As some of you may already know, Diane and I were headed to Barcelona over Christmas this year. Why Barcelona? Well, we're trying to get a little more Europe traveling in - something that has been a bit tough this year with a bunch of the time off I took for two trips home. We've certainly done a lot of sightseeing, but a lot of that has been in Ireland. So we basically want to see a lot of Europe over the next year, and didn't really care where we started. Our hunt for a place to go over Christmas, then, was basically looking at Aer Lingus' site to see what was cheap. Barcelona was on that list.
We headed out on the 20th of December, with our flight leaving in the early evening. The trip started out a bit slowly, as we arrived at the airport on time only to find our flight had been delayed an hour. Oh well.
The Barcelona airport is located conveniently pretty close to the city, and its well connected to city center by train. So we hopped on the train and soon found ourselves on La Rambla (a large pedestrian walkway in the heart of the city) by Liceu metro station looking for our hotel. But like I often do, I probably looked confused as I got out of the metro station trying to get my bearings. A random passerby saw my confusion and asked if I needed help ... in Chinese?! Umm, were we really in Spain?
My Mandarin is awfully rusty, despite several years in grade school. Nevertheless, I was able to stumble through a response, and the lady helped point out our way. So, there ya go - my little bit of Mandarin was useful in a place I did not expect. Crazy!
Unfortunately for our plan to go to a warmer destination, Barcelona was on the tail-end of a cold snap, so it was pretty cold the night we arrived. Not only that, the forecast for the week was rain, rain and more rain. Ewww! Oh well, we're hardy Canadians - we can handle it!
Our first day plan was to wander a little bit to get our bearings in Barcelona. It was a bit cold and rainy, but we hiked out on to La Rambla and took in the scene. The area is quite wide, with several retail stands and newstands along it. As we wandered along, we saw a bunch of stands that were selling ... pets! That's right, rabbits, hamsters, birds, fish, turtles ... there was an amazing selection of pets for sale! I dunno why, but even in the rain, they were out there selling pets!
Along the way we found our way to La Bocqueria market. What a place! The area is crowded with stalls selling anything from fresh fruits and vegetables to candy to fresh meat and fish. What's particularly amazing about the market though is the display of the various items for purchase! Fruits were neatly stacked in piles a couple feet high, candy and nuts were displayed in boxes stretching vertically deep into the stall. Nearly every stall had an artful and space conscious way of displaying whatever goods it was that they were selling. It was a wonderful place ... and it was open basically every day (well, it was closed Christmas day and the day after). Simply awesome.
We wandered up and down La Rambla getting an idea what was in the area. One of our friends who has hung out in Barcelona a few times suggested a few places for us to go relax and find some food. So we found a little square that he suggested and decided to get out of the rain for a little while to have a bit of lunch, tapas style.
After lunch, we wandered down the harbour, but the rain started to come harder and that dissuaded us from that plan, so we wandered back up to the other end of La Rambla and found the tourist information center looking for some advice on what we should try to see -- preferably something inside.
The first thing they suggested was to check out Casa Batlló just a little ways north from where we were. So we took that suggestion and headed in that direction. The house there was designed by Antoni Gaudí - a man whose work we were going to become quite familiar with over the next couple days.
Anyways, this particular house was quite striking from the front. Its facade curves in interesting ways, and colourful tiles give it a look I've never seen in a house before. So we decided to take the tour inside, and were well rewarded with some awfully hard to describe scenes. The house had several wonderful rooms that meshed form and function in a very pleasing manner. Quite an enjoyable time -- and I'll really have to get to those photos so I can share what we saw.
Upon exiting that tour, we wandered over to La Sagrada Família - a church that is still under construction over a hundred years since they started. Gaudí was brought on to the project, and it became a massive and incredible piece of architecture and art. We were pretty tired though, so we decided to pass on the tour until later on in the week. So instead we headed back to our hotel room to dry off and look for a place to eat.
Another friend who had recently been in Barcelona had recommended a couple of restaurants to eat at. One of them was highly regarded on the internet as well, so we tried to go for that. Well, when we showed up there it was closed and from what we saw on the door, it opened at 9:00, but it was only 7:30! Eeep! Well it wasn't raining so hard, so we walked down to the harbour and walked around that area for awhile. It was quite a nice evening, but we were hungry so we returned to the restaurant and it was still closed. But on closer inspection, a sign higher up said they were actually closed for the whole holidays. Oops!
So instead we walked back up the street and went to a tapas restaurant that looked pretty busy. Turns out it was a pretty good choice! We got ourselves a lovely bottle of wine, and had several nice dishes, including a very nice roasted lamb dish that Diane picked out. Mmmm.
We wandered back to our hotel by way of the metro -- which, by the way, is awesome in Barcelona. I am entirely jealous of cities with awesome metro systems. It was pretty cheap (with a T-10 pass, it was €0.77 a trip anywhere in the city), and the trains ran so frequently that there was rarely more than a couple minute wait for a train. I think the longest we ever waited for a train was 5 minutes, and that was ten o'clock in the evening on boxing day.
So that was our first day in Barcelona. Hopefully I'll get through the other days in the next few days here!