Sunday, December 13, 2009

My trip to Spain: Barcelona Part I

Wow, it's taken my two months to get back to writing about my trip to Spain.

The bus ride to Barcelona took most of the day. We got to the bus station by 9, although Michele's suitcase was so heavy we ended up switching who carried it through the metro. We got to the bus station by 9, but couldn't get on the 10 AM bus. We got some breakfast in the station in the bus stop. Spanish OJ is good, it rivals what you can get in Florida.

At the lunch stop, I was tempted to try this exotic looking seafood soup. Not wanting to risk that before getting back on the bus, I got an order of french fries. I took a few pictures of the countryside from the bus, and then some pictures of the Barcelona streets as we drove into the city. Barcelona has a unique look. When the city expanded, the zoning laws were such that buildings could be build to be 4 or 5 stories tall. Not wanting to waste space on the street front, all the buildings were built to the maximum size the law allows. There were no laws specifying how the buildings had to look, so the whole effect is both very uniform and varied at the same time.

When we got out of the bus station, we were looking for any sort of sign that would direct us to the metro. We also had trouble finding the street signs. The next day we figured out that you find them on the side of building, but we kept looking for them on poles or hanging from traffic lights. Who knows how long it would have taken Michele and I to find the Metro if we hadn't run across a couple speaking English. We asked them were the metro was, and of course, we had been going the wrong way.

The trouble with the street signs continued to plague us as we tried to find our hotel. It didn't help that University is a one of a few diagonal street that kind of cut through the rest of the city grid that made navigating around the hotel kind of odd. We finally found our hotel and got checked in. We ate at a German place called Otto's for dinner.

We got a free breakfast buffet with our hotel stay by mentioning the Rick Steeve's book. The breakfast was awesome. Lots of fruit, the ubiquitous thin sliced cured ham, chirizo, pastries, orange and pineapple juice, hot tea. We headed into the Bari Gotic, the Gothic district, to start our sightseeing. The medieval cathedral is quit impressive, and it's not even the main sightseeing attraction in Barcelona as cathedrals go. We happened upon a bookstore in the Bari Gotic, and Michele found the 4th book of the Twilight series there in English. She was reading and rereading the other three so she was glad to pick that up.

We had some trouble making our way to Las Ramblas from the cathedral. I think we would have been fine going straight through the neighborhood to the docks, but Michele was nervous since the travel guide said the area south of the cathedral was seedy. I did have a gypsy try to sell me a rose and dance with me, but we turned our backs on her and left.

Las Ramblas is a very busy crazy place. It's popular with tourists, and I'm sure I heard at least a dozen different languages. It's also really overpriced in my opinion, but more on that later. We walked down to the Columbus monument. The monument is pretty impressive. It's a big ring with metal plaques showing the various stages of Columbus's trip to the new world. I the center of a ring, there is a pillar with a statue of Columbus atop it. I believe the Spanish are more enthusiastic about celebrating Columbus day than Americans are, or at least they get the day off work.

I don't know if it's a fair comparison, but my initial thought of Las Ramblas was that it was kind of like M street in DC on acid. We started heading back up the street after seeing the monument and stopped for lunch. Looking for a place to eat lunch is one reason I decided that the street is way over priced. We stopped at a place more out of exhaustion than anything else. I got calamari and a coke, and the coke cost something like 6 or 7 Euros. It was a bigger coke than most places in Europe served, but you could buy several 2 liters for that much money.

On the way back up the street, we discovered the bird market, which we had bypassed by going through the Gothic district on our way to Las Ramblas. It was more like a giant outdoor pet store, even noisier that the rest of the bustling street. It was really too much for me since neither of us had any intention of picking up a live traveling companion. We stopped by a farmer's market too. I think I've got a photo or two of some of the stuff they had on display there. It was another human zoo, so we headed back to the hotel to rest for a while.

In the afternoon, we took a funicular up to Mount Juic. I actually knew what a funicular was from my trip to the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney. It's a train line with a cable attacked to it because of the steep grade. Mount Juic was very peaceful after the trip to Las Ramblas. The Catalan art museum and magic fountains were on the list of sights to see at Mount Juic. The magic fountain wasn't in operation, and the Catalan art museum was under quite a bit of construction. From what we could see of it, the building would have been really impressive if not under construction. We did get to see the Olympic stadium, used for the 1992 games I believe.

I was correct. This was the Olympics of Shannon Miller and the Dream Team. I list them in that order because I don't think basketball is a good sport for the Olympics. Tatiana Gutsu edged Shannon Miller for the all around gold. During these Olympics, Caroline said of the Russian gymnast: "I like Tatiana better than Gutsu." I love the Olympics, so I enjoyed getting to see the stadium. We finished up the trip to Mount Juic with a trip to a castle overlooking the city. We tried to walk up to the castle, but got turned back by construction after making it somewhere between a third and half way up. We ended up taking the cable cars up to the castle. The view was outstanding. There were modern cannons at the castle which had been used to defend the port. They were huge. A guy from Ireland had us take a picture of him standing next to one of the cannons so his friends would be able to see how large they were.

We ate dinner that night at the hotel restaurant. I got tuna farfalle, which had an unusual tomato based sauce, moussaka, and an ice cream desert which was kind of like an Eskimo pie on steroids. It was very good, and I was happy to eat a big meal after a day that involved a lot of walking. I forget what Michele got, but I think she enjoyed her meal too.