Thursday, June 9, 2016

Last stop...Barcelona.

Remember those changes that I alluded to last time?  Well, I'm going to blame those for why I've been so lax in updating our blog for the past couple months.  We are no longer reporting to you from the Jutland peninsula but have decided to make the jump back to our homeland and see if we can still fit in back there after spending 2 years among the Danes.  But before heading back to the USA, we couldn't pass up one more chance to take advantage of that wonderful 5 day Easter holiday that you get in Denmark (and definitely don't get in the USA).

This year we opted for the warmest place we could think of while still being on the European mainland...Barcelona!  It's a place that we've wanted to visit for the past 2 years, and our friend Carly came all the way from Colorado to join us for the tapas, wine, and sunshine while we still had time.

When you think Barcelona, your first thought is probably a really good soccer team (who unfortunately was not in town when we were there).  But your second thought might have something to do with architecture and in particular with the guy who seems to be everywhere in Barcelona...Antoni Gaudi.

So it's no surprise that we spent our first day in Barcelona checking out some of his creative landmarks around town and making the requisite (and totally worth it) stop at Gaudi's masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia.  Under construction for over 100 years, its current estimated finish date is in something like 2026 (and even that seems optimistic given how many cranes are still hovering around its facade), but its ongoing status as a work in progress doesn't deter the literal thousands of tourists walking through its doors everyday.  The masses may hinder it from ever being used as a real place of worship (thousands of people have a hard time staying quiet), but it certainly is a beautiful piece of architecture and design.

The next day, we thought we might escape some of the crowds by heading up into the mountains.  Some of the most easily accessible hiking from Barcelona is at Montserrat, and we had hoped to get there with enough time to check out the monastery built literally on the side of the mountain and then head up to the area's highest peak.  But it soon became clear that we weren't the only ones hoping to get out of the city that day.  This may not have been a problem if all routes to Montserrat were open and functioning properly on the day of our visit, but as it happened, all visitors to Montserrat who weren't planning to drive up the mountain had to be shuttled up by a 35 person capacity cable car whereas normally there is also a train that can take visitors up the mountain.  So, instead of escaping the crowds, we ended up waiting for much longer than I care to admit in the cable car line talking with another group of American tourists and beelining it for the overpriced cafeteria as soon as we finally made it up.  Not exactly what we had planned, but we did manage a short hike before having to get back in line for the trip down.

So we gave up trying to escape the crowds and instead plunged right into them with a day wandering through the Barri Gotic.  Walking through this maze of alleys and squares, it was sometimes so narrow that we couldn't even walk side by side so we eventually made our way to the city's main beach.  It wasn't exactly swimming weather, but it was nicer than it had been in months in Denmark so no complaints from me.


One of the highlights of our trip and certainly one of the coolest cultural things that I've done while in Europe was spending Saturday night at the Jazz Si Club in El Raval.  Super highly recommended if you ever find yourself in Barcelona, there's live music every night of the week in a tiny bar/club with mostly standing room or sitting on the floor.  Saturday nights are flamenco nights at Jazz Si, and while Barcelona isn't really known for its flamenco scene (it's much more popular in other parts of Spain), the performance we saw was quite impressive to these first time flamenco viewers.  It was sad, it was funny, it was passionate, it was all in Spanish.  The woman on stage may have been dancing or she may have been summoning spirits from the underworld.  When we left, all we could say was "wow".

On our last venture outside the city, we took the train southwest to Penedes, one of Spain's wine-growing regions.  The bike and wine tour seemed like a great combination of outdoor activity and yummy beverages, and it was.  But somehow the tour group ended up being us and a group of about 6 Spanish middle-schoolers and one other adult...a bit of an odd crowd.  But the kids ditched us before we headed to the Vinseum tasting room where we tasted 6 amazing local wines for something like 6 euros per person.  After the bikes and the wines, food seemed like a natural next step.  But Penedes is not a large town, and Easter Sunday made it even quieter still.  So we tried our luck at the one cafe open near the train station.  In the wonderful situation where the servers didn't speak much English and we didn't speak much Spanish, we ended with way too much food than we could possibly eat before the next train back to Barcelona, but we couldn't say we were hungry anymore so I guess you'd call that good luck (and it was probably our cheapest meal of the trip).

And speaking of food, should I maybe be moving to Spain instead of back to the USA??  Tortillas de patatas, croquetas, patatas bravas, I think I could eat this kind of food forever (especially at Spanish prices).  Not to mention the 1 euro glasses of wine.  We didn't even seek out the super fancy or super unique places to eat, but it didn't matter.  When eating food is a major part of your vacation, Barcelona is your kind of town.

So with that, we end our European-wide adventures (for now) and look forward to exploring the United States once again.  I will say that I am looking forward to visiting a city and being able to ask a question without consulting Google translate first.  But for all of the embarrassing episodes caused by a lack of cultural knowledge and/or language, I certainly wouldn't trade the adventure.  We're super grateful for these past 2 years and more than excited to see what's next.  Bring it on USA.

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