Finally! My first adventure outside of Belgium since I arrived. My arrival was almost comical. Most of my American readers have never flown with the airline Ryanair before. Let me start by saying that it is hilariously cheap. The seats are close together, they don’t lean back or have pockets for placing persona items or reading material. Beverages aren’t free, in fact nothing is free. The only reason Ryanair doesn’t charge a fee for using the toilet is because it was deemed illegal.There are advertisements on the back of the headrests so Ryanair can hawk coffee and chips to a captive audience. The only moment of peace you have during your flight is take off and landing because even the employees must be seated. The rest of the time they spend trying to sell you things. Sure, I understand being sold drinks or food on a cheap airline, but they are also pushing lottery tickets, private car services and e-cigarettes. Every new item to be sold gets it’s own loudspeaker announcement in English French and Spanish. The lights are turned up to the brightness one would expect in a surgery room. It is truly obnoxious and almost not worth the cheaper airline price. If you ever fly Ryanair, I recommend bringing a night mask and earplugs as the salesmen don’t seem to bother you if you completely ignore them. The airline is okay for a flight that lasts an hour or two, but I really can’t recommend it for anything longer.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by a stereotypically nutty cab driver. He spoke no English which is fine since I had the address written down, but even still he seemed unsure of where he was taking us. Every time we got stopped at a traffic light he would start making a deranged humming sound and start tapping the dashboard. He flipped radio stations constantly and often randomly started speaking in strings of unbroken Spanish to himself, which neither me nor my companion could understand. To add tension to the scene, the cabby could not find our hotel. We ended up driving down some narrow pedestrian alleys that I was fairly confident shouldn’t have cars in them at all. I think I was proven right when we ended up trying to take a turn so narrow the car didn’t fit and we had to back out hundreds of feet. At this point, my companion and I were becoming uncomfortable and we asked to leave the cab, which I think the driver was happy about. Fortunately, I had my data plan working on my cell phone an we could walk to our hotel from where the cab got lost. Smart phones are SO valuable for navigating the winding and nonsensical streets of old Europe, I can’t recommend them enough if you are thinking of making your own journey, reader.
The hotel was a solidly one star affair. A snarky younger Spanish man who spoke good English greeted us upon our arrival. It was rather entertaining. The room itself was tiny and ugly yet clean and functional. We never did get the heat working, but we had extra blankets and twin beds. The biggest downside were the hard beds and the high night noise level of the area. The hotel was in an alley next to the ocean nightlife area and drunk people chatted loudly int he alley all night. I didn’t mind so much since I had brought earplugs, but my companion did not so I think she had a more difficult time sleeping. I don’t mind a lousy room because the cost was low and location was fantastic! We were in a central part of Barcelona’s old quarter near the ocean. We were an easy walk from the beautiful port area complete with old sailing ships and a palm tree lined boardwalk. Though it was cold, we ended up walking up and down the ocean admiring the lit up buildings and sailboats that lined the harbor. We turned in early in order to get an early start on the following day.
Saturday was incredible. I started the day out with a pastry stuffed with chorizo and mozzarella, which
was really a fantastic choice. It was a little rich, but it was worth it. We then spent the whole day walking ALL over Barcelona’s old quarter. We had a tourist map so we just followed around all the landmarks from place to place, stopping to shop and eat wherever we felt like it. Las Ramblas was our first stop, it is a long pedestrian path that leads away from the ocean. The whole stretch is lined with tourist shops, cafes and markets. A notable stop was the incredible covered market of Barcelona. The whole market was stuffed with fruit, fresh meat, fish bread and candy; each catagory of food was given it’s own area. My favorite was the fruit stands, which were clearly arranged with aesthetics in mind. The fruits were arranged in rainbows to advertise the variety and perfection of the produce. Many stands catered to tourists and sold pre-made packs of assorted cut up fruit you could purchase for 2 euro or so. Other stands were constantly juicing their fruits on the stop, and would sell little take away. The variety was flooring. Coconut milk, mango, banana, watermelon, kiwi, strawberry, passion fruit and mixtures of many of these. I bought one, but I wish I had bought more because the market ended up being closed on Sunday. I was impressed by the variety and freshness of all the food being sold. Some of it would really be exotic by US standards, pigs feet, chicken feet, brains bones. It really made me think about being more adventurous about my own cooking at home.
After leaving the market, we traveled along a lively shopping area a little off the main path. I liked this
better because the quality of the wares was better and it was less cheap printed touristy items. At this point we started making a wandering line from landmark to landmark. I can’t possibly describe each of the Plazas we visited, but each had it’s own architecture and character. Some notable landmarks we visited were the Cathedral of Barcelona, Arc de Triomf and Sagarda Familia. For those who don’t know, Sagarda Familia is a basilica designed by famed Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. He’s an interesting character if you care to look him up. Suffice to say, his style of design is striking and distinctly Spainish. Sagarda Familia is a masterpiece that has been in the process of being built for the past 100 years or so. It’s taken to long to build, that the old stone of the church is dark and aged where the newer parts the stone is fresh and white. I imagine once they finish building, they’ll have to go straight to work restoring the older stone. I can’t liken the architectural style to anything but a modern approach with color and curves. The design is whimsical for a church, with colorful bundles of fruit topping spires rather than peaks, busts or crosses. The other striking thing about it that is hard to get across in pictures or words is the scale
of it. It stands tall over the city of Barcelona. If you ever go to Barcelona, you must visit Sagarda Familia. We didn’t go inside the church, as it cost more than 11 euro and the line wrapped around the square. I was content to admire the structure from afar and rest on benches on either side. We ended our tour by visiting the beach. It was far too cold to go into the water or even wear a swimsuit, but we did walk out to a pier overlooking the ocean. The view of the Barcelona beach was worth the out of the way walk.
The Arc de Triomf was another landmark I enjoyed visiting. It stood tall over a long palm tree lined stretch of promenade. The massive scale of the red brick arch was striking and I enjoyed spending time in it’s shadow. Unfortunately, it started to rain while we were there so we sought shelter in a local tapas restaurant, which in hindsight was a fantastic idea. Since we selected a random place to eat that was right next to us, we were taking a small gamble stepping into a random cafe, but we ended up getting lucky. We ordered a variety of tapas including potatoes bravas, croquettes with mushrooms, bread coated with tomato guts, cured dried ham and a salad with fried brie and tomato jam. It was a wonderful experience and I want more tapas in my life. For dinner we tried a restaurant recommended by a local. We ordered a variety of local cheeses and meats for an appetizer and my entree was a Catalan dish which was a hollowed out onion baked with pork, beef and crushed nuts inside. I’m going to have to try that one someday at home because it was heavenly. To drink, we had sangria made with the local sparkling wine called Cavas. I was wildly pleased with the whole meal.
Saturday night was spent making new friends. My companion had some acquaintances living in Barcelona that we met up with for drinks. I had a mohito, but apparently a local trendy drink is gin and tonic! What a classic. We finally made it home around 3am completely exhausted after a full day of walking and a long night of socializing.
Sunday was spent visiting Parc Guell, which is on the hills overlooking Barcelona. It’s a bit like going up to the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. The height provides a beautiful view of the city and ocean. The trouble is getting up there. Since we had checked out of our hotel already, we were stuck climbing to the top of Parc Guell with our luggage in the rain. It really wasn’t ideal, but at least there were escalators in the middle of the street to help you get to the top. Even still, there was a lot of dragging roller bags up to the tippy top of the park. In the end, the view was worth it. At the highest point in Guell, the view is astounding. The ocean and cirtyscape falls before you.
Sagarda Familia stands up like an odd termite mound looming over the city. The palette of Barcelona is a sea of reds and tans. It really reminded me of a slightly tropical and less dusty Los Angeles. Down towards the lower end of Parc Guell was an architectural oddity that could have only sprung from the mind of Gaudi. I don’t really know how to describe it, so you should probably just look at the pictures. The salamander is an incredibly famous part of the structure, and we had to wait in line to get photographed next to it. Two odd little houses lined the structure, looking a little like something out of Dr. Seuss. Our departure was much easier, we rolled downhill this time. The subsequent cab ride and flight home were blissfully uneventful.