In mid-January, Laura and I left for a trip to Barcelona over a long weekend. The tour company that we use to take students abroad intended the trip as a “training tour,” but we would also be celebrating Laura’s birthday while we were there. So, on January 14th, we boarded the smallest plane in America to fly from Richmond to catch a connecting flight at Newark.
We made it to Newark, that rare city that is probably best seen from its airport. After a layover of several hours, we were able to board the plane, where I discovered the most exciting surprise of the trip up to that point: “The Martian”, which I had read but never seen, was included as part of the free entertainment.
The next day, we landed and made our way to the hotel, which was located in Barcelona’s city center, just outside of the Gothic Quarter. Characteristically, Laura slept for every possible moment on the plane, which meant that she had missed the breakfast and coffee served toward the end of the flight. Consequently, finding Laura coffee and food took on the urgency of a holy crusade when we disembarked.
We had signed up for a bike tour starting at 1:30, but after lunch, we had some time before the tour to see some of the Gothic Quarter.
Seeing Barcelona by bike was great for several reasons. First, we had landed at 9am Barcelona time, which is 3 am Eastern Time in the United States. The only way to avoid slipping into a coma is to keep moving. Second, Barcelona is easy to ride around, unlike Amsterdam, where oblivious biker tourists would have accidentally ended me five minutes into the tour. Finally, some of the best things to see in Barcelona are fairly spread out across the city, but we could see most by bike and avoid taking one of the tourist buses, which was important since sitting on one of those buses would have caused us to slip into the aforementioned sleep-deprived coma.
One thing I noticed on the bike tour – some of our colleagues were doing much to disprove the conventional wisdom that a person never forgets how to ride a bike. Either that or they were intentionally zig-zagging drunkenly through the streets of Barcelona to throw off pursuit, Jason Bourne style.
Spain is known for its hot chocolate and churros, so after the bike tour we tracked down a restaurant that both served those and took credit cards, figuring that the hot chocolate sellers would be less likely to give us uncompensated samples than the coconut guy. This was one of those local delicacies that totally lives up to the hype. The “hot chocolate” was more what Americans would call “liquified chocolate,” with little to no pesky milk diluting it.
I should mention that we also had a dinner of tapas, but that dinner will never have the place in my heart that the hot chocolate and churros hold.
The next day, we had a brief training followed by a wine tasting at a winery just outside of Barcelona. Apparently, the Spanish have dedicated the largest percentage of their land to wine production of any country in the world, so the wine tasting was a way to experience culture. Which, clearly, is the only reason that Laura and I participated.
The wine “tasting” was more of a wine “drinking,” which I also choose to believe is an aspect of Spanish culture that we learned more about through this experience.
Eventually, we had “tasted” enough wine that we thought we should take some of the wine back to the United States so that we could verify the results of the tasting through further experimentation.
This was followed by a lunch provided by the tour company, a lunch that included additional “tastings” of wine and brandy.
Certain individuals may have tasted too much of the wine and brandy. May have.
We returned to the hotel at around six, and, briefly, there was the chance that we would be overwhelmed by the tasting and crash in our hotel room. Against all odds, we shook it off and went for a walk through the city, ending up at the awesome Casa Bottlo.
The house was designed by Anton Gaudi, Barcelona’s most famous architect, who designed structures in a Modernist, organic style. Many of Barcelona’s distinctive landmarks were the work of Gaudi. Gaudi’s style is amazing but unusual; it is to the credit of the people of late 19th century Barcelona that his genius was recognized in his own day.
The house was designed by Gaudi to have an “under water” feel.
After our tour of the Casa Batllo, we took a walk and saw more Gaudi houses.
By that time, we had recovered enough from our earlier “tasting” that we were ready for another meal. We stopped at a restaurant off Las Ramblas and got some tapas. The first three selections were pretty good (one was very good), but when we finished those, Laura was still hungry and said that she wanted some vegetables. Instead, she returned with these sketchy sausages.
On Sunday, we had a fantastic tour of the city, going first to Montjuic, which overlooks the city.
We traveled by bus to Parc Guell, which was also designed by Gaudi. On the way, one of the men on the bus with us, who may have done a bit too much partying after the tasting, asked for the driver to stop. He then got off, looked around for a trash can, and, not finding one, vomitted on the sidewalk. In these large groups, you can’t meet everyone, so I tend to use some characteristic of the person to create a character in my mind, like “Crazy Hat Guy” or “Strange Eyebrows Woman.” The man who got off the bus is now fixed in my mind as “Puking Guy.” He may be a great teacher or do charity work or save abandoned animals, but in my mind, he will always be defined by this one quality: he spewed on the streets of Barcelona.
After an hour at the Parc Guell, the bus took us to the most popular of Barcelona’s attractions – the Sagrada Familia, a cathedral designed by Gaudi and still under construction.
We had tickets to enter the cathedral at 3pm, which was right when the sun shined through the western stained glass windows. The effects was absolutely amazing.
Pictures really can’t capture the experience of standing in the cathedral.
One other thing not captured by pictures of the cathedral: it was freaking freezing in there. The stone had soaked in the cold night temperatures, when it went down into the thirties, and retained the cold remarkably well. Only an extended visit to the overpriced but heated gift shop saved me from Sagrada Familia-induced hypothermia.
That evening, we had our farewell dinner, with a variety of tasty appetizers and a main course of paella.
By 8pm Monday, we were back in Midlothian. Barcelona was a great experience – we are looking forward to seeing the city in the summer some time.