Sunday January 4, 2015
After the first decent sleep since Madeira, I was again up and out early – thankfully an hour later than yesterday and headed back to the Explore Catalunya office for my half-day Barcelona tour. I had gone back and forth on if I should do the half or the full day tour, but in the end, I decided I wanted to take the rest of today to just explore the city if there was anything on the tour that interested me.
Walking to the office, I noticed more and more shops open – wow there is even a Starbucks I completely missed the other night! At the office, I met our tour guide Anna and even saw poor Nico ready to do another tour. He probably had less sleep than I did. A much bigger group this time out – 3 groups of 4 families and then two couples and then me. We had to walk from the office to catch our bus. The fun part was that we headed back to the Hard Rock Café to get our bus. Along the way Anna pointed out things I missed last night. I found it amazing how a tour guide could bring the same area alive. Always get a guided tour of the city folks; it makes all the difference in the world.
We boarded the bus and headed off to our first stop Montjuic. Montjuic is a hill in the southern part of Barcelona and is home to many museums and the Olympic Stadium that hosted the 1992 Summer Games. It was those games that really made me want to visit Barcelona so it felt great to finally see the Olympic cauldron and stadium up close. Along the way up the hill we passed a former bullring that had been turned into a shopping mall. Apparently bull fighting was banned in Catalonia a few years back. Part of the reason is to prevent animal cruelty and the other part is that bullfighting is not a Catalonian tradition, but a Spanish one. Given the pro-independence movement, it was sort of a thumbing of the nose to Madrid. After some great stories by Anna, we reached Montjuic and did a slow drive by of the Olympic stadium as we headed to the lookout point.
Despite Anna still talking, half of the bus went to take photos of the viewpoint before she could tell us what to look at. I chuckled to myself as she just looked amazed. She finished her spiel and let us take 5 minutes to take some photos. They did not disappoint as the weather was spectacular today an all of Barcelona was there for the viewing. Anna pointed out a few places of interest including our next stop, La Sagrada de Familia. Like Andorra the day before, La Sagrada was probably why most of the people were on the tour today. I know I wanted the VIP timed entry ticket! We took the scenic route from Montjuic to LSF with Anna again telling us the history of some of the buildings and the streets that we cruised past. She pointed out old Olympic village apartments, harbor developments and other benefits to Barcelona from the Olympics as well as telling the story of Barcelona’s development from a small village with a wall around it to the big city we see today. Las Ramblas? Totally used to be a river.
Finally at La Sagrada Familia, we left the bus and had to walk a few blocks to the cathedral. Apparently a person not liking bus noise is a worldwide concern. Anna accidentally left our tickets on the bus so as she arranged a rendezvous; this American couple went for coffee and ended up delaying our tour as it took forever. Anna gave them a bad time and instead of rolling with it, the Americans got a bit defensive. I wanted to tell them to chill out, but whatever I let them feel bad. Finally, we headed into the cathedral. Anna didn’t join us, just giving us the time when to return to the bus.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Cathedral. I thought that it would be weird looking (and I was right in places) but overall I was stunned at how awesome the inside of the cathedral looked. It totally did not match my expectations from the outside. I guess its true – don’t judge the cathedral by its cover. I was a little disappointed our tour tickets didn’t include trips to the top of the cathedral (really no time for that) or access into the crypt below, but at least we got to see the main portion of the cathedral and the museum in the basement. I was completely captivated by this tile square so I ended up getting my first real souvenir of the trip along with my usual magnets.
We regrouped with Anna and then headed back to the bus. Our last stop was the Gothic quarter that turns out to be right next to my hotel! We zipped along in the bus almost exactly to where we picked it up in the morning- Plaza Catalunya Anna led us on a tour of the Gothic quarter and showing us the famous squares and government buildings. Among the highlights was the Kings Court archives, the Jewish Quarter, and St James Square where a lot of celebrations and protests are held in the city. Thankfully today it was just a Spanish equivalent of a craft market. This day trip really has helped me appreciate where I was staying and made me wish that I had done this tour on the first day. Oh- to have more time!!
At our final stop we actually walked right past my hotel to the Basilica de Saint Maria del Mar. Anna gave us some instructions for where to have lunch and then told me that if I wanted to go to the Parc Guell she would let me ride on the bus there and then I was on my own. I just needed to be back at the meeting point on time. I quickly toured the church and then headed back to my hotel. I stopped at a little place to have a pizza that was tasty and cheap! I wasn’t the only solo diner in the restaurant so it made me feel better. I popped into the hotel to unload my souvenir from earlier today and then do some quick emails and then decided to take Anna up on her offer and meet the tour group. I picked up a map from the front desk and got instructions on how to take the Metro from Parc Guell back to the hotel. Fresh faced and ready to go, I headed back to meet with the group.
On the bus to Parc Guell, Anna was giving out some more historical info and I felt guilty about listening to it, as I didn’t pay for this part of the tour. When we arrived at the park, I went to get a ticket and discovered it was a time entry to the fee area and I would have to wait two hours in order to get in to see the famous Gaudi landmarks. Anna tried to convince them to let me in with her group, but they were not having any of it. I thanked Anna for the great tour and her offers of assistance and then headed off to the free area of the park to wait. In a way, I was actually glad I had so much extra time in the park. I was tempted to just blow off the fee area since I was essentially burning two hours of my limited time in the city, but I was here and invested so I waited. Turns out, there were some great hiking trails and forested areas. The park was super crowded so they were nice retreats. I made it to the top of the Turó de Tres Creus (Hill of the three crosses), which had spectacular views of the city. Lots of typical park musicians, but it added to the atmosphere along with the totally illegal street vendors.
I had about 30 minutes to kill before my entry when I discovered the free Wi-Fi. The Internet was great at passing the time and then I finally got to go to the Gaudi fee area. It was like the running of the bulls as people raced to take photos of the famous areas. Not being an expert, I sauntered to the mosaic benches to take some photos – one was a recreation of a photo Matt took 20 years previous. I spent about an hour wandering in the fee area and was really impressed with the sculptures and the mosaics and the overall layout of the area. I recommend Parc Guell over the La Sagrada Familia and especially if you can visit on a non-Sunday. Apparently Sunday is the busiest day in the park!
Having my fill and having purchased my magnets, I headed down to the Metro station. It wasn’t that far of a walk and thankfully all down hill. I can see why Anna offered to take me up to the park – it was a steep climb! I took the Metro down to the Plaza Catalunya to do some shopping. I didn’t really need anything, but I wanted to stop into C&A that I last visited in Paris back in 2007. They didn’t have anything that was earth shattering, but I did manage to score some underwear and a pair of pants. I was ready to wear something different on the flight home! After C&A I headed to the Apple Store just to take some photos and steal their Wi-Fi.
Finally, it was time for dinner so I headed back to the hotel to see if I could locate a place for a quick bite to eat. I settled on nothing special (Fast Food) as I was trying to conserve what money I had left and I needed to start packing for tomorrow. I ended up back in the hotel around 9pm and began to get everything ready for the morning. I had to get up at 430 AM because the hotel suggested I leave at 530 to make a 740 train. I thought it was a bit excessive, but I didn’t want to argue with the front desk. I had everything packed and was in bed by 1030pm.
By this time, my neighbors had come back. Without going into graphic detail, let me just say, um, they had a good time. They were actually quite loud and went on a while. Before I knew it, I looked at my phone and it was past midnight. Ugh. This is not going to be a fully awake Josh for my trip home. I finally decided to turn on my music to drown out the sounds of love. They must have finished finally because I fell asleep to snoring from their room.