Spain: The Barcelona Edition.

Day 18:

About 18 hours after departing Johannesburg, I landed in Barcelona. I was now on day 18 of my international journey in two continents. I was one continent, five countries, and eleven cities in. I had two countries and seven cities to go.

After collecting my bags and clearing customs, I walked out into the main entry of the Barcelona International Airport and found my adorable baby sister standing in front of a pillar. Jet-lagged, we made our way to the metro station underground, and bought our tickets into the city. Erica (that’s my sister) had everything mapped out. We were headed to our first hotel in Barcelona, Well and Come Boutique Hotel.  Once we weaved our way around city corners, with the help of GPS, we found ourselves in the lobby. We checked in, freshened up, and headed toward the beach. There were two main priorities… dinner & gelato. We couldn’t decide what we specifically wanted, so we ended up at Marina Moncho’s where they had many options to choose from. We both went in the direction of a salad, which felt almost mandatory after all the plane food we had both consumed. The service we received was very good, and once it was all said and done, they brought us a couple small dessert bites for us to share. It was fun and quite generous, but not enough to satisfy my sweet tooth.

We headed back out and walked along the “boardwalk” and along the water. The walk happened to be a necessary step in finding the gelato of my dreams. Unfortunately, without wifi I was unable to pull up the name of the place we had gone the last time we were in Barcelona (Deliziosa Gelateria Italiana). Sadly, I couldn’t remember the name or the place… I thought I was there, but there was no nutella flavors… so i opted for another, a chocolate type… I didn’t like it very much which was very disappointing. I ended up throwing out a decent portion. I realized in the end that it was a completely different gelato shop… and I am unsure of the name of the one I went to this time.

With gelato now out of the way and off my disappointed mind. We headed back to the hotel so that we could start working on our plans for the following day: my sister’s birthday. But first, we stopped for some large bottles of water and tea for me. We ended  up sitting on our beds booking tickets for both La Sagrada Familia & Park Guell before we ended up passing out.

Day 19:

The next morning we woke eager to greet the day. It was going to be a big one! After we got showered and cleaned up,  we packed our suitcases back up, checked out of our hotel, and headed back on the streets to find our next hotel, Lodging Apartments City Center. NOTE: I picked this place specifically for the in-suite washer and dryer because I had a ton of laundry to do. Also, the reason we stayed at the other hotel first, was because our dates had shifted, and I was unable to add an extra night to our stay at the Lodging Apartments… So, anyways… We arrived bright and early at the Lodging Apartments, a little before opening, but the lady there was kind enough to let us in. She checked us in, and thankfully our room was already ready, so she led us to the escalator and showed us to our suite.

iphone update 1491.jpgiphone update 1489.jpgWe got everything dropped off & headed in search of breakfast. We decided to go to Mercado de La Boqueria. It was phenomenal. The food options felt endless. Erica grabbed a fresh juice, and I opted for a cup of pomegranate seeds. We munched and sipped as we wandered from stall to stall brain-boggled by the options. We ended up grabbing some stuffed pastries that had veggies, cheeses, and possibly meats. They were all delicious, and a great way to start off our day of adventures… Oh, yeah… I also, got gelato. I had to. It was yummy. Then from there, we began our journey on foot in the direction of Park Guell.

iphone update 1487.jpgOur first, main attraction that we stopped at was Casa Batllo. Erica had never seen it, and since I believe that it is an icon in Barcelona, as well as architecture, I thought it was necessary for her to see it (you can see more pics from my last visit here), but I didn’t think she would fully enjoy touring the inside (and I had done it on my last visit), so we moved on.  From here,  we continued on the path toward La Sagrada Familia. Even though, we had tickets to see it in the late afternoon/evening, we thought we admire the outside with the other morning tourists.

iphone update 1496.jpgWe needed a little caffeine pick-me-up, so we popped into Starbucks which was right across the street. With cold beverages in hand we decided to have some fun snapping additional photos of  us and the cathedral from behind.  We didn’t know what else to do, so we began the long, long walk up toward Park Guell. The temperature had definitely risen, and we were trying to find our way based on the iPhones GPS & our tourist map provided by the hotel. It was taking longer than anticipated, and we ended up needing a bite to eat. We stopped at a small cafe, where I proceeded to have a terribly boring tuna sandwich that was literally tuna & tomato spread on bread. haha. …but it was cheap, and that was nice.  We enjoyed our quick 25 minuted break before we hit the streets again, and began to climb up hill. It was a fantastic walk, but very exhausting with little to see.

ipad update 2405Finally, we reached the park. We had a little time to kill before we could enter, so we just wandered the open grounds, visiting some of my favorite sights from the time before. Eventually, our time came to get in line for our tour. We waited a little while, until the line started to move. The girl scanned our digital tickets and gave us the informational pamphlet, and directed us.  We were immediately drawn over to the large balcony which gave a view that overlooked the city. NOTE: Unfortunately, the air quality is pretty bad, so you see a lot of brown haze crowding the blue skies, and the area is crowded and people are a bit pushy. If you want a great photo, you have to be patient. After, we headed down the stairs to the “tunnel” and walk way which was also lined with breezy palms. Each column had a different design. (Our favorite was the lady with the fruit basket on her head.) We followed the path that led us back down toward the exit (aka once main entrance). We grabbed a couple of photos and then headed up the main stairs into the covered hall of columns and mosaic detail. It was truly unique, and  fun… but then we decided to keep going… We ended up in the gardens, and realized that was it. I was expecting so much more, but there was no more to be offered. It was a fairly pricey ticket for the small ground you get to cover.   We were a little disappointed because we were obviously expecting more. We didn’t want to leave just yet, so we headed back to the balcony in hopes of getting better photos, and stuck around until we succeeded. Worst case scenario, we would just people watch for a bit. Here is a small photo gallery:

Eventually, we made our way out of the park, but we still had a few hours until our tour of La Sagrada Familia. So, we headed back down the hill in search of the metro, and decided it would be wise to go find a store for snacks and laundry detergent, so we did just that.  We found a market near our hotel, and wandered through in search of detergent first… I am not fluent in Spanish, and was having a hard time figuring out what I was buying. I felt somewhat confident that it was detergent at the time, but thinking back on it I am pretty sure I just bought fabric softener.  With a couple bags of snacks and “detergent” We headed back to the hotel to charge our phones & start the laundry.  We separated our clothes and attempted to start the first load. I didn’t think about the fact that I had to translate the settings on the washing machine, but we got it figured out.

We were excited to get back to La Sagrada Familia which was really only a few blocks away from where we were temporarily residing. We found the entrance, and had our passes scanned again. We picked up our complimentary audio guide, and started our tour out front. My neck began to hurt as we stared up at the massive structure, admiring all of the intricate carvings and details that have yet to be finished.  We easily spent over an hour in the church admiring the beautiful rainbows of stained glass & unique architectural design that embodies Gaudi‘s style. It was phenomenal. Erica & I both decided that it was one of our favorite churches.  We opted in to tour the northern towers which allowed for some great city views!

Afterwards, we headed across the street to the pond, where we got some additional photos of the cathedral reflecting in the water. …but our dinner time was coming. We ended our night at a great tapas (small bites/snacks) restaurant that my sister had heard about from one of her fellow flight attendants (sorry, don’t have the name). We picked a variety of tapas to share, and had a great time breaking down our day, and discussing the next. We ended up with a tiny piece of exquisite carrot cake, that left us wanting more, but we instead decided to wrap it up and head back to the hotel because the next day was going to be a big one.

Day 20:

It was Montserrat Day! …and Saint Patty’s day. We were curious of how many people we would see embracing that Irish holiday.  We were up early, and got ready to head to the metro station, so that we could then purchase our train tickets to head to the mountain. We were uncertain of which tickets to purchase because it was just options without descriptions. A man working at the station attempted to help, but naturally didn’t speak English & seemed frustrated with us that we didn’t understand him or know what to pick. Feeling slightly pressured we just  picked the one that seemed to make the most sense, the rail pass & sky car. We board the train & after about 10 minutes, were headed out of the city.

We passed through several small towns before we made it to our destination, or what we thought was our destination.  We were the only people to get off the train, which seemed odd. Unfortunately, at that point, it was clear that we exited one stop too soon. NOTE: We sound so dumb, I know. We were not paying careful enough attention, and the “map” we had gotten before boarding our train, looked completely different than the one that was inside of the train which led us astray…. We decided, since it was an hour until the next train arrived, that we would just walk. The distances between the last several stops had been fairly short, and it seemed like it made more sense to walk a short distance than to sit for an hour.

IMG_0107Well, we began walking, following the train tracks as best we could. We ended up walking along a highway for about twenty minutes, while my sister continually said “I hate this” (haha). We came to a parking lot which seemed to lead into a nature reserve with hiking trails. After about an hour of walking towards and into the mountains, we did our best to reevaluate our resources which were no help at this point, From here we could see where Montserrat was, and decided it was far too long of a walk along a highway to keep going. We opted to turn back. It was very warm & we had no water. My sister was incredibly frustrated while I tried to keep a positive attitude. I knew we would laugh about it later.

IMG_0108When we got back into the town we stopped for some water & gummy worms, and then went back into the train station. We sat for about 15 minutes before the train showed up. As it turned out, the final leg was the longest. We were starting to laugh about it, but were still aggravated.  If anyone ever said anything, we were just going to tell them that we were visiting our great aunt.

We got off the train & headed to the sky car. From there it was a fairly short wait before we got inside the round yellow vault & began our ascent up the side of the cliff. Within minutes we were at the top and began to walk around. We needed to find lunch, we were both starving after our random two hour on-foot excursion through Spain. There weren’t many options, and considering that we were overwhelmed & hot we just settled on the Cafeteria. They had a variety of options, but the food was very much marginal. I got a lentil soup & Erica got spaghetti, and it was nothing to brag about. I also, snagged a piece of cake that was some of the worst cake I have ever had. Thankfully, my sister grabbed a couple of Snickers at the checkout counter.  We did the best we could to choke down the sub-par lunch and get a move on with this portion of our day. We just meandered through the grounds, and found a pathway along the mountains edge that led past many Catholic shrines. We had a great time goofing off. We were doing funny poses, and taking pictures of each other. We were cracking up! …at certain points we were laughing to the point of tears. Our day had finally turned around.

We spent a couple hours wandering and exploring the Cathedral & monastery. It was a beautiful place to visit with the rock cliffs as a backdrop, and the intricate details throughout the Cathedral, but it was time to head back. We were burnt out and our feet were tired. We got back in the sky car, and enjoyed the views on the ride down. From there, it was about another ten minutes before the train arrived, and we were headed back into the city. This time, we road it all the way without any errors.  We did have concerns about getting out of the train station in Barcelona because of our accidental exit earlier that day. When we put our card through, it wouldn’t take it. We were stuck, as we feared. We headed to the ticket stand in an attempt to buy an exit pass, but thankfully, a “train station person” came over, examined our  round trip tickets, and let us through without any issue (THANK GOD!).

When we got back to our room, we finished up our last bits of laundry & grabbed all of our necessary layers, as we headed out for dinner. We wandered all over in search of Asian food, but the place we were interested in had a line at the door, so we wandered back through the windy, small streets to Cuines Santa Caterina, a Market style restaurant. The setting was a lot of fun, and my sister and I proceeded to have two very different experiences. I ordered the swordfish. I was thinking it wouldn’t be incredibly fresh and mild since we were in a coastal city, much like the swordfish I had a couple years back in San Diego. What I had, was instead, hardly palatable. I was doing everything I could to eat it… and not gag. In other words dipping it in our delicious hummus that we had ordered as an appetizer… I couldn’t finish it. It was the worst seafood experience of my life.  With this, we wrapped things up quickly, and wandered around the area. IMG_0116There was a brightly lit square full of people passing through, and a beautiful cathedral near by that also had impromptu opera singers behind. It was fun to watch as a funny mix of men stood around singing with their bold voices to a small group of onlookers.

Prior to dinner, I had decided that I wanted crepes from a small cafe we had seen along the way. We headed in so that I could grab a nutella crepe. It was HUGE, and packed with nutella, a little too much! But it was delicious, and it was more than satisfying.

We decided to head back to the hotel after this because we had an early start planned for the next morning. We went back and began to get packed for our next big adventure.

Day 21:

We woke bright and early, and quickly worked to get everything cleaned up and packed up. We raced down the stairs with a decent amount of stuff in tow in search of the train station. We headed to what seemed the like the city center where the metro and train meet. We were supposed to find the rental car company here, but instead felt like we were turning in circles with absolutely no luck and 100% frustration. Tempers were beginning to flare. We had no choice, but to turn back because we were informed that there were no rental car companies in the area.

When we got back to our hotel, we talked to the lady at the front desk, and she was more than willing to help. She was googling, calling, mapping… and finally she figured it out for us. She told us and showed us exactly where we needed to go. She advised us to grabbed all of our bags & hail a cab because it was on the outskirts of the city at the actual (above ground) train station. We did just that.

We grabbed all of our luggage, left the room key on the table as instructed, and headed down. It only took a minute for us to get a car, and then a brief 10 minute ride to the station. We were dropped off in front, and, once again, felt lost as we wandered all around the station looking for Hertz. It was no where to be found. We were at our wits end. Finally, I stepped into Budget, and asked where it was. Naturally, we were instructed to head back outside and go left, as it was across the street. NOTE: You will see that Spain really challenged us! 

FINALLY!!! FINALLY!!!! FINALLY!!! We had our car!!!! From Barcelona we began an eight and a half hour, very smooth drive to Granada. We made a couple bathroom breaks, and switched off driving at the half way point, but it was easy, and a truly beautiful drive along the way!

…to be continued…

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The Compulsive Traveler

out to see the world, and snap beautiful photos while doing so.

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