Barcelona, Spain - Part 1

Saturday, August 28, 2004

The trip begins with an evening flight from O'Hare to Heathrow. It was nice and smooth, with the delicious food a preview of what was to come. We had a 2-hour layover, then a British Airways flight to Barcelona.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

We were picked up at the Barcelona airport by our A&K guardian (we have arranged for private guided tours with A&KK handling the logistics).  What a beautiful airport (something you don't hear very often!). Lots of colors and stores. We learned that it, like many other parts of the city, were restored/renovated/refurbished for the Olympics in 1992. But it was very interesting - all of the people talk about the Olympics as if they were held yesterday! Also interesting because they are going on in Athens right now.

So by the time we checked into our hotel (the Ritz Arts - very Ritzy), it was about 4:00. But since the Spanish don't eat dinner until 9 or later, we had plenty of time to do stuff.  The hotel is right on the beach (of the Mediterranean) and in front of (what was) the Olympic Village. Many statues and buildings were built for the Olympics, so they were still there. Our room is on the 32 floor (muy exclusive) and looking straight down Calle (street) de la marina to the Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell way in the distance. The whole city was spread out before us. So we went down and walked a few blocks past the zoo and went into parc de la Ciutadela (City Park). As it was Sunday, there were lots of Barcelonians - families, lovers, jugglers, kids. The weather was great.  We walked for a while, and then Wendy sat down on a bench and fell sound asleep! I let her sleep for some time, woke her up, and then headed back to the Ritz to think about where to go for dinner. But then we realized the closing ceremony of the Olympics was on TV (not NBC, but BBC!) and we were tired so we decided to order room service tapas!

We had crevettes (shrimp with eyes and antennas), olives, gazpacho, jamon (ham), cheese, croquettes (which seem to be a big item here - not sure what was inside), and chocolate brownies for dessert. Our first attempt at eating late, and a really fine meal (especially for room service!).

Monday, August 4

Time to eat again already! The hotel had a nice breakfast buffet and we ate outside. Lovely! At 9 we were picked up by our guide Carlos and the driver Luis. Luis looks to be about 60 and always smiles and doesn't know so much English, so whatever you say to him he answers "Si claro, si si, muy bien, si".  A sweet man.  Right away we learned that he speaks Spanish, but in Barcelona the main language is Catalan.  So of course, Carlos speaks both (he was born nearby in Figueres), plus English, French, Italian, and Russian. He was very interesting; we found out all of the guides are very knowledgeable about the country, museums, etc., but also very personable and freely talk about themselves and their families.

So we started our driving / walking tour of Barcelona (note: they call it Bar-th-lona; at first, we thought Carlos had a lisp!). We drove past the Ramblas (La Rambla) - a kind of wide boulevard and kiosk-filled outdoor mall which stretches for several blocks.

We stopped to see Gaudi's Casa Milia....

 ...and the Palau Guell. We saw many statues and fountains (e.g., several monuments to Columbus), then on to Parc Guell. It was supposed to be an exclusive area to live in, but after the model and one house were built WWI broke out and the plans were abandoned. So it was eventually turned into a park. It is full of beautiful arches and colorful Moorish-influenced tiles and lots of nature inspired images. An amazing place!!!  Could have stayed all day.

Then we went to Gaudi's masterpiece - Sagrada Familia.  This church has been under construction since the 1870s (yes! 1870s) and they expect to finish it in another 30 years or so!

From far away it looks like melted candles. Up close, there are lots of carvings - all religious story boards. Gaudi worked on this for most of his life and other architects / sculptors have done the same since.

Then, at about 1:00, it was time for lunch. Carlos went with us (so it would be easier to order). We ate outside at a real tapas cervezeria.  Wayne practiced his Spanish ("cerveza, por favor" and "la cuenta, por favor") and Carlos did the rest.

We had anchovies, crab salad, shrimps, wonderful green (hot) peppers, asparagus, and vreme caramel for dessert. Wendy had clara to drink - a mixture of beer and Fanta lemon! We noticed that the food, especially the peppers, were very salty.

Then we went to Montjuic and along the Ramplas Catalunya.  Saw the first of many cathedrals.  Also went to an area that was like an overview of Spain in a few blocks (It had replicas of 100 houses and churches from all over the country (some smaller than the originals). It was built in the 1920s for a big exposition they had here. True story: during the 30s, one of the original homes was destroyed so after the war the people from that town came here and made a copy of the copy so they could rebuild it!  We finished touring around 5, so we sat around until 9 and then went to Tragaluz for dinner.  A contemporary place with lots of Bercelonians.  We had gazpacho, veal, monkfish, an apple tart, and chocolate mousse cake. At the bottom of the menu it says "bread, olives, and sweets....10 Euros" but they don't ask if you want it, they just bring it! But the wine is only E2.50 a glass!  Then to bed so we could wake up and eat again.

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