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Trip Report Crowded but Beautiful Barcelona with a Half Day in Zurich

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I always appreciate the information that is garnered from this forum, so I think the least I can do is give back. I am using the information straight from my Blog, but hopefully it will be of some use.

Who: DH, DD (12) and me
When Dec 26-Jan 2
We left JFK on Christmas at 5:45. It was a very pleasant time to travel.
We stayed at the Renaissance, Pau de Claris) on Points. The location was great. We are walkers, we clocked 45 miles on this trip. We only took a cab twice (plus to and from the airport). We never used the metro or buses.
I used my Spanish a lot, especially in the taxis.

I think the photos can be viewed here:
http://www1.snapfish.com/snapfish/share/p=134481420736759819/l=9099789012/g=81198185/cobrandOid=1000/otsc=SYE/otsi=SAER

We arrived at Barcelona at 7:20 AM, in the dark! I was a bit disappointed that I didn't get the opportunity to look out the window over the Spanish countryside the last hour of the flight but, C'est la vie... Immigration was the easiest we have ever experienced and customs was nonexistent, literally. Everybody exited the arrivals terminal through the "Nothing to Declare" lane. Even if I had begged to declare something, anything, there wasn't a soul there to hear my pleas. Perhaps it was because it was the morning after Christmas but it was unlike anything we have ever experienced and even Jenny was still commenting about it later on.
Unlike Buenos Aires where you are warned and warned again to not take a taxi from the airport that you haven't already booked inside the terminal, in Barcelona that's not the case. In fact, they have a dedicated "Exit to Taxi" area. There were lines roped off but not a soul there so we hopped into the first taxi waiting. Our driver was a nice elderly man who spoke not a word of English so it was good that I could communicate in Spanish. Once we got the address of the hotel all figured out, we were off! He and I had a nice conversation about Catalonia and how they want to secede from the rest of Spain but he believes it will never happen. We drove past the old bull fighting ring and he told us that bullfighting had been outlawed in Catalonia (I had read this previously as the Catalonians felt it was a way to distance themselves from the rest of Spain). He said the arena was now a shopping mall of sorts with stores and restaurants (of course Jenny thought we should check it out). We made it in no time to our hotel as the streets were mostly deserted. We checked In, luckily they had a room ready, and we all crashed for the next six hours! If it wasn't for Jenny crashing right along side of us, I dare to question whether Billy and I are... wait for it... just getting old...(shudder...)!

I never sleep on airplanes if I am in the back. We travel a lot on miles and typically fly business or first on long haul flights but this was not one of those times. I got awesome tickets for RT 40,000 miles per person so I decided to suck it up and I figured it would be OK since the flight left at 5:45, I wouldn't be too sleepy (i.e. miserable) on the flight. That was true except for it killed me (us) on arrival day...

By 5:00, we eventually rallied, showered and headed out the block or so to Passeig de Gracia ( the Champs d'Elyssee, if you will). As soon as we entered from the narrow side street onto this wide boulevard, Jenny was the first to gasp, "Wow! Look at that building!" It was one of Gaudi's buildings and a real treat for the eyes. The intrigue was short lived as after a few pictures, we were all bemoaning the hunger pangs we were having as it had been close to 20 hours since we had last eaten. The decision was made to find food, and something decent. The only problem was, unbeknownst to us, we were now in between Spanish meal times. We decided to return the block and a half to the hotel, grab some tapas and wine to hold us over and wait out the opening dinner time of most local restaurants at 8:00. Not the best idea as by that time, we were all exhausted and while we had a nice dinner, it was a bit of a struggle to get through it.

Dinner was at Restaurant 336, across from the hotel. It is highly recommended but we thought it just OK. Granted, as mentioned, we were exhausted. The price was great, the service was very good, the chef/owner was delightful but I thought the food was a bit oily. I had grilled octopus, very good and then a whole "dover sole" which I don't really think it was.

So, our first day in Barcelona was beyond uneventful but still a part of our trip. We hope to wake well rested tomorrow and head out to discover what awaits us in this intriguing city. We may even do like the real tourists do and take the the HOHO Bus...shudder AGAIN!

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    So sometimes I think I have great ideas and many times I do, but of course there are those times when my ideas go awry. 3:30 this morning our hotel room sounded like this:
    Jenny- "ACHOO"
    Me-"Bless you"
    Billy-"Thank you"
    Followed by a few giggles.
    Realizing we are all wide awake and it is only 3:30, I have the idea that we could all take a Benadryl (Jenny is a bit stuffed up anyway) and it will help us go back to sleep and get on the correct time. Well it worked, a bit too well. Coupled with the fact that Billy had pulled the black out shades closed all the way, we didn't wake up until 11:30! So by the time we were up and dressed we were sitting down for brunch at a lovely little French Bistro (Cafe Emma) by 1:00.
    Oh well, we would make the most of our half day.

    We decided to head to an area know as Barri Gotic, the Gothic quarter and the oldest part of the city, to check out the old cobblestoned winding streets and alleyways, the cathedral and the Museu d'Historia de la Ciutat. Upon entering the Passeig de Gracia we were enveloped into a sea of people. Never have we seen so many people in one place at one time, think Time Square on New Year's Eve. It was insane! In hindsight, we should have gone the other direction into areas further afield but we didn't and so we snaked in and out of the shoppers and day trippers on our way to the old town.
    Barri Gotic is a really neat area. It's winding passages lead from one to another and one is never quite sure where they are. The buildings are too tall to keep an elevated landmark in sight so one just has to hope they have a decent sense of direction. Jenny was amazed when she turned around at one point and saw a car behind us asking, "THIS is an actual road?" We had a good laugh at the thought of me trying to maneuver my Suburban through this maze.
    We managed to find our way to the cathedral and were all too happy to pay the 6 Euro entry fee to escape the hordes of people outside. Walking in, we recognized the sanctuary that the cathedral was and were awed by the magnificence surrounding us. Every city we visit, we go into their churches. You don't have to be spiritual or religious in order to appreciate the stunning architecture and art that is often found there. Even the most simplest of places of worship, such as the mission on the Acoma Reservation, stuns. This cathedral left us breathless. The main part of the cathedral was started in 1298 and finished in 1450- Jenny and I put that into perspective as some 42 years before Columbus sailed to the Americas. The outside facade however, was newer, having been finished in the 19th century. We admired the 28 side chapels with all of their art and stained glass, the outdoors of the cloisters and the music bellowing from the organ pipes; we even rode the lift to the roof for a fabulous view of the city. As always, Jenny and I lit a candle (or as in this case it ended up being 20 candles as they were electric and we only had a 2 Euro coin hence giving us 20 candles) in memory of our dearly departed family and friends. It was two hours well spent and enjoyed by all.
    Upon leaving, we decided to stop for some hot chocolate for Jenny and a beer for us before heading to the museum. This was our first encounter with Catalonian hot chocolate. A cup of thick, dark, semi liquid deposited in front of Jenny, was served as "hot chocolate," much to Jenny's amazement. She had the brilliant idea then to ask for a croissant to go with it so she could dip it into the cup of dark deliciousness, as well as a water to wash it all down!
    Next stop was the Museum. This is a small museum and is really only known for the Roman ruins that are found underneath- the most extensive, well preserved subterranean Roman ruins in the world! It was quite fascinating touring through this, crossing on the catwalks that hover above an ancient city dating back well into BC. Upstairs, there is a small exhibit hall that at this time had an exhibit on Latvia during WWII and the suffering of the Jewish people at the hands of Hitler.
    After leaving the museum, we meandered our way back through the labyrinth of people and streets, stopping along the way in a few shops, finally making our way to a Tapas place (Irati) I had heard about as being quite good. We entered only to find that it was a standing only bar. We had all been on our feet on the hard ground for a while and, Jenny especially, wanted to take a load off. I suggested we go and try and find another place but when the waitress walked past with two platters of pintxos (one a small sausage on a slice of baguette and the other a croquette of some sort), Jenny soon forgot her aching back and said she was in, apparently she was more hungry than she was tired of standing. The bartender couldn't have been nicer. He filled us in on how the whole pintxos bar works-he gives you a plate and you self serve from the myriad of platters that are lining the bar. Each individual pintxos has a toothpick in it which you pull out and save and when you are all done, he adds them up, 1.95 Euro a piece. 24 toothpicks later, and a couple glasses of the house vino tinto, we had had a fabulous meal at Irati and were back out on the streets, which somehow seemed to be even more crowded than before. We planned on making another stop for hot chocolate and churros at a famous restaurant but as we rounded the corner, there was a line about 30 deep. We ended up stopping at another place, who's line was about 20 deep but were able to take them to go and not have to wait.
    We enjoyed the things we did today but the hordes of people made it a bit difficult to fully appreciate the parts of the city we saw. One can't really stop and admire the surroundings without fear of being run over from behind. Tomorrow, we hope, will be a bit different, but if not, we will definitely move to the outskirts.

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    Heading out this morning, we recognized that not only was it sunny, but it was considerably warmer even though there was a heavy wind. Today was left up to Jenny to decide what she would like to do and she said she wanted to walk along the beach. No problem. We plotted a course off the main shopping streets, in case the crowds were out again, and headed for the beach via the 44 acre city park.
    Our walk down the Passeig de Sant Joan was lovely. The apartment buildings are each remarkable in their own right with the gargoyles, iron work and tile work grabbing one's attention. The boulevard was lined with palm trees and magnolias that were providing shelter to hundreds of squawking green parrots that have built their massive stick nests in them.
    The first large landmark we came to was the Arc de Triomf (and yes, it looks very similar to the one in Paris). From here we headed down a large, pedestrian-only parkway, past the Palace of Justice and on to the Parc de la Ciutadella. Upon entering the gates, I could see a golden chariot just rising above the palm trees and suggested we head in that direction. As we came through the trail, we entered a large plaza at the base of an enormous cascade, topped by the magnificent gilded chariot that emptied into a large pool. The plaza was filled with locals enjoying the beautiful day. Immediately inside the plaza was a gazebo where couples were dancing, in a formal Spanish style, in what appeared to be some sort of spontaneous dance party. Their jackets and shopping bags were piled high in the middle while they all danced around the pile to the music coming forth from an 80s style tape player. Even couples that were jogging by, stopped and started dancing together. It was a smile-inducing moment, where we each looked at each other and simply said, "Wow."
    The rest of the plaza was filled with families and couples and surprisingly few tourists.
    There was a vendor there dipping a rope into soap, then pulling it through the air creating giant bubbles that all the children would then chase madly until they popped...sometimes on some poor unsuspecting person's head...such fun! We strolled leisurely through the park, snapping many pictures and admiring the various sculptures that were mixed in with the gardens. Jenny contemplated continuining on to the zoo but decided she could see most of the animals there back home as she really wanted to step foot on the Mediterranean again.
    As we were making our way down towards the beach, we came across the southern railroad station where a flea market/art show was taking place. We stopped in and had a look around. The train station itself was enormous as well as quite impressive and the antiques and art only added to the appealing environment.
    From there we decided on having a small bite to eat and settled on a tapas place we came across that I had also read about (Taller de Tapas). We enjoyed the break, including the cava, beer and delicious tapas and not long after were back up and entering the area known as Barceloneta. This is where the marinas are located and we couldn't help but gawk at the yachts that rivaled those we saw in Monte Carlo. There was a temporary market set up along the sidewalk with booths selling delicious food items including meats, cheeses, candies, wines, olives and flavored honey from the Pyrenes as well as churros and hot chocolate.
    Of course we all indulged- Jenny with the candies and churros and Billy and I with a glass of cava each. We were all in Heaven walking along the marina, enjoying the blissfully sunny day.
    When we finally reached the terminus of Barceloneta on the beach boardwalk, Jenny's face lit up as she ran for the sand. We all enjoy a city, and Lord knows that my girl loves to shop, but when it really comes down to it, we are nature people. We love everything Mother Nature has to offer us but most especially the water. It doesn't matter how small a body it is, we love it...BUT throw in the sounds of waves crashing on a beach and the chatter from seagulls, and we are done-good to go. Today was no different. The Mediterranean was as blue as blue could be with waves rising to the perfect crest before breaking into a fierce whitewash that threatened to take you off your feet if you ventured to close.
    Jenny has a new travel ritual in that any time we travel to a new beach destination, she draws a heart in the sand and writes the name of the place inside the heart. Today was no different, though it took three tries for her to scribble it, photograph it, and run before the waves got her, but after quite a few laughs, she finally succeeded! We loitered on the beach for a while, watching the surfers and giggling at the tourists trying to take selfies while getting their shoes and pants soaked by the waves they had foolishly turned their backs on.
    We had planned on taking the sky tram across to the other side but by the time we got there, it had closed...by two minutes. Argh!
    So instead, our return trip brought us back through the outskirts of the old town. The architecture in Barcelona is truly amazing. No two buildings look alike and each leaves you wondering what the original purpose was. We came across the Palau de Musica, an absolutely magnificent building, and while it had grown dark by now, from what we could see, it looked amazing! Hungry and a bit tired from the roughly five miles we had already walked, I found a small tapas place (El Bitxo) down an alleyway directly across from the Palau de Musica that had some open seats and I decided we needed a break. The building was built in 1796 and the inside was fantastic, showing evidence of its centuries of use-it was small and cozy and just the right ambience for us. Of course, wouldn't you know that the bartender/owner turned out to be a Dutchman (Jan), from the northern part of the country and of course as the Dutch are-couldn't have been nicer. He made a point of telling us that if we needed anything for the duration of our time to come and find him there and he would help us out. We enjoyed a delicious cheese and ham plate and a few glasses of wine for us and coffee for Jenny ( her new favorite drink). We also enjoyed a nice chat with a couple who was seated at the bar. He was an American, she was Polish but lives part time in Barcelona. She is a photographer, who uses a camera straight out of the middle of the last century and was kind enough to show Jenny how it worked.
    Some people might say we didn't see anything today. And while it's true, we didn't go into a museum or take a formal tour, we spent the day more like a local. In fact, today was a wonderful day. We felt more immersed in the culture here and are beginning to settle in. We enjoyed the park and the beach and loved being able to actually admire the architecture without feeling like we were going to get run over from the mobs of people behind us. Barcelona is a fantastic walking city, much like Paris and London are and it is fun exploring the various neighborhoods. We aren't sure where we are headed tomorrow. We have talked about a day trip. Billy suggested Andorra, that was until our Dutch friend Jan said that was a fantastic idea, we could rent skis and go skiing. There are still plenty of places in Barcelona itself that we have yet to see so we will see what tomorrow brings.

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    Don't know if anybody is reading but the next installment...

    When we drove into the city from the airport, we passed by a large circular building that our driver said had been the bull fighting arena but had been converted into a shopping mall a few years ago. Of course, that intrigued Jenny and she asked if we could return there. With that in mind, we tied that into our plan for the day- a walk down one of the main avenues to the arena/mall and Placa d'Espanya, past the Magic Fountain to the top of Montjuic, through its environs and back down to the flatlands following La Rambla back to the hotel. A full day planned, even though once again we didn't make it out the door of the hotel until noon.
    The walk to the arena took us out of the main tourist areas and as such was a pleasant one. The pedestrian walkway that centered the road was lined with trees and benches. Billy was so taken by the fact that every bench was filled with "mature" Barcelonians, bundled up for the chillier temperatures, just hanging out watching the world go by.
    Upon reaching the arena, we noticed an external elevator that took you up to the roof to give you a 360 degree view of Barcelona-quite spectacular! Once inside, the mall was certainly nice, but it would have been nicer to actually view the original arena but one could imagine what it would have been like to view a bullfight from so high up with crowds of thousands cheering.
    We left the mall, making our way to Parc Montjuic, a hilly area of Barcelona that had originally been the site of a castle and prison built in 1640. More recently, it was developed for the 1929 International Exhibition and the 1992 Olympics.
    As we made our way to the"Magic Fountain-" an enormous cascade that flows from way high on the Mount all the way down to the main road, We were disappointed to see that the water was not on. Apparently they only run it on Fri, Sat and Sun... Argh!!!
    Not to be deterred, we continued on, climbing the stairs past the flat fountains with our final destination being the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, almost to the top of Montjuic. As we neared it, Jenny came hurrying back down the stairs towards me with a look of slight terror on her face. As I looked up at her, I could see a group of women on the next landing moving around with clipboards in their hands.
    I had read about these groups and had warned Jenny and Billy of these people yesterday as we had encountered three of them in the City Park but today there was 8 or 10 of them, waiting to pounce on you as you reached the landing.
    Billy and Jenny had been ahead of me as I was lagging behind shooting pictures, but upon encountering the women, Jenny turned around to come and warn me. We firmly made our way through, Jenny putting her hand up and creating a barrier between herself and them. A good lesson about how to protect your personal space. Too bad the few other unsuspecting and unknowledgeable folks didn't do as we did, as we layer watched from above as they not only taken for money but robbed...
    The views from the top were breathtaking with the sun getting lower in the sky, casting a golden hue on the brightly colored buildings and the mountains in the background. The museum and even the empty fountains were truly magnificent. We soaked up the sheer beauty of it all, all the while enjoying the music of a classical guitar player trying to earn a few Euros, which Jenny was more than happy to help him do!
    From here we meandered on through the park making our way to an old quarry that had been turned into a Greek amphitheater in the 20s. We marveled at how we could hear Jenny down on the stage practically whispering even though we were up on the top row.
    Continuing on we made our way past some of the 1992 Olympic venues and dropped back into town in the Poble Sec area. We wandered back to the waterfront, passing by the original walls that had surrounded Barcelona and a 14th century door (really more like a fortified gate over an old moat) that had been an original access point inside the walls. We past the Maritine museum, peaking through the windows and oohing at the replica Spanish galleon that filled an enormous exhibition hall and on past a monument to Columbus.
    From there we turned north up La Rambla, the overly crowded, exceptionally touristy, pedestrian street that is a haven for both street performers and pickpocketers. Jenny had loved the street performers that lined the Thames when we were in London so I knew that she would enjoy this as well, and she did!
    A quick stop in the Placa d'Reil for some refreshments and the beautiful display of Christmas lights and we were on our way again. I recognized the area we had been a few nights previous, where we stood and had pinxtos and we decided to grab a quick snack there. Delicious again, we continued on for churros but got sidetracked at the stunning 14th century, Iglesia Santa Maria del Pi. We had seen it previously,actually twice, but both times it was mobbed with people however thankfully tonight it was not.
    Wow, wow, wow is all I can say. The cathedral had been spectacular but the simple, humble elegance of this church just grabbed me. Jenny and I lit a few candles-one for Baba and one for baby Greyson and then made our way out to meet Billy who was across the plaza at the knife store.
    Realizing we were getting tired, we had gone about 7 miles by now, we decided to stop for dinner at a tapas place we passed by.
    The restaurant was very artsy, the food good (no more) and the waiter a bit frenzied, to say the least. As a matter of fact, when he actually had an extra second he told us just how, "fu**ing crazy" it had been, confirming our feelings about the number of people in Barcelona.
    Walking home, there were many more stores closed than previous nights and we could finally lay eyes on all the famous Barcelona "street art." There are some real fine artists out there for sure!
    Another great day today for us. Billy commented on how it has been nice that we have had no real plans and have pretty much walked out the door and let time and hunger lead us. He said it's nice that we stumble upon things that we wouldn't otherwise have seen, had we been following a strict itinerary. Jenny and I both happen to think he is right!

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    I'm reading too and enjoying, so please continue! For what it's worth, I have gone on a few European trips where, with the help of Tylenol PM, which I need to fight jet lag, I have slept in late every single day. Hey, it's a vacation, right?

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    Great report! And as Danon says, I've neither experienced this kind of crowds in any of my visits to Barcelona.

    And
    <Immediately inside the plaza was a gazebo where couples were dancing, in a formal Spanish style, in what appeared to be some sort of spontaneous dance party. Their jackets and shopping bags were piled high in the middle while they all danced around the pile to the music coming forth from an 80s style tape player>

    you were obviously seeing the very traditional Catalan Sardana, danced around town in certain places and at certain hours all the time: http://www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/cultural/dancing/catalan-dancing-sardana.html
    Great video of the weekly dancing in front of the cathedral: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuvhaLUpubU

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    danon and kimhe- Glad you are reading along. I couldn't get over the crowds. There are a few pics of all the people in my photos so you can see I am not really exaggerating! :) The interesting things was I asked one of the clerks in the large department store (which seemed like a Black Friday crowd) and she said oh this is nothing, you should be here in the summer.

    kimhe-I watched your video and while neat as that is, these people were dancing as couples, not in one large circle, though I would have loved watching the Sardana as well. They did have their coats and bags piled in the middle like in the video and no band, just the recorder. I am sure that is lovely to see in real life.

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    I absolutely believe you, just not my experience.
    (except for the lineups in front of some major sites )
    I was in Madrid during the National holiday weekend - some streets around Mayor were really
    crowded. I assume , a lot of visitors to big cities come Spain ( and Europe) during the Christmas break.

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    Our morning started off like all the others so far...very slow. By the time we headed out for the day it was 12:30. It was another glorious day in Barcelona but a bummer for me as I had lost my sunglasses. Of course it wouldn't really be a trip if we didn't lose something! Good news is though that Billy had a spare for me!
    We headed in the other direction today, towards the Gracia section of town. Our destinations were to be two UNESCO World Heritage sites, with a pass by a third, Gaudi's La Padrera. La Padrera is a truly fascinating building with rounded corners and balconies surrounded by wrought iron railings that looked like seaweed floating in the water.
    It was a long walk from there to our first destination but it was very enjoyable as we passed through the Gracia neighborhood. We came to the local market which was really fantastic. Really there was not a tourist to be seen and it was as authentic and local as it gets-almost too much so as poor Jenny was quite upset to see all the dead little piggies hanging...But, besides that, what a nice surprise it was as I hadn't even seen it on the map and we literally stumbled upon it by luck- isn't that just what Billy was saying yesterday?
    Our first destination was the Hospital Sant Pau, declared a UNESCO site in 1997 but has been closed for refurbishing since then and only opened in Feb 2014. I had read some about it before and basically all the reviews said, "Go go go." There are not many times in our travels that Billy literally has his mouth drop open but today was one of those rare instances when it happened. He kept asking along the long walk, "So we are going to an old hospital?" and I kept trying to explain exactly what it is but I gave up after a while. Needless to say, after we arrived at the building, and walked inside, Billy just kept saying, "Wow, wow, wow!" and that is exactly the way to describe it.
    The site was built between 1902 and 1930 by Luis Montaner, the same designer of the Palau de Musica. His thought was to build a hospital where the patients could feel relaxed with beautiful artistic spaces and open air gardens where they could convalesce- a new way of thinking for the time. The 16 buildings are spectacular, all made from brick with beautiful mosaic tiles decorating the roofs and chimneys as well as the inside ceilings and walls. It appears as though it is a cross between a Moorish town and a Disney attraction.
    One of the nicest things about this site was there were hardly any tourists there. They haven't discovered it...yet. It's too new to be in any of the guidebooks and only those people who use the Internet travel forums really know about it. We had a most pleasant hour and a half there, shooting pictures as well as walking the beautiful grounds and gawking at the incredibly tiled rooms and public spaces. This was an absolute highlight for all three of us!
    We had an hour or so before the timed entry into our next destination so we decided to stop at a creperia just down the street, and it did not disappoint. The crepes-dark chocolate for Jenny and ham and cheese for Billy, were delish!
    Our next destination was the famous Sagrada Familia designed by Gaudi. We had seen it from all over the city and it had looked enormous from no matter where we stood but nothing prepared us for just how large it was when we we we standing underneath it. For that matter, nothing had prepared us for just how ornate (really over-the-top) a building it was, or how it made you sit and wonder what in the world was Gaudi thinking? In fact, everything about the building is thought provoking-why so big? why so highly decorative that it leaves one unable to focus on any one particular aspect of the building? how unbelievably insightful he was to think of the sun and its role in the windows and their reflections, etc. The odd thing was, I felt more like I was standing on the set of a Batman movie in Gotham City, than in the middle of one of the most famous religious sites in Europe. It certainly didn't evoke the same feelings I get when I walk into the old churches and cathedrals. Even Jenny commented that the people weren't even being respectful by whispering and she was surprised we could use flash photography. It certainly felt built for the tourists, though I know that was not Gaudi's intention.
    Even so, of course we were all snap happy and trying hard to take it all in, even amidst the throngs of people. Billy suggested we stay until the exterior lights were turned on at 6:00 and what a fabulous idea that was as ten minutes before closing the organ came on...brilliant is all I can say! Our times entry had been for 4:45 and by this time, at this time of year, the sun was much lower in the sky shining through the huge stained glass windows which then reflected on the ceilings and the columns giving an almost Grateful Dead vibe to the inside. (Again, photos show this). The crowds definitely thinned out to as it got later so not a bad time to go.
    We always seek out UNESCO sites wherever we travel to and today certainly did not disappoint. The contrast between the two sites today and what they draw out of people has been interesting to reflect on. The Hospital was so quiet with the majority of people really seeming to think of the purpose behind its development while La Sagrada Familia seemed to be more of a wonderment and an amusement. Each provide their own fulfilment to one's interests however ours clearly lied with the first.

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    >>>(Irati) I had heard about as being quite good. We entered only to find that it was a standing only bar<<<

    Haven't been there in a few years, but they used to have tables in the back where you could sit.

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    Today turned out to be more of a leisurely day than one of plans or itineraries. We had originally thought we were going to Montserrat but by the time we felt like we had the logistics figured out, we also felt like it was too late for a decent visit and we also worried we would be in trouble coming back into the city via train on New Year's Eve, seeing as the train station is directly under where the biggest party of the year was going to be (the Magic Fountains).
    We had a quiet morning and didn't even leave the hotel until 1:00. We decided to go into the last area of the old town that we had not visited. We were headed to the Palau de Musica to buy tickets for the evening performance of Straus' music and dancing but by the time we got there, the seats that had been available on line, were gone..lesson learned. I wanted to see the marketplace and perhaps the Picasso Museum but the museum closed at 2:00 today so that was out of the possibilities.
    As we walked into La Ribera, Billy became a bit apprehensive the deeper we got into the maze of "roadways." Many shops had closed early for the New Year's Eve celebration and so there was a lot of "Barcelona street art" (AKA graffiti) on the pull down metal security covers, making it feel like we were walking into an exceptionally derelict area.
    When we came out at my anticipated destination, "St Catherine's Marketplace," Billy was finally feeling a little better. The marketplace was fantastic, even better than yesterday's! I am always amazed at the variety of items available and this time was no different. Jenny and I counted 18 tomato varieties at one stand alone-can you imagine? AND this is December...Crazy!!!! There were stands with twenty different sausages and 10 different hams, fish of every size and kind, frozen pasta in every color of the spectrum and in every shape that not even Gaudi could have imagined. There were spices and nuts and dried fruits, side by side with canned seafood items and olives of every variety imaginable. It was a sensual overload but oh so pleasing!
    I insisted we have lunch at one of the tapas places connected to the market because really, could it get any fresher? Our lunch outside was delicious and we really enjoyed it at a leisurely pace. After lunch, Jenny and I went into a shop connected to the marketplace that stocked locally made pottery and I happily left with two new items.
    From there we had no plans and decided to wander our way back to the hotel through the labyrinth of streets. We stopped for churros and hot chocolate at a pop and son owned establishment, the best we have had so far we think. The son told me that the recipe was his mother's and I congratulated her on an excellent one. We actually had a lot of fun talking to the pair and their pal who came in shortly after us. There were loads of laughs, much of it in Spanish, and I did my best to translate on both fronts. Just about every Spaniard we have encountered thus far has been exceptionally friendly.
    There is certainly one thing we have learned about the Spaniards and that is... they can shop. Holy Cow, do they shop. Every day since we have been here, the hordes of people have been out in full force-shopping! Billy and I were trying to understand it. How is it they can put the Americans to such shame? Our stores and shopping malls are never like this except for maybe Black Friday, but the sales gal told me that this was nothing, It's twice as bad in summer. I honestly can't imagine how that's possible.
    As we continued to fight the crowds (granted we were headed up towards Passeig de Gracia) we tried to find a place to eat but everything was either closed or preparing for the celebration later or jam packed. Once on Passeig de Gracia, I saw a restaurant that I had heard our concierge mention previously as a new place to eat and he had recommended it, so in we went. The National is a very cool concept in an even cooler building but its execution falls a bit short. This is a very large space that has been divided up into smaller eating areas (based on food type) and different bars. Perhaps it was our waitress, by far the rudest and most indifferent we had come by in Spain, but everything was painfully slow and seemed too much for her, so we had a drink and left.
    By the time we made it to the hotel, now 7:30, Jenny was exhausted-all that shopping really got her and her tummy was bugging her. We knew she was just hungry so she had a plate of cheese and pan con tomate and went upstairs to take a shower and go to bed. Billy and I stayed downstairs, had a pretty yummy dinner, shared a bottle of wine and chatted about our trip. I had read that Barcelona usually does a big fireworks display but I had also read that the city hadn't really committed to it yet for this year so I had asked the concierge if there would be any fireworks and her response was "maybe"- not very helpful. So, thinking there was no reason to stay up and knowing we wanted to get moving tomorrow for Montserrat, we went to bed-before midnight, a first for me on this trip.
    Morning came and Jenny informed us that she actually saw the fireworks last night from her bed. She said they were huge. She even managed to take a few pictures. She also said how fantastic it was that at midnight, all the church bells rang-good for her ringing in the New Year in Barcelona.

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    kimhe-I would definitely spend more time there. It's funny that even with seven days, it feels like we only skimmed the surface, but granted, I suppose it was really seven half days.

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    We woke with all intentions of getting out of here on time to catch an early train to Montserrat but you know what they say, "Even well laid plans..." The cab driver couldn't have driven slower (we just about walked there faster the other day), the ticket machine would not take our credit card without a pin- sending us running back to the streets trying to find an ATM to get enough cash and of course, when it was all said and done and we were sitting on the bench, now locked inside the terminal we had already entered, to catch the train we missed, we realized we had had enough money to begin with but the lady helping out steered us in the wrong direction...oh well!
    The hour train ride to Montserrat was a nice enough one through a portion of the countryside, following a beautiful clean and clear river for at least a quarter of the way. As you get further into the countryside, the mountains of Montserrat come into view. They are majestic yet different than the majority of mountains we have experienced. These mountains are rounded and lumpy, not angular and cut like the mountains of Patagonia or the Tetons of Wyoming. Each peak leads into the next one allowing for one's imagination to "see" different images within them-think Snoopy, a dinosaur and an elephant's butt. They appear soft and inviting, not hard and threatening,
    Once we arrived at the Montserrat station our next step was to take a cable car up the 2000 foot vertical face to get to the monastery. The cable car holds 35 passengers and takes about 4 minutes or so to make the ascent up the sheer rock face (we joked that Nana would not have been happy!) Once at the monastery, we of course were hungry so Jenny and Billy went and bought a hunk of cheese from a local farmer who was set up selling their goods, and I secured a couple of baguettes with iberico ham from the cafeteria. We sliced cheese from the chunk, added it to our sandwiches and happily munched away.
    The mountains above the monastery are accessible by taking a funicular up even further. There are hiking trails that bring you to outpost chapels and hermit caves, as well as various vantage points and statues. It was another beautiful day so we decided to continue up to the top before going into the monastery.
    The views from the top were breathtaking. Of course, we didn't really know what we were looking at, but the countryside below us, in all directions, was beautiful and we could see all the way to the Mediterranean, as well as the snow capped Pyrennes. Spectacular! One could certainly understand why this area was originally chosen by monks to live the life of a hermit-peaceful, thought provoking and forcing one to have dependence on one's self.
    We enjoyed a short walk along the ridge one way and then decided that it best to head the other way in hopes of getting a great view of the monastery which was now below us. We saw a sign that said we could return by foot to the monastery in about 35 minutes so we opted for that route instead of returning by the funicular. The route down was steep- I mean thigh-burning, knee-aching steep! BUT the views were great. I will say, that I did not envy the people we passed huffing as they were headed up the mountain. All I could think was, I hope those poor souls knew what they were getting into, otherwise they were sold a bill of goods, cause did I mention it was steep? AND can you imagine some people were actually pushing strollers-up? I would have been terrified my baby would have ended up with shaken baby syndrome...Crazy!!
    Once back at the monastery, we headed towards the basilica. The basilica is relatively new in the grand scheme of basilicas in Europe. It was built in the 1860s as the original one had been destroyed by Napolean's Army in 1811-1812. I had read that Montserrat in general can be consumed by crowds of people so we were thankful that while there were plenty of people, it was not overwhelming- not like the streets of Barcelona. Billy kept commenting that the entire place was like being on the set of a James Bond movie; perhaps because so many of the Bond flicks are set in these remarkable locations. As we entered the atrium, Jenny saw candles for sale and asked if we could purchase a few, which of course we did. We first entered the main part of the Basilica which was gorgeous. The nave was certainly the focal point with the famed "Black Madonna" being displayed high, high above with a line of people waiting to go and touch her hand. This was also the only religious site we had been to in Barcelona that has a tradition of having "candles" (really oil lamps) hanging. These weren't just any old oil lamps, each one was a piece of art, completetly unique in its own right. We lit our candles for Baba, Bru and Baby Greyson and walked around the outside some more. We headed back to the cable car for the journey back to Barcelona by 5:30 and was able to get ahead of most of the people. A tip would be to return by the cog railway as its train station is further up the tracks then the station that picks up from the aerial tram. We had an hour to kill down at the station and there is nothing to do there. I was glad I had stopped in the cafeteria and bought a small bottle of wine and grabbed two cups. We sat, sipped wine, shivered and marveled at the monastery looming high above us!
    I had remembered reading that the Magic Fountains, the ones that were off a few days before, were going to have a special show on Jan 1 and since the train station was underneath this area, I suggested we pop our heads up to see if the fountains would be on instead of continuing on the metro to the hotel. Boy, am I glad we did because not only were they ALL on, but five minutes after we arrived, a fantastic light show started with the large main fountain changing colors from red to blue to aqua to pink to yellow to green etc, and shooting jets of all intensities, some straight up in the air at least fifty feet. It was absolutely mesmerizing and a fantastic way for our wonderful trip to Barcelona to come to and end!

    Thoughts: I never felt nervous at all. The thousands of women walking around had their purses hanging on their shoulders. There were hundreds of people walking around with their SLR cameras, we never saw anything except the girls trying to get you to sign their petitions.

    Barcelona is a fantastic walking city. The people were wonderful. If you don't have any Spanish skills, they at least tried hard with English (unlike everywhere we were when in Provence). I found the city very reasonable for going out and having drinks and dinner. The city was the cleanest large city I have ever been to. There were street sweepers, washers and cleaners everywhere. There wasn't a shred of evidence at the Magic Fountains of the thousands of people that were there only hours before. Taxis were easy to come by and all metered.
    The Spaniards smoke...A LOT! And while it wasn't an issue inside restaurants, you couldn't sit outside and enjoy the patios and terraces without getting smoked out. Even walking the streets could lead to coughing fits.

    All in all we enjoyed Barcelona immensely but we know we are nature lovers. We have been ruined by Patagonia and so it is difficult to ever feel the passion about a place now that we do for those Southern wild lands.

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    >>>Boy, am I glad we did because not only were they ALL on, but five minutes after we arrived, a fantastic light show started with the large main fountain changing colors from red to blue to aqua to pink to yellow to green etc, and shooting jets of all intensities, some straight up in the air at least fifty feet. <<<

    That reminds me I took some video of the fountains several years ago, but don't recall every looking at it. I'll have to figure out what I did with it as I remember taking video in the boqueria also.

    Here's a couple of pics I took of the fountains.

    https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xpa1/v/t1.0-9/1917372_102176586472006_7809649_n.jpg?oh=c041697fef514915456f5b95c03d94be&oe=5526F033&__gda__=1429624835_5e3181c3e6394317e988f2e83752913b

    https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xpa1/v/t1.0-9/1917372_102176589805339_5913004_n.jpg?oh=8426ae8d7f1ef0f34b4ca79e17ca3391&oe=556A04AF&__gda__=1428483743_2dbc15ebbddaf3afa4c2dc10e56a4daa

    https://scontent-b-atl.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xpa1/v/t1.0-9/1917372_102176593138672_3987433_n.jpg?oh=d4c09075987569093073761f91fa3b4f&oe=556CE564

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