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Barcelona 2010

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                                                    |  5 Jun |
6 Jun7 Jun8 Jun9 Jun10 Jun |  11 Jun | 12 Jun |
13 Jul14 Jun15 Jun |

5 June Saturday - Day 1

I landed in Barcelona about 9 am local time (3 am D.C. time), getting about 4 hours of sleep on the plane. and encountered a large crowd at immigration. As luck would have it, my line was the slowest. After about 45 min, I realized why. The woman at the desk was questioning every person incessantly. People ahead were jumping to other lines and getting through quicker, so I did that as well.

Once through, I got cash at an ATM then looked for the train. Instead, I found a bus offering a ride for 5 euros to Catalunya Plaza, a block away from my hotel, so I took it. On the ride, I saw palm trees lining the road, saw mountains in the distance, and heard passengers speaking Spanish. For all I knew, I was in southern California.

After the bus ride, I wandered around before I got my cardinal bearings, and eventually found the hotel. Then I made a plan to see as many free things as I could. My Lonely Planet guidebook gave me a list of free exhibits I could see. First, I checked out Catalunya Plaza, which had some live music and some kind of folk dancing. Then, I walked down La Rambla, which is full of creatively dressed "statue people" looking for handouts, bird sellers, flower sellers, and sketch artists. I wanted to visit this Gaudi mansion called Palau Gruel, but it was closed for restoration until next year. Next, I checked out the Maritime Museum, which was open, but most of the insides were closed off, making it not really worth the 2.50 euros. Next, I went up Monument a Colom, which gave me a good view, but was just a tight ring hallway around the elevator shaft.

After a bite to eat at a doner kebab place, I walked down to explore the port. Brand new buildings housed a giant mall, a movie theater, and an aquarium. I'll have to check out the latter when Jessica arrives. Looking in my guidebook, I saw that Museu d'Historia de la Ciutat was free on the first Saturday of the month from 4 pm to 8 pm. Since, it was nearly, 4 pm, I headed on over. But inside, I was told that the free day was on Sunday. I began to lose trust in good ol' Lonely Planet. Granted, even though the book is new, the content is probably a few years old.

Walking toward a plaza, I heard a man playing a guitar. Since I needed a break, I sat down at an outdoor cafe, ordered a beer, and listened to him play. The haunting, amplified chords echoed amongst the ancient walls. When he took a break, I decided to wander around the narrow, medieval streets of old town, and see what I could find. There were remains of ancient Roman walls, the Catedral, or Cathedral, a set of old Roman columns, and Roman tombs. I also saw several fountains, each with an egg floating on the stream of water squirting up. They seem to like floating eggs around here. Finally I headed back to the hotel.

Along the way, I saw many blue police vans with their blues lights flashing. Figuring that this was not a blue light special, I tried to determine what was happening. The street was closed off, and I heard shouting in the distance. That's when I realized that it must be a protest march in the street. So, I hurried down the street to get ahead of the march. That way, I could see what they were protesting and get some photo/video documentation. They seem to be protesting Club Bilderberg, a conference for political and economic movers and shakers in the world. Feel free to research that topic on your leisure.

For dinner, I eventually found myself at a local diner. It was the kind where the casual guy behind the counter sees you sit down, so he slaps a napkin on the table and tosses a fork and knife in the general direction of the napkin. I ordered the grilled squid and a beer. It was good.

6 June Sunday - Day 2

I decided not to set the alarm last night, so when I woke up, I guessed that it was 7:30 or 8:30 am. When I looked at the clock, it was 12:30 pm! Whoops. Extra sleep is nice, but I should have set my alaram to adapt myself quicker to this time zone.

Well, without a need for breakfast, I headed out to do some sightseeing. It was a drizzling, so I took out my lightweight rain jacket. I walked through the La Ribera neighborhood, passing by the Palau de Musica Catalina (which I avoided entering), the Mercat de Santa Caterina (a market, apparently closed on Sundays). I next headed to the Picasso Museum, which was supposed to be free on Sundays. When I arrived, there was queue of maybe 50 people waiting for entry. I guess it was free, but I decided to avoid the long wait. Instead, I checked out the free pre-Colmbian art museum across the street.

Around 2 pm, I went looking for a lunch spot. At the big plazas, you will find cafes with expensive lunches - tourist prices. I like to avoid walk down the narrow streets and find more reasonable places. I settled on a  small pizzeria selling pizza by the slice. Next, I headed to the large park known as Parc de la Ciutadella. Here, I saw the Parlament de Catalunya, then went to enter the Museu de Ciencies Naturals (Science Museum), but it closed at 2:30 on Sundays. I just missed it. I walked through the park, then down a pedestran avenue toward the Arc de Triomf, Barcelona's attemp to be like Paris.

Following this, I headed back to the hotel to get ready for the opening of the Human Brain Mapping conference. I rode the Metro to the conference center, which was easy enough. After the opening lecture, all 3400 conference attendees rushed forward to get free food and drink. I grabbed a champagne and had some finger food, which consisted mostly of small, fishy-tasting things. There was a Spanish band peforming, so that was nice to hear. But I didn't see anyone to talk to at the reception, so I left early.

That night, after a late dinner, I headed out on foot to find a swing dancing venue I had found online. Although, Google Maps had put me a block away, I eventually found it. It was a small with a small crowd, but I danced with almost all of the follows there and had a good time. I even saw a guy I recognized from swing events in the U.S. He's from Pittsburgh, and is traveling through Europe after attending a conference in Lisbon. Small world.

7 June Monday - Day 3

For the next four days, I will be spending at least 10 hours a day at the conference (9 am to 7 pm), so there will not be anything exciting to report (unless you're really interested in the latest findings on human brain mapping.

In the evening, I went swing dancing for a second time in Barcelona. I had just left a "beach party," where I had spent 45 minutes waiting in line for free food and beer. I decided to give up, and head back to my hotel to pick up my dance shoes. I had to ride the Metro two stops north, then walk several blocks down these ancient, narrow streets until I found the school building where the dance was held.

I entered the dance about 11 pm, one hour into the dance. It was held in a small, stuffy dance studio without any air circulation. Needless to say, after a few dances, I got very sweaty quickly. Nevertheless, there was a good crowd of maybe 40-50 dancers packed into the studio, and many were good at lindy. Though I will say that floor craft was not a skill these Barcelonins understood. I got body-checked a few times by overzelaous leads.

At the end of the night, the DJ announced "la cancion ultima" (last song). He played Basin Street, and a follow came up and asked me to dance. It was a slow song, so I did a mix of slow lindy and blues. Halfway through, the song stopped, and I heard the familar intro to Jumpin' at the Woodside. What the hell, I thought, and started swinging out. The next thing I knew, there were people clapping, and a jam circle had formed around me and my partner! So, I did some fast swing outs and broke into tandem Charleston. I also did my best to exit the circle fashionably at the end of the chorus, letting another couple in to do their stuff. That was quite a fun way to end the dance. Thank you, Barcelona.

8 June Tuesday - Day 4

Today, I woke up a little late and arrived at the conference center a little after 9 am. I did manage to go outside the conference center for lunch and find a little diner where I enjoyed a large meal of pechuga de pollo y patatas y coca cola for 7 euros. (Yesterday, I spent 9 euros inside the conference center for a baguette with cheese and an orange juice.)

After the talks ended at 7:15 pm, there was free wine and soda being offered during the evening poster session. So, I helped myself to a glass of white wine and walked around the posters.

That night, I decided to have a good dinner, so I stopped at Cafe de Catalunya and ordered the paella de pollo and a cerveza grande. After dinner, I realized that it was late and I was tired. So, I skipped the Tuesday night swing dance. I've been quite busy thus far. Time to catch up on sleep.

9 June Wednesday - Day 5

Today was a rainy day in Barcelona. So, I didn't mind spending all day inside the convention center. For lunch, I walked out into the rain toward the area where I found the row of restaurants yesterday. I settled on a German place, where I ordered a bockworst and Coke. It was a simple joint with cheap food served quickly.

In the evening, I had dinner with a friend I knew from the Medical College of Wisconsin. We went to a restaurant that advertised "tapas," but we were really served cheap h'orderves like chicken wings and calamari. Then I headed to Razzmatazz for the Club Night Party. I arrived at 9:30 pm, and the place was deserted. But I hung around, drinking my one free beer. Eventually, more people arrived, including someone I knew. And soon enough, a funk band was performing. I don't mind funk, but I have to admit that an entire funk concert sounds like one incredibly long song.


10 June Thursday - Day 6

Thursday was the last day of the conference. At mid-day, after the important morning talks, I returned to the hotel to meet Jessica, who had just arrived that morning. We had lunch, and I gave her tips on things to see while I was back at the conference in the afternoon.

In the evening, we strolled through the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) and found a Spanish Tapas restaurant. This was a real tapas restaurant, where we had gambas (shrimp), carpaccio manchego (thinky sliced manchego cheese), chorizo (spicy sausage), tortilla espanola (Spanish omelette), carpaccio del toro (thinly sliced, specially prepared raw beef), aceituna (olives), and bread with verduras a la mantequilla (vegetable butter).

After dinner, we wandered through the narrow, dark alleys, hearing guitar music echoing amonst the stone walls.

11 June Friday - Day 7

To start our adventure, we walked up Passeig de Gracia and stopped at La Pedrera, a curvy, organic-looking apartment building designed by Anoni Gaudi. This was a very interesting buidling, as Gaudi avoided the straight lines of traditional architecture and instead drew his inspiration from the parabolas and spirals found in nature. With the useful audio guide, we explored the roof, the top floor attic, which explained many of Gaudi's creations, and the apartment decorated as if it were still the early 1900's.

Next, we took a Metro to the Arc de Triomph and walked through the La Ribera district. Here, we found the Museu Picasso (Picasso Museum). Inside were works of Picasso starting from his young realism years, extending to his blue period, his rose period, and the beginnings of his abstract period. I have to say that I prefer his early work. (Jessica prefers his later period.)

We spent more time wandering through narrow streets and checked out the interior of the church called Esglesia de Santa Maria del Mar. Buying some ice cream, we proceeded down the palm-tree-lined Passeig de Colom. Eventually, we hiked up the steps to a hill in the Montjuic area, where we hoped to catch a cable car ride over the water of Port Vell. Sadly, the ticket vendor told us that they were having trouble with the cable cars. Instead, we chilled at the cafe, enjoying the gorgeous view of Port Vell and the city below.

After a hike back down the hill, we found outdoor seating at a cafe and enjoyed a great dinner, watching all of the passersby on the sidewalk - quite a crowded place to be at 11 pm.

12 June Saturday - Day 8

One nice thing about Barcelona is the frequency of the trains in the Metro. Jessica and I had just missed a Metro train, but our wait for the next train was only three minutes. When our train arrived, we rode it to Lesseps, and walked a few blocks to Park Güell, where we were immediately entertained by a drumming band. After a few songs, the band left, and we set out to explore the park - full of undulating walls and small bands performing music. There is also a small museum in the house where Gaudi lived, but we skipped it because of the long line and our hunger for lunch.

Instead, we hopped in a taxi and rode to La Sagrada Familia. Jessica had a conversation with the taxi driver in Spanish, learning about the driver's views of his city and getting a recommendation on a spot for lunch. After a leisurely afternoon meal, we proceeded to the masterpiece known as La Sagrada Familia. This is an immense cathdral began in 1882. This was Gaudi's architectural masterpiece, which he worked on until his death in 1926. Partially destroyed in the Spanish Civil war, work resumed in the 1940's and continues to this day. It's expected to be finished the 2020's. With an audio guide, we spent nearly two hours exploring the site and took a lift up one of the towers.

After our Gaudi extravaganza, we rode the Metro to the El Raval district, where we had hoped to see the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona. However, we arrived too late. Instead, we wandered through the streets toward La Rambla. There, we passed by a theater that advertised an opera and flamenco show. The next one began in 10 minutes, so we decided to go. The show featured eight musicians, two flamenco dancers, and two opera singers. It was quite impressive. It was also the first time I had seen flamenco, which I will describe as tap dancing with dramatic arm flourishes and fancy clothes. The only downside was that a couple sitting in front of us had brought their little girl, who proceeded to giggle loudly throughout the performance. So, we moved to quieter seats.

In the evening, we took a stroll through the southern end of Barri Gotic, where we found a quiet street full of nice, hidden restaurants. We continued to Port Vell, where we took a break, enjoying the views of the sailboats in the harbor. Then, we walked back to Barri Gotic to the the special street, where we found a nice restaurant for dinner.

13 June Sunday - Day 9

With a desire to see some art, we rode the Metro to the Plaza de Espanya and headed to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. The neobaroque palace that houses this museum is quite impressive to approach. Inside was Catalan art ranging from Romanesque to Gothic to Renaissance to Modern - a timeline stretching from 1,000 years ago to the modern era. Jessica and I arrived two hours before the closing time of 2:30 pm, but we still weren't able to see it all before we had to leave.

Outside the museum, we took a snack break and heard a guitarist playing Spanish versions of pop songs. Then, we walked through the Botanical Garden and past the Olympic Stadium, and found a cafe for lunch.

Continuing down the road, we encountered a teleferic, or cable car. We decided to hop on for a ride up the mountain. The vantage point of the cable car gave us excellent views of the city below. Once we disembarked, we walked around the Castell de Montjuïc, which offered even more excellent, panoramic views of the city and harbor below.

A walk down the hill brought us to the cable car at Miramar, which was not in service when we stopped here two days ago. Luckily for us, it was operational once again. This cable car carried us a couple of hundred feet over the water to a station high above the beach. From here, we rode the elevator down to ground level, and decided to chill out and drink sangrias at a bar on the beach. What a nice way to end the day.

14 June Monday - Day 10

On our last full day of the trip, Jessica and I decided to take a short day trip to Montserrat, a small mountain top community located 45 kilometers northwest of Barcelona. We rode the Metro to Plaza de Espanya, then bought tickets for the FGC R5 train and the cremallera, or rack-and-pinion train, that would take us up the mountain. The ride up the mountain took us through tunnels carved in the rock and around curves with jaw-dropping cliffs.

Once we arrived, we found ourselves in a small community that included funicular stations, a basilica, a museum, a hotel/restaurant, a cafeteria, and not much else. We took a peek inside the basilica, but avoided the long line of people waiting to see La Moreneta, a 12th century wooden sculpture of the Virgin Mary known as the Black Madonna (tanned by centuries of candle smoke).

Cloud-filled skies and random drops of rain reminded us that the weather was not going to present its best for us that day. After having lunch in the cafeteria (which, much to Jessica's delight, sold gluten-free sandwiches), we decided to take the funicular train further up the mountain. There, we hiked along a trail, getting more views of the unique "serrated" mountain top and the village below. Lucky for us, the drops of rain were never more than a threat.

Getting back to Barcelona meant riding two funicular trains, one regular train, and one Metro. Back in the city, we wandered down the street Carrer de Jaume, where we eventually found a nice restaurant for our last dinner in Barcelona. We enjoyed Cava Sangria and Carpaccio Roast Beef and Parmesan along with our main courses. Although sad to see our trip end, we reflected on the many experiences that we had enjoyed.

15 June Tuesday - Day 11

This morning, we woke up early, grabbed a bite to eat at the cafe next door, and waited for a taxi called by our hotel clerk. On the way to the airpot, our taxi got caught in morning rush hour traffic, but we still arrived in about 30 minutes. Although unplanned, Jessica and I found ourselves to be on the same flight back to JFK. We were not sitting together, however. But once on board, we managed to get a passenger to exchange seats, so that we could fly back to the U.S. together.

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Site created 1 May 2004
Page last updated 15 June 2010
dave at backpackingdave.com