Our "Rambla" Through Barcelona
02.17.2008 14 °C
Once you start driving, you never know. We ended up breaking the ten hour drive from Nerja to Barcelona into two very uneven days of 9 hours the first day and just 1 hour on the second day. Anica was very patient. We even let her sing long, annoying and repetitive songs and we didn't scream. It's better than having a kid whose whining about how much farther.It helped that we eventually decided Tarragona looked like a nice city in which to spend the night. Tarragona has turned out great for us. We found a hotel pretty easily, the Hotel Lauria (great location), which has its own postage-stamp size underground parking lot, and we were able to enjoy the wide pedestrian thoroughfare called the Rambla Nova.
Being Valentine's Day, we did try for a special dinner. We had a Catalan food buffet at a place called El Tiberi. At 8:15 we were the first diners to arrive. It didn't start to fill up until 9:00. They really do eat late in Spain. It wasn't great, though, and they charged full price for Anica.
Tarragona has been a city since the Roman era, and was once the capital of Catalonia. I noticed a lot of signs in Spanish and Catalan, and think I heard it spoken to me a few times tonight. English is way down the list of languages spoken here.
This is a statue, but people actually do this here!
We admired the statues along the Rambla Nova. One is in bronze of the "castellers," of people making human towers. I thought it was just a statue, but people actually do this here! They compete at festival times, and each town has a team.
In the morning, we took time to look out over the sea (our hotel was just a block from the end of the Rambla Nova where it overlooks the train tracks and the waterfront), and to walk past the Roman Amphitheatre. For those of you keeping count, is that eight Roman amphitheatres? We didn't go in, so Anica didn't get to climb this one, but we had good views of it from above. It's right by the sea as well.
As we were already only 100 km from Barcelona, was decided to take a detour to the monastery at Montserrat. I remember my parents saying what an incredible setting this is. Well, they were right! Especially on a beautiful sunny day like today. Montserrat is way up the side of a rocky mountain. And these are some pretty distinctive rocks, I must say. We drove all the way around and up the mountain, with gorgeous views opening up with every hairpin turn. At the "top," is a Basilica and a monastery, but it doesn't end there. The whole mountainside is well-marked with hiking trails, and there are shrines and crosses here and there. We took a funicular railway (Jenn gripping the handrail tightly) up to "Saint Joan's" mountaintop chapel. We dashed up a couple of peaks to see the views across valleys in differing directions, then got the funicular back down. When we went in the Basilica, we got to go up behind the altar and pass through an ornately-decorated cupola containing "the black virgin," the most important religious object at Montserrat.
Montserrat, with the distinctive rocks about it
Arriving in Barcelona, we've been pleased so far with our hotel. The location is east of the downtown, but in a very cool, modern, spacious area by the port. Barcelona must be the greatest city in the world for post-modern architecture, from what I've seen so far. And we drive all the way across "Diagonal" avenue to get here, one of Barcelona's grandest, longest streets.
We've made a lot of inquiries the past few days about upcoming rentals. There was one, however, in London, that we thought sounded "too good to be true." We wrote emails to them, asking for more information, and noticed that their spelling and punctuation was curiously poor for someone renting in posh Westminster. We phoned them, but couldn't get through. We decided to trust our instincts and not pursue this rental property, especially since they were asking for a bigger deposit than anyone else. Boy, has that ever proved to be the right move! In checking our email this morning, we were amused to find a message from a holiday rentals website warning us not to book there. The property's been removed from the site! Now, as some point we may get ripped off, but we dodged one there by trusting our instincts.
One of the entrances to the Sagrada Familia
When the gates opened today at the Sagrada Familia,at 9 AM, a Saturday, we were there. Gaudi's work still in progress cathedral, begun in 1898 and scheduled for completion a mere 50 years from now, was something all three of us had been looking forward to seeing. Despite the fact that the interior resembles a workshop or art studio more than a church, it didn't disappoint. It's huge, it's eccentric, it's naturalistic and modernistic and there's so much to look at. There's two elevators; we all went on the first (higher) one, and got great views over the towers (and over Barcelona) for that matter. Instead of taking the elevator back down, we walked down the nautilus shell-inspired staircase. Very tight spiral! I went up the second one too, over the Nativity entrance, and walked across a bridge right past the sculpted white doves sitting on the sculpted evergreen tree. Anica and Jenn soaked up more Gaudi information in the museum and film area while I was there. Anica's binocular came in handy as we interpreted the carvings above each entrance.
Once again, Anica's endurance outstripped our own. As we sat on a park bench across from the Sagrada Familia, Anica played on the playground equipment. We made good use of our three-day transit pass from there, taking the metro just two stations to go directly to the Gaudi apartment building, "La Predrera" (a.k.a. Casa Mila). Another costly admission, but worth it (though we drew the line at Casa Batlo down the street, which charged the most of all. Enough of our Euros had gone to Gaudi sites by then). Anyway, La Predrera was neat because we got to go on the roof (a "garden" of chimneys that look anything but chimneys), and tour an apartment restored to a typical 1905 style, complete with a child's room with toys. Anica liked their dollhouse! In the "attic" of the building there's an exhibition about Gaudi''s methods and materials. The attic itself is intriguing: over 100 brick archways help lighten the load on the building but give it the look of a medieval church basement.
Boba Fett's family reunion: the rooftop of Gaudi's "La Predrera"
Despite all this, we were still fairly fresh after lunch for our walk down "La Rambla." It might be the greatest pedestrian street thoroughfare in the world Anica really enjoyed the street performers, especially the people in costumes who pose like statues. We all enjoyed our detour into the market. La Rambla ends at a 60 metre high statue of Columbus. Across the street is the marina. We sat down, at last, and realized we didn't have much energy or creativity left, so we just took the metro back one stop and ate at the Hard Rock cafe. Ever since Hong Kong, Anica's kept her eye out for more Hard Rock cafes. We've skipped a couple, but the timing was right tonight. Even at an unfashionably early hour (especially for Spain), we had to wait a few minutes for a table.
Fairytale of the street. La Rambla, Barcelona
The coolest thing about today, though, happened in a metro station, where we noticed a young woman was singing with a trio of musicians who were busking in the corridor. She was really belting out the song, with a good voice, and knew most of the words. All of us in the crowd were cheering her on. The musicians were beaming at her, too. When she finished, she blushed, picked up all her shopping bags, and went off in search of the right subway line. This was not the frozen music of architecture. Just music. And Barcelona at its best.
Sunday in the park, and what a park! We spent most of the day in Park Guell today, Gaudi's failed housing development that eventually became the world-famous park that it is now. It was warm enough again that we were able to have a picnic. We threw the leftovers to the birds, cheering for the brightly-coloured parakeets over the usual pigeons.
Park Guell is set up on a hill, and has two areas: the "monumental" area, which Gaudi designed, and the more wooded, walking trail area. It was also nice, because it goes steadily farther uphill, providing more and more panoramic views of Barcelona right down to the sea. One such viewpoint overlooked a house inhabited by would-be anarchists, who had hung a banner reading "Why call it tourist season if we can't shoot them?" Ironically, dozens of tourists gathered to take a picture of this banner.
The monumental area is like stepping through the looking glass. Mushroom houses, the famous bench shaped like a serpent, and a covered walkway with rough stone arches modelled after waves. Under the big public area (which the serpentine bench encloses like a horseshoe) is an area held up 89 ribbed columns. Some of the outer columns are angled like buttresses would be, creating the effect that they've fallen over slightly.
Anica at the entrance to Park Guell
It was no trouble spending hours in Park Guell, although with all the walking (it's ten minuted uphill from the nearest metro station even), we didn't feel like doing much more today. That fit in well with our theme of "cheap day," where we able to recoup some of the amount we went over budget the last two days. Europe, always expensive, has become even more expensive since we last estimated costs (about a year ago). Hotels Jenn had earmarked have gone up 10-20 Euros since then. Gas has gone up. Toll routes and admission costs have gone up. We will do the trip as it needs to be done, but try to be smart. Our self-catering accommodation choices will be a big help. I mention the costs in case someone out there is planning a trip to Europe. Add 5% to even the most up-to-date guidebook's prices.
Somewhat more rain in Spain today, mainly, in Barcelona, and perhaps on the plain. We made our way through light drizzle, doing errand like banking and finding an Internet cafe with a printer, to an amazing travel book store. It was huge and comfortable, and the travel books were so colourful that it didn't matter only a fraction were in English. Anica happily looked through a National Geographic book on India, identifying places we've been. Our walk gave us a chance to see the "block of discord" again, and La Rambla. We also detoured through the medieval hospital grounds, which now form an elegant courtyard. The lobby still has the 600 year old tile murals dedicated to St. John. Then we crossed La Rambla again, for a dash, somewhat dispiritedly, through the Barri Gothic. It's obviously a great area to explore, too, but we didn't have the zest today. We did browse in an amazing collectibles store, though, where Anica was dazzled by the high-quality reproductions of Harry Potter characers' wands. And I haven't seen so many Star Wars figures since I was ten!
Eventually we got out of the rain and took in a matinee, in English, of "Sweeney Todd," at a theatre near the Olympic village. A little bloody for an eight-year-old, but she's seen Tim Burton before, and seemed to "get" this movie. We just like seeing a movie every couple of months.
So that's it from Barcelona. We're getting ready to hit the road tomorrow!
O.K! all admit it, this wasen't my favrite Valentines Day, except for beeing with Mummy and Daddy, because we did 9 hours driving, so we would only have to go 1 hour to Barcelona the nest day (only 97 km), which would be easy. Going to Tarragona was a "you diden't need to go on a scenic road" type drive, which was good, becuse the scenic roads are so slow! The mountins here are so pretty! Blue skys, trees - whatever!
Having a good lunch at a gas, bed and food place was o.k. exept for the fact I had a loose tooth so the bread (crusty) and ham (chewy) sandwiches did not help! But I ended up having a yougert and a bit of the bread. The Repsols are big with stores - oh, Repsol a gas type to, with lots of stuff, candy, needs, eveything, well, sort of After getting back on the highway, not having streched out very much, wasen't exciting, but it was okay, I guess. But Tarragona was still a couple kilometers away and getting to Tarragona was a relif! We parked "close" to the hotel we were looking at and guess what? We saw a statue with people climbing over each other to get to the top! Also, a fountin with people with animals! The hotel worked out and we went to a really expenisive restraunt for dinner. The driving tomorrow was...
P.S. Happy Valentines Day Everybody!
...great. Going to Barcelona meant city, but who cares? Why: we are going to see Gaudi stuff! Such as the Sagrada Famila (Holy Family in English), houses and the park. Beacuse the Sagrda Famila is supposed to be tall with complacatied looking towers (true), the houses with neat styles and the park with dragons (fake). Did you know: Gaudi made a man sit down on a still-wet plaster bench barenaked? (!) Arriving just at the outskirts of Barcelona made it look like a city! Also we went on such a long-looking road called "Diagonal Avenue" which looked really diagonal, compared to the other streets. Finsing our hotel was a relif, even though it was hours less driving, but still you know, it felt good. Are hotel was like a 3ish-4ish star hotel, but it's supposed to be a 4 tar. Sort of I guees it was one. After we went to a mall which had everything! had dinner, went home, G.N!
"P.S. Monserrat and the Finaclur"
The mountins here are one of the omigosh-ha-ha ones, because they look like people!! Kids or adults who like rollercoasters: ok, the finacular was slow but you know when the roller-coaster comes straight for a bit and then go's down so steep. We did that but really slower. We got great viewpoints from the top and (not that I'm bragging) we got to stand on the moutins with great views! Going down to the Basica was exicting again because it was the same great views! we saw a huge cathedral with a black and gold staue of Mary and Jesus.
"Sagrada Familia! One of those snap sights!"
Wow. We've been to some ok churces but this one....wow! We got up pretty early beacuse we knew there'd be a huge lineup later in the day. Walking a next-door road to Salva Del Mar to the metro staion to go to are transfer place and it was so not busy! It was also cold! When we got to Sagrada Famia station we walked up the stairs and we could aready see the church! Did you know in English, Sagrada Famia means Holy Family! As we entered all of a sudden i was sculptere world even on the outside! Images of Mary, Jesus and Joseph! The cruifiction of Jesus was visable to. As we walked inside we saw stained---oh! yey, the towers! They are so huge---glass!
They were still working on the building so we coulen't see almost all of the big building but we could see most of it! And 1 out of 4 towers were available to go up, but you coulden't go up by stairs. You had to go by lift. When we got to the top we saw magnifacent views over Barcealona! The stair case going down (you could go up by lift and go down by stairs or lift) was countining. When you looked down the circle-shaped hole you could see down and down and down below to the bootem but it looks sprile. When we got to the bottom we walked over to a museum and saw models and lots more! Did you know: that these things are supposed to look like waves? Dad went up in a tower, well we watched a movie about Gaudi! Had lunch and went to a street down a long avenue with...street performers! Such as: fairys, Death, clowns, flowers, hide-behind-a-box-jump outers, and that's all, I guees! Went to dinner, went home, G.N.
"Guell Park, and the scary (giggles*not) dragons!"
I was so looking forward to this park! Dragons, neat mouments, what else? Well...we started of the good day by going on the 3rd favourtie metro! Not usuly busy. I'm not saying that it was when we got on. This was a good metro. And (a story from India) there was no sign saying "no riding on the roof of the train." When we got to Lesseps station, we folloed the signs to the Park. When you turn the corner to the Guell Park, you see a ginger-bread house looking building with a cross on top of it! Arriving at the park ment seeing a street performer! When you got inside and up the steps you saw a dragon! Up a couple steps again and to another dragon...but a BENCH! Then we went on a long sort of walk which included magnicent views over Barcelona (some including the Sagrada Famila), a sign saying "why call it tourist seson if you can't shoot them," playgrounds, a tower, the thing that looked like waves, feeing pigones with last of bread and cheese crusts, a museum, and small enough balls that you could jump over.
Went home (if you think its the end) found this 3X bigger then normal tobbagon slides (made of metal), had dinner, G.N!
"Back to La Rambla and the usual street performers"
This day was are last day in Barcelona. I was sad. Maybe it was because it was raining and I couldn't show Mum one of the tobbagen slides that I really liked, or the neat Gaudi stuff. We took the metro (very sad beacuse I liked pressing the buttons) down to a street with a internet place, Pans (a fast food Spanish place), a bank (a specific one) and a travel (only) book store. First we went to a bank but couldn't do what we wanted to do unless we had a account in Barclays, so moved on. Travel store: huge bookstore with books to Europe, Asia, India, Africa, America, anywhere (p.s. we had gone to internet earlier). We got a travel with kids by footprint guides which was beter then a take your kids to Europe book! Lunch at Pans and company was good before going down La Ramblas and seeing (some) street performers. After going down a twisty street neborhood we saw a playground, went in there, and a old hospetil. Went down another one and got 1 euro choclet for free! Went to a movie called Sweeney Todd - played by: Jhonny Depp, Alan Rickman (Snape in Harry Potter), Timothy Spall (Wormtail/Peter Pettigrew) and Helena Bonham Carter and thats all. Went home had dinner. G.N!