Adios Barcelona…Hola Madrid!

Today, we departed Barcelona for Madrid. Tomorrow, we will meet our fellow pilgrim travelers and set out for our first destination together. (We will be driven to our first departure point for walking the Camino, but we won’t be doing any walking tomorrow; it’s a six hour drive to our starting point.)

 

Departing Barcelona meant packing my suitcase–thank goodness for the expansion zipper! By the time I finished re-distributing items between my suitcase and my backpack, it looked like both backpackĀ and suitcase were bursting at the seams, not to mention they were heavier than heavy. My suitcase was so lopsided that it could not stand up unless it was leaning against something. Kris was in slightly better shape than me–remember, she sent some items home by mail–but both of wondered how we would lug these monstrosities onto our train and into the overhead luggage rack.

We did not have to wonder for long. We boarded the train at 11:35 and with a little help from one another we managed to hoist the suitcases in the overhead

I still have a lot to learn about shooting selfies.
I still have a lot to learn about shooting selfies.

bins. (We later discovered that there were floor level storage racks at the end of our railway car. I felt like Laurel and Hardy in their infamous piano moving short film.

We rode on one of the high speed trains that run between Madrid and Barcelona. At one point were were traveling over 189 miles per hour!

View from our train from Barcelona to Madrid.
View from our train from Barcelona to Madrid.

The ride was smooth with that gentle rolling feeling that one has on a train. This feeling rocks you to sleep in your seat, but is murder when you have to stand in the restroom. (I wisely picked a time when we were at a stop, only to have the train begin to accelerate. Makes me wish that I had not given up Yoga.)

We arrived at our hotel in Madrid and I was struck with a confluence of things that have beguiled me about the bathrooms in our two hotels. The room in Madrid is a “smart room,” meaning you have to insert your key card into the a slot by the door to get the lights to work. At no time does the hotel clerk alert you to this, and it only took me 10 minutes to figure this out. [You have to be smart to use the room!] 2) You discover that you have to be a circus contortionist or Reed Richards from the Fantastic Four (he’s the guy who can stretch into any shape) in order to reach the toilet paper. I don’t think that I have ever had to twist my arm into such a crazy shape to reach for the roll. I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and kept the spare roll on the bidet cover for easy access. 3) The “sink” in the room in Madrid was one of these kind that resembles an old fashioned wash bowl. Yes, it looks pretty, but is perfectly designed to make the water backsplash EVERYWHERE. 4) The faucet is a modernist work of art, but has no markings to indicate which direction is “hot” or “cold”; I found out the hard way.

After getting settled in our rooms, Kris and I went for a long walk to Plaza Major which is about a mile and a half from our hotel. We then chanced upon the Mercado San Miguel, another one of those indoor markets similar to the ones that we saw in Barcelona.

Mercado San Miguel, Madrid
Mercado San Miguel, Madrid

The difference was that the crowds in this one were more manageable than the ones in Barcelona. While there were stalls selling meat, seafood and cheeses, the vast majority of stalls offered small portions of food: stuffed olives, skewers of fresh mozzarella with various condiments, cones of mixed nuts or smoked sausages, sushi, some types of seafood that I have never seen before, and the list goes on.

An interior view of Mercado San Miguel
An interior view of Mercado San Miguel

They have a modest area for seating, similar to our food courts in our malls, but the atmosphere was more like a wine and food tasting event than an indoor market. I was even able to carry on a modest conversation in Spanish with a Columbian woman who was sitting with her husband and friends next to our table.

After getting turned around for the return walk, we chanced upon a mobile Tourist Information booth with a very friendly young man who gave us good directions home. The adventure continues.

A sampling of some of the food from the Mercado San Miguel.
A sampling of some of the food from the Mercado San Miguel.

 

Ramblin’ on Las Ramblas

This morning Kris wanted to mail a package back home and so we asked at the front desk for directions to the Post Office (the one gentleman who works behind the hotel desk is better than Mapquest and is always very friendly).

Kris, by her own admission, isn’t the best with directions, and when we get to the Cathedral square, she thinks that we need to turn left and I know that I heard the desk clerk say, “to the right.” I also remember that he said that the street number for the Post Office was #1. We proceed down Via Laietana, and after a block and a half, Kris says, “Are you sure we’re going the right way?” “I know that he said to turn right. The street numbers are decreasing, but it’s going to be a few blocks before we get there.” After another block, “I thought he said to ‘Go left?’ ” “No, I heard him say ‘Right,’ and he also said that it was at the end of the street.” The street numbers are still decreasing, a sign in my favor, but I don’t see any sign to indicate a Post Office ahead — they seem to have an aversion to marking things around here. Case in point, we were out walking another time, and an arrow points in one direction for Placa Cataluyna, after a short distance, we come to a sort of fork in the streets, no new street sign–we managed to find it anyway.

Eventually, I notice a series a bronze mail slots with the names, “Madrid,” “Barcelona,” and the Spanish equivalent of “Who Cares.” Ok, the last one didn’t say that, but it makes the story more interesting.

We arrive inside the Casa de los Correos (Sister Rose Vincent would be thrilled to know that I remembered the word for Post Office from her high school Spanish class.) We find a very helpful woman at a counter in the center of the main service area. After three attempts we identify the correct size of box we need, pay for it and assemble it. We go to a service counter with the nicest guy working behind it and he provides great service and patiently fills out the forms for Kris on his computer. 10 minutes later, we are back on Via Laitana.

Let me pause here and say how friendly and helpful the lo

The famous lizard at Parc Guell.
The famous lizard at Parc Guell.

cals have been to us. For example, on Sunday, we spotted a tea store on our walk and stopped in to sample the wares. A very friendly young man answered our questions, explained the differences in their product (they had some delicious samples to taste) and lamented the greed in the world. Everyone we encounter has had a smile on their face and genuinely seems to want to help us.

Kris inside the Santa Catarina market.
Kris inside the Santa Catarina market.

We took in two of the city’s many enclosed markets, Santa Catarina, which is a couple blocks from our hotel and the famous, Saint Joseph market, which is off the wide boulevard, Las Ramblas, infamous for pickpockets and flower stalls. Both markets were HUGE, with the St. Joseph one being the most crowded, and the one where we watched our valuables closely. It would be easy to get lost in the St. Joseph market, but we found our way out to Las Ramblas with all our possessions intact.

We headed up the Via Gracia, to visit Gaudi’s Casa Batllo again. (I didn’t realize that our tour Sunday included the Casa when I made online reservations on Saturday.) Since we visited there fairly early for the Barcelonans, and since I paid the extra Euros for the “Fast Pass” option, we bypassed the line and walked right in.

A divider door/wall with exquisite art glass.
A divider door/wall with exquisite art glass.

Seeing the house for a second time and listening to the recorded guided tour gave us a deeper appreciation for the innovation and the beauty of the home. It also re-familiarized us with some of the less stellar habits of our fellow tourists: 1) stopping to take a photograph or just to stop for no apparent reason [we have gotten good at picking these types out]; 2) if taking a photograph, make sure that you block a stairwell, an exit or entrance and be totally oblivious to your fellow visitors; 3) shove your way through because you just have to be the first and 4) if you are armed with a stroller, you may use it as a battering ram–your baby may receive a traumatic brain injury, but isn’t that cheesy souvenir worth it? I have to say that in both of our guided tour groups we had some very thoughtful and considerate people.

After leaving Casa Batllo with a much heavier backpack than when I entered (I just HAD to visit the Gift Shop) we found a lovely organic restaurant for lunch and then headed to our second tour, which included Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell.

This tour was more of a mixed bag than the one we took on Sunday, which was with a different tour agency. The Sunday tour guide issued us portable headsets so that we could easily listen to his narration, which was entirely in English; the guide yesterday, a very friendly fellow named Guillame, did the tour in both English and Spanish, which made it harder to follow as he would switch back and forth rapidly. He had no sound system and so you had to gather close to hear him. I was disappointed that we did not enter Sagrada Familia, we just walked around the exterior while he explained the two finished porticos and explained how the work would proceed to completion. Another problem was that the sun was glaring behind the Nativity Portico, making it difficult to take photos. The upshot was that we did learn a few more things and had a chance to study the outside of the Basilica in detail.

We then headed to Parc Guell, which was intended to be a housing development, but flopped because it was considered too far from the city center. Gaudi designed a number of areas in the park, which were intended for other uses, but are now gathering spots in the park. His use of broken ceramic tiles or ceramic household items in the creation of the benches, the ceiling adornments and the famous, water-spewing lizard, show that he was into recycling long before it was fashionable.

One of the many ceiling medallions in a concourse at Parc Guell, nto the use of plates in the compostion.
One of the many ceiling medallions in a concourse at Parc Guell, nto the use of plates in the compostion.

When we left the park we took a path that our guide said was shorter than the one we took in, but had a set of steps that were quite challenging. We returned to the bus and decided that when our guide was going to stop at Casa Mila, that we would part ways.

With close to eight miles under our belt for the day–Kris has a FitBit that helps us keep track of our mileage and our steps–we returned to the hotel, freshened up, and found a restaurant to eat an early, by Barcelona standards dinner at 8:30 p.m.

Tomorrow, we take the train to Madrid. Hasta luego, Barcelona!

Good Golly, Senor Gaudi

Today was “Gaudi Day” for Kris and myself. I had set up a tour of Casa Batllo (a home that Gaudi renovated and redesigned for a wealthy textile merchant of the time Battlo) and the Basilica of Sagrada Familia (the Basilica of the Holy Family).

Exterior view of Gaudi's masterpiece, the Basilica Sagrada Family -- Basilica of the Holy Family)
Exterior view of Gaudi’s masterpiece, the Basilica Sagrada Family — Basilica of the Holy Family)
One of the carvings on Casa Amatller, the home next door to Casa Battlo.
One of the carvings on Casa Amatller, the home next door to Casa Battlo.

The Basilica draws over 3 million visitors a year and will not be completed until 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

Rooftop, Casa Battlo
Rooftop, Casa Battlo

Kris and I met the tour group in the Placa Catalunya, a 15 minute walk from our hotel. The tour was scheduled to start at 9:00 a.m. and the streets were practically deserted. We recalled what our our driver from the airport had told us yesterday abo

The "balcony" of Casa Battlo; note that the windows have a three dimensional depth to them.
The “balcony” of Casa Battlo; note that the windows have a three dimensional depth to them.

ut how the city likes to keep late hours. Tourists

and the workers who cater to them, seem to be the only people out and about at this time of the day.)

Our first stop was Casa Batllo, which sits next door to a very beautiful house, Casa Amatller, owned by a major chocolate manufacturer, Antoni Amatller, of the early twentieth century. This house, designed by one of Gaudi’s contemporaries, Joseph Puig, is exquisitely decorated with many stone reliefs and carvings. Casa Batllo was a home that Gaudi was called upon the renovate by the owners, and he delivered a home that served as an elaborate metaphor of the city’s patron saint, St. George. The guide pointed out that the roof was intended to look like the back of a dragon. The interior walls are decorated in a pattern reminiscent of a reptile.

Casa Battlo, the roof is a metaphor of a dragon's back. Note the cross on the top of the turret.
Casa Battlo, the roof is a metaphor of a dragon’s back. Note the cross on the top of the turret.

The house is a wonder of decoration and innovation. The family wanted a balcony and Gaudi adapted one of the rooms on the front of the house to serve as a quasi balcony by opening the windows. The use of colored, ceramic tile and the repetition of natural forms in the house made it a delight to visit.

Detail of the Nativity Facade of Sagrada Familia
Detail of the Nativity Facade of Sagrada Familia

After a good hour and a half at Casa Battlo, we proceeded to Gaudi’s masterpiece, Sagrada Familia, which is still under construction. (The nave of the Basilica was only completed in 2010 and dedicated by Pope Benedict.) When I first saw a photo of Sagrada Familia, I was reminded on the kind of structure that you would put in an aquarium for the fish to swim in and out of. The symbolism of the basilica, both within and without rivals the symbolism and decoration of the great Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Two of the three porticos are finished: The Nativity Portico and the Passion Portico; the last portico, the Portico of Glory, will serve as the main entrance of the Basilica, and they are just beginning to construct it. (Our guide said that its completion will require the demolition of an apartment building on that side of the street, something that must cause the residents great concern.)

View to the apse of Sagrada Familia
View to the apse of Sagrada Familia

If you thought that the basilica was beautiful on the outside, the interior takes your breath away. The graceful columns that support the weight of the room remind one of exquisite trees that seem to be growing from the floor to the ceiling. The openness and brightness of the space lifts one’s spirits as soon as one enters. The basilica is truly a wonder to behold and a feast for the eye and soul.

View of the ceiling of the nave in Sagrada Familia.
View of the ceiling of the nave in Sagrada Familia.

Our last Gaudi stop was his famous Mila House or La Casa Pedrera (the stone quarry, or, as our tour guide, Danny described it, “The Flintstone Apartment Building.) This building was built as a private residence for the Mila family (though they only occupied what we would call the 2nd Floor apartment.) According to the recorded tour, it was a common practice for wealthy families to build these huge apartment houses, live in one of the apartments, and live off the rent of the tenants. The building still houses many people and businesses.

Casa Mila, "La Pedrera" aka the Flinstones Building
Casa Mila, “La Pedrera” aka the Flinstones Building
The rooftop of Casa Mila with its whimsical chimneys and ventilation shafts.
The rooftop of Casa Mila with its whimsical chimneys and ventilation shafts.

We started our tour on the roof which is a whimsical wonder of curves, chimneys that resemble soldiers in armor and ventilation shafts that remind one of a decoration in icing on a cake. All tours work their way down from the roof which helps the flow of traffic in the building. There is one vacant apartment that is staged to look like an apartment of Gaudi’s day.

Finished with our explorations of some of Gaudi’s more famous buildings, and with feet and legs sore from walking on stone surfaces, Kris and I took a break outside of Cathedral Square, near our hotel. The steps in front of the cathedral attract street musicians, tourists resting on the steps and small children with scooters who use the stone ramp on the left of the cathedral steps as a staging for much fun.

Bienvenidos a Barcelona!

Kris and I stepped off the plane at Barcelona airport yesterday, a little travel weary, neither of us slept much on the flight over, but hey, I watched two movies to pass the time.

We were met at the airport by a great guy who took us directly to our hotel. Kris had arranged for the transfer from the airport to save us tim

View of Cathedral Square in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona.
View of Cathedral Square in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona.

e and distress. What a great choice. I can’t remember the guy’

Casa Pedrera, note the chimmneys on the top.
Casa Pedrera, note the chimmneys on the top.

s name, but his mother is from the Barcelona region and his father is from Scotland, so his English, which is impeccable, was in a Scottish accent. He gave us great advice about the city, especially what areas are tourist traps. He also pointed out landmarks to us as he drove us to our hotel, the Regencia Colon, which is just a block off the Bari Square in the Gothic portion of the city.

Our rooms were not available so I suggested that we get tickets on one of those city tour buses that you can hop on and hop off and Kris agreed, so off we went. The weather was superb, low 70s, sunny and low humidity, and the bus afforded us a way to get an overview of the city. It also allowed us to fall asleep a few times without attacting too much attention.

After a pleasant lunch, we returned to our hotel where our rooms awaited us. After a few hours we met and walked up to Plaza Catalunya, which is ten minutes from our hotel. It’s one of the hubs of the city. From there we walked up the Pasieg de Gracia to view two of Anton Gaudi’s famous apartment buildings, Casa Batllo and Casa Pedrera. The queues for both places were long, so we just took in the exteriors, which were amazing, and then walked on, though we couldn’t reisist a stop at the Book-Gift Shop at Casa Pedrera.

Casa Batllo Exterior
Casa Batllo Exterior

Buen Camino!

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Greetings, as many of you know, I will be departing for Spain on Friday and will begin walking a modified version of the Camino, the great pilgrimage route to the Shrine of Santiago de Compostela in Spain on Thursday, the 21st. I’ll be sending updates from my journey on a regular basis. Bro. Bob