Tag Archives: Spain

Last Day In Barcelona – Travel Blog #3

Today we arrange a half day tour of Barcelona with Jordi, a friendly local who speaks at least ten languages. Having him use only English seems like a waste of his many talents but we’re still lucky to get him. Although going around Barcelona with a guide speaking Japanese to an American tour group would be strangely interesting to me. Onward with the tour… 

First we walk the historic streets of old Barcelona where history literally surrounds you.

The old streets form rigid square blocks, no doubt a Roman design dating back from the days of when Barcelona was the Roman city of Barcino. In fact, the city is excavating under these old streets to preserve the Roman settlement that lays under it. One museum gives you access to these Roman ruins deep beneath the city. Sorry, they don”t allow you to take pictures. One building they found was a place that dyed fabric. One flat stone was turned bright blue from all the thousands of fabrics that were dyed at the facility. One piece of Roman history that was above ground was this…

The apartments here were built around the ruins of this Roman temple. For years the owners of the building took care of the ruins before the city of Barcelona stepped in to protect them.  People still live in the apartments surrounding this amazing piece of history. 

Next we visit the square where Christopher Columbus returned from the New World, very anxious to tell his backers, the King and Queen of Spain, that he hit the mother lode for Spain. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella went down these steps to greet Columbus. This was the first step in Spain becoming a world power for hundreds of years. Jordi tells us some experts now think Columbus was actually Spanish not Italian. If Jordi ever conducts a tour with some Italian Americans from Jersey…I would skip this little piece of trivia.

By the way, the Roman ruins that we saw being excavated, are located a few feet below this historic square.  History literally on top of history. Cool.

The breathtaking Barcelona Cathedral, the major Catholic church of the city, is our next stop.  And what a stop it is. The ceilings have a golden brown color with intricate markings all over them.  The glass windows at the top do not dominate but compliment the large dome. Inside the church, each Catholic Saint has their own gated area decorated in striking gold that pops your eyes.  In the center of the cathedral are two rows of wooden chairs with tall backs facing opposite another pair of rows. Jordi says this area was used in a recent conference of world leaders. 

We take a bus to the top of a hill overlooking the city of Barcelona. There we see the stadium used in the 1992 Summer Olympics which put the city of Barcelona on the world map. If you remember, it was the Olympics that had the guy who shot a flaming arrow upward to light the olympic torch.  Which we found out, was actually the top of an upside down whale.

Jordi then takes us to the most interesting looking church ever, La Sagrada Familia.  The designer was named Antoni Gaudi and his name gave birth to the term gaudy looking.  The building was unfinished but Gaudi’s descendants are completing the rest of the church with private funds.  They hope to be done by the next decade.

After the tour, we decide to sit outdoors and have a nice last meal. We find a an outdoor restaurant where I order chicken paetta. I’m starting to love Spanish paetta and can not get enough of this stuff.  Delicious sautéed rice with chicken, vegetables with delicious saffron, a wonderful combination inside a giant skillet that’s delivered right to your table. Tonight, we enjoy dinner with an order of sweet and tangy Sangria as the street comes alive again with people.

We board the ship tomorrow, leaving this wonderful and friendly city behind us.  A part of me doesn’t want to leave. Yet I suspect that Barcelona is a mistress that always leaves her visitors wanting more just so they will never forget her.

If you would like to see all the pictures from Barcelona..GO HERE.

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Next time: A quick blog about the sea then we arrive in Italia!

The Hotel De Jardi – Travel Blog #2

This was the entrance to the hotel?

The nice glass door with the name Hotel De Jardi had automatically slid open to reveal…stairs twisting to the left. I didn’t see a big lobby with cushy chairs and sofas, or a free-standing display of brochures for all the tourists, or even a big desk with a smiling, helpful desk clerk.  Just stairs.

So my Dad and I lugged our bags up the narrow staircase to the first floor where there was a display of brochures, chairs, and a big desk with a smiling desk clerk who spoke Spanish. 

Okay good.  This was what I was expecting from a hotel.  Glad that some things were universal in hotel land.  The young lady behind the desk was from Portugal and she was very friendly as she gave us the key to our room.  A real key with the room number on it! She then told us to leave the key with the clerk on duty when we decide to leave our room to explore.  This was an old school hotel and I loved that.  The set up reminded me of that John Cleese show “Fawlty Towers” where the guests would come to the desk in order to get their room keys after a day in town. I hoped the owner of our hotel was much nicer than Mister Basil Fawlty.  Trust me, you don’t want to stay at a real Fawlty Towers.

Our room was on the third floor and the elevator was located on top of a flight of stairs.  Yes, on top of stairs.  So we dragged our luggage up the stairs and…where was the elevator?

Next to me was a glass door that looked like it was part of a tiny shower, certainly not an elevator.  Guess what…it was the elevator.  Like everything inside this hotel, it was narrow and small.  The tiny thing could only hold one person with one piece of luggage.  That was it.  Two children could fit, but they still couldn’t bring any luggage.  Okay, I decided to be our test pilot.

I put my bag in first, then me.  Tight fit.  Then I couldn’t figure out why the door wasn’t automatically closing after I hit the button.  Soon I figured out that I had to shut the door myself before the sucker would work. Should have figured this was an old school European elevator.

The third floor was really a narrow corridor with three rooms. I opened the room and it was…small. Two small beds, nightstand, television, one chair, and a bathroom.  That was it. Nothing lavish here.  But a part of me LOVED IT.  Why do you want the standard American hotel room?  This had charm to the max.  And when I opened up the window and looked at this view…

So what if it was a small room. Who wanted to live life in a hotel room anyway?  

The next morning we went downstairs to the eating area for a breakfast served by the hotel. We found a table and a nice older Spanish lady gave us each a place setting with a napkin and silverware.  Coffee? She asked us.  Everyone said yes.  The woman brought us each a cappuccino with milk.

Let me just say that this coffee changed my life. It was the best coffee I had ever tasted in my life.  It was strong, but when you asked for it with milk, the blend was the perfect balance of sweet and strong.  It tasted amazing, like my mouth couldn’t stop salivating between sips.  Next came the food, a nice toasted baguette with a large croissant coated in a sugary like glaze.  Jams, butter, and fresh cheese were available for the baguette.  I went with the cheese and glad I did.  The croissant was so sticky and delicious. Oh, and how could we not order a second cup of cappuccino.  Seriously folks…it was THAT GOOD.

After a day of fantastic sightseeing, (which I’ll cover in another entry) it was time to relax at the hotel.  We went again to our breakfast sitting area and sat on one of the two small balconies which overlooked the main plaza.  The balconies were a perfect place to people watch.

 

Next cool thing was finding out about the automatic beverage machine located inside the hotel.  It looked like an ordinary soda machine.  But this machine had Coke, Coke light, (the European version of Diet Coke) and cans of cold Cervaza!  (Beer in Spanish)  No kidding.  Beer in the soda machine.

I so love Spain.

So that night we sat out on the balcony and watched the world below us swim with activity.  While I was still marveling at the fact that we haven’t even started our cruise yet.

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Next up: A world wind tour of Barcelona.

Barcelona, Spain – Travel Blog #1

 

Imagine yourself…walking through these old streets, the hustle and bustle of a city echoing off the brick walls on either side of you. Conversations in Spanish are everywhere, some heated in tone, some quite friendly, some filled with laughter.

The pedestrian only street that you walk on now empties out into a small plaza. One of many in this central part of  Barcelona. The plaza has a couple of Tappas restaurants, their tables outside under large umbrellas.  You sit down at one table and relax. Don’t worry, the waiter that pops in and out of the restaurant will get to you eventually. Remember, you’re in Spain. This isn’t Chili’s where the servers are instructed to fly into your face the moment you sit down so the restaurant can get a fast turnover ratio on their tables.

Sitting at the next table over, three young guys are laughing and drinking wine. They talk Spanish but soon you figure out they’re goading one another to get up and talk to some girls sitting next door at the adjacent outdoor restaurant. At another table, a couple enjoys coffee while they each read a book. They somehow shut off all the noise from the plaza. Perhaps they’re too used to doing this day after day.

The waiter comes to your table.  When he realizes you don’t speak Spanish, it’s not a big deal. He patiently helps you with the menu and you order that glass of wine you’ve been craving ever since you got off that nine-hour ordeal the airline calls a flight.

A street musician stops near your group of tables to play a few songs for you.  Luckily, this one is talented and knows how to play the flute, so you give him a couple of Euros when he comes around for tips. He was much better than the last musician who was off-key on that Lionel Richie song. Maybe he should learn how to play.  Picking better material wouldn’t hurt either. Another man tries to sell the couple next to you flowers, even though another flower guy came by their table only five minutes earlier. Your favorite guy was the man selling ridiculously huge sunglasses that had flashing lights inside them.   Seriously dude, this is Spain.  Not the Las Vegas strip.

The plaza is alive with people. Teen lovers holding each other, just hanging out under the twilight of a day that’s winding down. People crossing the plaza on their bicycles. Some are going home. Others are just going somewhere because they can. Stray dogs meander around. None of them are vicious. They just take in the view and move on to the next place where a stranger might toss them a juicy morsel or even a whole steak.  Hey, even stray dogs have dreams.

Your nose breathes in a distinct smell from the streets.  Not a bad one. It’s a smell that reminds you of a mixture of spices. Although you can’t pinpoint exactly what they are.  But that sent has been on every street that you’ve walked today and its uniqueness has stuck with you, like when you were a kid and first smelled freshly baked bread in the oven.

Your glass of red wine finally arrives and you take a large swig, letting the tangy flavor coat your tongue. And you then convince yourself that you could sit a this small plaza for the rest of your life.

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Not all my travel blog entries will be written in this manner, but I wanted to give you a taste of what I was experiencing the first day in Barcelona.

Coming next: The Hotel De Jardi – The best little hotel in Barcelona.