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Monday, October 8, 2012

Belated update on Spain

Barcelona was fun, mellow, beautiful, fairly reasonably priced; somewhat unsafe feeling at times, but I would recommend going there.  Getting around was easier than in Copenhagen. Things were closer to each other than they looked on the map.  The street names stuck in my head easier and were typically fairly well marked.
I arrived on Friday night and was ecstatic that a great friend from Kansas City was able to meet me there for the remainder of the trip. My solo excursions to Denmark were fun and somewhat liberating, but I always seem to have more fun when there is someone to share in the fun and experiences.

Barcelona was a very crowded city. Unemployment is very high and I had heard pick pocketing was a big worry there. It seems that every "exotic" destination you go to, at least a couple people are going to warn you about pick pockets.  Personally I've never had issues with it, thank goodness. Mostly, I try to be aware of my surroundings and my personal belongings and be discreet and alert when poring over my maps to determine how to get to the next stop. We did feel uncomfortable when a profusion of guys appeared on every street corner after dark trying to coerce us to buy pop or "sexy beer". When we declined, they started offering hash, marijuana, ecstasy...

The first stop Saturday morning was Segrada Familia - the church forever under construction. It was very different than how I had expected it to look. It's hard to convey the sheer amount of detail of this building in a photo. It is also tricky to get a good photo between the throngs of people while trying to avoid photographing the construction. With so many things on our list of things to see, we decided against going inside for a tour.

Next we went to Casa Batllo which was a home designed by Gaudi. It was interesting as well. Gaudi had such a strange, unconventional, drippy style. Very distinctive. The entry fee included a free audio tour. I hate those stupid things.; The idea is great, but in practice, they suck. They all seem to think that we came to whatever historical site we're visiting, solely to listen to their existential, quasi-poetic, long-winded drivel.Each room, you're supposed to press a number and listen to this thing - there's always a pause before they begin and then a tinkering of mood music followed by rambling that never seems to get to a point. They also have the tendency to turn people who are listening into oblivions; completely unaware that they're blocking the only exit from the room.

After that, we wandered Las Ramblas - the main street that goes through the Goetic and Raval neighborhoods - filled with wonderful, quirky, local, shops and cafes as well as the standard tourist trap spots.  We got all of our gift shopping done that morning in that neighborhood at very reasonable prices.  We had a lovely lunch of quiche, cappuccino and cava (Spanish champagne) in an outdoor courtyard with great people watching and perfect weather.  After wandering through neighborhoods and shops, we stopped at another plaza in the afternoon and had some red wine (and cappuccino - you do that a lot when you're with Marcie).  There was a pretty fountain in the center surrounded by palm trees, kissing couples, a few breakdancers, and a few well mannered children and Yorkies ( they seem to be the dog of choice in Barcelona).  We sat at this plaza smiling, laughing at anything and nothing and each took no less than 20 photos a piece - most of them of our two wine glasses and red carnation against the neon green table we sat at.

We ended up at the sea and saw a pirate ship and a sculpture of a humongous, smiling crawfish and then headed in search of dinner (barely before my stomach ate itself and my legs feel off from walking so much!).  We found a charming restaurant in the El Raval area called El Gran Cafe.  White tablecloths, sharply dressed waitstaff, low light from beautiful art deco style lamps, cozy interior, serenaded by a piano player perched in a small balcony near us, playing his own arrangements of songs ranging from Adele, to Coldplay, to Enya, to Evita.  It was delightful. I ordered the duck with potatoes au gratin and wine marinated pears and Marcie had the paella. Delicious!!

The next day we went to Parc Guell which was designed by Gaudi.  We weren't sure we were going the right way until we noticed about 6 outdoor escalators, one after the other, leading up a very long, tall hill and figured we were on track.  The park sits on top of the hill and has a wonderful view of the city.  Lots of walking, lots of tourists as well as locals scattered throughout playing Spanish guitar or another playing classical tunes on a hammered dulcimer or another playing the didgeridoo while another made pumpkin sized bubbles.  :)  Very cool, but unfortunately very packed - probably would have been better on a week day.

Next we went to Parc Citadella next to the Barcelona zoo.  There were people playing ping pong near the entrance, we headed toward the food stalls in the center and stopped aghast at the sight of the most beautiful fountain I've seen in my life.  A very large emerald green basin fed by white dragon sculptures atop another basin surrounded by lacy, ferny plants being fed by more fountains and sculptures of Venus and other Greek gods & goddesses and topped by a brilliantly gold sculpture of Helios in his horse drawn chariot.

There was a nearby food vendor - basically a trailer with a kitchen inside - which offered a variety of dodgy looking tapas and drinks.  We ordered beers (Estella Damm is the tasty, locally made beer of choice), cappuccinos and Tex-Mex chicken nuggets and pulled up seats with a great view of the fountain and the locals with their well behaved Yorkies and children.  It was perfect.  Somehow those scary looking nuggets dipped in ketchup & mayo were better than the tapas we would have for dinner that night.

It was a wonderful weekend.  Work went well.  My Spanish coworkers were very hospitable. I would have loved to have had more time to explore Barcelona, but feel pretty good about all the beauty, shopping, excellent food and drink and fun (oh yeah, and work!) we were able to fit into our short visit.