Barcelona, Spain

Trip Start May 27, 2007
Trip End Sep 01, 2007

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Monday, June 18, 2007

6/19 Lee and I caught a very earaly bus to the Malaga airport for our 20€ flight on Vueling to Barcelona. There is a 20 kilo limit on luggage and mine was just a tad over. I took out my ankle weights, books, etc. and put them in my carry on backpack so that my big backpack hit 20 kilos exactly. Otherwise I would have had to pay 3€ per kilo over the limit making my luggage more expensive than the plane ticket.

They tend to board the planes early in Europe so by 9:20 am we were on the plane for a 9:40 am departure. The flight was pleasant and short. No free drinks or peanuts though! If you want anything it has to be bought. I don´t know what any of the prices were but I had everything I needed with me. The plane looked new and actually showed an episode of Seinfeld on drop down TV monitors.

We arrived on time and went to claim our bags. Lee´s showed up but mine never made it. I asked when the next flight was and was told it wouldn´t arrive until 10:30 pm. My thought was that it just didn´t make our flight since it took me longer to get it within the weight limit. I had to complete another lost luggage form while Lee called around and got us a place to stay. My confidence in the baggage handling capabilities of European airlines is pretty low after my backpack was ¨lost¨ on both flights so far. Maybe no one wants to lift it to put it on the plane.

Lee got us booked at the Hotel Que Tal in a relatively quiet neighborhood. Barcelona is the most expensive city in Spain so I thought we were fortunate to find a large room for only 55€. Lee´s Let´s Go book has had some good recommendations. After checking in we walked around and got lunch at Castro which was also suggested. It was smoky but most everywhere is. Lee said it was one of his better lunches for a fixed menu at 8.80€. We´re thinking we should have our big meal at lunch when prices are less and then a light dinner since we´re tired of waiting so late to eat in the evening.

Barcelona looks very expensive based on the upscale restaurants and shops I saw while walking around. The city is quite attractive with wide, tree-lined boulevards, interesting architecture, and a lot of historical buildings. The streets were packed with pedestrians with very different manners of dress, language, and attiude. Barcelona really seems to be a melting pot with some of everything making people watching quite a popular activity.

Our first stop on our walking tour was the Block of Discord. This block features designs from the top 3 architects of Spanish modernism which have stark contrast with each other, hence the name. The most famous of the designs is by Antoni Gaudi, Casa Batllo, named for the owner of the house. Gaudi took an existing apartment building and gave it a facelift with skull-like balconies and a tile roof that suggests a cresting dragon´s back. At a cost of 11€ to go to the roof and 16€ for the roof and first floor we decided the money would be better spent on Cokes or ice cream.

Next door to Gaudi´s work is Casa Amatller by Josep Puig i Cadafalch. His design is a creative mix of Moorish- and Gothic-inspired architecture and grillwork, which decorates a step-gable facade like those in the Netherlands. I preferred this design to Gaudi´s although it doesn´t get the same attention since Gaudi´s is a little more outrageous.

The final design on the block is Casa Lleo Morera which is known for the fabulous stained glass in the dining room. The architect, Lluis Domenech i Muntaner, built the home in 1906 but it has suffered the most over the years from ďmprovements¨ made by later owners. From here we decided that we needed to participate in siesta due to our early start.

After a little nap Lee and I decided to walk along Las Ramblas. This is one of the most famous people-watching streets in the world and for good reason. Despite some tacky tourist shops and fast food restaurants replacing elegant shops, this is still a fun people zone that offers a great introduction to the city. The boulevard runs from the main square, Placa de Catalunya, to the harbor at the Columbus monument.

It is easy to spend all day on Las Ramblas because so many famous sights are either on the boulevard or only a block or two off of it. There are many small shops actually on the boulevard promenade that provide flowers, postcards, and souvenirs. There are some terrific mimes, especially at night, that can remain still for an unimagineable length of time. My favorite was a guy on an old fashioned bicycle. They look just like statues.

At Placa de Catalunya there is a main Metro station as well as a huge Corte Ingles department store. There is a large cybercafe on Las Ramblas so I bought a plan and checked to see if there was an update on my luggage. No, we´re still tracing it the message said. The La Boqueria Market was quite lively with a lot of vendors selling fruits, vegetables, fish, meat and flowers. The guidebooks all warn visitors to be alert for pickpockets on Las Ramblas due to the crowds and we did hear of some people becoming victims.

At this point I decided to head to the airport to see if my backpack would arrive on the 10:30 pm flight since my medicine was in it which I needed. I normally pack my medicine in my carry on but since it doesn´t weigh anything I put my heavier items in my carry on. I´m thinking that Vueling didn´t have time to load my backpack and that they would just put it on the next flight. (At least I´m hoping that is what happened.)

We had bought 10 metro rides for 6.50€ which is about half the cost of individual trips. The metro is very clean, convenient and covers the city pretty well. I could take the metro from Las Ramblas to the airport without having to change trains.

We were at the stop just prior to the airport when the conductor made an announcement (in Spanish) that I didn´t think was good based on the reaction of passengers around me. Many got on their cell phones while others talked to each other animatedly. I picked up a couple of words of the announcement and figured there was a delay because of some problem ahead of us. We sat there for 20 minutes before we finally started moving again, but back in the direction from which we had come! This prompted more cell phone calls. We went back to within 1 stop of where we started before taking some other route to the airport.

We finally arrived at the airport at 11 pm. By that time the Vueling flight should have landed so I went looking for baggage claim. I was on the moving uphill sidewalk to the terminal when all of the sudden it just stopped! I almost did a face plant before grabbing the handrail. What else could go wrong?

There was no one around to ask for directions but I realized that baggage claim is within the security area and you can neither see in it or get in it without having to go through security. I explained my situation to an agent on duty and he said I needed to go through the security line just like everyone else. There was only 1 x-ray machine for the entire terminal with a long line. I could tell it wasn´t moving much.

Prepared for a long wait, I pulled a book out of my backpack which I managed to finish before getting through the line. Many passengers were quite upset since it seemed they were missing flights because of the slow security line. It was almost midnight before I got through security and was able to get down to baggage claim. There were a lot of unclaimed bags so I started searching.

After not spotting my bag I asked the Vueling agent about the flight. She told me the belt the luggage had been on but my bag wasn´t there. I explained about my missing backpack and the medicine I urgently needed. She just shrugged and said if it wasn´t there then she didn´t have it. I asked her to check my bag number on the computer to see if it had been found. She said it was still being traced. It´s amazing to me that UPS and FedEx can track every package in such detail while the airlines don´t have a clue where your baggage is.

There was a number on my lost baggage form to call for updates so I asked the Vueling rep if she could call for me since I didn´t know how to use the Spanish pay phones. She said she couldn´t since their phone was only for within the airport. I´m exhausted, frustrated and not feeling well so I gave her the address and phone number of our hotel with the hope that it would be on the morning flight the next day.

I was totally out of Neurontin which is my most important medicine for controlling my neuropathic pain. The metro had stopped running but I was able to catch the last bus which left at 1 am. After lots of stops and then a long walk to the hostel it was almost 2 am before I collapsed into bed.

6/20 I was up at 7 after a restless night worried about not having my medicine. I was afraid I would have a miserable day and didn´t want to ruin Lee´s day as well. I figured I could be in pain at the beach just as at the hostel so Lee and I decided to go to the beach at Sitges for the day. The train was 5€ for the 35 minute trip. We had a cool double decker train that was quite stylish. We had great views of the Mediterranean along the way as the train hugs the coast.

After arriving in Sitges we walked to the pharmacy across the street from the station and I explained my predicament to the pharmacist. I told him which drugs I take and he was able to sell me a 2 week supply of Neurontin because it comes in a generic form. The others are not generic yet so he couldn´t help with those unless I had the chemical profile so that he could try to match it. Many drugs are sold in Europe under a different name than in the US so the pharmacists here don´t know what they are.

I took my normal Neurontin dose hoping it would prevent the pain episode I was expecting.
We had an enjoyable day in the beautiful town of Sitges which I cover in a separate entry. When Lee and I returned to Barcelona I checked online again with Vueling and received the same message as before. The hostel also had not received word of my backpack and I´m growing increasingly anxious since where could it be?

6/21 Our hotel room was warm all night even with a ceiling fan. We need to keep the windows open to have some air ciculation but there was a restaurant with sidewalk seating right below us which stayed busy until the wee hours. The traffic on the street made it sound like we were sleeping at the Indy 500.

When Lee went out for breakfast he checked to see if Vueling had called about my bag but they hadn´t. On the way out for the day I explained to the hotel employee what had happened. He was super nice and called the airline (since he´s Spanish I hoped he would have more luck) but was told the same thing although he did ask them about their reimbursement policy for emergency supplies. They told him they would pay up to 50€ for clothes and other items which is something I had never been told and never saw on their website.

Still dejected from the uncertainty around my bag, Lee and I headed out for the day to see Barcelona. Our first stop was Gaudi´s La Pedrera which is the famous melting cake house that you may have seen in pictures. It is the quintessential Modernista building and Gaudi´s last major work before dedicating his final years to the Sagrada Familia. It was again expensive to tour the inside of the house and we opted to save our money.

Barcelona is a city about the size of Houston with its sights spread widely across the city. I thought a guided tour bus ride would help greatly since we could see sights more efficiently and also get an informative commentary along the way. We caught the bus in front of La Pedrera and paid 21€ for a 2 day pass that covered all 3 of the tourist bus routes.

The bus is hop on, hop off so you can see the sights and then resume the bus tour. We rode the bus only one stop to the Sagrada Familia in the hope of beating the huge crowds. We succeeded and bought a combo ticket for 9€ that also covered Museu Guell and also forked over 3€ for the audioguide in English. The audioguide was great since it gave us so much information and detail that guidebooks don´t contain.

The Sagrada Familia is just unlike anything you´ve ever seen. It has to be the most amazing building I´ve ever been in. It has been under construction for more than 100 years but is still a very active construction site today. There is just an incredible amount of detail in every element of the church. Careful thought was given to every conceivable element. It is almost as if Gaudi took an elaborate painting and is bringing it to life in 3D.

The Sagrada Familia is the most popular tourist attraction in all of Spain and gets more than 4 million visitors a year. It´s an essential stop on any visit to Barcelona, for more than any building in the city it speaks volumes about the Catalan urge to glorify uniqueness and endeavor. The Sagrada Familia is Gaudi´s most famous work and he even lived on the site for the last 15 years of his life.

The Sagrada Familia was begun in 1882 as an expiatory building using private funds. It continues to be 100% privately funded which, at times, has slowed the pace of construction. Rick Steve´s mentions that over the 30 years he has been visiting the church that considerable progress has been made. He also says, Ďf there´s any building on earth I´d like to see it´s the Sagrada Familia, finished.¨

After a lengthy introduction, the audioguide directed us into the Sagrada Familia. Immediately it is apparent that it is still a very active construction site with lots of scaffolding and building equipment everywhere. We could watch craftsmen working on parts of the church and see the care that was being given the work. With the intricate detail it is amazing just to look at a small piece of the building and consider the thought given to it by Gaudi and the other architects.

Gaudi was very inspired by nature and incorpated nature into many of his designs. He used a fallen Magnolia leaf as inspiration for a future roofline. The large columns in the Sagrada Familia were designed to resemble sequoias. We saw egg shells used to house lighting and the list went on and on.

When completed the Sagrada Familia will hold more than 13,000 people and even have a choir space for more than 1500! Lee and I both loved the gorgeous stained glass just inside the Passion Facade. The audioguide told us of the unending symbolism in the design. The mosaics on the ceiling and interior columns are made from Murano glass and were just amazing.

The Sagrada Familia stands in stark contrast to other Catholic cathedrals in Europe that are dark, cold and without detail. Granted, most of them were built centuries ago but the Sagrada Familia contains fantastic religious detail in its endless intricate designs. No detail seemed too small for Gaudi, especially on the huge facades. It will be wonderful to see this building finished with current estimate completion dates anywhere from 2017 to 2057.

We could have easily spent more time at the Sagrada Familia especially if we had a more detailed book on it. There is so much to see, however, in Barcelona that it was time to move on. We had to wait in line for our tourist bus but then took it to Park Guell, another of Gaudi´s famous works. After a steep climb we entered the park and immediately saw the lush landscaping and brilliant mosaic work that has become synonomous with Gaudi.

Park Guell was originally designed to be a 60-residence housing project - a kind of gated community for 1900. Commercially it was a flop but now as a 30-acre garden it´s a delight and attracts millions every year. Lee and I started climbing to the top of the park to see a view of the entire city. As usual, I could not stay close to Lee but eventually made it to the top and joined him for some pictures. My back pain was annoying and just seemed to be getting worse the more we did. Lee and I used our map to try to identify buildings, landmarks, etc. to help us get a better orientation.

I was pretty worn out so I told Lee to just go on without me. I stayed at the top of the hill where I read and recovered before heading down. After a lengthy search I found the small Gaudi Museum which was included in the combo ticket we bought at the Sagrada Familia. Gaudi lived in the house for 20 years and it has some interesting furniture but it lacks a public bathroom and air-conditioning, both of which I needed.

Further down the hill is a huge open space wrapped by gorgeous mosaic stone benches. People were seated all around admiring the beautiful artwork as well as the stone walkways leading to other parts of the park. There´s even a ¨pathway of columns¨that supports a long arcade that Gaudi designed to resemble a wave. Next door is the ¨Hall of 100 Columns¨- each different, made from concrete and rebar, topped with colorful ceramic, and studded with broken bottles and bric-a-brac.

At the bottom of the park is the grand entrance which we initially skipped because of the large crowd. On the way out I took some pictures of the famous ceramic dragon fountain. There are several other fountains as well that were powered by a water system Gaudi designed that brought water down from a reservior on top of the hill. It would make for a very pleasant day just enjoying the artistry and spectacular views at Park Guell.

Time in Barcelona was short though so I walked back down the hill to catch the tourist bus. The upper deck was full so I took a seat in the claustrophic lower deck where it was hard to see much of what was mentioned. As people on the upper deck left the lower deck guests would move up. I was getting quite uncomfortable before finally getting a seat upstairs. There I had a great views of the beautiful avenues that help make Barcelona such a wonderful city.

I took the bus back to Las Ramblas where I checked again on my missing backpack. Again, the same message from Vueling that they were tracing my backpack. How can you lose a 20 kilo backpack that was just going from point A to point B with no plane change? By this time I was in great need of a change of clothes so I bought some items on the walk back to the hotel. I´m cheap but the prices for clothes here just blow my mind. I wonder how anyone can afford anything yet many people are extremely stylish.

6/22 I finally managed to sleep well. I had retired early while Lee saw more of Barcelona last night. He told me of the Magic Fountain show at Placa de Espanya that I had not seen mentioned in any of my guidebooks. He highly recommended it and said it was an impressive show with soaring fountains that were choreographed Las Vegas-style. He managed to fight through the crowd to get a good vantage point just below Palau Nacional.

When Lee went out for breakfast the hotel clerk told him Vueling had called with the great news that they had located my bag and it would be delivered later in the day! Lee decided he´d like to go back to Sitges so we walked to the train stop to repeat our journey from 2 days prior.

We checked the TV monitors and saw a couple of trains leaving for Sitges in just a few minutes. We sat down and waited but the trains on the monitor kept mysteriously disappearing with none of them showing up. Even the locals were getting perplexed looks and wondering what was happening. We patiently waited an hour before finally getting word that to get to Sitges we would need to take the train to a nearby station where we would then transfer to a bus for the trip. No explanation was ever given but we opted to avoid the hassle.

Instead, we took the Metro to Plaza de Espanya where Lee was able to explain to me how the Magic Fountain show how worked and looked. We walked uphill to Poble Espanyol which was something I thought sounded interesting in the guidebook. Lee didn´t have any desire to see it so we split up there. I used a coupon to get in for 5.50€ and paid 2€ for the audioguide which is a must. After entering I noticed the place was pretty empty except for organized tour groups.

I had the impression that Poble Espanyol featured a recreation of actual famous buildings from all over Spain. It doesn´t. Built for Barcelona´s 1929 International Exposition, Poble Espanyol features reproductions of 117 buildings, streets and squares from throughout Spain. These are not reproductions of famous buildings but of typical architectural styles in different regions of the country at the time. Within the buildings are more than 40 craft shops and restaurants. I should have followed Rick Steve´s opinion of Poble Espanyol - this tacky 5 acre model village uses fake traditional architecture from all over Spain as a shell to contain gift shops. I think I was somewhat inspired to go since at the time I was reading Devil in the White City about the Chicago World´s Fair.

My back was still bothering me as I got back on our tourist bus. The headphones they give you plug into outlets that provide the commentary in many different languages. It´s so helpful to be driving down the street and have someone tell you what you are seeing and its significance. Once again, the bus was pretty full and I was stuck on the lower level. It was hot and I saw that the bus route was going to take me to many places I didn´t care to see so I hopped off at the Olympic stadium and walked downhill to Plaza de Espanyol.

I took the metro to the striking Arc de Triomf, designed as the main entrance to Parc de la Ciutadella. No one is quite sure what ¨triumph¨this monument celebrates but it is a gorgeous monument. This area had a lot of Chinese businesses and seemed to be more of a ¨normal¨neighborhood than all of the high-end areas we had been seeing. I was in the area to visit the much-anticipated Museu de la Xocolata (Chocolate) rather than the nearby Picasso Museum which tends to get a lot more attention.

When you enter the former convent you are greeted with the obligatory chocolate shop which looked very appetizing. I´m sure David and Gary would have had it looking even better and hopefully would have offered some free samples! The museum provides a tour through the origins of chocolate, its arrival in Europe (at the port of Barcelona), and its migration from a food for royalty to one for everyone. I really enjoyed learning about how the Aztecs discovered the uses of cacao and then how the Europeans modified the processing of cacao to the form we have today.

The most striking part of the museum are the many renderings in chocolate of famous people, buildings, art, etc. I took plenty of pictures of the exceptional pieces designed by many of the top chefs in Barcelona. It would have been nice to have seen a video showing how they were created. The museum is not a chocolate production facility either so you couldn´t see chocolate actually being made but it still made for a nice visit.

I walked through the neighborhood to the nearest metro stop for the trip back to the hotel. Between our metro stop and the hotel we had seen an English language bookshop one morning before it opened so I visited it and was pleasantly surprised. They had several current bestsellers that I bought as well as a book I wanted that had been released in Great Britain but not in the US yet. I was excited as I reached the hotel in the hopes that I would finally be reunited with my lost backpack.

Sure enough the hotel had my backpack! It had been gone more than 3 days but looked fine. In examining the paperwork on it, I discovered that the backpack had been recovered from Bilbao! I would like to visit Bilbao someday to see the Guggenheim Museum but certainly didn´t expect that my backpack would visit without me. In checking Vueling´s flight schedule their only flight from Malaga to Bilbao leaves each night around 9 pm. Where was my bag all day and then why put it on the Bilbao flight when there was a flight to Barcelona at about the same time? The tag on the backpack was correct and clearly showed that it was supposed to come to Barcelona. Hopefully this will be my last misplaced baggage incident!

While I had a wonderful reunion with my backpack, Lee swam outdoors at the Olypmic pool before heading to a local beach. Later he walked around town and admired the Torre AGBAR which is lit in brilliants colors at night.

6/23 See separate entry for Montserrat. As I was changing trains on the return from Montserrat I amazingly ran into Lee at the metro station. What are the odds of that? We made plans to meet for his final dinner in Barcelona. He went swimming again while I went to the cybercafe to catch up on several days worth of emails. I also needed to figure out my travel logistics for Sitges.

After our fiasco with the train I saw the front page of the papers here that covered a big train derailment that had cut off service between Barcelona and Sitges. Supposedly the conductor of the train was speeding when it derailed. That explained why things were such a mess on Thursday morning.

Lee and I tried Frida´s Mexican restaurant downstairs from our hotel. Frida is originally from Mexico but the food was probably a little more authentic than I like. I had the chicken mole while Lee had a pork dish. We were both so hungry we ate everything and then were given free St. John´s cake to celebrate the beginning of summer. We had been hearing fireworks all day and the party had not even really started.

6/24 Lee was up before me this morning as he packed to leave at 4 am for his bus to the airport. I had had trouble getting to bed with all of the firecrackers constantly going off. I kept having visions of Ouiser in Steel Magnolias where she jumps every time M´Lynn´s husband shoots his rifle to scare the birds out of his tree. I´d start drifting off to sleep only to be jolted awake by another firecracker. I sadly said good-bye to Lee before going back to sleep for an hour.

It was great fun being on the road with Lee. We were always on the go and saw so much these last few weeks. He graciously put up with my strange eating habits, my inability to keep pace with him, and my early morning hours. It will be very different without him and, after a beach rest, I´ll do my best to get close to his energetic pace. Lee made it home safely, with his luggage, while I´m resting and reading in gorgeous Sitges.
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mball58 on

Good news....

I'm glad you got your pack back. What a nightmare! Your trip has been quite an adventure. I'm still jealous and wish we were there to share the fun.

Be safe traveling on your own. Maybe you can find another wayward spirit to travel with you.


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