries were going back to their home countries as the countries of migration were not able to take care of theirdaily needs. Spain being most important tourist attraction had lost tourists, hotels were vacant, airlines had empty seats, and beaches were sparsely populated.

I had snacks at the food counter run by an African family who were selling Arabian food. Actually, their items were not fully Arabian, but the stuff was edible for a person like me.

In the evening I sent through DHL all the products brought for the exhibition.

On 3rd February 2009I I went sightseeing on a Barcelona Tourist bus, Barcelona Bus Turistic, on payment of one day fare of Euro 21. It is hop on and hop off service having two lines – blue line for mostly south region and red line for mostly north region. It was a good package.

Some of the places covered by blue line were PlacaCatalunya, La Pedrera (built by Gaudi), Sagrada Familia (church designed and construction started by famous genius artist Antoni Gaudi in late 19th century and construction goes on and may take another century for completion), Gracia, Park Guell (Gaudi’s architecture in garden form), Football Club Stadium (BARCA, which produced legendary players like Kubala, Maradona and Ronaldinho), I listened to its signature song also).

Some of the tourist places covered by red line were PlacaCatalunya, La Pedrera, Diagonal, Placa Espanya, Poblo Espanyol, AnellaOlimpic (main site of Olympic Games 1992), Teleferic de Montjuic (gives bird’s eye view of the city and harbour), Miramar, WTC, Port Vell, Port Olimpic (sea front legacy of 1992 Olympics).

In the evening I saw a 1 hr. 30 minutes programme of Spanish Fleminco at dance theatre Cordebez, designed and decorated with Islamic motif and Quranic calligraphy copied from monuments of  Islamic rule over Cordoba and other places in south Spain. I think the proprietor of the theatre must be having sadistic pleasure to belittle Islamic cultural heritage. Elsewhere in Europe and America there are wine bars named Mecca. The next day I made it a point to take photographs of interior of Cordebez theatre.

On 4th February 2009 in the morning I walked down Ramblan walking plaza and spent some time at the imposing memorial column of Columbus facing the harbour. It was sunny morning and the temperature was 9 degree C. Important government buildings of military and navy are also located nearby. This walking street runs through the middle of the busy roads. This two kilometer walk had metro stations of Liceu and Draness besides the big metro junction of Catalunya plaza which is hub of tourist transport as well.

While walking I visited a souvenir shop run by Indians. When I inquired about life in Barcelona and Spain, one Indian gentleman told me that economy had gone bust. There was drastic reduction in tourists. People do not have money to spend. The tourism industry which is main industry of Barcelona has been worst hit. Shopkeepers were closing shops and searching for jobs. Those laid off by employers were going back to their respective countries. There appeared to be no revival of economy in near future.

I took photograph of Cordobez restaurant which organized Spanish Fleminco dances daily. The previous night I saw entire inside decoration done using calligraphy of Quranic verses and Kalma in Arabic script. When I asked aboutthe choice of this name, the receptionist could not give any valid logic except that it was chosen just like that. I understood the hatred for historic Islamic rule and culture of Cordoba.

Jaswinder Kumar accompanied me to the airport. The departure time of my flight no. VY 1052 of Vueling airlines was scheduled at 12.50 p.m. The flight time was 1.35 hr. and its scheduled time of arrival at Sevilla was 2.25 p.m. The flight took off actually at 1.00 p.m.

Barcelona’s sea coast has long stretch of beaches. From the airplane the coast-line reminded me as to why Barcelona remains a most attractive destination for tourists from Europe. Comparably it has warm and cozyweather during summer.

The airplane landed on time at 2.30 p.m. I got some information about the region at the tourist information centre at the airport. The officials at tourist information centres, I found, were courteous and patient. This was my experience at various information centres and also at the airport of Sevilla. I was on trip to know historical importance of Andalucia, southern region of Spain. I chose Sevilla, Granada and Cordoba to know their Islamic connection.

I paid Euro 21 to reach my hotel from the airport. On the way I saw Olympic apartments constructed to provide accommodation to sports persons for the Barcelona Olympics 1992.  Some events of Barcelona Olympic were organized at Sevilla also.

I checked in hotel Adriano Sevilla for Euro 39 per night. It was raining heavily. I took a small and old umbrella from the hotel and walked down to the famous cathedral which used to be a grand mosque during Muslim rule. I climbed the Giralda tower which used to be minaret of the mosque which was used to call azaan, call for namaz prayer. It is said that the person had to ride on horse to reach the top of minaret to call for prayer. When Muslim rulers surrendered the territory they desired to demolish the tower. But Christian rulers did not allow that. Now, the tower has several huge church bells. At the mosque site a big cathedral was constructed and there was hardly any remnant of Islamic structure and mosque, etc. There was no presence of Moroccan or Arabic culture except the structure of buildings.

There were marroqui restaurants Al Medina and As Sawirah. I took cous – cous with lamb dinner at Euro 18. The Muslim owner told me that he took pork and wine. He did not offer Eid prayers also. His family in Morocco followed Islamic rituals. Here he lived with a Spanish girlfriend who helped him in restaurant.

On 5th February 2009I visited Al-Cazar, the old royal palace. It was raining in the morning also. The hotel did not provide me any umbrella. During rains I was drenched and I wet my socks and shoes. Also clothes are spoiled. But I wanted to complete my visit by seeing Al Cazar. I went out in rains and saw how Muslim cultural symbols had been erased and replaced by painting and statues of Christian rulers.

I experienced hardship while travelling in South Spain. People do not know how to speak in English. All sign boards were in Spanish or other local languages. There was another problem of getting suitable food. Even Marroqui restaurants served meat which was not Halal. Whatever one got to eat did not conform to culture of India or Muslims. There were hardly any Indian, practically no Arabian or marroqui living in the region. Marroquis also do not know English. The weather was intemperate. To visit tourist places one has to reach in time but weather creates obstacles. On the previous night I took an umbrella from hotel to go to Marroquirestaurant As-Sawirah. That morning there was no umbrella and it was raining. I had to go to Al Cazar drenching myself fully, as I had to return soon to catch the train departing at 11.50 a.m.

I boarded atrain for Granada. It started at 11.50 a.m. which was to reach Granada at 2.59 p.m. The train was delayed on way. Ultimately the train arrived at 4.00 p.m. and there was no time to visit Al Hambra that day.

My train got delayed on the way. When I tried to talk to Al Hambra tour office every time they told me to speak later as an English knowing guide was not available. In my case as the train was delayed there was hardly any chance to reach the entry ticket office of Al Hamra before 5.00 p.m. as the train arrived at Granada at 4.00 p.m. I took a taxi and reached my hotel where I checked in and kept my luggage. Granada is located at the foot of impressive snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was the capital of Spain’s last Moorish kingdom.

Granada is famous for Al Hamra. Tourists from rest of Europe and other parts of the world have to book tickets in advance to visit Al Hamra, more so during summer which is peak time of tourism of Spain. I learnt that during summer the rush of visitors used to be so high that the royal palace used to become crowded. In order to control the number of visitors the arrangement for advance booking on internet was started. The entry ticket mentioned not only date but exact time of visit to the royal Nasid palace.

Granada had language problem also. The Spanish people speak in Spanish language, though I was told that English language was being taught in schools.

I took the Alhambra bus at Plaza Nueva which drove through unique settlement area Abicin and El Salvador. It gave a panoramic view of city also. I offered Maghribnamaz in a mosque. I roamed around Arabic locality. I took dinner at Kasbah, an Arab restaurant run by a Spanish. It had an Arab chef. The shawarma dinner was full to stomach for Euro 3.50.  I took coffee also. There were small shops of handicrafts.

On 6th February 2009 in the morning I got up at 7.00 a.m. and packed my bags before I left the hotel at 8.15 a.m. It was a rainy morning hence I carried an umbrella. Before 9 a.m. I was at the ticket office of Al Hambra. The entry ticket was for Euro 13. I took an audio guide for Euro 4 also.

There were few important places in Al Hambra complex. The palace of Nasrid (Nasr), the Alcazar, the palace of Carlos, general life, etc.Nasrid dynasty was last Muslim dynasty in Spain, ruling Emirates of Granada from 1238 till 1492, though Muslim rule in Andalucia started from 711 AD. The palaces of Nasrid rulers are still well maintained. They are beautifulworks of arts, impressive architecture and regal life. The Palace of Generalife was the summer palace of Nasrid sultans. The Palace of Carlos, Charles V, was also constructed at Nasrid fort of Alhambra.

One thing was obvious that after defeating Muslim rulers the Christian rulers demolished the entire Islamic culture. The famous Al HambraMadarsa, Islamic University was razed to the grounds. All mosques were converted to churches. Even theMarroquis population adopted a Christian cultural ethos.

After completing visit of Al Hambra in more than 4 hours, I roamed around the city. The important tourist attractions were Isabel de Catolica, etc. The second half of the day had sun shine and pleasant weather. But the temperature was about 6 degree C.

I took the luggage from my hotel and took a taxi to reach Granada station of renfe, the Spanish railway line. I purchased Granada to Cordoba ticket for Euro 33.20. The train departed at 6.00 p.m. and was scheduled to reach Cordoba at 8.30 p.m. At the Cordoba railway station a lawyer-cum-businessman Manuel took me in his car to my hotel Serrano. This was a good hotel which was located at walking distance from the railway station.

I went to a super store located nearby and purchased fruits and non-fat bread and after a sparse meal, I went to bed early.

On 7th February 2009 I visited Mozquita(Mosque)-cum-Catedral of Cordoba. It has 850 columns and double Moorish arches which makes it an architectural marvel. The mosque is filled with statues and portraits of Christian saints. When I visited the church service music was being played. There is much similarity between style of columns and arches of this Mosque and Masjid-e-Nabvi of Medina. I could not get time to visit archeological site of the city Medina Azahara which is just eight kilometers from Cordoba.

Due to paucity of time and a hectic travel schedule I could not visit Malaga a very important tourist destination in Andalusia. I heard a lot about this place located at southern tip of Spain. Picasso the famous artist was born there. It has treasure of Islamic architecture, art and culture.

The arrival of the Moors to Spain in 711 made Cordoba the headquarters of the Emirates founded by the Ommiad leader Abd al-Rahman the first.The construction of the mosque was started during his time.

I purchased a railway ticket for Euro 64 through Visa credit card. It was a direct train departing Cordoba at 12.50 p.m. and reaching Madrid at 2.30 p.m.

After I got down at Atocha Railway station of Madrid I took metro train to reach Tirso de Molina station. While purchasing metro ticket at about 2:50 pm my wallet was exposed to public view. When the metro reached the station, I found that my wallet in the coat was picked in dramatic manner at about 3.15 pm. In my wallet I had 55Euro and traveller cheque of Euro 100 besides my visitor cards and identity card. Only my passport and credit card remained secureininner pocket of the coat. I noticed one person obstructing my way to carry luggage by raising his leg in the way. At the gate somebody bumped into me. I knew what happened to me in few seconds.After landing at platform I felt my passport was intact while I gazed at the person who had obstructed my way. Later I informed SOS of American Express card. I became upset and sad. However, I reached my hotel located nearby and checked in. On return to India I read that pick pocket in cities like Barcelona and Madrid is rampant because of weak penal laws.

As I lost all the currency I had to go to nearby plaza to encash traveller cheque of Euro 200 for currency of Euro 180. The commission of 10% was unheard of.

I paid pension hotel lady Euro 60. I took dinner at a restaurant located at Indian restaurant street located nearby my hotel.

On 8th February 2009I got up leisurely in the morning and reached Plaza Mayor, most important tourists’ attraction besides Sol, the other tourists’ area. My hotel was located very near to both of them. Just 5 to 10 minutes walk from there I took Madrid vision double decker sightseeing tour for Euro 17 one day tour. This tour was like the one which was in Barcelona.

I took dinner in an area of Indian restaurants. The Bollywood video shop had big posters of Salman Khan and Priyanka Chopra.

In the night of 8thFebruary after packing my bags I went to bed at 10.00 p.m. I put alarm for 5.00 a.m. on my mobile. But there was anxiety. Here the sun rises  at around 8.00 a.m. The pension hotel did not have 24 hour reception and there were three keys to cross three doors. Nobody was awake at this unearthly hour. Moreover, there was anxiety of travel after arrival in Paris from Charles de Galle international airport to city centre near Opera in Paris. The hotel manager had earlier informed me that metro takes about one hour from airport to Blonch station. Perhaps there was a change of metro also. As I had encountered a bad experience in Madrid I was worried.

The whole night apprehensions played on my mind while lying in the bed. Anyway, I came out of the hotel at 6.00 a.m. of 9th February and took a taxi for Brajas international airport terminal 2. The fare paid was Euro 24.

I checked in my luggage at Air France counter. I encashed two pieces of Euro 100 traveller cheques at American Express counter at the airport. I got full Euro 100 in currency for the traveller cheque of the same denomination. The gentleman at the American Express counter at the airport told me that in Madrid there was only one counter of American Express at the airport. I told him that other money changer agencies are deducting 10% of Euro for encashment of travellers cheque. This was high exploitation.

My flight AF 1001 was scheduled to depart at 10.20 hrs. As it was 8.25 am only I took coffee latte before further waiting for boarding of the airplane. The flight took off for Paris.

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