Thursday, 15 January 2015

Hola BCN

December 15-19

Day One: I finished my final early so I was able to get to the bus with no problems! I traveled with Carlene and Kerry, and they went out on an earlier bus. We flew out of this tiny airport called Glasgow Prestwick, which is where the budget airlines are sometimes located. It’s also out of the way with one bus line and one train going to Glasgow every hour or so. When we arrived in Girona Airport, which is another out of the way budget airline airport, we took a bus to Barcelona and actually successfully got to the hostel. We were staying in a mixed room, so for once there were guys around, which was inconvenient just because we couldn’t change in the room, although they were really friendly. There was this gay Brazilian couple that were pretty cute together. And FYI- Barcelona is in the province of Catalan, so they speak Catalan here, but there are lots of signs in Spanish, and basically everyone can speak Spanish as well.  And everyone in the tourism industry speaks English, so I honestly didn’t use my Spanish that much. Oh well.

Day Two: Our first full day. We had actually already planned this out pretty well, and we bought our tickets online, with time brackets too. Our first stop was La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s famous church, and probably one of the biggest landmarks in Barcelona, for good reason. The outside is decorated in this ornate style, with such attention to detail, and the inside is slightly more modern feeling. The building was started by another architect, in 1882, but Gaudi picked it up soon after, and it has been a work in progress since then. There’s always cranes surrounding it, and we actually saw people hand painting gold when we were in the tower.
Due to be completed around 2036-2040!

We headed inside first, and the stained glass combined with the soaring, high ceilings were amazing. They actually only put in the stained glass in the last couple of years, so I was really glad we were able to see it.

The inside is so modern!

We also got a ticket to go up to the towers, and there’s a great view from there, and you can appreciate the towers and spires and decoration up close.  We went up the Nativity towers, which are decorated with statues depicting the nativity story.  ( There was a lot of religion on this trip)

Excuse the phone camera and the finger, but they're actually painting over there!

I was very very impressed. Gaudi was, in their words, a master of his craft. He developed a new way of making models by hanging them upside down using string and different materials to represent different architectural methods. They had a small museum about the making of the Sagrada Familia that had some original sketches as well as remade models.

We slowly made our way to our next stop, getting lost on the way. We took the subway eventually to Park Guell, another Gaudi design. It was on a hill, and thankfully there was escalators going up it. We went to the free part first for a nice lookout point, and stopped to pet cat #2 we saw.
Hello Barcelona, and bald man

Then we entered the more spectacular parts (which of course you have to pay for).  Gaudi’s work is really interesting, and we saw a ton of it on this trip, but I didn’t get tired of it, because each one is very very different.

We also saw more cats- this guy was jumping straight into the air to try to pounce on something in the bushes. Carlene has a greattt video of it.

Next was a wander down La Rambla, the famous boulevard. Also where the Cheetah Girls filmed “Strut”. I had cheetah print lining in my boots btw, although it wasn’t quite like that. It was pretty busy, and there were souvenir stands on the sides of the roads, along with florists and cacti stores with the cutest mini cacti.

La Boqueria Market was along this street, and this was our first stop out of three. We didn’t know any better and bought fruit juice for 2 euros from the first fruit stand- but everyone else farther down sold it for 1 euro. Oh well, I had pineapple and coconut, and it was DELISH. Everything looked so enticing and so fresh. There were also small restaurant stands, delis, and fish counters in addition to all this stuff.

And every kind of chili you would want

We also got a little lost trying to get back to the hostel, but thank god for data (and for O2 for deciding to work).  We rested a bit, then went to a 1 euro tapas place, which was okay. It didn’t feel very Spanish to me, and kinda had stuff I could get as appetizers at home, but it was a fun experience. We headed back to the hostel on the subway (which is super cheap here, only €1.05!) and knocked out.

Day three:

Another early day, because we took an hour train out to Montserrat. Montserrat is a monastery and a mountain with incredible rocks. You go up on either a cable car or a funicular, and we went up on the cable car. Not something my dad would like, but I enjoyed the views!

 It’s a working monastery, so there are monks doing their thing as well. It’s famous for being the place where they found the Black Madonna, a statue of the Virgin Mary, as well as a great boys choir. We were able to line up to touch the Virgin Mary, although I was much more impressed with the gorgeous backdrop she was put against. It was tiled with gold, as well as with silver decoration. Then we sat down for a pretty short performance by the boys choir, who did Gregorian chant, which was cool because it’s one of the first forms of music. I only know that from my Intro to Music class, and I kinda wish I remember more about it.  Apparently they sang something extra religious too, because we all stood up at the last chant, and there was no clapping at the end.

Clarifying real quick: they generally call the ones that hang from a cable, cable cars, and funiculars are ones that move up a slope usually, on the ground. But not always, and that definitely caused us confusion on this trip.  We took the funicular up to Sant Joan, where there are walks you can do. We also saw 7 more cats up there, which made all our days, and especially Kerry’s. Two were very friendly, and they were obviously well fed, by the monks probably, and very shiny and sleek. It made me miss Dima even more. We clambered up some rocks, through archways, and went out to a peaceful view. I loved the rock formations up there. If you go on the right trails, you can also see the Pyrenees, although we didn’t have time for that.

Then we went down to the other funicular, Santa Cova, to where they originally found the Virgin Mary statue. That was a little underwhelming, but my knees were also starting to get strained from the downhill walking. I do like the story about her though. When the peasants and priest saw the light shining from the cave, they found the statue, and wanted to bring it down the mountain to the town so everyone could see her. But she got heavier to carry after a bit, so they decided that it was her not wanting to be moved from the mountain- and there she stays.

We got paella for dinner- which actually isn’t typical to Catalan, it’s more of a Spanish thing, but because all the tourists expect it, there’s a lot of it in Barcelona. It was really good though!

Day Four:

This was another Barcelona day, and also contained two more stops to La Boqueria, hehe. We decided to look at more Gaudi architecture, and we went to Casa Batllo right when it opened, which was nice because it was really quiet. It was so so pretty. The inside is inspired by the ocean, which is right up my alley, and there was beautiful stained glass as well. Most of the walls were curved, and Gaudi also had more inventions to use natural light to brighten the house, as well as ventilation ideas and new ways to use building materials.
The house was inspired by the ocean-so many curved walls

Super light and airy attic ventilation

We also could go to the top, to the dragon roof, and the whimsical chimneys that looked like they were from Dr. Seuss books.

The roof- and the edge of the dragon that is said to be represented
And here’s what it looks like from the outside. It was a pricey visit, but it came with really interesting audio guides, and I definitely thought it was worth it.

The top is the outside view of the dragon roof, and the windows are said to look like bones!

We also saw La Pedrera, another of Gaudi’s works that you could go in. Then it was back to La Rambla and La Boqueria to pick up more fruit and juice, and we headed over to Barceloneta, the beach right off of Barcelona. It was a gorgeous day, and I think I almost forgot what that kind of sunlight felt like. We laid on the sand, and ate our fresh fruit on the beach. I was in heaven.

Then we wandered around the Gothic Quarter a bit. We stumbled upon another, unique Christmas market below the cathedral.  (That makes my 6th Christmas market!) The cathedral is also stunning.

Next to Placa Espanya to get the bus to Montjuic (mountain of Jews) to go to the castle and see the sunset. Montjuic also has a ton of other cool stuff like museums, gardens, the famous fountain and light show, and Olympic stadiums. But man, the sunset from the castle was gorgeous.  

Our last stop of the day was the Magic Fountains. Too bad they didn't have the show that night; it's supposed to be amazing!

Day Five:
Our last day! We basically ended up with 4 full days, which was really nice because we slept in a little and were able to go to Girona, near the airport, to explore that area and get away from all the tourists in Barcelona. We checked out of our hostel, (HelloBCN, where the employees were all super nice), and headed to the bus to Girona airport and city center. We put our backpacks in lockers, and headed to the the old Jewish quarter, with small winding streets.
Colorful houses

We stopped at the Jewish museum, and then walked up to the cathedral, which, from the outside, was so pretty against the deep blue sky.

The inside, however, was super chilly from the stone, was dead silent, and super empty of people. I was creeped out, and Kerry said it was very Baroque, which I was not very fond of. Good thing it was cheap. Here’s the part I liked:

Predictably, it was stained glass.

Then we went up for a walk on the city walls, where we soaked up some Spanish sunshine and views of Girona. It was a really relaxing, peaceful walk, and I’m glad I were able to slow down and soak it in a little. Then we had an early dinner- 5pm. People eat late in Spain, at 9 ish, so they were probably staring at us wondering what was wrong with us.

Then I read the bus times wrong, so the next bus would only get us in 30 minutes before our flight was to leave. Another time that would’ve been fine, but because I was leaving for the Edinburgh Airport to come home 3 hours after I landed in Glasgow, I just didn’t want to cut it that short. Kerry used her last €20 to pay for the taxi to the Girona airport, (THANK YOU AGAIN) and we were on our way.
The last hiccup of the journey was that we landed a little late, and it was raining sideways when we got in, and Carlene and I ended up missing the train. (A typical Glaswegian welcome). Kerry ran and was able to get on, but the next bus (according to earlier research) didn’t get into Glasgow until 1:50 am (I left at 2:45 am from my flat). We met a Scottish guy and a Dutch guy, as well as two Glaswegians trying to figure out if we should split a taxi, but then found out the bus would get in at 1 am instead, sooooo long story short we hopped on that bus, and then had some interesting conversation with the Dutch guy, who has a super cool life because he’s lived in Dublin, Cairo, and now he lives in Barcelona. My last true Glaswegian experience was waiting at the taxi rank at Buchanan Bus Station in the cold, and sometimes rain and wind, and listening to the Glaswegian banter. 

I’m writing this on the plane from London Heathrow to LAX, so I was able to make all my flights and connections! I did have to pay to make my carryon baggage a check- in because it was too heavy (who actually weighs that? Virgin Atlantic, that’s who).  But I don’t think she charged me for being a little overweight on my big suitcase, so at least there’s that. And I got most of what I really wanted back. All that’s left is to meet my family and Jon at the airport, see my cat, and have some yummy food. 

And finally posted this exactly a month after I first left for Barcelona. :) Home is comforting and I love the weather!