continuation of our European trip…
While in Mallorca, Spain, Rich got the sniffles, which he dillydallied in treated until he’d reach the point-of-no-return-to-good-health. Our last day in Mallorca, he had risen to the pinnacle of full-blown cold, and kept falling asleep in-between visiting tourist sites.
By the time, we got back to the resort for the evening, all he wanted to do was sleep. I resolved, however, to wash our clothes so they’d be clean for the rest of our trip. I crammed everything we’d previously worn into the petite washer in our condo. When the cycle finished, the clothes were clean, but very, very wet because the washer failed to spin out the excess water.
No problem. I crammed the wet clothes into the equally petite dryer, and selected what I thought was the correct setting. The instructions were in Spanish so I employed guesswork. I then went upstairs to read. Thirty minutes I went downstairs to get the clothes, except nothing was dry. They were slightly less wet.
I emptied the lint doohickey, and restarted the drier. Twenty minutes later, the clothes were in the same damp state. This time, using deductive logic, I removed half the clothes, emptied the link doohickey, and restarted the drier. By now, the laundry room window and tile floor were wet with condensation.
For the next hour and a half, I made regular trips down to the laundry room to switch out clothing, bringing the dry ones upstairs to pack in Rich’s and my suitcases, and cursing at the wet ones. The entire time, Rich snoozed, oblivious to my efforts!
Finally packed, around 11 o’clock at night, I shut off the light and went to bed.
The next morning, Rich was groggy and sickly. We had a quick breakfast with Stacey and Shawn, and then headed to the airport in Palma. We had no problem finding our gate, but the agent said our tickets didn’t include checked baggage – our two very heavy suitcases. She recommended we step out of line, and upgrade our tickets using our smartphones. After 15 minutes of connecting to the airport wireless, and negotiating the airline’s application, we re-entered the line, and checked in our luggage. Success.
Our flight to Barcelona was uneventful, and we easily retrieved our checked luggage; however, the instructions I’d printed for catching the shuttle to the train station, which would take us to Barcelona, lacking important details. After several minutes of confusion and heated debating, we finally got on the shuttle.
My instructions indicated we needed to get off at a specific shuttle stop. I shared this detail with Rich, and even though several German tourists, sitting across from us on the shuttle, told us to get off the bus, Rich insisted we needed to get off the next stop, and we ended up going to the wrong place.
This error necessitated us returning to the airport, racing through the luggage area, and then taking an escalator (with our heavy luggage) back outside. This time, we got off the right stop, and successfully purchased train tickets to travel to La Rambla, where our hotel, Oriente Atiram, was located.
Dramatic Barcelona Architecture
Barcelona is known for its cutting-edge architecture and aesthetics. As soon as you step into the airport, you can feel the vibe. It’s like a chilled glass of water with cucumber slices. The airport is breezy with tall glass windows, and sea-green partitions.
Antoni Gaudi, their most famous architect, designed buildings around the city, most notably the La Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Casa Batllo, Casa Vicens, and Palau Güell.
The Gothic Quarter, where we stayed, was a magically mix of architecture from sturdy stone buildings with gargoyles along the rooflines to modernist Catalan Art Nouveau. You never knew what to expect as you rounded a corner or walked a few blocks.
Taking the train from the airport, we saw many different neighborhoods, but nothing compared to La Rambla, a street in central Barcelona with a wide plaza down the middle. For most of our stay, La Rambla was shoulder-to-shoulder people with vendors, sidewalk cafes, and souvenir kiosks lining both sides of the plaza. The only time is wasn’t crowded was early in the morning and very late at night, when it was enchanting to meander by the closed up shops, peek at the menus outside the café’s, and watch the city wake up (or go to sleep).
Depending on where you walk on the plaza, you can see florists with buckets of beautiful flowers and indoor plants; garden shops selling cacti, trays and pots of outdoor plants, and seeds; freezer cases of every imaginable flavor of gelato; vendors peddling postcards, magnets, and other knick-knacks; newspaper stands; painters selling original oil and watercolors; cartoonist sketching tourist, and street performers posing, singing, and playing instruments.
The cafés on the plaza consist of large tents or umbrellas with tables and chairs underneath. Proprietors coax passersby to stop and look at their menus, and then escorted them to a table. Once you ordered, a waiter would rush across the street to a street-side café or kitchen. Your food was prepared, than then brought over to the tent.
The one-way streets on both sides of the plaza are precarious with parked vehicles on both sides, and speeding cars and trucks zoomed down the middle with swarms of pedestrians trying to negotiate between the parked and moving cars.
The sidewalks are equally crowded because they front another layer of shops, restaurants, taverns, small grocery stores, pharmacies, hotels, art galleries, theaters, museums, and cultural centers.
This was the chaotic atmosphere Rich and I emerged from after exiting the under-ground train station, schlepping our suitcases, carry-on bags, and coats because it was much warmer in Barcelona than Paris. I was cranky and hot. Rich dopey with a cold.
“Which way do we go?” I barked.
“I don’t know,” he grouched.
Of course, we initially went the wrong direction. But unlike Paris, we quickly figured out where we were going, practically across the street from the train stop. We threw open the door of the Oriente Atiram, and slogged to the front desk. We were greeted with a smile, even though neither one of us was in a mood to smile back.
After discussing the details of our stay, the woman at the front desk asked if we celebrate Three Kings Day in America. I thought for a moment, and comment that they probably do in New Orleans and the south. As if on que, she spun around, and grabbed from the opposite counter a gorgeous Kings Day bread.
The Kings Day breads I’ve seen are garish and covered with multi-colored sugar. The one at the hotel was lightly decorated with a creamy center, much like this one… wait… I just looked on the Oriente Atiram Facebook page. It looked like this picture and this picture!
Yup, they cut us a slice, and the two busboys rushed to our sides to snap a picture!!! Plus, they had jars of candy on their counter, which further sweetened our mood.
After riding the elevator to the third floor, we searched for our room, which was down a triangular hallway. We’d booked the room online, and got a great price, so it was no surprise when we opened the door. The room was itty-bitty, probably one of the smallest in the hotel. But, it very nicely decorated with flocked wallpaper on the wall behind the bed, like an ornate headboard. A little curtained cupboard was on one side of the bed where Rich placed his suitcase. My suitcase was along the other side of the bed.
Mounted high on the wall was a flat-screen TV. Two little nightstand – not more than 9-inches across — completed the furnishings. The room was so small that Rich could open and close the window while seated on the bed. The odd location of our room made sense when we looked out the window. We were off the building’s airshaft.
The bathroom was somewhat “normal” size with a pedestal sink, toilet, small bathtub, and petite window near the ceiling.
Even though the room was small, it was cozy, quiet, and a nice place to retreat in the evenings.
After resting a few minutes, our first stop was a pharmacy to get Rich some cold medicine. Most of the medicines were behind the counter. We had to wait to talk to a pharmacist or maybe she was a nurse or even a doctor. After describing his symptoms, she prescribed a hefty decongestant, which came in a plain white box with information about the medicine printed in small black print on the outside.
The medicine did the trick because Rich started to feel better within a short time, and a few days later, when my throat started to hurt, I took a couple of the pills.
Getting our Footing
Stacey and Shawn, we’d been to Barcelona before us, recommended we initially head to Casa Batllo. While we were in our hotel room, Rich purchased tickets using his smartphone for later in the afternoon, leaving us a few hours to grab some lunch and get acquainted with the area. We walked down La Rambla towards the waterfront, passing several street performers, painted to resemble aged bronze statues. At the end of the street, we paused to take pictures and selfies at a large columned monument honoring Christopher Columbus.
Built in 1888 for the Exposición Universal de Barcelona, the monument is 131 feet tall with a 24-foot tall bronze statue of Columbus at the top, pointing towards the sea, as if to say, “Go seek, and ye shall find.”
At the bottom of the monument, at different levels, are sixteen other figures in bronze and stone. They represent the people related to Columbus, including the king and queen of Spain — Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile – along with the four realms of Spain — Principality of Catalonia, and kingdoms of León, Aragon, and Castile – and at the bottom the statues of Jaume Ferrer de Blanes, a Catalan cartographer, Luis de Santángel Bessant, the finance minister who convinced Ferdinand II to finace Columbus’s trip to the New World, Captain Pedro Bertran i de Margarit, next to a kneeling Indian, and Father Bernat de Boïl, preaching to a kneeling Indian.
If the monument wasn’t busy enough, there are eight bas-relief banners depicting aspects of Columbus’s preparation and arrival in the New World, plus eight bas-reliefs of coats-of-arms, representing the locations Columbus visited, including Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Wow! The only thing we absorbed about the monument was it was fun to photograph, especially against the deep blue sky.
By the monument, and along the waterfront, were dark-skinned men who were selling purses, wallets, scarfs, hats, and tourist items. They would spread a larger sheet on the ground, and display their goods on top. Attached to each corner of the sheet was a cord, which was tied to a larger cord in the middle. When the police were sited, they would quickly yank on the center cord, gather up their goods, which they’d throw over their shoulder, and scramble down the street.
We saw quite a few of these vendors on the street, and in the train stations, traveling from place-to-place, always wary of the police.
After leaving the Columbus monument, we then wandered over to the maritime museum to see when it opened, and quickly checked out activities along the waterfront. Ambling back down La Rambla, we stopped at a small deli/café to purchase baguette sandwiches and a pastry, which ate a few minutes later at Catalonia Square by the World Mobile Center (associated with the World Mobile Congress). The square has several fountains and was a lovely place to just “hang out.”
Like Paris, there are lots of police officers on the Barcelona streets and in cars. While eating our lunch, we saw an altercation between two young men. They were yelling at each other and starting to tussle. Within seconds, four police officers descended, breaking up the fight, and putting one of them in a police car.
This is the type of activity you’d regularly see in Seattle and other large cities, but the chance an officer (let alone four) intervening would be slim to none. To say that the streets of Barcelona are safe would be an understatement. They’re crazy safe.
We arrived at Casa Batllo fifteen minutes before our entry time, and were immediately allowed to enter. I’m not going to go into details about Casa Batllo, because it’s impossible to describe. It’s a surreal experience with every inch of the outside and inside of the building a work-of-art with brightly colored tiles and mosaics, exquisite woodwork, painted walls that mimic nature, breathtaking hand-blown glass windows and skylights, whacky light fixtures, unexpected twist-and-turns in architecture, and even ornate door handles. Check out the virtual tour, and be sure to virtually “walk” through the rooms.
What made the experience even better was the amazing audio tour with augmented reality, which showed how the furniture was arranged in each room.
Even Casa Batllo seemed very modern, the building was designed and built by Antoni Gaudi for the Batllo family between 1904 and 1906. One of my favorite places was the rooftop terrace with its crazy chimney, supposedly based on the girded backbone of the famous dragon slain by Saint Jordi.
From the roof, you enter the austere top floor, which is a set of rooms with curved walls and ceilings, covered in bright white stucco. These rooms were used for storage and washing clothes. However, they would have been fabulous places for relaxing during the heat of the day. The white undulating walls and gently peaked ceiling were calming.
We were then directed onto a small balcony where our picture was snapped. It was a great memento from a truly enlightening experience.
After seeing Casa Batllo, we ventured to another Gaudi masterpiece, the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família or more commonly known Sagrada Familia. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Roman Catholic church was consecrated by Pope Bendict XVI in November 2010, and is now considered a minor basilica.
Construction of the church commenced in 1882 and was overseen by architect Francisco Paula de Villa. A year later, Gaudi became involved after Paula de Villa resigned. He revised the original design, combining Gothic architecture with curvilinear Art Nouveau forms.
Forty-three years later, less than a quarter of the project had been completed. Private donations enabled the construction to slowly progress, and by 2010, construction was at the midpoint. The expected completion date is 2026, the centenary of Guadi’s death!
There’s been constant controversy surrounding the basilica ranging from migrating away from Gaudi’s original designs to a 2007 proposal to build an underground tunnel for Spain’s high-speed rail.
Personally, I thought it was one of the most garish, dreadful piece of architecture I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t prepared to have such strong opinions, but couldn’t help feeling the amount of money being poured into it – from tour admissions to donations – wasn’t maintaining its structure, but turning what was once an interest Gothic building into a monstrosity.
The front (I guess it’s the front) was somewhat interesting with four huge towers and a smaller one in the center of cascading bisque statues of people, animals, ornamentation, and random blobs. There are also hundreds of seemingly random windows in the towers, making them look like cylindrical strainers.
The sides of Sagrada Familia resemble a more typical Gothic church with symmetrical elements, including round, triangular and rectangular stained glass windows, which enhance rather than distract.
The back of the basilica, which is under construction, is a Peter Max and Joan Miro nightmare, especially the Passion façade, which I found creepy and scary. The four newer towers, which rise above the Passion façade, are capped with surrealist flowers (or maybe they’re just designs). In a central tower, sprouting from some place, is a strange green tree covered with white doves. And there are other towers topped with yellow, orange, and green balls.
Upon reaching Sagrada Familia and aghast at its size and the hordes of people swarming around it, Rich and I found a bench under a tree to peruse, and discuss our options. Still basking in the wonderment of Casa Batllo, I didn’t want to pay to see the basilica… even though Stacey and Shawn said it was worth seeing.
Instead, I recorded the sounds of the bells and the people within earshot. We then walked around the entire church, took a bunch of pictures, and strategized our next jaunt.
Looking at the virtual tour of Sagrada Familia, I have to admit the inside is very dramatic and enlightening to see. For an interesting look at how it will look when completed, check out this scale model, using a doodler pen.
Lost Bus Ticket Changes Trajectory
Before we left for our trip, we ordered Barcelona passes, which provided free and discounted entry to museums, cultural sites, and access to public transportation. We’d planned to take several buses to Park Guell, but it was confusing which bus to take. Taking a chance, we hopped on a bus, and were directly by the driver to the ticket machine a few seats back.
I inserted my ticket, and then quickly put it back in my purse. Rich also inserted his, but it’s a mystery what he did afterwards because when we got off the bus, a few blocks later, Rich couldn’t find his ticket.
We had to stand on the crowded bus so maybe he dropped his ticket or he didn’t take it out of the machine… or it fell out of his pocket when he removed some papers from his shirt or pant pocket. At any rate, without a ticket, our only option was to walk.
This debacle — after dealing with Rich’s cold all day, his perpetually drippy nose (and lack of tissues) and dopiness from the antihistamines — was too much for me! I stormed off towards the hotel with Rich hot on my heels.
After “cooling off” at the hotel, we decided to head down to the water, and figure out how to get another transit pass the next morning. It was a warm evening and we (and a zillion other people) headed to the Moll d’Espanya waterfront park. It’s a huge, floating complex comprised of the Barcelona Aquarium, IMAX theater, outdoor plazas, and Maremagnum, a large shopping mall with dozens of restaurants, and probably three to four times more shops.
The sun had set, and one side of the shopping center slopes upward like the side of a giant bowl made of black, reflective glass. Diners at outdoor restaurants and people walking into the mall are reflected in the glass. It seemed like hundreds of people were outside.
While we were walking around, we heard the sound of a large ship. A Balearia ferry had pulled up to pick up passengers. These ferries go up-and-down the Spanish coast, and to island like Mallorca, which takes 8 hours by ferry.
With the night still young, we headed to back to La Rambla, and the jumble of small sides streets, lined with stores and eateries. We zipped into a small pizzeria with a handful of tables, and ordered two large slices of pizza. Mine had feta, spinach, and artichoke.
The main wall of the pizzeria was covered with graffiti, so I whipped out a pen, and scribbled on the wall, “Julie Y Rich, January 5, 2017, Whidbey Island”
We then walked a few blocks before going into a bakery for cups of café con leche along with a luscious strawberry pastry. Most of the people who entered the bakery were no doubt locals and knew exactly what they wanted so there was little pondering. With most people living in small apartment, they probably purchase only what they need for a few days.
Tired from a busy day, we wandered back, down the crowded La Rambla, to the quiet of our petite hotel room.