A fountain fills its giant bowl with cotton candy colors in the shadow of the National Palace.
Day 19: To Barcelona, and the final Belgian bus ride of the tour. Au revoir, Raymond. Very rushed today - must see the Picasso museum before it closes at 3 (museums are closed tomorrow). We stopped just inside Spain for a bathroom break, and then on to Barcelona. Despite the fact that it was the first day of July (start of vacation season in Europe), the traffic was very light. We arrived at the hotel [Hotel Allegro] at noon.
We then had 35 minutes to find a place to eat lunch and eat it. It was Sunday and 90% of the storefronts were closed, and I did not speak Spanish. And it was hot. Grumble grumble... I ended up finding a baguette place and ate a "British" sandwich and a coke. Half the group eventually walked in the door. Some others ate at McDonalds. We walked to the Picasso Museum (running into an anti-European Union demonstration parade on the way). Oops, today's the first Sunday of the month and all of the museums in Spain are free. Therefore, there was a very long line of people waiting to get in. Well, okay - a half hour wait in a line, and presto, we finally make it into the museum. It is air-conditioned inside but mighty crowded.
The paintings, however, are worth it all. All I can say is wow, this Pablo guy can paint. [Here's a postcard of his self-portrait.] A local guide, Josep Maria, took us through the museum. He was so good at describing the paintings that our group doubled in size within minutes.
We met again outside the museum with the local guide, and he walked us through the Gothic Quarter (including a huge Italian-style cathedral), which traces its way back to Roman times. It was siesta time and we walked by people sleeping on doorsteps. The streets look like they haven't been cleaned in weeks. We concluded our walk outside the 4 Cats restaurant, where Picasso ate (and painted the menus).
We were all hot and tired so we checked into our hotel and rested. Air conditioning seems pretty standard around here. I got a single room again. 9 nights out of 20 - that's pretty good for a tour with no single charge. After a nap, a group of us (Elaine, Evi, Barbara, Santos, Carol, Marilyn and I) went to dinner near Las Ramblas (the city's grand, walking boulevard), and split up into two groups when we found the "recommended" restaurant was not open yet. We were still acting like Americans and wanted dinner at 7 (the locals usually eat closer to 10). Evi and Santos found a pizza place they liked. The rest ate tapas (small entrees purchased by the plate) above a bar near the Government Square. A couple of us had big Sangrias.
After dinner, we encountered people doing Sardana dances in little circles in the square. Barbara, Santos, Elaine, and Carol decided to try it too. Ahem. I dutifully documented the event [see the video at the bottom of the page]. Perhaps that Sangria was a little strong.
We rambled back to the hotel, pausing every now and then to watch the street performers. Opera singers, Flamenco dancers, puppeteers, and musicians of all sorts were everywhere (and usually very good), with plenty of people around them gawking. Probably a pickpocket or two as well...
At 9 Santos, Barbara, Elaine, and I joined the guides in a trip to the fountains at Plaša Espanya. We bumped into the Thompson family and hooked Jon into joining us as well.
Music, towers of water, very pretty lights, and tons of people watching. [It was here that I first heard Freddie Mercury singing in Spanish - click here for details.] The fountains often reminded me of giant bowls of cotton candy with their pastel colors and mist. I walked right up to the edge, and reveled in getting wet, for it cooled me down on this warm evening (and I was wearing quick-dry synthetics). Most of the others decided to watch from far away, but Elaine did join me for a while. The show ended around midnight, with me, Susan, Barbara, and Jon the only stragglers left. Susan offered champagne but couldn't find anywhere to purchase it.
Oh well, back to the hotel, and to bed.
Day 20: Last day together! Wow, how the time flew by.
Susan told us that Spanish people eat toast and olive oil for breakfast. Well, obviously there weren't any Spanish people running this hotel. Mama mia! The biggest breakfast of them all awaited us this morning. Buffet of everything.
At 9, we met the same local guide, and this time he had a bus to take us to all the great sites of Barcelona. And he did just that. Modernisme first, and Gaudi. We stopped at the half-completed Sagrada Familia church and stared at the amazingly complex structure. Everything about it is abnormal, from its fruit-topped spires to its forest-like interior - like from a dreamland far away. Some say it looks like pine cones on top of melted ice cream. I both pity and am awed by the architects. I don't know of anything as creative today (and this is from the late 19th century!). [Click here for a drawing of the completed church overlaid with the partially completed one now.]
Next, the Olympic village and the beach. Then to the fishing village and the Columbus statue at the bottom of Las Ramblas. Finally, to Montju´c for some pretty views of the city. We finished the local tour at noon.
[The view of Barcelona from Montju´c - click for a bigger version]
After freshening up a bit (it's still really hot out), I walked to La Pedrera, a curvy Gaudi apartment building which contains a museum and has 2 apartments open for viewing the architecture. The roof is the most playful I've ever seen, with storm trooper chimneys and roller coaster walkways. I ran into Leslie and Gary there, and we stopped for lunch later at Tapa Tapa, a (can you guess?) tapas bar. Pictures of all the dishes adorn the placemats so you couldn't be misunderstood even if you were mute. Not exactly a small, family run joint, though. The potato salad and fried squid were excellent. After lunch we returned to the hotel for a Siesta (and for me to do some much-needed laundry).
Our final group dinner was at a place on the harbor. The wine was no-charge, and there was plenty of tapas for everyone. Also a plate of paella as the main course. Sorbet or Creme Catalunya for dessert.
Then it was over. Susan thanked us all for a wonderful trip and gave us each a handful of saffron; and the group dissolved into hugs and handshakes while the sun lay golden in the evening sky. Half of us departed, and half of us walked with her out to the docks to "taste" sherry for one final group event. I have to admit I liked the sherry the least of all the alcohol I've tasted on this trip, but the company couldn't be beat. We reminisced as the sun set on the Mediterranean.
We walked slowly back (rambled, I guess) through Las Ramblas, breathing in the night life of moving people and music. Barbara stopped and attempted to have her palm read, but alas the woman spoke no English (the palm-reader, that is).
Eventually, we made it back to the hotel, and our quiet, air-conditioned rooms...
Day 21: "...over after breakfast."
Bob, Sharon, Evi, and Barbara were in the breakfast gazebo when I walked in. Santos soon joined us, as well as the Thompson family. That's pretty much it. Susan was on her way to meet another BOE II tour. Everyone else was already gone.
Santos was taking a siesta this morning, but Barbara joined me in going to the Sagrada Familia again, this time to actually go inside. We climbed inside the towers (gasping at the mosaics and massive sculptures on top), and visited the great museum in the basement. We had lunch at Tapa Tapa and shared a liter of Sangria.
We walked back to the hotel. Barbara took a nap while I went out to many of the museums that were closed yesterday. I saw the Joan Mirˇ exhibit (including the roof), and then the Catalunyan Art Museum (and the dance floor within the palace). Modern, then Romanesque, then Gothic. Wow.
Santos, Barbara, and I met at 7pm for dinner. We were the last 3 left in Barcelona now. Following Picasso's footsteps, we ate at the 4 Cats restaurant. It was a bit pricey, but I needed to use up my pesetas anyway. And the food was really good.
To bookend the journey, Santos opened a bottle of French white wine, and we sat in the balcony of Santos' hotel overlooking Las Ramblas. We listened to the folk music [if anyone knows the name of this song I would appreciate an email] and relaxed and sipped wine and reflected on our journey together.
So many strangers now friends.
So wet and then so hot.
Swans and cicadas.
Beer and wine.
Guten tag and buon giorno and bonjour and buenos dias.
27 people together for a reason.
We leave now.
And the city continues without us.
Adiˇs, Spain. Till we meet again, someday.
Day 22: Barbara and I shared a cab to the airport. We said goodbye to Santos at the curb. Barbara went to Madrid. I went to New York. We all eventually found our way home.
Click the pictures for enlargements.
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Last updated 11/12/2005 . Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.