Beginings end before they start, when you worry, is it smart ….. go with flow, or gainst the tide, make a path we all can ride
Well – one thing remains constant …… neither of us can get any meaningful sleep on a trans-Atlantic flight. I’m certain that it’s because of the time change, more so than the fact you can’t lay back, the cabin air is cold and dry, and there’s constant movement around you ….. hmmmm maybe I got that backwards.
We dropped down through the Pyrenees, circling a few kilometres over the Mediterranean before touching down at the Barcelona airport. 10 am local and it’s already 30 C, with humidity in the high 80’s – it will be an interesting day.
Unlike some countries, we quickly walked through the corral maze, stood in front of the entry official who scanned our passports and we were ushered into Spain – 5 minutes, no questions, quick and efficient! 15 minutes later we had our luggage and were in a cab on our way to our hotel on the ‘las Ramblas’ ….. Half an hour later and we had our room, but decided we wanted one with a balcony, facing the street.
Yes, one was available and it would be ready in 20 minutes ….. We moved in, checked out the balcony, took some pictures, had refreshments from their all-day buffet and then crashed in our room for 4 hours of “catch-up” sleep. ….. note, the included buffet has both beer and wine on tap!
Afterwards we went for a stroll up and then down Las Ramblas.
First, to see the remnants of the Memorial to the victims of the terrorist attack from 2 weeks ago …. very touching and powerful (the police presences is extremely high, every where) …. and next we made our way through the crowds down to the harbour. Although it’s hot, the sea breeze is refreshing.
Then it was time to stroll (it’s hard to go any faster through the crowd) back to our Hotel before having dinner, outdoors, at the same time many locals eat …… 9:30pm. Then slowly back to the hotel for one more beverage before Gerda crashes and I blog.
The crowds are still strolling and it is already 1:30 am local time (5:30 pm at home …. yes, 8 hour time shift). These Spaniards (and vacationers) do know how to relax.
It’s been a long day for us (36 hours) – so we are tired …. stay tuned for more later …..
Barcelona – Day 2
Briefly woke up at 7:00am local, but it’s too early for a vacation day, so we sleep until just after 9am …. a luxury considering for the past 6 months my day usually ends between 1 or 2:00 am and starts again at 6:30am. I could get use to these vacation hours!
A quick shower and then breakfast at the hotel buffet. An amazing selection of coffees ….. and !!! beer of tap!!! Never noticed that last night …… something to look forward to this evening.
After breakfast it’s off to explore the area, again. Not far from the hotel there’s a site with ancient churches and the remnants of the perimeter wall for the old Roman city of Barcino (1st – 4th century). They are well preserved – and very interesting to walk through. Unfortunately, they appear to be trying to raise funds for preservation through voluntary donations – a slow process, as most people want everything for free.
…… and then the rain begins again – fortunately Gerda bought an umbrella, unfortunately just big enough to cover our heads and part of our shoulders, so we get back to the hotel half wet – Gerda’s left side, my right half. I guess rwo halves makes a whole person – but a weird one.
As an interesting aside, the hotel is also old, witnessed by the fact the stairs are quite well worn.
…….. and then a quick lunch – you guessed it – from the hotel buffet, while it rains again.
After a short rest, (yes … more sleep – all that walking and dodging people is tiring) we head out to the right side this time and discover more narrow streets with interesting people and shops. One street has amazingly, over 30 cell phone shops (beside and across from each other) in a 3 block line. I can’t figure out how they can survive the competition in such a concentrated area. You can get great deals, but do they really all work?
We cross back over las Ramblas and head east (sort of) where we see more of the architecture and culture that we have fallen in love with. Up and down, back n fore and then we run across a hidden gem. A little oasis beside one of the ancient perimeter walls. Several small cafe /restaurants / bistros sharing an open space where we sat, had beers, chips and the best pesto/goat cheese sandwich…. ever! What a treat. A quiet space, refreshment and a simple meal with a soul mate. That’s what we like about our discovery adventures – searching and sometimes finding the gems that make travel worthwhile. We may never find the place again, but for what it’s worth it was called “C & M” at the ‘R5’ site on the perimeter wall.
This same area had an over abundance of art galleries and shops.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to listen to a ragtime band of three very talented and very entertaining musicians – banjo, piano and sax players. The banjo player also did lead vocals. He had a unique voice ….
Here’s a sample:
From there it was end-of-day and back to our room, so Brian can try the hotel on-tap beer. It was actually good. We sat on the balcony, sipped the beer and watched life flow bye.
On another note, while you do feel safe with all the police patrolling the area, you have to wonder – why the machine guns? They didn’t have them yesterday, so why today?
I guess better safe then sorry. A patrol vehicle drives by on either side of the street every 2 minutes.
Stay tuned for more …….. Day 3 is only (for us) a few hours away.
Barcelona – Day 3
Much earlier start to the day ….. awake at 8:00 am showered, fed and ready to go by 9:30. After a roundabout we decided to do the Hop-on-Hop-off tour bus to find the interesting points. Years ago I use to wonder why tourists would use the service, but ever since Rome 2015, I’ve come to see how invaluable it can be to scoping out the cities you are visiting. In this case there are two routes – we decide to do the green route first, as it covers the ‘Familia Sagrada’ one of the sites we will be touring. A couple of hours later and we have a pretty good idea of what interests us from that route. A confirmation that it is the old, architectural sites, steeped in history and customs that peak our curiosity.
Around 2:45 we catch a cab to the ‘Familia Sagrada’ for a 90 minute tour that takes over 2 hours. Our guide, Amiel ….. has inside knowledge of the build ….. you see, he is the architect who will be leading the restoration of the old sites of the build.
When viewed outside for the first time, one is struck by the petina on the facades. Some parts of the exterior are 140 years old, looking very dark and grungy (this was due to the coal fired electrical generation tarnishing the stone, until the mid 90’s). Amiel’s job will be to lead the team to cleaning all that old stone (see image below – dark and old on right)
The current structure will be 50% higher when the towers are complete by 2026, for a total height of 176m (- 400ft). Amiel indicated that the site has 4.5 million visitors per year, giving it the sustained revenue to accelerate the completion. You get a sense of the passion all people involved feel about the church, just from listening to Amiel.
After touring the exterior, interior and museum, we were treated to the ultimate – a view from the central towers at a height of 76 mPeters …. take a simple elevator ride to the tower cross-bridge entry point. What a view!
The hard part was coming down the narrow, dark circular staircase – no inside railing …… really watch your step, all 400 of them. The attached video only shows part of the danger, as the camera automatically adjusts the light, so it shows what we can’t see.
This is one tour we will remember for a long time!
The beauty of the Hop-on-Hop-off bus is you don’t have to take it to a particular spot to get back on. In this instance Familia Sagrada is one of the main stop points ……. we took a cab from our hotel to ensure we were at the tour site on time ….. after the tour we just got on the bus and enjoyed the sights for a second time getting back to the hotel around 8:30.
Time to freshen up and dodge pedestrians to find a restaurant. Off we went down las Ramblas, keeping our eyes peeled for a ‘good’ meal – well we found a whole courtyard of 14 restaurants to dine. We gave up trying to read and compare menus, finally choosing one that we could watch people stroll by. We ended up talking to two British ladies we sat beside. It was interesting to hear where they were from, and why they were in Barcelona. We’ve always found people are more then willing to open up when they are on vacation (or not on vacation). They tend to like talking about themselves, which is where we can sometimes find the “6 degrees of separation”. That makes the conversation more interesting.
It took our meal a while to come, but it was good. The only thing that would stop me from going back would be the waiters disposition. They hardly smiled and appeared to want to be elsewhere. At least Gerda had a good time, what with the choice of beer and wine.
After a stroll around the cathedral and area, it was back to the hotel for a quick nightcap and zźzzzzzzzz
More to come, when I sober up …….
Barcelona – Day 4
Slow and lazy today ….. we’ve ticked off 90% of our Barcelona “bucket-list” …… just a few more and anything else is gravy. A relaxing breakfast, stroll down new streets and back to the Hop-on-Hop-off bus for the other line.
This time we got off at “Fundacio Joan Miro” to go on the gondola to Castell de Montjuic.
We also now know exactly where our flight came in across the Mediterranean when we first landed. Quite the port on the south side! At least 3 cruise liners and multipe containers. There were also many ships just outside the port.
After wandering the stop for several hours, we jumped back on the bus to finish the tour. When we got back to the hotel, Gerda went shopping and I went blogging. We both got some exercise – Gerda in her wallet and I in my mind!
Late dinner … again – we’re getting used to it ….. so we prowl the streets searching for tapas. Ever since San Sebastian in 2015, Gerda has been interested in tapas, looking to try some again. So far we haven’t found what we’ve been looking but have a few leads from our strolls over the past few days. Finally we found a place that looks promising. Gerda asked a waiter to explain, which he does quite cheerfully, so that’s an immediate plus. Lots of choices …. Gerda goes for the seafood and cheese while I go for ……. the same.
Excellent! Shared with a beer even better. There was even a tapas that must be a desert …. delicious!
We will be back because of the excellent service and great food. As an example, three locals were served a fish meal. It looked and smelled great …. Gerda asked the gentleman what it was, to which he replied white fish. The manager came over while the waitress was preparing to serve the meal. He showed her the best way to divide and serve it to the customers …… excellent service and great training by example.
Yes we will be back and for those interested, the restaurant is called Orio, located several blocks north of las Ramblas (corner with KFC on one side and Macdonald’s on the other) ….. go to Career de Ferran, 38, 08002, Barcelona.
Final task for the night …… finding little gifts for the kids. There certainly is no end of choices. If we can’t find them tonight, we have 21 more days.
Barcelona – Day 5
Sunday …. the day-of-rest starts slow, proceeds slow, plods along and then slows down. As the song says ….. “how do you do nothing? ….. think of something to do and then don’t do it!” Great philosophy …. I could get use to that.
When we finally decided to get up, the road across the street was blocked by a caravan of construction vehicles. It appeared they were putting up a crane in the middle of an old building. We went for breakfast and by the time we came back, the crane was almost completely installed. They do work fast here …. even on a Sunday.
Next, a walk to the beach by way of las Ramblas, so of course we stop for kid shopping before we get anywhere close to the sand. Gerda has a knack for finding the little items that are great for gifts. If you didn’t want a gift …. too bad, she’ll find you one anyway.
Some new stalls were setup in the middle of the boulevard and immediately attracted Gerda like a magnet. One of the first persons there.
I’m also showing this image to explain the optical illusion that is the las Ramblas …… if you look at the tile below Gerda’s feet they look like there are dips and raises in the boulevard – but it is all flat! It can be disconcerting because your mind believes you are walking through highs and lows (waves) in the ground.
It seems to be part of a theme started in Gaudi’s time … he used a lot of wave themes in his art and architecture, as if a connection to the sea. Think what you may of Gaudi, he was a genius.
She choose big … I choose small. They’re both in the picture
The beach lesssand was hot and inviting, but the water with it’s churning waves was calming and cool …. so much so I forgot to take picture of those waves crashing in and roiling the sand …. that and the fact the last time we walked a beach Gerda (Birratiz, France 2015) was bowled over by a wave and I couldn’t let that happen now. Unlike last time it is much harder for her to walk in the sand, although she loves it none the less. Like many beaches in Europe, especially on the Mediterranean, clothes are optional – Barcelona is no exception. There were some women without tops, the occasional one without top or bottom (no one stared or made a fuss); however, unfortunately, there were many men without tops, who should consider going fully clothed the next time they hit the beach. They obviously haven’t looked in a mirror recently.
We head back, stopping outside a church, not far from the harbour , where some buskers were performing an acrobatic routine. They were good, obviously trusting each other to preform so well.we Gerda wondered why they weren’t on the beach in bathing suits.
From there we went to the Barcelona Cathedral to tour the inside. It is quite the architectural jewel, albeit stained with the ages. After admiring the paintings, sculptures and motifs we rode the elevator to the roof for a panoramic scene of the tower and surrounding Vista of Barcelona. We’ll worth the 8 euros, plus we feel we are supporting the upkeep and restoration of this historic church. Fortunately, Gerda had bought shawl because we needed to be “modest” (shoulders and knees covered) to enter – they are pretty strict, turning away more than half of those wanting to enter.
We usually don’t take nor post selfishy’s, but this one is special, taken on top of the Barcelona Cathedral.
After the 10 km walk we are back to the hotel for a refreshment before going to dinner (Gerda just wanted an excuse to watch la Vuelta — she’s really into professional cycling).
Afterwards more shopping for the kids …… Gerda has this thing for getting as many gifts as early in the trip as possible, in case the other cities run out before we get there – which usually means we have to buy a new suitcase for all the gifts …. our original ones won’t carry them all by the end of our tour!
Of course while we wait, the servers keep bring fabulous looking and better yet fabulous smelling tapas …. hard to resist.
Finally ….. the whitefish (hake) arrives, covered by mussels in the shell, all smothering a bed of scalloped potatoes. We had eaten half before I had realized I hadn’t taken a picture ……. regardless it is well worth the experience – by far the best meal in Barcelona todate. Any way a picture wouldn’t do it justice – trust me, if you like fish, this meal is fabulous. Possibly the only negative is I we couldn’t make the experience last longer!
One last quick stroll, back to our room for a nightcap (actually to finish the wine our kids had sent) and one last ‘people-watch’ of las Ramblas from our balcony. ……. and a surprising, touching serenad from a band singing for the crowds at the memorial. They led the crowd in sing “Imagine” and “Give Piece a Chance” …….. a touching tribute to those who died and a great reminder why we did not cancel our visit to this beautiful city!
A great thank-you to the staff of Hotel Continental Barcelona …… very helpful, friendly and …. well, like family.
Unfortunately, time to continue our journey ….. next stop Florence, Italy.