Spain, Day 13-Barcelona

Actually I’m posting this from the airport in Rome, where I have a 5 hour layover, but all the pictures are from yesterday, my last day in Spain (for now). I will definitely come back someday though. I think Barcelona is my favorite of the three cities I’ve been so far. I wish I’d been more organized; I was trying to find something to do Tuesday night when I got back there but all the things I wanted had to be booked in advance, like the monasteries, winery tours, Dali’s house. So Wednesday I decided to go see Park Guell:

After that I went back and wandered around La Ramba area for a while. This area is so much bigger than I thought, especially once you get off the main road. I found La Boqueria market, a gourmet paradise. I probably could have filled another suitcase with cooking supplies. They had stalls with spice, all kinds of flavored salts and olive oils, fresh fruit, dried fruits and nuts, candies, marzipan, vegetables, dates, honey, seafood, meats, even whole rabbits and pheasants and quail still covered in fur and feathers (I’ll spare you a photo of those). Basically, everything.

For now I’m actually looking forward to getting back to a normal routine for a while. The last couple months have been crazy!

Spain, Day 3-Barcelona

Note: experimenting with layout. If you click the smaller photos it will pull up a slideshow with larger photos and captions.

Finally got to tour the Sagrada Familia today! A little history, for those who don’t know: Construction began by public subscription in 1882 and the artist Antoni Gaudí took over as director about a year later. He dedicated the rest of his life to it but the church still isn’t completed; in 2010 it was finally considered half done and there doesn’t seem to be a projected completion date as the work depends on donations and ticket sales. Eighteen towers were planned but only eight have been finished so far. The central tower (that doesn’t exist yet) will make it the tallest building in Barcelona (and the tallest church in the world), but 1 meter shorter than the highest hill-Montjuíc-, as Gaudí believed that he shouldn’t build anything higher than God did. There really aren’t words to describe this place, so:

I paid the extra fee to go up the lift into the towers and it was well worth it. The lift takes you up 50 meters to a narrow open air walkway where you cross from one tower to another, and get to take in the view of the city. Then you walk down a spiral staircase in the opposite tower. The stairs are maybe 18 inches wide all the way down, steep, and, oh, spiral. For 50 meters it’s down and around, and down and around, and around, and did I mention I get vertigo? Oh yeah, it was bad. My legs were still shaking about an hour after I got to the bottom. I’d do it again though. It was breathtaking at the top. I doubt it will be completed in my lifetime but I wish I could see it finished.

I am not Christian, and more spiritual than religious, if that makes sense, but I have always wanted to see some of these European cathedrals. Most of what I do know of religion comes from studying art history extensively. For so long the two were very closely entwined. The Catholic Church in particular commissioned some of the greatest masterpieces and employed some of the greatest artists of all time. You can’t help but feel something here, surrounded by the beauty and the history.

After I left La Sagrada, I packed up and headed to my next destination: another Airbnb apartment in the Gothic quarter. I wanted to see different areas of Barcelona so when I booked my trip I decided to split my time here in a couple locations. I will try to post a video of this place tomorrow because it’s awesome-built on the ground floor of a 14th century stone building in La Rambla, that used to house a mint for making coins.

After I checked in here I took the metro a couple stops to Passeig de Gràcia. I’d heard good things about the area and the tour bus drove past yesterday but I didn’t get off there. I wanted to see Casa Batlló and Casa Milá, or La Pedrera, more Gaudí masterpieces, just a few blocks from each other.

I’m pretty sure I could stay here forever, drinking cava and sangria and eating tapas and taking pictures of amazing places (or until I run out of money). It’s a wonder I haven’t been hit by a car yet, I’ve spent so much time wandering around gaping up at these buildings. (Kidding, Mom.)

And now, let’s talk food. Or rhapsodize, more like. Also, the drinks. For lunch, I stopped at TapaFina, a small tapas bar by the Jaune 1 station on my way to my new apartment. They had display of various snacks set up on the bar, buffet style, and a “pick 6” deal, so I tried that. Tapas are just a wide variety of snacks/appetizers, so actually this place had pinchos, aka pintxos. “Pincho” is Spanish for “pierce”, and these are usually appetizers pierced to a piece of bread with a cocktail stick. Whatever you call them though, they’re amazing. Especially with cava; made like French champagne but called cava when it’s produced in Spain. For dinner, I found another tapas bar-Txapela’s-across from Casa Batlló. Highly recommend that one too. Here they have a menu and you order piece by piece, about €1-3 each. Word to the wise though-watch out for their sangria! Delicious, but I couldn’t quite see straight after only half a glass. Yeah. But it was a nice evening, a little chilly outside on the patio, but they were blasting the heaters and I ordered a cappuccino to keep warm (and sober up) while I waited for the sun to go down. I wanted to see Casa Batlló lit up at night.

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Worth waiting for!

 

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Spain, Day 2: Barcelona

I’m exhausted, so this is going to be super short, but I wanted to put up pictures from today. I took the Barcelona City Bus tour (yes the cheesy red double-decker bus kind; I don’t care, I love them). I made Mt Tibidabo my first stop and took the tram up the mountain. The top was closed today so we only got to go about halfway up but the view was still spectacular. There are amazing mansions built into the side of the hills, originally for the bourgeoise who wanted to live outside of Barcelona city. It was an exclusive area, and the residents would access it by tram, which still runs today for the tourists. I ended up walking back down just to get a better view of all the houses-there was some stunning architecture and design. Some appeared to still be residential, but many have been converted to businesses.

After that I rode the bus for a while until we got to the beach at La Barceloneta, where some of the best restaurants, and seafood, in the city are. So I got off for lunch at Restaurante Salamanca, which is right on the beach. Definitely go here if you’re in the area. The service was great. They bring out appetizers of sausage or serrano ham with tomato bread as soon as you sit down. The tomato bread is a typical Catalunian staple-crunchy fresh bread drizzled with olive oil and tomato sauce. I ordered some garlic prawns as well and they came out sizzling in a skillet full of butter. Delicious!

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After that, I got a little lost. Instead of getting back on the bus I thought I’d walk down the beach and catch it at a later stop. But the walk was a lot further than the map showed, and also, it’s not one beach but several laid out one after the other, plus the Olympic port. And when I finally got to the bus sign it turned out that all the beach stops except for la Barceloneta were closed for the winter and the bus took an alternate route, which was not very clear in the guidebook. And I did not feel like walking back to Barceloneta! So I went a few blocks away from the beach and found a metro station, took the subway to Placa Catalunya, and got back on the bus there. I mostly just rode since I’d already seen some of the areas, and then we went up Montserrat, the other mountain in Barcelona. The views were amazing, and I want to go back and spend a day at the art museum; it looks like a palace!

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Then on the way back we passed the Arc de Triomph:

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And now I desperately need sleep! Tomorrow, La Sagrada Familia!

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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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