Friday, June 8, 2012

Barcelona – Catalunya

We woke up in Chefchaouen to learn that the taxi driver strike had been joined by the van drivers. In short, there was no way of getting from the hostel to the bus station, and we had to walk a relatively long distance in the heat with backpacks. Not a good way to start an intercontinental travel day.

For those who haven’t heard, our credit card had been stolen out of a computer system. No money was missing, but the bank canceled the card. As a result, my parents mailed the card to a hostel we already knew to be trustworthy in Seville, Spain. (Thanks, guys!) Our goal was to make it from Chefchaouen, Morocco to Seville in a day, but alas, it was not to be. We ended up spending a night in Algeciras, Spain and caught the train the next day.
We spent two nights in Seville taking care of housekeeping issues. Our malfunctioning 1.5 terabyte external hard-drive was replaced by a 500GB “rugged” drive, I picked up books 3 and 4 of the Game of Thrones series (in English), collected the aforementioned card, found a 78 cent bottle of red and basically took care of things that can only be done once you know a city pretty well.
Finally, we took the AVE (pronounced ah-vay) to Madrid, and caught the connection to Barcelona.
When I was younger I would daydream that Benjamin Franklin would time-travel to this era and I’d get to show him all the cool new things. Cars, computers, there’s a whole new world! The AVE made me feel like he would have.
The Spanish country-side flew by at 200mph as we made our way from the Andalusia region in the south to Madrid. We actually thought we were going to Lisbon, Portugal, but there was a strike, so we changed plans at the last minute and went to Barcelona. The amount of businessmen commuting on the train came as a surprise to me. Imagine living in Seattle and commuting to Portland. On the other hand, if the train’s fast enough, why not?
The Garden Hostel in Seville had given us a recommendation in Barcelona, but when we got there they were renting beds for €37 a night, which was way too much. We later found a terrible hostel for €17, which we stayed at for one night before finding another hostel called “The Garden” that was about 15 minutes outside of city-center on the subway. We ended up really enjoying being a bit outside, as the pubs were full of locals, the prices were halved and we had a chance to blend into a real community as opposed to a place populated by other foreigners.
The best part about that place was the friendly people who were staying there. In fact, on the first night, we heard a story from our friend Dan about a nearby tapas bar that was quite good. €1 wine, tapas under €3, and some unique dishes. He had tried the pig’s ears. He didn’t like them.
Leslie immediately looked at me, “I’m NOT eating pig’s ears!” she said.
The next day we went to the Gaudi park. Gaudi is a famous architect in Barcelona and had been given carte blanche to design and build a park. There were almost no right angles, with fun curves and angles all over the place. The central building was a museum that looked like it could have come directly out of a Dr. Seuss book. That said, it was the most crowded attraction we’ve seen so far on this whole trip. Getting your picture by the central lizard sculpture was a five minute wait in line. We also spent a chunk of time exploring “Ramblas”, which is the central tourist district as well as a place with lots of clothes. Most importantly, there was a sports bar, entitled “Sports Bar” where we got to watch Poland v. Greece.
The next day we explored the beach a bit before making our way to the Gracia neighborhood, which is outside of the tourist zone and a hotbed of activity for local 20 and 30 year olds. We had gotten off the subway in a place that looked pretty dead, but thankfully after a few blocks we found the district. Tapas bars, wine and donor kebab abounded while people drank beer in the many plazas as they didn’t have the money to go inside.
The whole plaza atmosphere has been a lot of fun. Entire city blocks are dedicated to small play areas and brick, so the community has a place to come together to hang out. They’ve become a common eating spot for lunch as we get a baguette, cheese, a lunch meat and some fruit to share from a grocery store.
We returned to the hostel this day and as Leslie wrote the Chefchaouen blog, Bryan snuck off down the street to the tapas bar to catch the last half of Netherlands vs. Denmark. Denmark pulled off a huge upset, but when I returned the only question was, “Did you get the pig’s ears?” No, I didn’t get the pig’s ears
The plan was originally to leave the following day, but we decided to stay one more day in order to see Spain vs. Italy in the Euro Cup in Barcelona. In fact, the entire day turned into a football day as we spent the morning visiting the Nou Camp, which is the home of FC Barcelona. They are arguably the best soccer team in the past 30 years. That night, we headed back to the Gracia district to watch the match, which saw a 1-1 draw between Spain and Italy. We had a tapa called Dad’s Peppers that was a collection of barbequed peppers that were quite good. Most were surprisingly mild. The last one was a doozy. It was a lot of fun, but ended up being a bit more expensive than we wanted so we went back to the tapas place by our hostel for cheap food.
Now this was a very nice little place, but they didn’t speak much English and there was no English menu available. We started with the papas bravas, which was a local dish and the thing we recognized. It was cubed potatoes served with a spiced, garlic mayo and was quite good. I then went to get some more and said, “what do you recommend?” She then spoke very quickly, and I said okay.
Five minutes later the pig’s ears showed up next to some spiced pork chunks.
The pork chunks were great.
Now there wasn’t a bunch of pig’s ears on the plate. They were cut up into bite-sized pieces. The skin of the ear looked like a piece of leather. Next to it was a bit of meat that was actually pretty good, followed by a large layer of fat that tasted like . . . a large layer of fat. We never did figure out which parts we were supposed to eat and which we weren’t, but I was going to try and finish the plate. Leslie saw I wasn’t liking it though, and covered the pig’s ears with the plate from the finished pork chunks so I would stop eating it.
The following day we actually paid an admission fee, which was the cover price to get into Sagalda Familia, which is Gaudi’s masterpiece.
The Sagalda Familia is a church. Construction started in the late 19th century and they are planning on completing the project in 2020. The four exterior facades will have four different architectural styles, although only two are complete as of now. The attention to detail is stunning as every external structure is covered with statues. Internally, there are no plain columns as all of them have been built to resemble trees, with stained glass windows representing different elements letting in light. There is currently one organ inside of the church, though it will have four once completed. We have some pics above.
As it was our last day, we returned from Sagalda Familia to the hostel and realized we had a very long overnight train ahead of us we, so decided we should probably have a meal so we didn’t need to eat on the train. Back to the little tapas place on the corner we went.
We did not order the pig’s ears.
Next stop, Lisbon.

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