Day 8: Barcelona and The Great Gaudí

 

Barcelona

June 1, 2019

In the morning we had the chance to sleep in until 8 which seemed like a luxury. We had a good breakfast; one interesting thing that I tried was something like a potato cake–it was round, about 12 inches in diameter and about 1 inch thick. I tasted a bit like the inside of a hash brown–a nice potato taste but without the crispness on the outside.  Also, I got a cappuccino (from the magic machine yet again), but it put a bit of chocolate in it which was a bit odd. I didn’t intentionally get a drink that was clearly indicated with chocolate in it, but there was some. I thought maybe it was a traditional thing or something. Or just a glitch. Who knows. It was good though!

There were several people in our group who were planning to do the exact same thing that we were–heading to ride the hop on hop off bus tour of the city.  Our tour leader had indicated that this would be a good way to see the city, since Barcelona is quite spread out and would be difficult to see the main sights solely on foot.  All 9 of us headed to the train station, which was NOT the metro, apparently. We were expecting to have to buy a ticket, but the ticket booths were closed, and we did not have to put in our ticket to get on, so at this point we were a bit perplexed.  Nonetheless, we were able to get on the train and head toward the city. After figuring out which stop we needed to get off at (one of the group members figured this out…so nice to just follow someone!) we headed toward the exit. But alas, we were required to scan our ticket to get out of the station. Thankfully, one of our group members spoke good Spanish and was able to communicate our dilemma to the attendant at the gate, who proceeded to let us through and supposedly buy a ticket. While we were in line, an English speaking woman indicated her train left soon and asked if she could get a head of us. “No problem,” we said. She then asked where we were heading, and we told her that we arrived here, not heading anywhere.  She then asked why we were getting tickets and we explained the situation. She was surprised that we were buying a ticket and suggested we go ahead up the stairs to the street since they couldn’t do anything to check, and also suggested that this was indeed a really uncommon scenario. Despite her ethical views, we continued to wait in the line, but fortunately our friends the Parks bought us a ticket so we could all go, which was kind of them. We didn’t show it to anyone or scan it (maybe we should have) but at this point we had bought it and didn’t know what else to do, so we figured that was enough. Glad we weren’t stuck in the train station for any longer than we were!

Next we were in search for tickets to the bus tour–fortunately we immediately saw a newsstand selling the passes. €30 for a full day pass…not horrible but still a bit steep. We headed on the bus anyway to get an overview of the city. The headphone plug-in was neat because it offered the audio commentary in 16 different languages. As we drove along, it was interesting to see how the old city with older buildings and smaller streets morphed into the newer city (translated “the expansion” in Spanish) with wide streets. This was apparently the foresight of the city planner when thinking about expanding the city and planning for more of a population in Barcelona. It was also apparent how much Barcelona underwent a “face lift” when preparing for the 1992 Olympics…so many sculptures and structures were built specifically with this in mind, including renovating the port. 

bus tour
Hop on hop off bus tour!

We debated getting off at La Sagrada Família, an extravagantly ornate cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926), who devoted his life to designing and constructing the building. Construction started on March 19, 1882, and didn’t even open until November 7, 2010. There is still a lot to go, as the church is planned to be finished in the year 2026. Unfortunately, Gaudí died in a tragic tram accident, but was living in the cathedral the last few months of his life. The facade was beautiful and essentially told the story of Jesus’ life through the sculptures, with the nativity all the way to his crucifixion. There were also parables that were told through the sculptures.  Apparently this cathedral was deemed a “minor basilica” by the Pope. We saw what seemed like 1,000 people outside and around the cathedral, so we had to pass, and we continued onwards through the city.

Passion Facade
The Passion Façade of the Sagrada Família

We passed an old-style Spanish hospital which looked directly at La Sagrada Família via one of the streets before getting off at Park Güell.  We expected this to be a nice open area with trees, grass, and benches, what we would typically associate with a park. This one was different.  The area was designed by Eusebi Guell, who wanted to construct around 40 houses, each with its own garden on the side of the mountain. in 1900, bought land in Gracia, Barcelona and employed Antoni Gaudí to build an estate for the rich. At that time, the area was considered to be remote and the project failed to realize commercial success. Only two houses were built. In 1923, the Güell family gave the land to the city, as Park Güell and was instead turned into a series of walking trails (mostly paved, with some stairs). One of the homes that was built showed the ideal look and feel of the homes to be built.  It was a beautiful pink Spanish-style house with ornate windows and a bit of a tower to it. The entrance to the park was beautiful with a mosaic wall creating a colorful boundary to the area.

sculped wall and garden
Beautiful sculpted wall and garden in Park Güell

We ended up going most of the way to the top of the park, with a fantastic 180 degree viewpoint at the top. We could see most of the city and all the way to the Mediterranean. Across the city was the other high point, Montjuïc, where we went the first night during our driving tour of the city. Nancy, the Canadian, apparently went a bit further up than we did, and was able to get a full 360 degree viewpoint, though had to cross some ropes to get there (which she claims indicated, “Enter at your own risk!”). 

overlook
Overlook in Park Güell

Along the way up and back down were lots of souvenir salesman, including some who were selling these bird calls that sounded EXACTLY like a bird. There were tons of salesman selling cold water… “1 euro! 1 euro!” they shouted. We also passed a ticketed area to which we think was the central plaza of Park Güell, but not sure. There was also a band playing Spanish music which included a trombone, saxophone, cajon, and guitar–such a characteristic sound despite the odd instrumentation. We finally made it back down and at this point had one thing on our mind–Tapas!

After walking down some random streets (we hoped we were heading in the right direction, just to find out we were correct!), we hopped back on our bus and headed back to Passeig de Gràcia where we got on the bus earlier. We wanted to find a place on La Rumbla (the main strip with shops and restaurants), but at this point we didn’t want to wait!  I looked up on Yelp a place that seemed pretty close, but when we went in, it was absolutely packed! Ruling that one out, we headed down the street and came across tent after tent after tent of restaurants that were out on the street. Between streets, actually. There was a sidewalk, one traffic lane, a big sidewalk where the restaurant tent was, one traffic lane, and another sidewalk.  The restaurant we went to had an actual building as well, but practically nobody was eating inside–all out on the street! We ordered a great white Sangria, as well as 3 tapas. We both got a “burrito” which had chicken, cheese, and guacamole in it. It was tasty, but nothing like a Mexican burrito! I also ordered some croquetas which were FANTASTIC. They were essentially fried potato “nuggets” that had some ham and cheese in them. So good. We had them the night before at Mussol as an appetizer, and even still couldn’t get enough of them!  There was a bit of confusion with Emily’s order, as she had to request hers be brought out again. At that point I ordered another Tapa which we split. It was essentially fried potato cubes with a cheese sauce drizzled on top. Didn’t compare to the croquetas but was still good. We just so happened to meet back up with the Parks from our tour group. They had gotten off the bus at La Sagrada Família while we continued to Park Güell. What are the odds of meeting at the same restaurant in Barcelona!? We had to flag down our waitress and ask for the check. It was taking a while so we just went ahead and asked.

lunch
Lunch in Barcelona!

We headed back to our hotel so we could “freshen up” before the Flamenco show later that evening. We arrived at the station and had to figure out the ticketing system.  Our goal was to buy a T10, which is basically 10 single journey tickets. That way each of us could have 5. With the first machine we used, the furthest we got was the machine showing us a QR code to “scan with application,” but we had no idea what that meant. We supposed it was a separate phone app which stored your tickets on it.  Not even being able to pay without scanning, we exited out of that machine and tried the older-looking machines. We somehow found out a way to get a T10, but that was after picking our destination (not sure why it would matter) as well as the number of zones (didn’t know what that meant). The machine didn’t take our credit card, but fortunately we had cash and could pay the fare.  We finally got the tickets and through the gate, but then had a hard time finding which platform to go to. Since we were taking the rail and not the subway (metro), it was a bit more confusing as to the direction of the trains. Emily asked an attendant who was very friendly, and gestured to the platform we were currently at (we guessed right!), and lucky for us, the train was already there. I was still skeptical we were on the right one as we were riding it, mainly because the station names did not match the stops on the map that we had. Regardless, our destination station name matched and we got off, no problem!

After freshening up (it was hot in the sun, but there was a pretty cool breeze…I took a shower to feel clean again), we met the rest of our group who were attending the Flamenco show.  We hopped back on the train and headed downtown to the La Rumbla, where the show was located. We first arrived and were treated to a buffet dinner, with red and white wines, as well as sangria were included. The sangria was interesting in that there were flowers on the surface of it, as well as some seeds in the bottom, which I presume were the grapefruit seeds from the slice in the drink. Not sure though.  The buffet was a great sampling of Spanish cuisine. I tried a bit of Paella (minus the seafood though), an interesting Falafel tapa, a Spanish mac n’ cheese, and a delicious guacamole (but it only had one chip!!!!!!), and a few others. I probably had as many desserts as actual food though, which included a chocolate dipped marshmallow (they had a chocolate fountain!), a chocolate Flamenco cupcake, a yogurt with apple compote, and something that resembled crème brûlée (we debated if it was supposed to be flan or crème brûlée).

Spanish buffet dinner. Got to sample everything!

We headed down the hall into a small theater. I was convinced that the room was so small and held so many people, it would fail an American fire code inspection in a heartbeat. It did provide a more intimate setting though. We were lucky enough to get front row seats!  The Flamenco show was not quite what I was expecting. I thought it would be similar to the Tango, but it was more like tap dancing. It was very rhythmic in nature, with the dancers snapping, clapping, and tap dancing in rhythm. Behind them, there were 2 guitars and 4 tenor men who would take turns singing the melody of the song as well as clap and tap their canes to the rhythm. Between the dancing parts, the musicians would perform a number.  They were pretty emotional and were getting involved in the performance. We were told that all of it is improvised, which is why they didn’t want us to make any noise or take pictures, as that would be distracting to them. There was a part at the end where we could take pictures and videos, though. All in all, it was a fantastic show! The rhythm was so clean and so creative in nature. Highly recommended! After the show we headed back to the hotel and crashed into bed–early morning the next day as we departed for the French Riviera.

Overall, Barcelona was a neat place with great weather. Emily and I likened it many times to California. Sunny with a cool ocean breeze that cools you down and a pleasant 70 degree temperature. It seemed a bit less formal and proper than Paris or London. It was also a surprise to me the difference between true Spain and the Mexican Spanish culture: most people on the streets were very European white as opposed to the darker skinned in Mexico. The food was not quite what I expected as well: I think Spanish food I automatically think Mexican. Moreover, when I think Spanish architecture I think missions and terra cotta colored walls and clay tile roofs. But in Spain we saw more of the mosaic, Gothic architecture which I suppose could be a product of the time period built, but still interesting. 

Step Metrics: 14,107 steps, 6 miles, 627 cal, 2h 27m time

 

Self Q&A

Q: What is considered a Tapa?

A: A tapa is an appetizer or snack in Spanish cuisine and translates to small portion of any kind of Spanish cuisine. Tapa may be cold (such as mixed olives and cheese) or hot (such as chopitos, which are battered, fried baby squid). In some bars and restaurants in Spain and across the globe, tapas have evolved into a more sophisticated cuisine. Tapas can be combined to make a full meal. According to The Joy of Cooking, the original tapas were thin slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips. This was a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry (see below for more explanations). The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst. Because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners created a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales. The tapas eventually became as important as the sherry. (From Wikipedia)

 

Q: Is it typical to have to ask for the check in Spain? Or do you normally have to wait awhile for them to bring it?

A: It’s pretty typical in Europe that when you’re finished with your bill, you need to ask for your check as it is considered rude for the waiter to ask if you want it, or to bring it to you without asking. Asking for the bill is therefore not considered rude.

 

Q: What was the machine referencing when it told us to “scan with application”?

A: From what I could find, this was referring to the TMB (Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona) App. You can buy tickets online and see information, maps, and times about all routes on the Barcelona Metro.

 

Q: What was the machine referencing when it asked us the number of zones?

A: The integrated fare system means that you need just one transport ticket to make any journey that might involve different means of transport (metro; urban, metropolitan and interurban buses; tram; and the rail networks Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya and Rodalies de Catalunya). This system allows you to use four different means of transport involving up to three changes within both a time limit and also the number of zones covered by the ticket used. In this way, you are not penalized for changing transport. The integrated fare system covers a total of 296 municipalities divided into 6 fare bands and sectors. The travel ticket used must cover as many zones as the number of zones you pass through up to a maximum of 6 zones.  When you buy your T-10, you can specify how many zones you’d like to be able to travel through with the ticket.

 

Q: Should the train station names match the map? Why were they different?

A: Beats me! Bad map?

 

Q: Are there typically seeds and/or flowers in sangria?

A: Flowers aren’t typical, but citrus fruit is a very common ingredient in sangria. With the citrus fruit comes the seeds within it!

 

Q: Is there a typical story line for the songs in Flamenco?

A: Flamenco is an art form that combines song (cante), dance (baile) and guitar (guitarra). It originated in the 18th century by gypsies in Andalusia – a Southern region in Spain – and it combines musical and dance styles that were influenced by the Moors, Jews, Christians and Eastern European cultures such as the Romans. Both the guitar playing and dancing are extremely passionate, and even the name flamenco reflects this passion as “flama” means flame and “enco” means pertaining to. Therefore, flamenco means pertaining to the flame, or passion. And passion is certainly evident in the dance, singing and guitar playing. Talented guitar players and singers combine seductive rhythms and lyrics with spontaneous dancing performed by highly-talented dancers. This combination of music and dance is meant to tell a story to the audience. Many times the story relates to love, history, comedy or even politics. However, in most instances the lyrics and guitar melody reflect tragedy and suffering, while the dance is extremely graceful with difficult footwork and an emphasis on maintaining a straight upper-body posture. Nonetheless, the singer is the heart and soul of flamenco. Passionate lyrics tell the tragic story to the audience, while the guitar playing and dance reflect this story and bring it to life. (Quoted from The Taste of Spain)

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