Barcelona is in a part of Spain called Catalonia. The major ethnic group of the area speaks a language the natives call Català (or in Spanish Catalán). I just hate the idea of going somewhere where I don't know the language at all so today I ordered a quick Catalan course from Amazon.
Catalan is closely related to Spanish, but the rhythm and sound of it are very different. If you would like to hear what it sounds like, my favorite Catalan song is embedded here.
The song is about 10Mb long, so it might take a bit to load; be patient.
Just bought some transport tickets for Barcelona:
- The hop-on/hop-off bus — it takes you around the tourist highlights of the city, and you can get on/off as often as you like and stay as long as you like at the various stops. Actually, as long as I get to La Sagrada Familia and Park Guell I'll be happy.
- The Barcelona Card — gives you transport on the RENFRE train to downtown, which is worth the price right there, compared to a taxi, and entry to various museums and discounts at various restaurants.
I'm starting to get excited!
Right after I purchased the tickets, I got a call from the Citibank fraud department. Nice to know they are on their toes. Tomorrow I'll call my banks/cards and let them know my travel plans. Gotta do that so they don't give me problems while I'm away.
A full seven hours of sleep last night, which bodes well for overcoming jet lag. If I can stay awake at least until 9:00 p.m. tonight, then I will be in very good shape indeed.
Started the morning with the most incredible shower. No water regulators on this baby. I practically drowned in the downpour, wanted to build an ark. Martin Luther once wrote that a good glass of beer is one of life's chief joys, but if he had been born in the age of modern plumbing, he would have said that a hot shower on a cold morning is life's chief joy. The morning is not particularly cold here, but the AC in my room is spectacularly effective. Had to turn the damn thing off in the middle of the night, so a cold morning it was for me indeed.
After showering I shaved without cutting myself, for which I was grateful: don't want to bleed on the chorizo at the breakfast buffet. Nothing turns off tourists like other people's blood on their breakfasts.
BTW, right across from the commode in my restroom is this interesting device:
I remember my high school Spanish teacher once saying that the first time he saw one of these, he washed his socks in it. I'm much more sophisticated than Mr Wilson was, and I immediately recognized it as a convenient water fountain. Very nice to have one of these in your room, even if you do have to get down on your hands and knees to get a decent mouthful.
My first gustatory goal this morning was to go to the breakfast buffet and eat until I couldn't move. My first plate
consisted of (from upper left, going clockwise):
- Navy beans in tomato sauce — ho-hum.
- The softest scrambled eggs you can possibly imagine
- A crescent of goat cheese — ¡Maravilloso!
- Tortilla española, essentially a potato and egg pie — ¡Sabroso!
- Bacon — proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy
- Brie — very good
- A couple of sausages, also very good
Time for seconds:
- Jamón dulce — generic ham, as in ham and cheese sandwiches in the US
- Jamón ibérico — famous Catalonian ham, nice taste, shaved super thin
- Sausage San Chinchón, or something like that
- Spanish version of chorizo — tasty
- Spinach quiche
- Cheese, I think it was a type of parmesan, not quite sure why they put the raisin on top
- Hash brown — boring, I just thought I'd try it in case they had done something interesting inside
- Potatoes — almost au gratin but minus the milk products
Time for thirds:
- Chocolate popover
- Red grapes
- Honeydew melon
- Green peppers
and I suppose I shouldn't forget the uninteresting mixed fruit beverage, and the bottled water and coffee which are not visible.
The buffet is in «Visual», the panoramic restaurant on the 23rd floor of the hotel. The view between my servings was excellent.
Immediately to my left is the Parc de l'Espanya Industrial, which I'll have to explore later. Then here is another shot of the same area with more of a cityscape:
Immediately to the right of that is the main bus/train station:
The trains are underground. This is actually the back side of the station, which is called Barceló Sants. When I arrived yesterday I unintentionally walked out the back, which was a blessing because that is the quickest way to my hotel. Thanks, Lord! The shadow you see is the shadow of my hotel. And here is a bit more of a cityscape:
Now that I've managed to eat until I can't move, it's time to get myself moving. I'll try to down towards the harbor, then to Plaça Catalunya and Las Ramblas, although on Sunday that will probably be uninteresting.
After breakfast I hopped on to the subway for Drassanes station. I wasn't expecting much interesting since today was Sunday, but lo, Las Ramblas was hopping. Las Ramblas is a series of tree lined streets that especially caters to tourists. It starts near the harbor and heads to city center. I wandered along the streets and eventually took an arty shot or two.
Eventually I wore myself out and went back to the hotel, where I slept for five-six hours. I would be ashamed, but my purpose in Barcelona is not to maximize my cultural experience. It's to give me a nice break-time between the US and Russia. When I woke up, I decided to go see the magic fountain show. I got to Plaça d'Espanya, which turned out to be an enormous and beautiful roundabout:
I decided to view the show from the top of the arena, which has a glass elevator that goes up its side:
From the top of the arena you can see the beautiful building of the Barcelona Art Museum:
The fountain show is a water/light/music event that is orchestrated not from the topmost set of fountains but from the lower circle. As the evening goes on, the lights of the smaller fountains towards the arena (my vantage point) come on.
After the show was over, I wandered around the arena. Wonderful city views, including a view of this huge dog park:
Eventually I imposed upon a Spaniardess to take my photo.
A few minutes after this a beautiful blond woman approached me and asked me to take her picture. I recognized her accent immediately. She was Russian. Something about my dominating mastery of the Russian language attracts Russian women to me like alcoholics to vodka. It is a curse, but somehow I bear it with masterful grace. I took her picture and said goodbye. Her face echoed an exquisite despair at the loss of me. (Okay, maybe that last sentence has nothing to do with reality...)
I wandered the streets, and as it was getting toward midnight I stopped off at Restuarante Xacobeo. Famished, I ordered the veal ribs on the advice of the waiter:
Mind you, I hadn't eaten since breakfast, but that veal portion smothered in cream-veal gravy overwhelmed me. The tomatoes may look burnt, but they were actually blackened first with a pepper coating that would have made a Cajun happy. The steak fries were marvelous when dipped in the veal gravy sauce. I was ashamed to leave the veal one third uneaten.
Now it's bedtime. Tomorrow I hope to meet with an acquaintance for some real touristing.
By odd coincidence an old acquaintance of mine, Dale, who lives in Berlin, is also in Barcelona for a few days. Today we touristed together. We met at La Plaça de Catalunya, picked up his tourist bus ticket, and then headed down Las Ramblas to see the huge market there, El Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria. The entrance is just off La Rambla:
The place is enormous; picture Pike's Place Market on steroids, but with incredible amounts of beef and ham since they are not constrained by Seattle's whiny vegetarians. I only took two pictures there. The first was of a surprising display of chiles that was beautiful:
The second was a shop that sold nuts and candied fruit:
I have never seen so much candied fruit in my life. Tomorrow I'll go back to one of the chocolate stands for a gift for a friend in Russia.
From there we hopped on the bus that took us to La Sagrada Familia, a church that was re-envisioned by Gaudí in 1883 and has been under construction ever since. To say the place is astonishing simply doesn't capture it. It's enormous and playful and solemn and awe-inspiring and tacky all at the same time. (The tacky is due to some retail I spotted through the windows.) Many of the figures in the main entry way have a bit of a cubist look to them; think Picasso's "The Old Guitar Player"; it gives that section a kind of "Christianity meets the Lord of the Rings" feel. Other parts have an organic feel that produce a "Christianity meets Disney Castles" feel. (For some reason it gave me "Little Mermaid" flashbacks.)
We wanted to go in, but the line seemed endless, so we instead we just circumambulated the place. It was amazing from all angles. Dale departs tomorrow, but I will try to get there first thing in the morning to see if I can actually get in. I really want to see the interior.
After that we headed to Parc Güell, a beautiful park also designed by Gaudí. I had particularly wanted to get a picture of the lizard near the entrance:
Why did I want a lizard picture? Because of a similar lizard in Oracle, AZ, right near the church where my parents married and not far from where many family members are buried. (I'll try to add that picture here in a month or two.) The park is a marvelous place to walk. Weirdly enough, there are parrots flying around and nesting in the trees of the park. No cages. They just live there.
After the park we headed back to Las Ramblas. We grabbed some tapas in a pleasant restaurant while we waited for a coffee/chocolate shop to open. The coffee at the later place was quite good. Dale's was covered with a German style Schlagsahne, a whipped cream that was thick nigh to approaching the consistency of butter. You can't think of a better topping for coffee. None of this namby-pamby non-fat foam that the misinformed health-conscious customers order at Starbucks. It's better than any American whipped cream I've ever head. I had a straight ol' bitter European coffee, along with a Sachertorte that, just like the apple tart at breakfast, made a sweet/alkaloid contrast that is a delight to experience.
It was time for Dale and me to part ways, so I returned to the hotel where the mirror confirmed my suspicion that I had become as sun-burned as an albino at day camp. My face is astoundingly red. Others less patriotic than I might regret this happenstance, but my red neck and face contrasting with the rest of my white skin and blue eyes are a source of pride to me. Color me American!
Enough blogging! It's rest time. I have a curious message from my brother. I have half a hope he might join me here tomorrow.