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!

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