Friday, May 6, 2011
May 3 (Happy Birthday Katie and Christie)
Luckily, Judy and Duane's flight was late landing as we mis-judged the time to get to the Barcelona airport. We left home just shortly after 6 AM, but had to deal with Barcelona rush hour traffic to get to the airport which is on the south side of the city. The Barcelona airport is really well-laid out. We parked with no problem (they have a way of letting you know which floors of the parking garage have places and how many. Also every place is numbered to find easily again), found arrivals easily, and then waited for an hour and a half while the Delta flight cleared customs. The flight itself wasn't so late - just half an hour, but in that half-hour, 19 flights landed, 3 of them from Newark. So I'm sure there became a large backup at luggage carousels and then customs. But once out, we quickly found our car, paid the rather inexpensive 3 Euro 40 price and were quickly on our way into the center of the city. We had planned to leave the car at the airport with most of the luggage, but found we would have to take the train to the subway at 3 Euros each each way and still pay for parking at the airport on our return. And I was a bit leery of leaving the suitcases in the car. So we decided to risk parking in the hotel lot once more.
Our hotel (Eurostars Gaudi) was a 5 minute walk from the Sagrada Familia. It was clean, modern, safe, and had all the amenities (including great water pressure in the shower) needed for our two-night stay. And it was half-block away from the Monumental subway stop. With the hotel discount, we only paid 35 Euros for 2 nights. I think we were really ripped off in the first hotel we used.
We got to the hotel, dropped our bags and parked the car, then headed toward Sagra Familia for our second visit, stopping for lunch at a sidewalk cafe along the way. We decided to go up the elevator this time, but had to wait an hour and a half for our turn. This visit was less pleasurable than the previous as they had the front and back parts of the church cordoned off. There were chairs set up around the back of the altar, presumably for some sort of function, so you couldn't go into that part. At the back of the church, the cordoned area was about 1/3 of the way down the nave. There had been some changes since our last visit. The dark coverings had been removed from what will be the main entrance (the Glory facade) so the nave was bathed in natural light through the clear glass windows that I expect are temporary while construction on the facade continues. But all that cordoning made the church more crowded as people were kept in a much smaller area, so the whole thing felt much more crowded today than before.
We took the same photos again, I'm sure, but you just can't help yourself. You want a picture of everything. The elevator was not what we were expecting as it went up one of the exterior towers where you could walk up 2 flights of spiral stairs just wide enough for one person for views of Barcelona (we don't know what the giant cucumber is, but that's the Mediterranean Sea in the background.)
You do get views of the Sagrada Familia that you can't see from the ground. I find the interplay of scaffolding, cranes and religious towers really interesting. It's hard to understand the scale of this building process unless you can see people who are working around all this construction jumble.
And then, using an adjoining tower, either walk all the way down (10 minutes, not counting photo stops) or come down the 2 flights and catch the elevator down. (Guess which one I chose!) Duane, Judy and Dave all walked down. You can see that skinny Duane takes up the entire width of the stairwell inside this tower. No room for passing
We spent quite a lot of time at the Sagrada Familia and by the time we left, Duane and Judy were starting to feel the jet lag. We stopped at the hotel for an hour's nap, then took the subway to Barcelonetta for dinner near the port. The sky had been getting grey and the promised thunderstorm broke while we were recuperating at the hotel. But we donned raincoats (except for Dave who pronounced the storm over, despite the obvious) and headed off. Once at the Barcelonetta stop, we only walked a block or so and were convinced by a woman with excellent English to eat in their restaurant, inside, not on the terrasse as the wind was blowing and it was quite chilly in addition to wet.
We ordered the 15 Euro menu. I had the Dorade (bass)which came pan-fried and whole. It was delicious. Dave had a paella with lots of seafood in it, Judy had some kind of white, mild fish in tomato sauce and I think Duane had veal that he pronounced very tender. (Do I have the right meal, Duane?) As it was still raining when we finished, we decided to call it a night, stopped by a small grocery store (7-11 type) to buy breakfast stuff, and took the subway back, planning for a 9 AM start to the day tomorrow.
We get off to a relatively early start and make our way to La Rambla for coffee before walking to the Picasso Museum. Well, sort of.
We do have coffee and we do start in the direction of the Picasso Museum, but we don't end up there till 4 in the afternoon despite it being only a dozen blocks away.
Our first detour is to a Gaudi house just one block off La Rambla.
The house is cool and very Gaudi, but nearly impossible to photograph as the sun is in the wrong place, the street is narrow and the house is big. It has Gaudi's trademark rooftop fantasies and I especially like the one that is rainbow colored. But nevermind, Dave finds a Barcelona soccer jersey in a tourist store at the special price, only for him, of 25 Euros. Barcelona had beat Madrid in the quarter finals of the European Championships the night before, much of which game we watched as we were eating dinner. The game was in Barcelona (in the pouring rain) and the streets of La Rambla were filled with celebrating fans after the game. (We, however, were not among them.)
Next we begin our wander of the old city which is really cool with lots of little streets, old squares, government buildings and even a former palace built on the foundations of a Roman city wall. Lots of photos to take and alleys to explore following the advice of the Green Guide. Of course, we need lunch and stop at a restaurant near the cathedral (which we don't visit as it is 6 Euros per person entrance - they're fixing it up.) Judy and I order garlic soup which is delicious and the guys order Greek salad which strangely doesn't have feta - we think it is tofu. Dave orders a plate of assorted fish one of which is eel (see photo) which Dave pronounces as tender, white, and mild but tasty. The other meals aren't memorable. We all have chocolate mousse for dessert - really chocolatey and smooth. Yumm (with 2 m's, Duane) But it's now 3 PM.
We make our way to the Picasso museum several blocks away (and one false turn that requires backtracking a couple blocks) and wait in line 20 minutes to buy tickets. By the time we are bathroomed and ready to enter the exhibition rooms, it is 3:45 and I've reached the end of my legs for the day. Too bad, I had really wanted to see this museum. I take the 15 minute junior high version of the tour of the 5 adjoining houses and wait for the others to finish. The museum is amazing and worth well over the 15 minutes I gave it. There were more pictures from his blue period in one room than I've seen in all the museums I've ever been to. The museum covers every period of his life and is purported to have over 3000 pieces. Unfortunately the rooms except for one, don't have benches where I could sit and still look at the paintings, so I wait in the reception hall which fills with tourist groups and then empties after a few minutes, mostly junior high and high school students with their teacher(s). It is noisy, but interesting to watch these young people who behave just as American teenagers would on such a field trip.
Once finished, we stop at a small place for tapas which were, frankly, awful. But then we chose the place because it was cheap and on the way to the subway which I will take back to the hotel. Dave's shrimp are good, Duane has ordered something in tomato sauce that is chewy and surprisingly tripe-like. No one eats much of it. Judy and I do hot chocolate which is thick (how do they do that?) and chocolately and churros. (Dave calls them Spanish beignets, but they are inch-wide tubes of dough that has been fried and sugared. Mine could have been cooked a bit longer, but were edible.)
I take the subway back. It's rush hour and the subway is crowded, but I don't have any trouble getting on when the cars arrive or switching lines to get back to Monumental. A bit of needlework, a bit of British CNN to catch up on the Bin Laden story (no photos will be released, I learn), and then to bed. Dave is back around midnight having walked around the city some more, including out to the port and to other Gaudi houses, and had another not very good dinner. I don't know why we can't seem to find a good place to eat. Of course, we're trying to find menus around 15 Euros (which is more than $20, so not so cheap), and we need to find food we'll all eat - I'm a bit finicky about seafood and trying things I don't know what they are, so we're choosing restaurants with English menus and pictures of the foods. That's probably some of it, but we usually can find good food in touristy places. Oh, well, tomorrow we head back to France where I can read the menus.