Monday, November 18, 2013

Mediterranean Madness Part II, Barcelona, Spain

Part II
Arriving in Barcelona
Our cruise was to depart on Thursday, Oct 10th.  Monday (Oct 7th) morning we loaded the car and embarked on our vacation.  We planned to drive the 100 miles to Spokane, WA, which is the nearest airport and spend the night at the Ramada right next door. We stopped at the Verizon store and had them insert the proper SIM card into my phone so we could have a short upgrade to Global Roaming.  (I'll discuss whether or not the upgrade was worth it at the end of the trip.)  Anyway, our plan for that day was to eat a very early supper at around 3 or 4 that afternoon, and then go to our hotel and take a Benadryl and go to sleep between 6 or 7.  We had two reasons for attempting that idea.  First, our flight from Spokane left at 6 AM, and we were going to get there 2 hours early, which meant we had to wake up at 3 AM.  The other part of our idea was that it would help us to acclimate to European time.  We were going to take another Benadryl when we left JFK in New York and force ourselves to sleep on the plane and "Presto!" when we arrived at Barcelona, we would be refreshed and ready for the day.   So, we took our sleeping pills and went to bed.  It ended up being 8 PM when we actually got into bed.  The bed was hard, and my broken ribs were screaming at me, even through the pain pills I took, so I woke up around midnight.  Sarah woke up around 2 AM.  The kids got up at 3, and our vacation was officially launched.

Caitie and Me on our first flight out.
Seth and Sarah.  Seth's first selfie!
Mom needed one that was less blurry!

We had two domestic flights from Spokane to Salt Lake City, and then to New York.  Our flight was supposed to leave JFK at 7:45, but there were delays with Delta, so we left an hour late.  By the time they served us our in-flight dinner, which was chicken with mashed potatoes, it was 10 PM.  We took our sleeping pills and waited for the magical sleep.  But it never came.  We tried and tried to sleep, but it just wouldn't happen.  The kids finally dropped off at about five hours into our 7 hour flight.  But Sarah and I didn't even nod off.  So, by the time we actually landed, we were already 24 hours awake.

We had planned to be picked up at the airport by Barcelona City Tours to enjoy a 4-hour tour of the Barcelona Highlights.  We hoped that this would help us to stay awake and begin to acclimate to the time change. 

A couple of random thoughts on flying into Barcelona.  Once you land at the airport, it is a LONG walk to baggage claims.  The signs do have English on them and there are enough arrows to point you the right way.  Customs and Immigration were very simple.  The officer hardly inspected our passports and then actually stamped them.  Most cruisers don't get to have stamps in their passports, and if you're into stamps, you can collect one there.   We never actually went through a customs inspection.  Just a guy with a stamp.  When we finally got our bags we had spent about an hour at the airport.  We left baggage claims and followed the arrows into the customs inspection area (just two lines, one for those with nothing to declare, one for those with things to declare but there seemed to be no one doing any inspecting) which opened immediately into the unsecured part of the airport.  A very long line of tour guides stood with white pieces of paper with people's names on them.  We found Jordi near the end of the line, and he greeted us with a smile.  It was a good start!

Once we initiated our tour, Jordi asked when we were going to board the ship, and Sarah responded "Thursday", to which he said, "Oh, tomorrow."  We said, "No, not tomorrow, Thursday."  He looked at us queerly and said, "That is tomorrow."  Somehow we lost an entire day on our journey, and failed to recognize that we lost an entire half day due to the time changes.  In our minds, we had an entire day in Barcelona on the day we flew in.  In reality, we landed around 10 AM and by the time we went through customs, which, by the way, was as easy as buying tickets to see a movie, and retrieved our luggage, it was already 11:00. 
Gates to the Olympic Stadium
Proof we were actually there!

Our guide, Jordi, took us from the airport and went straight to the Olympic complex, which was built in order to accommodate the 1992 games.  Barcelona should be, and is, proud of what they built.  It is awe inspiring.  The sculptures are nothing short of art, and the entire complex was charming.  Do you remember in 1992 when the archer shot a flaming arrow into the Olympic torch and ignited the flame?Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo opens 1992 Barcelona Olympics  
It was a magnificent moment in sporting history, but when you stand in the stadium and see what that archer actually accomplished, you have to stand it awe of his skill and audacity to think he could pull that off!  Brilliant!  We were sufficiently impressed!
olympic flame 1992043
This is the rest of the torch.  It's shaped like a whale.

We left the complex and immediately drove to the Montjuic Castle, which offers a commanding view of Barcelona, the Mediterranean, and the mountains beyond. 
I highly recommend touring the castle if for no other reason than to see the grandeur that is Barcelona.  It was built in the 17th century and is a fun stop, especially if you have children with you. 045 
There is a small snack stand in the castle, which sells sodas, coffees, wine, beer, and snack type items such as candy bars, nuts, pastries, sandwiches and hot dogs.  This is the place we were instructed by Jordi to grab a snack and failed to do so.  I would like to encourage you to follow his advice.  We did stop and buy some Cokes because I had to take a Hydrocodone for my pain management, and we picked up a bottle of water as well.  (Note: we are from Texas and we are native born Texicans, which means every type of soda ever made is a coke.  You go the Dairy Queen in Texas and order a Coke, and the kid behind the counter will ask, "What kind?")  Caitie actually got a Coke, Seth got a Sprite, and I picked some kind of local soda that turned out to be sparkling water.
That's the Mediterranean beyond the cannon
We spent 20 minutes or so at the Castle, and that was enough time to visit it.  I didn't see a museum or any other type of facility.  But it did have a restroom!  You can ride cable cars to the castle, but we had a tour guide who drove us to it.  Other than that, the castle is an easy tour.  When we left the castle, Jordi took us on a rather pleasant drive through the city where he pointed out fantastic fountains and monuments, spectacular architectural wonders, and the tranquility of the beach.  Everyone was fully clothed on the beach (I wasn't sure what to expect), but it was also only 70 degrees.  Pleasant, but not exactly sunbathing weather. 

Some of the places he showed us include The Poble Espanyol, which is a place we really want to take time for a return visit.034Sorry for the glare!

We left the Poble and saw the walls of the Raval district, and then drove along the beach to the Ribera and Barceloneta and then into the Barri Gotic district.  Somewhere along the way we toured the area designed for the World Fair, which occurred back in the late 1920's.  That area had the bull fighting arena, which has been converted into a market when they outlawed bull fighting in 2012.020   
The bull arena is behind the statue.

Another highlight was the Apple of Discord, which is a remarkable place to see.  It is incredible.  The Casa Batlo was remodeled by Gaudi and resembles a dragon.  You have to see it to understand what I mean.  We stopped at the Sagrada Familia.  I cannot summon the words to describe it.  If you're in Barcelona and you only get to visit one place, make that your stop.  It is Gaudi's masterpiece, and is not describable. 
I will post better pictures of the Sagrada later in the review. 

Jordi then took us to the Park Guell (pronounced "well") which is another of Barcelona's architectural marvels designed by Gaudi. 
If you have not slept in 30 hours, it scrambles your brain.  If you are fully alert and refreshed, it scrambles your brain.  But my, what a place to see!  And it was free!  We spent about 15 minutes walking around it, but that was woefully insufficient time.  If you go, plan at least an hour.  There are several buildings to tour, and vendors lined the sidewalks selling jewelry and other trinkets such as magnets and dust collectors.  One part of the Guell was a structure with about a thousand or maybe a million or so columns.  Of course I'm exaggerating, but there were a bucket full of columns.090 
We were so tired that I forgot to take pictures of the inside!   
The kids and I decided it reminded us of the Mines of Moria, where Gandalf illuminated the mines and allowed the Hobbits to see the columns in The Fellowship of the Rings.  Surprisingly very similar.089Park Guell   
When we left Park Guell, Jordi drove us past the Hospital de Sant Pau, which covers about 8 blocks.  Again, it is an architectural wonder.  But if you are ever significantly ill, go to that hospital.  Just being in it will make you feel better. By that point, our 4 hours were spent and we went straight to our hotel.

Now I haven't even discussed the painters Picasso, Dali, Joan Miro all of whom had great influence on the city of Barcelona.  We wanted to tour the art museums, but we ran out of time.  Barcelona is a city you can't rush through.  To do it properly, plan 2 or 3 days, or a week.  Our 4 hour tour was a great way to start, though.  Jordi drove us past places that we marked down as spots to return and explore.  I highly recommend you follow the same approach.  Besides, it helps keep you awake, and it is unlikely your hotel will let you check in at 10 AM, and if they did, it's too tempting to crash into a bed and sleep.  But, if you have the fortitude to push through until the evening, your Circadian Rhythm will eventually thank you.
More to come... Barcelona continued... Please stand by...

Part I Getting there

Part II Barcelona

Part III Barcelona Continued

Part IV France

Part V Livorno, Pisa, and Florence, Italy

Part VI Rome

Part VII Sea Day

Part VIII Turkey

Part IX Athens 

Part X Santorini 

Part XI Sea Day 

Part XII Italy: Positano, Sorento, Amalfi Coast, and Pompeii 

Part XIII Sea Day

Part XIV Back to Barcelona

Part XV The Journey Home and Final Thoughts

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