Barcelona · Spain · travel

Spain, Day 1-Barcelona

Apparently, the flight to Spain is about the same length as to the U.S. I was so excited to be going to Spain I didn’t really think about that when I booked my tickets…Two long-haul international flights back-to-back is draining. But I fortunately got a seat in an exit row so I had plenty of room to stretch and good books to keep me company. I flew into Rome first to change planes and sadly that’s all I had time for. Probably for the best though as the Rome airport appeared to be one giant designer shopping mall with a few gates squeezed in here and there, and I don’t think my wallet could take it.

I arrived in Barcelona a little after 5pm Friday local time, managed to navigate the subway to la Sagrada Familia stop, then emerged into a light drizzle and turned in circles trying to figure out which direction to walk. My Airbnb host’s directions were pretty clear but I wasn’t sure if I’d come out of the right exit. I turned back and forth few times, then happened to look up…and up…and up. I knew the apartment was near the cathedral but it still startled me to find it looming over me!

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First view of la Sagrada Familia!
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Sidewalk cafes are all over here, some with little tents around them. There were a couple tables with people drinking coffee in the rain.

From there I was able to orient myself and found the apartment easily. Svitlana and her husband Uri were very friendly and welcoming. Svitlana knows little English and my Spanish is seriously rusty but we managed to understand each other. I pretty much crashed about 8pm as it was 3am for me. But that meant I was able to get up early this morning and go out sightseeing, and, oh boy, I did. I got breakfast at a little deli/bakery across the street:

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I walked around Sagrada Familia to admire the facades, then through a little park nearby. I needed some contact solution but none of the pharmacies were open yet so I kept walking, and walking. It was barely 9 and not many people were out. The weather was trying to be sunny, with sporadic bursts of light rain throughout the day, but it felt like spring to me. After Beijing, 55°F feels positively warm, and I have missed rain. Anyway, I had no particular destination, so every time I reached a corner I did a mental coin flip and headed that direction. At one point I saw an odd, iridescent,  cylindrical building at the top of a hill, so I set off to see what it was. On the way, I admired all the variations in architecture, then stumbled across an enormous open-air flea market with people selling everything imaginable: antique books, chandeliers, furniture, kitchen implements, clothes, shoes, miles of fabric and ribbon, as-soon-on-TV whatnots, you name it. It turned out to be Encants BCN, one of Europe’s oldest markets; the structure is new but the origins go back to the 14th century.

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The buildings are so beautiful and varied. Of course, I’ve gotten used to the standard, matching, communist block buildings in Beijing, so anything’s an improvement!

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I browsed around for a while, and when I came out the other side I was right next to the funny looking building, which turned out to be Torre Agbar, a huge office building that marks the area of the tech district. Up close, it’s even cooler. The outside is actually painted in big blocks of bright colors-green, orange, pink-but then the whole of it is covered in layers of glass shutters, some open, some closed, some frosted, some clear, making it look iridescent from a distance.

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From there I wound up wandering into this long pedestrian mall that stretched for blocks and blocks. There were tons of boutiques and restaurants and cafes, fruit stalls, flower vendors on the corners. It turned out to be La Poblenau, and I had walked a long way, so I took the metro back to my apartment for lunch and a very short nap. Then I went out to find Placa Catalunya, considered the heart of the city. The plaza itself I wasn’t too impressed by-a big circle filled with pigeons and tourists taking pictures with the pigeons.

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That little dog in the florescent raincoat (bottom right) was having the time of his life chasing birds!

But the area was pretty , with fountains and statues, and I ended up wandering through the little alleyways full of shops and bars and tapas restaurants. I wanted to try some tapas but it was too early for dinner so I kept walking down Las Ramblas, a lively pedestrian boulevard. I found a beautiful hand-made felt purse from one of the craft vendors so I won’t have to drag my backpack everywhere, admired some paintings, and watch the street-performer “statues” come to life:

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I ended up walking all the way down to the harbor at Port Vell, with some spectacular views, then back up the street again for dinner.

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Port Vell

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I had tapas and sangria at a little cafeteria in an alley off of La Rambla, and by the time I was done, the street was packed with tourists. Apparently it’s an evening hotspot. At this point I already had my 27,468 steps in for the day so I got the metro back to my apartment. My feet, they’re not so happy with me right now. Think tomorrow will be a bus tour day…

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So the guy in the bottom left made his own instruments out of 5 gallon buckets, frying pans, etc. Sounded pretty good too! The subways are full of music. Earlier I was on a train with a man playing the accordion. This afternoon, it was two guys with a saxophone and a keyboard. Street musicians everywhere too.

 

 

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