Shortly after meeting up, we flew out to Barcelona. We'd planned on spending a few days there before heading to Seville, Granada, and finally Salamanca. And we'd also planned on living it up: after sleeping in hostels, huts, tents, vans, etc
. throughout the past nine months, we decided we'd live a little more comfortably when we traveled with Dan's mom. We didn't want to subject her to our hippy lifestyle--at least not entirely. So we remembered that we'd been given a very generous gift, a few years back, from Dan's Aunt Maria and Uncle John: a stay in a Marriott hotel, anywhere in the world that we so desired. Well, it just so happens--and we were quite pleased to discover--that the Marriott affiliate in central Barcelona is nothing less than Ritz Carlton. So we went all out.
Too bad our arrival to the hotel wasn't exactly what I'd call "classy." Georgie looked lovely as always, and she and Dan delicately wheeled her roly suitcase into the lobby of the hotel. But Dan and I--and our hippy backpacks--must have made quite the entrance. Poor Georgie realized quickly what it might be like to travel with us. But we did our best to change our ways and move on up: from the pits to the Ritz.
The room was gorgeous: ocean views, enormous bathroom, cushy robes, comfy beds, fancy window treatments (electronic shades AND plantation shutters), a window seat, and classy lighting. (Thanks so much, Madrina and John!!) We almost decided not to leave the room except Barcelona was calling our names.
We had so much fun catching up over sangria and while taking longs walks through the city
. And we saw all our favorite Gaudi sites: the La Pedrera apartment building, the Park Guell, and the cathedral La Sagrada Familia. Dan and I had been to Barcelona nine years ago, and we remembered feeling so inspired by the stonemasons in this enormous cathedral. Walking through there had seemed to transport us back in time; I kept thinking about Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth.
So when we walked back through the cathedral's doors this month, nine years later, we were in awe of the structure once again: this time, because it was so much more elaborate than it had been. The last time we were here, the interior still felt so rough: there were plastic walkways and sawdust on the floor, and you could barely hear yourself think over the sound of the saws. We'd watched sculptors working high up in the scaffolding. This time, the interior seemed almost finished: the men were only working outside, and the only sounds within the cathedral were people's inspired whispers and Handel's Messiah
softly playing over the loudspeaker. I was so taken by the enormous beauty of this place that I almost started to cry. The experience was dizzying.
We've seen some lovely cathedrals and temples on our travels, but this one is by far the most impressive to me. Not only is the structure awesome (in its size and its artistic ingenuity), its history is so moving. It seems at once so old-fashioned to be constructing a massive cathedral in 2011 (with the "completion" date now estimated to be sometime in 2020), and also so modern--the sculpture is unlike anything you'd ever see in a Gothic sanctuary. And when you consider how Gaudi's masterpiece was plagued not only by his tragic death, but by various fires and also by the Spanish Civil War, you can't help but feel blessed to be standing within such a grand space. We were in awe.
And so, our visit to Barcelona was a pretty special one. We caught up with Georgie, we lived it up in the Ritz, and we were head-over-heels for Gaudi's masterpieces.
After spending a few days in Basque country, we took a bus from Bilbao to Madrid. We couldn't have been more excited: not only had we just had such a lovely time exploring Dan's ancestral town, we were to meet up with his mom in the Madrid airport. Each summer, Georgie runs a summer Spanish program for her language students. They spend four weeks taking classes and living with host families in Salamanca. This year, we convinced her to fly over a week before her program was to begin so that she could travel with us in Spain. As we hadn't seen her since last August, we were elated, and we had a beautiful reunion at the Madrid airport.