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!
Yeah I’ve lost track of time completely, and I’ve been moving all over the place. In some ways it feels like I’ve been here forever, and I definitely don’t want to leave. I tried to pack as much as I could in today since I didn’t have much time in Madrid. But I got to see all the things I really wanted to though: Palacio Real, Plaza Mayor, el Prado.
First stop was Palacio Real, which is actually the largest royal palace in all Europe. It’s the official residence of the royal family of Spain, although they actually live in the outskirts of Madrid and the Palacio Real is only used for official ceremonies. The interior rooms were stunning. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside. Not that I could have gotten many good shots because the place was absolutely mobbed with tour groups. It was beautiful but I could only stand to be there for about an hour; it was just crazy.
After I left I went and had lunch at Plaza Mayor and did some shopping, then headed over to Museo Nacional del Prado, the main Spanish art museum with one of the greatest collections of European art in the world. Again, no photos and mobs of tourists 😦 But I got to see so many famous pieces I’ve studied, works by Velazquez, Rubens, Bosch, Titian, and many from Francisco de Goya.
And, of course, the food pics:
Tomorrow morning I’m off to Barcelona again for two days, then home to Beijing early Thursday.
This was actually a couple days ago-I’m playing catch-up here. I’ll maybe get a couple short posts up tomorrow too.
Finally I got to see the Alhambra. I’ve wanted to visit this place since I first saw pictures of it in an art history class, probably 15 years ago almost. And it is-lovely is an understatement-but that’s how it feels-lovely. Almost every inch of the Nasrid palaces is carved with inscriptions, poems, geometrical patterns, or covered with colored tiles. Outside, the gardens are still maintained and full of flowers, and orange trees and small pools are everywhere.
I won’t get into all the gory details, but the history of it is quite fascinating too. The original fortress was small and built in 889 A.D. on the remains of Roman ruins, then evolved over time. If anyone is interested, this is a good overview of how Muslims came to what is now Spain and eventually developed their kingdom in Granada, including the Alhambra, before the last sultan was forced out by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain in 1492. The palace, towers and gardens, even part of the bathhouse and other buildings remain, but the mosque was destroyed and replaced by a Catholic church-Iglesia de Santa María. What sticks with me most though, especially this week, is that this happened over 500 years ago, and yet, here we are, still persecuting Muslims for no reason. Will we never learn to learn from history?
Still, there is a strong middle eastern influence here; even the name of the region in southern Spain-Andalusia-comes from the Arab name-Al-Andalus.There are many shops devoted to tea, medicinal herbs, and spices (I keep wandering into them just because they smell so good.) There are silks and woven clothes and scarves and leather goods everywhere. There are tearooms, Turkish restaurants, and bars offering hookahs to smoke. All in all, it has a very different feel from Barcelona.
So I’m in Granada now but I wanted to post a bit from my last day in Barcelona. I took a bus to the National Art Museum on Montjuic, way up in the hills. The museum has a rooftop patio where you can up to look out over the city and it was beautiful. I had the place all to myself. They had a really nice collection of medieval pieces too.
Museo Nacional de Arte de Catalunya
View from museum rooftop
Auditorium of art museum
From the museum I walked down to Placa Espanya and looked around, then took the metro back to Port Vell to walk around a bit. Oh, and here’s some pictures of the place I stayed:
Trapdoor into the old stone cellar
Crank to open the window way up in the wall
I got up early to Wednesday to catch my train to Granada. I love traveling by trains-so much more relaxing than flying. You can just show up 20 minutes before the train leaves, for one. And the security check is much simpler. I was supposed to change trains in Antequera but misread the ticket I guess, because instead of a train we transferred to a bus for the rest of the way to Granada. Only for an hour or so though. These pictures aren’t great since I took them from the moving bus/train, but driving through Andalusia was so pretty and quiet.
I got a cab from the bus station to my Airbnb apartment in the Albayzín of Granada. Way up in the hills and very close to the Alhambra. There’s so much Middle Eastern influence here, and so much history. It’s also more traditional than Barcelona; they take their siestas very seriously here. So many restaurants and shops were closed when I go her in the afternoon. But I met my host and love this colorful apartment. Then I got dinner at a small outdoor restaurant next door. It was a little chilly but it’s still nice to be able to be outside so much this time of year.
I was a bit worn out from Barcelona so I just took it easy today. I slept in then walked down into the center of town. These pictures are so-so since I just had my phone and it was cloudy and drizzly most of the afternoon. Still a nice walk though. Down. Coming back up the narrow, ancient, twisty cobblestone street in the rain though was work.
Then I spent the evening fighting with multiple websites but finally managed to book the rest of my trip. Leaving Sunday for Madrid for a couple days, then back to Barcelona. That’s where I fly out of so I thought I’d spend my last couple nights there since I loved it. Tomorrow I’m going to try to see the Alhambra so there will definitely be pics of that!
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 forget what the building next to Casa Batlló is but it’s beautiful too
Casa Batlló windows
I love the design of these benches/streetlamps
Casa Batlló windows
Casa Milá, or La Pedrera
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.
Crab salad with cheese and olive
Toast with red pepper, hard boiled egg stuffed with tuna and covered with cheese. I don’t even like tuna, but somehow this was still delicious.
Pinapple, brie, and strawberry sauce
Cream cheese with nuts and strawberry drizzle
Sundried tomato, brie, and red pepper
Hamburguesa with carmelized onions and whole-grain mustard.
Traditional potato omelet on tomato bread
Shrimp, mushroom, bacon on toast with pesto.
For dessert: mint chocolate ball drizzled with olive oil and sea salt. It sounded so weird I naturally had to try it, and it was amazing. Also, help, I think I’m running out of adjectives for this country.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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…