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Barcelona – A Taste of the Gaudy Gaudi

We wake oh so early this morning to head up to breakfast at 6:30.  We have to eat a quick meal and head back to the cabin one last time for our carry on bags.  We arrived early at the Rendezvous Lounge, which is where our group is supposed to meet, and we sit to people watch.  About half an hour before our schedule debarkation time, Dot and Russ arrive, and we find out we can actually leave the ship with them now.  This is the fastest we’ve ever gotten off of a ship, but eevn after we got our luggage, we still have to stand outside for more than an hour and a half to wait for the tour buses to arrive.  The tour guide – Fiza – tells us the buses are there, but they have to come in order, and the ship’s buses have priority.  I’m not buying it because well after most of the other buses have gone, we’re still standing on the pier waiting in a virtually empty parking lot with plenty of room for our buses. 

The tour of Barcelona is really fairly quick, but we do have the opportunity to stop at the Church of the Holy Family.  The church, known in Barcelona as La Sagrada Familia, is one of the most well known buildings in Spain, and the original architect was Antoni Gaudi.  The story of Gaudi’s life is so painful, and when you look at his Church, you can almost see how he must have struggled with his life.  He was so well reknowned in Barcelona, and he was commissioned to do many things in the city.  He was a devout Catholic, though, and in his later years he abandoned much of his commissioned work to concentrate on the Church of the Holy Family.  He lost much of his family, and the city of Barcelona fell into economic hardship, causing Gaudi to withdraw more and more.  He stopped talking to reporters and supporters and focused solely on this one project.  Gaudi was one day run over in the streets of Barcelona by a tram, and because of his raggedy appearance, he was left in the streets to die, people thinking he was a pauper.  He was eventually removed from the streets and taken to a hospital for the poor.  No one in the hospital recognized him, and he lay without treatment until the next day, when friends who had noticed he was nowhere to be found started a search for him.  They begged him to let them take him to a good hospital, but he refused, saying he was meant to be there among the poor.  Gaudi died 3 days later, a passing that gave way to a city wide mourning.  He is buried inside his masterpiece – La Sagrada Familia – but the work remains unfinished.  Gaudi did not work from blue prints to create his vision at the church, so the city has now taken over the restoration and completion of the project.  There is a charge to go in to see the Church, with the proceeds from ticket sales paying for the Church project.

If you have ever been in an Italian or Spanish restaurant, and seen the empty wine bottles on the tables with the dripping wax candles stuck in them, then you have seen La Sagrada Familia.  The parts that Gaudi completed look just like that dripping wax candle.

We headed out to the Gothic Quarter after our trip to La Sagrada Familia, and we did a walking tour through the quarter.  They are celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi in Barcelona, so there is a flea market in the quarter, and the courtyard of the Churches are decorated lavishly with flowers.  The tour is lovely, but we are SO exhausted!

Omni tours decided to provide us with lunch, since there were a few screw-ups during the trip, and Fiza takes us to a restaurant called Oben.  The food here is so fresh and so delicious – it’s almost worth extending the trip these extra days just to have had this lunch.  I want to tell you that my favorite part of the lunch was the scrambled eggs – and I tell you this because I do not like eggs, and I have been unable to create the dish at home.  I know there were slivers of red bell pepper in the eggs, but I cannot for the life of me figure out what the seasoning was.  That was my appetizer, and it was followed by a main dish of fish that was so moist and so well seasoned, I can still taste how good it was!   If you’re ever in Barcelona, look up Oben – very good food.

We learn here that they do not really speak Spanish, but a language called Catalan.  That’s interesting, because you see signs that sort of resemble Spanish, but the spellings are different – that’s because is Catalan!

The hotel we are booked at is really in the center of things.  It is the Hotel Catalonia Albinoni.  It’s definitely nothing special.  The room is small and pretty dreary, although the bathroom is very pretty, all done in granite.  The only channel on TV that we can understand is CNN, where we learn that the Pope was nearly attacked as his car drove through St. Peter’s Square.  Everything else is in Spanish.  We’re not really sure what to do about dinner.  We were told that the Spanish in Barcelona tend to have much later hours, since daylight lasts much later here.  A lot of the restaurants don’t even open until 8 PM, and we have to be up at oh dark thirty, so we don’t want to wait until so late to eat dinner.  Brighid decides she isn’t even really hungry for a full dinner, and I can eat protein bars and crackers, so we decide to head to the department store down the street.  There is supposed to be a supermarket on the lower level, so we figure we’ll go check it out and at least find a snack or two.

On our way down the block, we pass some interesting shops – Swarovski Crystal, a chocolate shop, and a couple of stands like you would see at a flea market where they were selling linens and things.  There are two girls giving away samples of gazpacho on the street, which we skip, and then we walk dead into a huge protest.  It seems that everywhere we go in Europe, someone is protesting something!   This protest actually works out pretty well for us.  The intersection at the end of this street is really usually crowded with cars and exceedingly busy.  Because there is an army of police here and a mob of protestors, the street is closed and we can walk right over to the shop!

The shop itself is WAY overpriced for everything, so we head down to the supermarket part of things.  We wander around and see what’s familiar – and of course everything is, because, after all, they need toilet paper and trash bags in Spain too.  Brighid isn’t sure what she wants, and then I spot rotisserie chicken, hot and ready to go, so she gets a quarter chicken and a bottle of soda.  I find what has eluded me the entire trip – PRETZELS!!   I pick up the package of pretzels and head off to find some cream cheese, then we get a bottle of water and head out.  We easily cross back across the street (Up the Republic!   Labor unfair!   Stop animal testing!   Keep blocking that street and we’ll support whatever cause ya got!!), and head back to the hotel.  I have to say that while I am completely unimpressed with the hotel itself, the location couldn’t be more ideal for a tourist, especially if you have no car or any other mode of transportation handy.

We get back to our room, and Brighid realizes she has no silverware or napkins, and heads down to the lobby where she makes a valiant attempt at acquiring those items.  There is definitely a communication barrier here, and it’s interesting to me that more people here do not speak English.  I don’t mean to sound all angry American or anything like that, but in every other country, the people we have encountered have all had a working knowledge of the English language, so I am surprised that the people in Barcelona – or at least those at this hotel – do not.  It’s not that I EXPECT them to speak English, I’m just surprised, based on our experiences so far in every other country, that they don’t.  Anyway, Brighid comes back with a fork, couldn’t get them to understand what a napkin was, and resigns herself to having to wipe the chicken grease off on the bedsheets (I’m kidding.  You know that, right?).  Now it’s my turn – I need a wakeup call.  I phone the front desk and, of course, I do not know how to say Wake Up in Catalonian, and the man at the desk does not know that I need him to understand it in English, so we do not have a wake up call by the end of my nearly 10 minute conversation.  Thank goodness, Dot and Russ are able to give us a call to wake us when oh dark thirty rolls around, otherwise, Brighid and I would now be permanent residents of the Hotel Catalonia!

I have a terrible night sleeping here.  The daylight hours really do go on an awfully long time, and at home, I usually fall asleep to the sounds of David Letterman or Craig Ferguson.  I can’t fall asleep to the sounds of no TV with the daytime still streaming in the window, so I am awake and getting ready to go when we get our wake-up call.  We have to be downstairs and ready to go to the airport at 4:30 AM, and there is supposed to be a breakfast waiting for us when we get downstairs.  There are 50 of us, so although the breakfast included in the stay doesn’t start until 7, the hotel agrees to provide a meal for us.  You can audibly hear the disappointment when people come down, exhausted from the long vacation and tired from the long day in Barcelona, and see that the breakfast meal they have provided for us is four slices of white bread – two with two slices of cheese on them, two with two slices of ham on them.  Some people got an orange, some a banana, and we all got some kind of juice.  The ham, which I try to eat, is a slimey, nasty piece of deceased hog of some sort – almost like one of those canned hams, but not cooked – cold, with the hog jelly all around it.  The cheese is not something I like, although some people say the only part of the meal they are able to enjoy is the cheese.  There is a ton of fruit and juices left behind on the tables in the lobby as well.  I guess they’ve never heard of doughnuts, croissants, muffins, or other sorts of typical quick breakfast foods in Barcelona – but we were warned that most people here are just now going to bed at this hour of the morning, so maybe this is really akin to  a Barcelona midnight snack??

The bus ride to the airport is uneventful, but wait until I get to Day 14 and you’ll see how our arrival at the airport was mucked up!