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Barcelona, January 19-26, 2023

devarae

100+ Posts
I'm going to try to journal some of our trip as we go.

Wednesday Jan 18- Thursday Jan 19

We flew Lufthansa from Boston and it was great! I have never travelled in the extreme off season and wow it was different. No line to check bags, no line for security. Our plane was so empty both Bob and I had entire four-person rows where we could lay down and try to sleep. It was too early so I couldn't take full advantage of it, but it was nice. The food was also decent and fresh-tasting. The tea, alas, was horrible! We transferred in Frankfurt and that was fine. Oh, and in Boston they used a self-scanning device to board us where you walk up and it checks your face against the CBP records (it says the photos are deleted within 24 hours for US citizens, but still a bit unnerving)

Barcelona airport was very cool-- all mint green and enormous inside, with a lot of sunlight streaming in through the giant glass walls and a ton of stores and food shops, like a mall. I wish I could have gotten a photo that captured it.

The taxi to our apartment in Eixample district took about 40 min. It was very sunny and in the low fifties (Fahrenheit) but super windy so we were glad we had our winter coats on.

There is more foliage than I was expecting-- not just the palm trees, but a fair number of other trees and succulents. We saw green parrots swooping around as well! So far I really love the feel of the streets, which remind me a bit of my favorite city, Paris!

I picked up some groceries and the prices seemed decent, especially compared to rising costs near us. Just some breakfast things and stuff for a meal at home for the first night.

We went out to walk around a bit with no specific destination except "towards the Gothic Quarter." Ultimately we only made it to the edge of that part of town, but we saw the Arc de Triomf, visited a cute washi tape store, walked along the lovely Passeig de Born, and listened to a street musician in front of the Cathedral. We ate several different empanadas for a very late lunch (it was around 3 by then) and I managed to score an amazing dessert from a patisserie I wanted to visit for later. Eventually we ambled back to our place, and cooked a simple meal at home, watched the first two episodes of Our Flag Means Death, then went to bed early. It was a nice first day!

Photos of a representative street, and the amazing apple-white chocolate dessert from Patisserie Haussman.
 

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devarae

100+ Posts
Friday January 20

In the morning I walked over to Sant Pau Recinte Modernista, which was a medical complex designed by modernist architect Lluis Domenech i Montaner. It's a gorgeous campus (some buildings are still in use by businesses/medical offices, others are part of the museum, others are being restored) full of ornate buildings with lots of colorful tiles, sculptural details and stained glass. Also it smelled lovely because there was lavender blooming, and there were orange trees with fruit on them!

The weather was very nice for the time of year- in the fifties and sunny!

There are a series of underground tunnels connecting all the buildings so they could easily move patients around in any weather! Those were a bit spooky, dim but all covered in glossy white tile, and no corners, just lots of soft curves, so it was like being inside a giant white snake.

I headed back home to change my shoes (I find my feet do better if I switch between footwear) and then Bob and I went to a really good Middle Eastern "fusion" restaurant for lunch. We had an amazing salad with fried halloumi, beets and pomegranate (among other things). We then walked over to La Pedrera (Casa Mila), one of the Gaudi sites I had not gotten advanced tickets to, to see if we could visit. Fortunately there were no lines so we got basic tickets (which came with an audio guide) and headed in.

La Pedrera is an apartment building, and the tour takes you through a set of apartments decorated the way they might have been when in use (part of the building is still in private use). The architecture is very sinuous and none of the rooms are "normal" shapes which makes it slightly unsettling-- I'm not sure I would be comfortable living there! But they are beautiful and full of cool details.

The attic was one of my favorite parts-- it's this open space with vaulted brick ceilings held by a hundreds of small arches that were apparently meant to make you think you were inside a whale.

The roof was my other favorite part: all the chimmneys and other "stuff" are concealed inside these tall abstract "giant" figures and tiled structures. There were recordings playing of deep rumbling voices reading poetry about giants (in Spanish) so it sounded as if they were speaking.


After we finished our visit we decided to try out the metro, and found it very easy, clean and non-scary (unlike the metros in some other cities, though I am sure it helped that we are here in the off season).

We went down to the area by the famous street Las Ramblas, which was quite busy (enough that we wore our masks on the streets, which we hadn't felt the need to do elsewhere). We visited the famous La Bouqueria market and ogled lots of food but didn't get anything. From there we walked around a bit and eventually stopped at a very charming little shop called Dulcinea, where we sat up in a small, creaky balcony area at a tiny table and had churros and chocolate, yum! I was afraid the chocolate sauce would be too dark/powerful but it was more like hot pudding. Yum!

By then it was getting late and we wanted to have supper at home, so we took the metro back. We were tempted to get boba tea on the way home, though, which was probably a mistake (even though they were really tasty!) because the caffeine made it hard to sleep later!

We had a cozy relaxed dinner of leftover pasta and chicken at home, watched some more of Our Flag Means Death, and then retired for the night. It was a good day!


Photos below of a beautiful stained glass ceiling window in the grand stairwell of the Sant Pau adminstrative building, a shot from outside showing one of the "pavillions" that make up the campus, the interior of one of the buildings set up as it might have been when in use to house patients, and delicious churros and chocolate!


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devarae

100+ Posts
Saturday, January 21.
I didn't sleep as well Friday night, so I was a little groggy! We aren't trying to do much though, so we can take the pace slow if we need to. I puttered around, then went out and got a very good baguette and some so-so pastries. Then at around 10 we headed out to try to find our way to Park Guell, where we needed to meet our small group tour at 11:15.

In retrospect the bus would have been a better option than the metro (more direct, less walking). But we had an easy metro trip and then a nice (but steep) walk up through a little local park where we saw lots of Spanish dogs having morning fun, then over to the Park Guell entrance. While we waited we watched the green parrots building nests in the trees and yelling at each other. And we appreciated the presence of a bathroom!

The park itself is large and the brochure map was very small and blurry so we were glad to have our tour guide showing us where to find the main sites. Apparently Gaudi (who designed the park originally as a private gated community for a wealthy local; the family later donated it to the city) never really explained a lot of his artistic choices so much of it is open to interpretation. Our guide seemed to have a lot of his own interpretations! :)

It's pretty fascinating stuff though; a lot of cloister-like walkways with rough stone pillars that look like trees or stalactites, very organic! My favorite parts were the "hypostyle" area, which is a large, tall space held up by wide stone pillars, underneath the amphitheater. The ceiling is covered in rough "mosaics" made from reclaimed tile and pottery-- you can see the outlines of old bottles and plates in some.

There is more of this sort of abstract "mosaic" throughout, decorating a long set of curving benches, and the famous lizard statue that decorates a long stairway at the center of the park. There are also plenty of beautiful scenic overlooks where you can see the city below, and the Mediterranean in the distance. It has been bright and sunny every day!


The downside to the park was that even in January, it was quite crowded! And by the time we left, the line for tickets was enormous! Like, at least 100 people long, if not more...

We stopped for lunch at a cute little bar with outside seating--chilly, but we had our winter coats! We had delicious tabbouleh and pizza and had fun watching people and enjoying our distant view of the sea and city below.

A quick metro trip took us to the Gothic quarter, where we had some waffles and ice cream, then wandered around the quieter side-streets and lovely little plazas. We enjoyed seeing the Pont de Bisbe, Placa del Rei, and the courtyard of the Casa de l'Ardiaca (archives?), as well as admiring all the impressive gargoyles along the sides of the cathedral. There seemed to be a lot of crowds, again, but also a lot of quiet side streets and nooks.

We headed home after not too long, and had an early night with toasted chicken sandwiches on the rest of the baguette and some fresh broccoli for dinner at the apartment. It was a good day! Though I am constantly struggling against my impulse to question and analyze my experiences. I wish I could chill out and just let the vacation be rather than trying to measure it and deduce if I am having sufficient fun! Does anyone else struggle with that?

Photos are of the view of Barcelona from Park Guell, the mosaic benches, the "aqueducts", and then the Pont de Bisbe in the Gothic Quarter.

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devarae

100+ Posts
Sunday, Jan 22

My first travel health emergency! I went out alone in the morning for a walk at Barceloneta beach, had about 5 minutes of lovely zen watching the surf, got the romantic notion I should touch the water, and proceeded to stumble, fall and heard a snap as I landed on my right wrist!

Oof. I could tell it was bad so I called Bob to wake him and warn him we probably needed to find an emergency room. Blessedly I found a taxi within a few minutes and went home, got Bob, and we tried to find a local medical place from google. Closed (not surprising on Sunday) so instead we got a taxi and I asked to go to un medico emergencia, which seemed to work. The cabbie was very nice! He took us to the underground entrance where ambulences go which I think got me in faster than the front door.

Ultimately it went as smoothly as it could-- I can communicated a bit in Spanish but the receptionist and several nurses spoke English, as did the doctor. I was out in about 2 hours (12:30) with a cast and a prescription for some pain meds. It is a distal radius fracture.

Doctor said I could continue activities, and the pain was managable, so we ended up sticking to our original plan for the day. We had sushi for lunch on the way from the hospital to the metro, then took the metro to the Parc del Laberint d'Horta, outside of the central city. It was free to enter on Sunday and a lovely peaceful place (well, lots of excited kids--and adults--in the labyrinth but that was nice to see). The labyrinth is a maze of hedges you literally can find your way through. We did it and had fun!

There were other wooded trails and waterfalls and pools and neoclassical pavillions as well, and WCs and a snack bar. We enjoyed our time a lot, in spite of my broken arm!

We took the metro back to Passeig de Gracia and walked around admiring architecture, then had an early dinner at an Indian street food restaurant, then some gelato before walking home to recuperate.

I'm bummed about my injury and not looking forward to the next couple months of limited functionality! But hopefully I can still make the most of this trip!

Us at the park, making the best of the day!

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devarae

100+ Posts
Monday Jan 23

Still trying to make the most of the trip in spite of my broken wrist! We took the morning slow and just went on a walk to get some fancy pastries for my birthday Tuesday (when it is supposed to be cold and rainy). It was a lovely morning and we enjoyed seeing the narrow charming streets and watching the green parrots in the park. And I got the pastries I was hoping for!

Back home we made lunch using up some leftovers, then walked to Sagrada Familia cathedral, Gaudi's masterpiece that has been under construction for over 100 years and is due to finally be complete in 2026! It is apparently the most visited sight in all Spain!

It was indeed crowded but not intolerably so. We spent about 45 min outside admiring the different facades before it was time for our entrance (we got tix online in advance). Entry was quick and easy though you need to have your bags run through a scanner, etc.

The cathedral really is impressive! I loved that while the exterior is very lush with decorative elements the interior is uncluttered and elegant, drawing your attention to the "forest" of columns and the amazing stained glass. Since we were there in the afternoon the windows that were lit most brightly were the red and gold ones on the Passion side. The shafts of colored light were magical!

I had not realized that even though Gaudi worked on the project for 20 years and left some plans/intentions, many of his designs/notes were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and thus a lot of the work has been completed by other artists working to honor what is known of his vision. Gaudi himself was highly involved in the sculpture work on the older "Nativity" exterior of the building (with images related to the birth of Christ, very lush with nature motifs). But the stunning geometrical figures on the opposite "Passion" exterior were done by Josep Subirachs, who also worked on the project for 20 years (starting in 1986). Likewise the beautiful stained glass was designed by Joan Vila-Grau.

It's a stunning site and I'm glad I got to see it! I would love to be able to see it again when it is complete!

After we had seen all we could we headed home, took a rest, then went out for an early supper of dumplings (our apartment has a ton of Korean and Chinese businesses around it) and then watched some tv before bed.

My broken wrist is frustrating and a bit painful, but I'm glad that we can still see these sites! Very grateful to be in this beautiful city!

Photos of Sagrada Familia. You can really see the difference between the first (lush Nativity facade) and the last (stark Passion facade)!

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devarae

100+ Posts
Tues Jan 24th


This was the first overcast weather of our trip, and the coldest, but it wasn't as bad as I feared. The rain was mostly sprinkles, nothing soaking, and stopped entirely for several hours at a time. It was only 37 degrees but we had our winter coats and were fine.

It was another Gaudi day for us! We walked over to Casa Vicens, one of Gaudi's earliest projects, mid-morning. Along the way we stopped to visit the lovely and peaceful Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The cloister is so serene and green with palms, and the church itself dark and rich and solumn.

Casa Vicens was wonderful! No line, maybe 20 other guests? It is full of floral and plant-inspired motifs and so stunning, more traditional than his later works. I think I'd prefer living there to La Pedrera/Casa Mila which had such oddly shaped rooms I think I might always feel out-of-sorts. The Casa Vicens audio guide (free with ticket) was excellent too.

My favorite part of Casa Vicens was the vivid blue smoking room!

After our visit we stopped for lunch at a very good Thai place just off the Passeig de Gracia, then continued on to Casa Battlo, our final Gaudi site of the trip. We splurged for the augmented reality tablets which were cool and let you see what some of the spaces would have looked like furnished (and with some imaginative animations showing the inspirations for some decorative elements like sea turtle shells and gills). The motifs at Battlo are aquatic, and it was very powerful and fun to explore.

It was crowded but not intolerable. I really loved the overall atmosphere, the subtle scale patterns on all the walls and the undulating surfaces! I also enjoyed the modern art installations in the stairwell (covered in thousands of softly shimmering chains) and the rooms full of colorful animations playing over walls and ceilings, drawing on Gaudi's art and creative inspirations.

We headed home to have my birthday treats: samplings of four amazing pastries from Pasteleria Hofmann! And then some leftovers and a quiet rest of the evening resting up for our final day.

It has been tough being one-handed and my broken wrist is quite achy but travel is a good distraction!

Some photos! Casa Vicens exterior, the smoking room, then three from Casa Battlo, then my pastries...


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devarae

100+ Posts
Jan 25, Wednesday

This was our final day in Barcelona, but we decided to spend it outside the city. Our original tour of the Dali museum was cancelled the day previous but thankfully I found another with spots available! I think it might even have been better overall as they picked us up at our apartment (so we didn't have to wake up as early) and it included Girona as well as the Dali museum (the cancelled tour included Cadaques instead).

We had a great day! The weather was bright and sunny and in the fifties! Our tour guide and 5 fellow tourists were lovely and easy-going. There was a couple from Puerto Rico, two women (not together) from Australia, and a third single woman from Montreal.

After an 1.5 hr drive we arrived in Figueres, to visit the Dali museum. This was designed by Dali himself so all the art is exactly as he wished it, and the labels as well. Apparently they are very small because Dali thought visitors would either be familiar with the art and not need to read them, or they would be "stupid" and not bother to read them!

It's a really fascinating place and our guide made Dali come alive. Such a character with very strong opinions on the nature of art. And it was interesting to hear about his intense relationship with his wife Gala. I didn't necessarily love all the works on display but the entire experience was really cool and a highlight.

We had a quick lunch of kebabs and fries in Figures, near a lovely open square, then rejoined our tour to head 30 min to Girona.

Girona was a charming city! We walked though the old medieval section and Jewish quarter, full of lots of atmospheric narrow streets and passages. We also saw a church that was used as a film location for Game of Thrones :)

We had a break for tea, admired a pink metal bridge designed by Eiffel (of tower fame), and then headed back to the city. We had some pasta and beans cooked at home, then packed up to prepare for our trip home.

I'm typing this in the Barcelona airport.. Fingers crossed all goes smoothly for our flight to Newark then on to Boston! Then a bus trip back to Maine and we will need to adjust to snow and freezing temps again!

We really loved Barcelona! I don't think it's one of my absolute favorite cities but it had so much gorgeous architecture and was very easy to explore! The food was also very good and diverse.

Breaking my arm midway through the trip was not ideal, but the silver lining was that I think I valued the rest of the experiences even more after that, whereas before I was getting wound up over-analyzing everything to see if I was having "sufficient" fun!

Some photos of the Dali museum and Girona!

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