The first stop on our winter wonderland adventure was Barcelona, Spain. We arrived at 3am at the bus station and for some reason thought it would be a good idea to wander around. Barcelona supposedly is the Vegas of Spain, so I figured there would be something to do. In fact, we saw a fairly decent amount of drunk people roaming the streets, a bunch of dudes hanging out trying to sell beer cans and bocadillos (this is the general term for any snack, like a little sandwhich). The rest of the night and most of the morning is blurry since we were absolutely delirious due to lack of sleep and being lost in a new country. We eventually arrived in our hostel and fell asleep for the large part of the day, then went around exploring.
This is the street. That's all I have to say. It is THE street for just about anything, particularly shopping and food. It's also the place to catch street performers, but when I say that, I mean to say people dressed up as movie characters or something. My favorite was the guy pretending to be Edward Scissor Hands, he was seriously spot-on!
Take a couple of the tiny winding streets from Las Ramblas and you'll hit bars or clubs. Even on Christmas eve and Christmas day, this street was jam-packed with people. Just off this street there's also a daily outdoor market that I unfortunately only got a chance to see as they were packing up. On Las Ramblas you will find all the comforts of home, such as a mcdonalds, burger king and starbucks... but beware! Everything is in Catalan. I speak Spanish, but it was still a little hard for me to get used to the differences. I went around and spoke to everyone in Spanish and they replied to me in Spanish, but the official language is indeed Catalan and all signs will be in Catalan. I also spoke to a native and he told me that about 5 years ago, you couldn't walk around speaking in Spanish because people would not reply to you. They are not the same language and should not be treated as such, but that doesn't mean you have to be a jerk, which I found some people were. When I went to a bar and ordered the lady looked at me like I was speaking Chinese and then I repeated myself and then she repeated the same thing with her own accent and I said yes. I know that living in such a touristy region must take it's toll, so I'll excuse the rudeness.
Before going to Spain, I knew I would have to try the Paella. I have to admit, I didn't really like it, but only because it was "Paella Mixta" which had a little too much seafood for my taste, but I may have liked the chicken version much better. I really enjoyed the sangria that came with the plate, at least. We also ordered some fried squid and I'm not sure if I drank too much sangria or if I actually did like it, but I thought it was good... then again, anything tossed in batter and deep-fried is generally good. ^_^ Try them with ketchup!
Montjuïc, Awesome Views, Gardens and Museums
Our second day was one of the most productive of our entire trip. We did so much, especially since we practically had a "California Christmas". What I mean is that the weather was very pleasant... maybe even a little hot! We took the metro to Plaça d'Espanya and starting walking up Montjuïc, which is technically a hill, but it's also the "location" of about 5 Museums, 8 gardens and so much more. It's worth mentioning that although this could be a massive work-out getting through the stairs, there are escalators conveniently placed everywhere. So we walked around, enjoyed the view, and moved on.
This park has the best views of the city, it's a massive tourist spot. I hurt my leg at the beginning of the trip so this was particularly hard for me because it's a bit of a hike to get to the top and there are stairways everywhere (but no escalators this time) to get from one side of the park to the other. It was designed by Antonio Gaudí so it has some interesting architecture. Gaudí is kind of a big deal in Barcelona, he's like their hero for being such an out-of-the-box thinker (his work is worth checking out. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Gaudi).
He's got some buildings in town as well, such as Casa Batllo, which is one of his most famous.
One thing that I began to notice/feel in Barcelona and never stopped thinking about during my trip is just how tourism affects a city, a country. I saw so many symbols of anarchy and anti-capitalism. I do agree that exploiting the culture and it's "national treasures" in some ways disrupts the lives of the people and the community, but I also don't want to miss out on traveling because of it. Catch-22 of moral dilemma v. desire to explore.
This graffiti right at the beginning of the park says Capitalism is Death.
Anyway, due to my "gimp" leg and my own curiosity, I was separated from my two traveling companions at the park so I continued on my journey alone for my next two stops.
Barri Gòtic is the Gothic quarter of town. I made a really quick walk through it since I was alone and also because it was getting dark. There's a couple of cathedrals and the Picasso Museum can be found nearby. Now, I thought that France had narrow streets, but I realized how wrong I was walking around Barri Gòtic. The streets are so narrow that you feel like you're in a maze and may never get back onto the plaza or main street you came from.
As anyone will tell you, La Sagrada Familia is Gaudí's most ambitious project, which unfortunately, remains unfinished. I don't even know how to describe it. When I got out of the metro station, I turned around and there it was. I thought I was going to faint. I don't care who you are or what your religious views are, this temple/church/cathedral, whatever it is, is definitely a sight to see. It literally took my breath away and captivated me in an unexpected way. I just wanted to stare at it from every angle possible. This feeling that I can't describe just came over me. It was an out-of-body experience. One of the most amazing things I've seen in my entire life. It's so surreal, beautiful and holy (mind you, i'm not religious, but it was still holy). I can't say anything more about it other than I'm so grateful to have seen it.
I finally managed to meet up with my friends back at the hostel and we went off to the most interesting bar I'd ever been to. It was fairy themed and even had trees inside.
We only stayed there briefly because it was late and everyone was tired... BUT, I still had one order of business left. Since it was Christmas and also opening night for The Spirit, I had to take advantage of the opportunity to hit the cinema. The same film doesn't come to theaters in France until February so I went to go check it out. It was dubbed in Spanish, but I still really liked it. I have to watch it once more in English before I make my final judgments though. =P
Aquarium de Barcelona
Somewhere along this trip, I believe on the 24th, we went to the Aquarium, but I can't think of what else we did that day other than return to our hostel and make fajitas for dinner. I had never been to an aquarium so I wanted to go and I had a really good time. They had penguins and that alone was worth the over-priced ticket.
Our stay in Barcelona was probably the longest out time we stayed anywhere throughout our winter adventure. We thought it would be the best place to spend a lot of time. I have to say, yes there are tons of "touristy" spots, tons of museums and gardens and also a booming night scene, but this city was by far my least favorite on our journey. Not to say I didn't like it or to say that it's not worth going, but in my mind it takes a lot more than tourist traps to make a great city. What I can say though is that the natives are very proud of their culture and history, which, not surprisingly, I found in every city we visited.