As we depart Rome, we have a full train day ahead of us. We’re ready to travel all day and all night from Rome to Milan to Barcelona. The afternoon train trip from Rome to Milan is lovely and scenic. We see rolling countryside, old farmhouses, groves and crops on the terraced hillsides. There are many tunnels on this route and we are flying fast.
We grab pizza then board the sleeper train to Barcelona. Our chairs are “sleeper-ette” recliners which Kurt thinks are better than on an airplane. The chairs are stiff and only recline so far. Kurt and Kai are seated together at the front of the car while Kate and I are at the opposite end. We meet a friendly Canadian couple in their 20‘s who listen to the kids tell about our trip. Then we need to get to sleep. Sometime close to midnight, French customs agents board the train and noisily demand to know which bags belong to which passengers.
We arrive in Barcelona around 10:00am, navigating our way from train station to metro to lodging. Instead of a hotel, we’ve chosen a modern-looking, two bedroom, one bath apartment in the Gracia Barrio or neighborhood. We find the correct address but we’re way early to check in. After we ring the bell, the cleaning staff answers. We can’t enter until 2:00pm but the landlord allows us to store our bags here.
This quiet, charming neighborhood has narrow streets full of food shops. We shop at a fruit stand, a bakery and a coffee shop to gather lunch items. Each shop here is dedicated to a specific category of food: One store is only fruits and veggies. Another shop is a bakery but has no coffee. One shop only sells hams. The hocks hang from every available hook even hovering above customers’ heads. Soon we find St. Joan of Grace church and surrounding plaza to have lunch on a park bench.
It’s a gray, windy day and a bit chillier than expected. At 2:00pm, we meet Wilhelm, our landlord to see the apartment. It’s filled with white, modern furniture with laminate flooring, white towels and white bedding (doesn’t he know how messy we are?). The kids’ room has bunk beds - excellent! The only downside is that we must go to the roof to access the internet.
Once checked in, we walk several blocks to a major street named Gran de Gracia in search of a post office, which we do not find. We decide to continue toward Park Guell, one of the sites that we are interested in visiting. As we walk, rain begins to fall. We’re now in a very busy part of the city right after the work day is done. The rain picks up as we get closer, and we are soaked. Yes, yes, the rain in Spain stays mainly... overhead today. The kids are tired and hungry. We duck into a coffee shop called Lalola to have dinner. Kai orders the “grand otto,” a fat frankfurter, Kate has pizza, Kurt has bratwurst and I have eggs and bacon. Perfect. After dinner we go back to the apartment.
The next morning is June first and Kurt is officially retired from the Navy. We stop at the bakery from yesterday and head up the big hill to Park Guell, a community area originally intended for homes, shops and schools designed by Barcelona’s famous artist, Antoni Gaudi. He had an unusual design aesthetic, finding inspiration in nature’s patterns and shapes. He implemented those ideas when designing even the most mundane item like furniture or a window.
Gaudi hoped that Park Guell would become an entire community but that dream was not realized. Still, the park has so many unusual, playful and oddball design elements, and it attracts hundreds of tourists daily. The kid in each of us can easily enjoy the “Dr. Seuss-style playground” says the book.
The first set of steps at Park Guell lead to a colorful, mosaic lizard. In fact, the element of Gaudi’s design I enjoy the most is his use of vibrant color. After all the gray and white marble statues in Italy, Park Guell’s structures seem like a rainbow come to life.
The gift shop looks like a giant gingerbread house with a white frosting roof.
The park is full of performers, artists and vendors. We see a young woman dancing with fans. She spins to guitar music (that artist is nearby but not related to her dance) and waves her fans, which have long, wide ribbons of flame-colored fabric trailing on the ends. Kate is mesmerized. We donate a few coins to her basket and she invites the kids closer for a picture.
On steps up to a plaza area, we see the top of a curving wall. It’s white mosaic finish features colorful medallions above dog-faced gargoyles. Odd. This serpentine wall becomes bench seating above. Vendors selling sun glasses, jewelry and scarves fill the plaza area. The kids are drawn to the bubble man, who uses a string between two longer sticks to create large, tube-like bubbles.
He lets Kai try and with the breeze, Kai makes impressively large bubbles. A bubble floats around and then pops, splattering soap residue on passersby. Kate makes a few bubbles, too. Magical! This is the perfect way to spend a sunny Wednesday afternoon in Spain.
From this plaza, we can look out onto all of Barcelona. After admiring the view, we explore the rest of the park with its weird bridges, unusual archways and misshapen caves. We tour Gaudi’s house, which has room after room of oddball furniture of his design. Out along the walkway, we enjoy a musician playing a kind of xylophone/harpsichord instrument. The music has a Middle-Eastern feel.
The strangest moment of the afternoon happens at the park’s peak, a small lookout area that holds three crosses. It’s mobbed with tourists and one whack-a-doodle guitar player wearing a leopard unitard, sunglasses shaped like electric guitars and cowboy boots. He’s strumming one chord, singing in his own tone-deaf style, and using profanity at least once in every “song.” I did not take a picture because I did not want to encourage him in any way.
After we leave the park, we return to Lalola for lunch. Everybody orders something someone else had eaten last night.
We walk to La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece. This massive church has four cranes towering above as it is a work in progress.
As we enter the property, we see the Passion Facade which encompasses the entire exterior, top to bottom. Each scene depicts a Bible passage telling the story of Jesus’ death, sculpted in a stark, angular manner. Many symbols are found throughout the facade like alpha and omega (beginning and end) and a number puzzle where every column or row totals 33, Jesus’ age at the time of his death. A golden statue of Christ sits high up on a bridge between two spires to symbolize his ascension into Heaven.
The interior of the church feels serene, harmonious and silent. The ceiling is impossibly high, supported by giant pillars which resemble trees, their tops creating a canopy. Colorful stained glass windows draw the eye upward. The color usage in the windows pertains to the facade out front. Every design detail is full of symbolism.
Inside the church, a statue of the Virgin Mary sits high above the entrance. To her left is Jesus on the cross at the center of the sanctuary on the high altar (although the neon umbrella with hanging candles and fruit is curious). To his left is a statue of Joseph high above, thus the Holy Family. At the back of the church is a statue of Saint Goerge, the patron saint of Catalan.
Outside is the Nativity Facade. which is bursting with life, flowers and animals. Gaudi’s intent is for this facade to show the joy of the world upon Christ’s birth. Scenes from the birth and his childhood sit amid decorations which resemble chocolate melting-in-the-sun.
At the end of our visit, a glass elevator takes us up into one of the spires for spectacular views. We see the work happening behind the scaffolding on the unfinished Glory Facade. Narrow spiral steps lead back down to the sanctuary. Although photographs here didn’t turn out well, we had fun looking all the way to the top of the spire and spotting each other as we chased down the stairs. The staircase design here resembled a seashell cut in half.
We leave this stunning church with a greater appreciation for Gaudi’s work. I need time to let it sink in. We take the metro home. On an up escalator, Kai runs ahead a bit, his foot slips and he trips. His shin comes down hard on the escalator’s metal “teeth” on the step in front of him. He cries out sharply.
Kurt and I run to him. Kurt takes one look at Kai’s leg, gets a glimpse of bone inside the inch long gash and quickly says to me, “We need to get him to a hospital.” WHAT?!? Kurt puts pressure on Kai’s leg with a paper towel. Kai is crying in pain and Kate is semi-hysterical, shouting and walking in all directions because she doesn’t know what to do.
Three nice people stop to ask, in Spanish, if we need help. Thankfully, one of the men speaks English. After I explain what happened, he directs a woman to go call a medic and says he can stay with us for a bit. When the lady returns, she tells us the metro workers will help us get an ambulance. We talk about where the hospital is and how to get there on this metro line. Soon our translator has to go.
Kurt and I discuss whether or not to take Kai to the hospital ourselves because of the bleeding. Kurt thinks stitches are in order. Within 5 minutes of the first man’s departure, another man stops to offer help. I explain that we expect a metro rep and a medic momentarily. He says he will stay to help translate. I say a silent prayer of thanks to God.
Almost immediately, two or three metro workers escort us to an office away from the busy area where we sit. Kurt picks up Kai and I apply pressure to his leg. He cries out and is scared of getting stitches. He says he doesn’t want to “break his record” of no broken bones or stitches. He’s never even put a band-aid on his skin that he can remember.
Once Kai is sitting on top of a desk in this small office, the translator tells me a metro medic is coming with an ambulance and an English translator. He’s listening to all the conversations around us, helping us talk to the metro people. I write down our contact information. Soon about five more metro workers arrive with a first aid kit.
We now have approximately eight metro people, our family and the good samaritan translator crowding around this small office. Suddenly two bottles of water and two heart-shaped lollipops are placed in my hands and I hear laughter. I look to the translator and ask what’s going on. One of the metro reps is a former medic and is joking with his co-workers, saying he’s handy to have around.
The former medic applies antiseptic to the wound and Kai cries anew. They wrap him up and Kai wants me to take a picture of “his pretty leg.” The ambulance workers arrive and everybody cheers. Unfortunately, our translator has to leave. As we walk with this large group to the street, I’m told that there’s only room for the patient and one parent. Kurt goes. I feel confident that I can navigate our way to the hospital with a map.
Even before the ambulance pulls away, Kate and I have a personal escort, a metro rep, to the hospital. I am asked to retell the incident to another metro woman who does not speak English as well. The escort takes Kate and I to the subway and three stops later, we’re at the hospital. There’s Kurt and the admissions desk. Good! We thank our escort and do some paperwork with a really nice, English-speaking admissions lady.
We are led into the pediatric ER and find Kai. A doctor was standing next to his bed speaking Spanish to him. Kai just smiles. The doctor makes a sewing motion and holds up three fingers, indicating Kai will need three stitches. Kai is still afraid. Kate holds his hand and suggests we open the lollipops now.
I have a plan to take Kate out of the room when it’s time to stitch because I think she’ll freak out, adding to Kai’s panic. Conveniently, she needs to visit the restroom. When we depart, we hear the doctor administer the local anesthesia via needle into Kai’s leg. An important thing you should know about Kai is that he hates shots. He screams like I have never heard before. I hear Kurt say, “Kai, bite down on your sweatshirt.” Then I hear Kai through the sweatshirt, “Are they done yet?!?!” Kate and I wait it out in the hallway. After the anesthetic shots, the stitches themselves go smoothly.
When it’s done, we go in and comfort him. We admire the neon blue stitches. Then a large white bandage covers everything. I hope we’re done soon. It’s nearly 11pm, we’re tired and we’ve not had dinner. The doctor and the helpful admissions lady come to talk to me in the hall: Is he allergic to anything? Can we x-ray his leg to be sure there’s no fracture? Has he had all his shots? I reply that he’s up to date. They wonder aloud about a tetanus booster and I cringe.
Kurt carries Kai to the x-ray room. When they return, Kurt feels confident that nothing is broken. Now they give Kai the tetanus shot and there’s more screaming, but it’s brief. After a long wait, we are allowed to go. At midnight we eat a quick, delicious dinner at a Syrian restaurant near our apartment and walk home.
The next day we sleep in. I do laundry and get groceries. Kai is feeling well and in good spirits. We set out after noon to see a few interesting buildings in the rain. We walk to Gaudi’s La Padrera, a wavy building with wrought iron, sculpted metal balconies like underwater scenes. Unusual.
A few more blocks brings us to the Block of Discord where four buildings stand shoulder to shoulder, each showcasing a different architectural style. Gaudi’s Casa Batllo, which represents the story about St. George and the dragon, is included here. Dragon scales cover the roof and exterior. The balcony railings resemble bones. The colors make it cheerful instead of morbid.
We enjoy hot chocolate in a cafe then window shop. We get dinner from the Mexican restaurant across the street from our apartment and head to the roof to make our own internet cafe. Tomorrow we depart for Paris. What an incredible, memorable time we’ve had in Barcelona!