Friday, November 21, 2008


The weekend excursion to Barcelona was an experiment. With my working schedule at Gran Capitán, I don’t have to go in on Mondays, so we always have at least three-day weekends. The question was whether we could maximize our three-day weekend by taking a night train Monday evening. This means that we’d arrive in Córdoba early Tuesday morning, and then I’d have to go in to work. The experiment was a success. We arrived back home in time for me to take a shower and head to the school without having to rush. We’d slept well on the train, so I wasn’t even particularly tired at school. Very nice.

Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain. It’s magnificent, and I expect we’ll be going there again sometime. See the pictures at We strolled through a very interesting maritime museum (I think I enjoyed this more than Tonya did), and the Picasso museum. We joined in the mass at the Barcelona Cathedral and listened to the cathedral’s organ, choir and priests chanting the liturgy. (This is truly the only way to really experience a cathedral!) We wandered through some of the small streets and enjoyed the street musicians. We joined in the slow swaying Sardana Dance with the native Catalonians, who applauded our attempts as we tripped over our own left feet. We took the aerial car up to the castle at Park Montjuic, an old naval fortress with a great view of the harbor and enjoyed a lovely sunset and local dance competition. We saw the strange buildings of Antonio Gaudi (the famous Catalan architect), including his unique cathedral, La Sagrada Familia. The cathedral is still under construction, and needs about fifty years more before it will be complete. The cathedral is interesting, and the view from the top was breathtaking. That was my first official view of the Mediterranean. (Tonya had seen it briefly from the train Saturday morning, but I didn’t get out of the sleeping compartment quickly enough.)

Our hotel was along the Ramblas, which is the heart of old Barcelona. It’s also the area of highest pickpocket activity in all of Europe. I was a victim, although we ended up having the last laugh. As we were walking down the Ramblas on Saturday evening, a young man dropped a set of keys on the ground in front of me. Now, we’ve heard of this ploy before; they’re trying to get you to bend over, so that their buddy can easily pick your back pocket. I didn’t bent over, and my hand was on my wallet, safely in my front pocket. He then bent over to get the keys, and pinched the front of my pants legs. I asked him what he was doing, and he just walked quickly away. A few minutes later, I realized that I had lost my little spiral notebook and a tourist map that I’d been carrying in my back pocket. I guess that from the outside, it looked as if I were carrying a wallet there. I’d never even felt it when the buddy picked my back pocket. Those sons of b…. er…loving and grieving mothers! I hope they enjoyed the (free) tourist map and the filled-up notebook that I’d already bought a replacement for.

Being semi-devout followers of Rick Steve’s, we decided to set out on a quest to find and consume the ultimate churros and chocolate. The travel book recommended that the best churros and chocolate could be found at La Pallaresa Granja-Xocolateria on Carrer Petrixol. When we arrived at the restaurant, we found that La Pallaresa was a quite popular (with locals, as well as tourists), and the line for a table stretched way down the street. It was late, and we had had a long day of museums, sightseeing, and dancing, so we continued on our way. We stopped at Granja Dulcinea (which seemed to be strictly a local hang out) a little further down Carrer Petrixol and easily found a table. The waiter brought our churros and chocolate, apologizing that their chocolate was not pudding thick. There was nothing lacking in their pudding, er… chocolate. It was an enormously enjoyable chocolate experience. However in order to be fair, we decided that we really did need to try La Pallaresa the next evening. The next night, the line at La Pallaresa was acceptable and the chocolate was worth the short wait. The La Pallaresa chocolate is a wee bit thicker, but the thing that gives their chocolate the edge is that their chocolate is not as sweet and just a tad richer. However, just to be sure, we returned the next night, to sample it with whipped cream. As a self-proclaimed chocolate expert, my preference (only if the wait is not long) is La Pallaresa. However, if you are going to have to wait over 10 minutes, walk a little ways down the street and enjoy Granja Dulcinea. And skip the whipped cream, it detracts from the chocolate experience.

Our last day there was possibly the most enjoyable. We took a train to Montserrat, a monastery perched high up on a mountain near (but not in) the Pyrenees. The views are some of the best we’ve seen yet…enjoy the pictures! As we disembarked the aerial from the train station, we were greeted by the bells of the basilica. Their beautiful tones echoed off the surrounding mountains creating a symphony in stereophonic sound. We hiked to Sant Jeroni, the highest peak in the area. From there, we had an uninterrupted view of the Pyrenees from the Mediterranean to the Basque country. We could also see Andorra, a small mountain nation which has somehow managed to stay independent from Spain and France for all these centuries. We may have to visit there sometime.

Lessons learned in Barcelona:

- Don’t carry ANYTHING in your pockets that you’re not willing to lose.

- Don’t try to do two museums in one day. By the end of the day, you may never want to even think about Picasso or ships again.

- The Metro system is so good that you really don’t have to stay on the Ramblas to enjoy all of the cool tourist sites.

- Be open to joining in the dance… whatever it may be. The locals will embrace your enthusiasm.

- Night trains are a great way to do long rail trips without blowing a whole day.

- Churros with chocolate….yum! But, skip the whipped cream.

- Sample the sangria everywhere that you go!

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