Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Barcelona: Day 6 - They Say That All Good Things Must End Some Day

Jon still wasn't feeling 100% great, but we had quite a bit of traveling ahead of us. We left the hotel and took the subway/train back to the airport. Check-in was easy, and we lucked out with exit row seats for our flight back to New York. I spent most of the flight reading and finished off my second book of the trip.

We had a long layover at JFK, which gave us a chance to ease back in to regular life by checking e-mail and catching up with the news online. Then, it was time for the flight back to Seattle, again in the exit row.

It was pretty dark and rainy by the time we got back to Seattle, just as we had left it the week before. Although we had a great vacation, it was a nice feeling to be back at home!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Barcelona: Day 5 - Foiled By Hours Of Operation

Our plan for the day was to go up north of the city to a Dali museum. We had both read good things about it, and I was excited to see a bit more of Spain beyond Barcelona. Unfortunately, the museum is closed on Mondays, so it will just have to wait until my next trip back!

Instead, we took a train south to the seaside town of Sitges. The mood was very relaxed here as we strolled along the beach and had lunch. The weather was a bit too cool to hang out at the beach, but it was still pleasant.

Once we were back in Barcelona, we took a funicular up to Montjuic park on the south end of the city. We strolled through the botanical gardens and checked out the Olympic stadium. By the Olympic Plaza, there is a large communication tower from the 1992 Olympic Games, which was kind of neat to see.

The plan for getting back to the hotel was to take a cable car, but high winds meant we were stuck hunting for a cab instead. This turned out to be a difficult search, as many student drivers in Barcelona practice driving around this park. These student drivers were all driving yellow cars (similar to the taxis), but eventually we found a taxi to drive us down. I thought it might be fun to ask one of the student drivers for a ride, I wasn't sure if they'd know the location of our hotel.

Instead of trying out a new place for dinner (and perhaps for the first time ever in our travels), we opted to go back to the same tapas bar we had enjoyed so much on Friday. Luckily, it was just as fantastic the second time around! After that, we called it a night since we were flying out the next morning.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Barcelona: Day 4 - A Rainy Trip To The Hills

Today we took an excursion up into the mountains. The Seattle rainy weather had finally caught up with us as we took the train to Montserrat: an old monastery. The train ride was pleasant, despite the darkening skies as we reached our destination. Next, we hopped on a cable car up the mountain. It's a very steep trip up!

Despite the rain and clouds, the monastery and attached church are gorgeous. We were able to see some of the Sunday mass that was going on and smell all the incense from the service. We waited in line to see the famous statue of the Virgin Mary there along with a few other tourists.

A little bit of blue sky was just peeking out as we took the cable car back down and the train back to Barcelona, and by the time we exited the subway on the north end of the city it was another gorgeous day. We hiked up a steep hill to Parc Guell. Along with great views of the city, we saw some structures and sculptures designed by Gaudi.

It was very crowded with locals and tourists, but we had a great time walking around the quirky buildings.

That evening, we walked to a tapas bar for dinner in an area of the city called El Born. We encountered many candles that had been spread out along the street. I have no clue if it was some sort of public art exhibition or what, but it was quite a dramatic site.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Barcelona: Day 3 - Let's See What This City Has To Offer

We covered quite a bit of ground making our way through the city. Our first stop was the market for breakfast. After that, we wandered through the older section of the city, Ciutat Vella, which still maintains its stone buildings, narrow streets, and various plazas. In one of the plazas, we encountered a wedding party, and in another, a church under rehabilitation (prominently sponsored by the local telecommunications company). Eventually, we ended up at Parc De La Ciutadella.

A short stroll later, we were at the Arc De Triomf and the Placa de Catalunya, both of which were teeming with activity. Although we had an 8-course lunch coming up, I wanted to grab some caffeine, so we stopped into a small cafe for cokes. We had been warned that this touristy area would have high prices for things, but nothing prepared me for our bill of nearly 10 Euros for our two sodas!

Lunch was quite an event: we went to a fancy restaurant and had an 8-course tasting menu. Everything was very good, starting with a mussel and asparagus dish and ending with a nice almond, chocolate and macadamia nut dessert. Some highlights in between included a turbot dish and some foie gras.

Full and content, we continued our ambitious sightseeing for the day. We took in a few nearby buildings designed by Gaudi before heading up to La Sagrada Famillia. This church was designed and started by Gaudi, but it's not yet complete. The plan is to finish it before about 2019, which will be 100 years since construction began. One side is a bit whimsical, looking like melting wax, and the other side is much more traditional. It was quite an interesting site, and I'm glad we had a chance to go see it.

That evening, Jon wasn't feeling well, so while he rested at the hotel, I took a walk over to La Barceloneta, which is another coastal area not far from where we were staying. It's a very nice seaside location, and I enjoyed taking in the sights before attempting to find some food to take back to the hotel. I entered a restaurant where I was successful in ordering two ham sandwiches with my limited Spanish, but the problem came when I wanted to get them to go. I tried "to go" and "to take away" in English to no avail. Finally, I used French, explaining "you make the food here, and then I eat it at my house." To this, the waitress responded "Ah, bien sur!" (Of course!). Sandwiches in hand, I returned to the hotel where we ate and turned in for the night.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Barcelona: Day 2 - Back In Europe

We landed a bit later in the morning than scheduled in Barcelona and hit the ground running. We had read about a bus that ran from the airport to the city, but we decided to take the train instead. That way, we could easily connect to the subway and end up just a few blocks from our hotel. So, we took the train a few stops to the Sants station where we wandered over to the subway tunnels. It ended up being quite a walk to the subway platform underground because of the location of the different train lines! Still, the signs were helpful and we eventually emerged at the end of La Rambla (the main shopping street) by the coast.

Our hotel was situated at the end of a long pier, as I suspect it's set up mostly to accommodate cruise passengers. Walking down the pier was nice (it's landscaped as a park with a large cable car tower in the center)...the first time. Eventually it became a bit of a chore! Still, it was very pleasant to be down by the water.

We checked in, set our stuff down, rested for a little while, and then headed back out in search of lunch. The nearby market was our first stop, with its large hams and salted fish swinging from every booth, but we ended up at a small restaurant nearby. The food was OK, and the setting was interesting: it seemed to be a neighborhood place where locals came to hang out for a few hours. We were easily the only ones there under 50!

Our next venture out was that evening for dinner (we both indulged our jet-lag with an afternoon nap). Jon and I aimed for a tapas bar in the Eixample neighborhood. Armed with a subway map and the 3 maps I'd purchased at Metsker Maps before leaving the states, we found the place with no problem. We got off the subway a bit south of where we wanted to be so we could enjoy a walk through a different part of the city from where we were staying. Dinner turned out to be a great experience with friendly staff, a nice festive setting, and fantastic food.

Stuffed and ready to get some rest, we walked to a different subway stop. Because of subway construction, we had to take a bit of a detour, which is when we ran into a large group of rollerbladers. There had to be at least 100 of them! I was tempted to join them, but I had left my blades back at the hotel.

At right: clearly I'm violating this sign for a mandatory hula hoop zone near our hotel.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Barcelona: Day 1 - American Airlines "Knows Why We Fly"

The day began fairly early for a vacation day as Jon and I got up and headed for SeaTac. The weather had been very nice in Seattle the few days before, but now it was a little bit cold and overcast: a perfect time to escape the Pacific Northwest!

We settled into our exit row seats and stretched out for the flight to JFK. I caught a nap and got some reading done, and we landed on schedule on the east coast. One layover later, we got on our 767 bound for Barcelona. We left the gate on time, but a few minor maintenance issues kept us on the ground in New York for an extra 1.5 hours or so.

Finally, we were airborne and headed across the Atlantic. The flight wasn't too long. Maybe it only felt that way since the last time I flew internationally out of the New York area, we were headed for New Delhi!