Saturday, May 16, 2015

From Paris, France To Barcelona, Spain.......Hola Espana!

We left Paris around midday on a smaller plane operated by Germanwings.  Even though we both only had carry on luggage we were forced to check them in.  Since these were smaller planes they only allowed a weight capacity of 26 pounds.  Our first flight was only one hour and took us from Paris to Dusseldorf, Germany. To my surprise even during this short flight we were given free drinks that included beer, wine or soft drinks along with half a sandwich, bottle of water and a cookie. Our three hour layover in Dusseldorf, Germany was so quiet we found a deserted area to relax and take a nap. From there we boarded another Germanwings plane bound for Barcelona, Spain.  A bit unnerving since this was the same route only in the opposite direction as the one that crashed into the Swiss Alps a few weeks prior. Clyde fell asleep but I watched as we flew over the snow capped peaks of the Alps that glistened in the afternoon sun. Once again on this two hour flight we were treated to the same free drinks and the same half of sandwich.  But it was free food which helped pass the time so we enjoyed it and relaxed in comfort.

Our plane arrive in Barcelona at 7pm and we took the Aerobus into the city for 5.90 euros each.  It was about a 35-minute ride to Place Cataluña, the closest stop to our apartment.  After walking a few blocks over narrow, cobblestone roads we managed to find our apartment.  Located in the Gothic Area of the city near Ciutat Vella (or the old city) the studio apartment was a forth-floor walk up.  Typically in Europe there are no elevators and there were 60 steep, winding steps up to our apartment.  Clyde carried all of the luggage up the stairs as the apartment manager showed me around the small space.

Dragging Luggage Through The Streets

A few things unique to European apartments are shutters that close off the outside world.  Most shutters are on the outside of the building, so the windows have to be opened up from the inside to close them. Once closed the rooms inside become very dark making it great for sleeping but not for waking up with no natural light.  This apartment had three balconies that opened up to the outside giving us plenty of fresh air. Also common in European flats are heated towel racks that make towels nice an toasty warm on cool days. 

Up The Stairs To Our 4th Story Walk-Up

Outside Of Apartment

One Of Our Balconies

Our Street

After dropping off our luggage we headed out to explore this beautiful city.  Nearby we found a plaza with shops, grocery stores, bakeries, restaurants, tapas bars and so much more. Clyde wanted a taste of Spain so we stopped in a local bar for tapas. Playing the dumb tourist I questioned the English speaking waitress about prices including if eating outside was pricier than inside?  She answered my questions and made suggestions from the menu.  We dined on tapas of grilled eggplant, croquettes of both chicken and ham along with some large glasses of sangria for a total of 22 euros. On our way back to the apartment we stopped for gelato (ice cream) cones. Clyde had strawberry cheesecake and I had coconut each for 2.40 euros for a large serving. Since it was getting late we called it a night and headed back to get settled into the apartment.  Amazingly enough it stayed light till nearly 10pm at each place we visited on this trip.

Tapas & Sangria.....Grilled Eggplant and Croquettes

Next morning we made some coffee in our apartment but since we hadn't bought any groceries yet we headed out to find breakfast.  In a nearby plaza I spotted a place called "Pan & Company".....a bakery that sold sandwiches too.  They offered a breakfast special of two small breakfast sandwiches with juice and coffee for 2 euros. 

View From Top Of Bus

Sights of Barcelona

Scooters Everywhere

Group of Police

We began today by finding the stop for the Hop On - Hop Off Tourist Bus and took it for a ride. These buses offer headsets in every language that give tourists a personalized tour guide with information along the route.  Our first hop off spot was the famous Sagrada Familia.  The expiatory church has been under construction for the past 133 years now and is still not finished.  Expiatory means the church from it's onset has been built by donations.  Architect Antonio Gaudi who designed the church always said, "the church is made by the people and is mirrored in them."  "It is work that's in the hands of God and the will of  the people."

Cathedral of Sagrada Familia

Such Detail.....Crazy!

Another View
From A Distance

Since Sagrada Familia IS the most famous tourist spot in Barcelona, we expected to find long lines and received what we envisioned.  As soon as we took our place in line a man that worked there approached us saying, "there are no tickets available to enter the church now as they're all sold out."  He went on to explain that the next entrance to the church would be in about 3 hours at 1:30, if we bought the tickets now.  The line went rather quickly and we had tickets in our hands in about 20 minutes with 3 hours to hang around the area.  We sat down in a café for coffee and people watching before walking around the neighborhood of mostly office buildings and tourists shops.  A nearby park offered a man making gigantic bubbles to entice the kiddies and even entertained us for a while. As lunchtime neared and we noticed a gelato stand we had to once again indulge in some local flavors.

Bubble Man In Park

One Big Cone Of Gelato

Clyde Had Some Too


As our time to enter the church was approaching we headed over to find the line but there really wasn't any.  Seemingly this place was so well organized that they knew just how many people the church could hold at any given time and only allowed that many in.  We strained our necks looking up in awe at the magnificent structure that offered something new to see in every square inch.  Words really can't describe this place so I'll let our many photos speak for themselves.

After Gaudi's Death Other Architects Took Over Resulting In A Different Look


Architect Antoni Gardi in 1883 was put in charge of a project to build a Barcelona basilica called Sagrada Familia (holy family).  He completely changed the initial design and concentrated all his efforts on the church from 1915 until his death in 1926.  Many other architects have taken over design of the church since Gaudi's death and still today the building is under construction. 

Inside Sagrada Familia

Still More

Next we jumped back on the bus and exited at Park Guell, also designed by Gaudi.  With no directions in mind we followed other tourists that seemed to know where they were going. Up the long, steep hill a few miles we followed, them to hundreds of stairs until we found the entrance to the park.  The ticket booth told us, "the park is full no tickets available until 6pm," just like the church.  So we bought tickets and discovered that we were allowed into the enormous gardens of the park but would have to wait 3 hours still to see the good stuff. We walked around to kill time, ate some baguette sandwiches for lunch and waited for our turn into the paid areas.

Park Guell

Huge Serpent Bench Covered In Mosaic Tiles

Another Look

 Underneath The Bench
Same Place
Other Buildings In Park Guell

Tiled Lizard
Guard House In Park Guell

Large Bench

Interesting Fact:  The Word "Gaudy" Comes From The Designs Of Antoni Gaudi
Since They're So Over-The-Top and "Gaudy" To Some

At 6pm we made our way into the rest of the park stopping at the massive, tiled serpent bench to take photos.  Besides the bench was a guard house that we entered into although it wasn't much to see. Once we'd had enough of the park we walked out and quickly found the bus stop again.  Back on the bus for several stops Clyde wanted to get off at Tibidabo, a mountain overlooking Barcelona.  The mountain is home to a church and amusement park along with stunning views of the city.  Upon exiting the bus Clyde asked the bus driver, "how do we get to Tibidabo?"  The driver pointed straight and said, "it's up there."  So off we went following signs along the way to the funicular (cable car) that went up the mountain.

We walked, and walked past beautiful mansions along the roadside apparently owned by the well-to-do of the city.  The road seemed to get steeper and steeper but Clyde kept telling me, "it's not much further."  As we seemed to run out of road we asked a few locals for directions and each just pointed straight up the hill. Finally we stopped a jogger who pointed us in a backward direction since we'd apparently gone too far.  So we backtracked and spotted a sign on a building for the funicular. Past the house we went along a dirt road that seemed to be loaded with poop, assumingly from stray dogs? Since the road led to nowhere we turned around and noticed another sign on the building for the funicular which had closed at 7pm, and it was well past that now.  Fortunately for us this part of the world has long hours of daylight that last well past 10pm so we were in no danger of being lost in the dark.

Back down the long hill we went until we made our way back on the bus.  Pissed Clyde nicely asked the ticket taker on the bus, "have you ever been up to Tibidabo?"  She said, "oh yes, many times."  He said, "do you know what time the funicular closes?"  "Oh sure," she said, "it closes at 7pm."  "Well, "Clyde said, "do you think you should mention that to tourists before you send them up there?" But I suppose it's the adventures of getting lost in unknown places that makes travel so much more interesting.

Since it was getting late we took the last bus back to the main stop at Las Ramblas, the well-known tourist boulevard.  Starving from a long day I found a place called "Pita Inn" along the strip that displayed a large assortment of vegetables and pita bread in it's window.  Clyde had been wanting to try that shaved meat than hangs from the ceiling which this place happened to have.  They had both lamb and chicken but he opted for the lamb.  Along with that he was served salad, bread and fries while I choose a wrap of tons of veggies and chicken.  We added some drinks and this huge, healthy meal only set us back 14 euros.  A far cry from the pricier places selling plates upwards of 30 euros each.  I think we both pride ourselves in being able to eat cheap and even in high priced tourist cities we still managed.  The key to eating on the cheap in Europe was surely the words, "take away," because once you sit down you're charged extra for using that space.

Cheap Eats.....Pita Inn

Look At All That Food.....And Cheap!

Las Ramblas is one of the famous tourist spots of Barcelona full of shops, street performers and people watching.  Although we had to see it for ourselves, Clyde and I most appreciate getting away from tourist traps into the back streets of a city. Still on Las Ramblas we found a grocery store called "Carrefour," where we stopped for some groceries. 

Hog Legs Anyone?

Selling Books and Roses

Were we ever wowed at the prices of groceries even in this high-priced touristy part of the city.  A large selection of wines for 1-2 euros a bottle.  Brand name Greek yogurts for around 1 euro for a two pack.  For just 1-2 euros we also bought a large roll of paper towels, large bottle of laundry soap, large bottle of dish soap, a quart of milk and bottle of wine.  Other cheap items we saw were large, freshly baked breads for 2 euros, bags of rolls for 1 euro, brand names of chips and snacks for 2-3 euros in large bags and even a large bag of pistachio nuts for only 4 euros.

Back at the apartment it was time to do some laundry since we're traveling light and it works best to hang it overnight to dry. In the meantime I went online to look up Tibidabo just curious to see how far we might have walked.  Turns out the road up to the funicular is about 3 miles and the area is commonly known for having packs of aggressive wild boars. perhaps the poop we saw was not from street dogs but instead from wild boars?  Thankful that they stayed hidden and didn't come out to enjoy some lost tourists for dinner. Also the information said the funicular could easily be reached by public buses which the Hop On-Off bus people never mentioned either.

We've come to realize that there are tourists and there are travelers and we think we fit into the second category.  Both of us love to get off the beaten path to the back streets of a given place to see what life is really like there. Taking in the sights of a local woman hanging her laundry, sweeping the street or seeing kids drawing chalk pictures on the streets of the local plaza.  I love just going into grocery stores to see what kinds of things they sell there and for what price. Travel for me is about the real people, places and things and not so much the tourist attractions packed with crowds. 

Clyde and I marveled at the oldness of this historic city as we walked over countless cobblestone streets, down alleyways and climbed the 60 steps up to our apartment.  We listened intently to the Spanish being spoken around us which was far easier to understand that the dialect spoken in Panama. In the apartment we closed the shutters blocking out the light and noise of the outside world before heading off to sleep.  Eager to rest up and explore more of this fabulous city called Barcelona again the next day.....along the gringo trail.

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