I *Heart* You, Barcelona

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First stop, Barcelona.  Spain – Never really desired to go but nonetheless looked forward to seeing it.  After a 7 1/2 hr. flight on Air Transat which will forever be known as the flight with the Worst Service EVER, we landed at 12:30 p.m. local time.  The journey had begun.

I’ve read that Barcelona is the heart of Catalonia, a fiercely proud culture that is not strictly Spanish.  It is described as a nation within a nation.  Even the language is different; however, the people will speak Spanish if that’s all you’ve got.  Barcelona is a city of contrasts – wide boulevards and winding medieval side streets; bold modern architecture beside ancient 14th Century gothic structures.

After our restless flight from Toronto, we were not showing our best faces to Barcelona.  We greeted her with bad hair, hollow eyes, and no energy.  Thankfully, everyone we met from step one was friendly and helpful.  We were staying at Gruphotel Gravina, in Barcelona’s Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) which is one of the most extensive medieval city centres in the world.  Our room wasn’t ready but the hotel staff stowed our 500 bags with good cheer, impeccable English, and glasses of champagne.  I do know the word gracias.

Dazed and exhausted, we wandered around the corner and found ourselves on Barcelona’s street for wandering tourists, Las Ramblas, a pretty, tree-lined but touristy thoroughfare.  Like stupid touristas (well, I guess that’s fitting), we fell into the first restaurant we saw and ordered whatever was safe – omelets and chicken.  Both arrived courtesy of the only surly person we encountered in Barcelona (our waiter), unrecognizable.  Our fault for eating on Las Ramblas but we were too tired to care.  We stumbled back to the hotel and collapsed.  Three of us did.  Dave, always impervious to jet lag, hit the streets camera in hand.

A couple of hours later he returned and roused us. Blinking in the late afternoon sunlight like three little moles, we began to explore. The first thing we were struck with was how old the city felt.  Not dilapidated old but…wonderfully old.  Coming from North America and Canada in particular, a city like Barcelona makes our “old” cities look like temporary shanty towns thrown up in a big hurry.  The other thing that struck us was we felt instantly at home even though our command of Spanish in its entirety was maybe three words.  No one made us feel stupid or foolish; everyone took our linguistic stumbles with grace and good humour.

Dave had been out for all of three hours and had a successful reconaissance mission.  He’d been to the Barcelona Cathedral and he’d taken a zillion photos.  He’d found me a Starbucks at Placa Catalunya.  It was packed – and not with tourists.  Everywhere we walked from the Placa until we cut down narrow side streets, we saw (unpleasant) reminders of home (Burger King, McDonalds, Starbucks).  I vowed to ignore those signs and focus on the shops with no signs or only the ones in Spanish.  I peered down little alleys and saw shops, cafes and restaurants tucked away, off the beaten path. It struck me then how little time I had in this lovely place…

We tried to enter the massive Cathedral de Barcelona which sits off a small square that was perfect for people watching (rivaled later by another – the Placa de Sant Jaume .  Alas, my daughter’s Daisy Dukes were too short (I warned you, missy) and we were denied entry.  We walked all the way around it, finding little nooks and crannies to explore.  We ended up back on Las Ramblas in search of something I’m almost too embarrassed to mention:  a sports bar.

Let me explain…the U.S. women’s soccer team was in the final of the Women’s World Cup against Japan – we really wanted to see.  However, in place after place we asked…we pointed at the televisions (which were in nearly every restaurant), we imitated soccer kicks, we said “futbol!” to no avail.  Every waiter shrugged and said (we think), “we don’t get that channel.”  Oh well.  We had a nice dinner anyway and were comforted by our first (of many) cones heaped with gelato.

Heading back to the hotel, we scoped out several pastry shops from which to fuel ourselves the next morning…and saw a building (hotel?) with a facade covered completely in delicate mosaic tiles.  It glowed in the evening light.  Gorgeous! I developed a strange obsession:  carved wooden doors – there were so many  – some large and imposing, others small and crooked – all incredibly intricate and lovely.  We will have a section of photos entitled simply, “Doors.”

While lovely and picturesque, the Gothic Quarter was hard on my feet and knees – uneven steps and cobblestones.  Getting old sucks.

The next day dawned warm and sunny – yay!  Some of us (me & my son) had been awake since 3 a.m.We checked out of the hotel (see you in 13 days!), re-stowed our 500 bags, and marched off in search of whatever we could see before we had to head to the Big Boat.  Everywhere we looked there were gothic buildings, Art Moderne buildings, posh hotels, twisty medieval side streets with apartment buildings on either side wearing their wrought iron balconies like lace mantillas.  Each one was packed with feathery palms and other potted plants.  We found the mother of all gift shops with lovely items (touristy but not tacky).  The first souvenir t-shirt was purchased somewhere along the way.

We gained entry to the Cathedral and it was full-on, gold-laden, heavy Gothic – and beautiful.  Our daughter snapped more pictures and said “Wow!” more often than anyone.  A rickety lift took us to the roof and gave a splendid view of the city.  Dave spied his real goal in the distance:  Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia.  Like Don Quixote heading for a windmill, Dave hailed a taxi and we sped toward’s Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece.  I gasped as we approached the incredible facade – not only because it looked like a giant melting candle but also because of the absolutely ridiculous line of people that snaked its way around.  We literally could not find the end of it; sadly, Dave had to content himself with pictures of the exterior – so massive and intricate it defies description.  I think I heard him smother a sob- not sure.  I reminded him we had another day after the cruise to see it…his jaw set in steely resolve.  I’ll be back, said he.  So will we, and gladly.  We love you, Barcelona!!

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