What a city. I’d always heard many good things about Barcelona, and they all proved to be true. I stayed three nights in Barcelona. It took a lot of time to get all of my gear set, then see all of the sites of the city. The first night was in La Ramblas, a very busy, touristy area. The second day, I quickly migrated to a room right on the beach, and stayed there the next couple of nights. The city is as beautiful as you would expect.
In the easternmost part of the city, and in the old areas, the architecture is just stunning. Intricate detail, bold designs, and features that just tug on the nostalgia for the golden days of architecture in the city.
It was a little difficult to connect with the locals, though, to really draw the culture out. Partially due to the very small amount of Spanish I can speak. However, it seemed that the biggest barrier was differentiating between other tourists and locals. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were 4-5 times as many tourists in the areas I stayed and visited than locals. If someone is from an English speaking country, it’s not hard to tell that they’re not a local. The same for quite a few other places of origin. But more often than not it’s just unclear. I think the locals in the service industry, those that deal with tourists constantly, seem to be quite impatient with us. Maybe especially those who don’t speak Spanish. It was surprising, and a little disappointing. I don’t think this was the rule, but more common than not. On the other hand, almost all of the other locals I was able to interact with were lovely. They were curious and friendly, and I enjoyed my time with them. Also, having the tourists around is not all bad. There were a lot of interesting, and diverse people that I was able to meet, which is the backbone of the purpose for my trip. Particularly, there were a couple of Scottish guys that were awesome to hang out with, and I hope still want to offer me a place to shower and sleep about a month from now!
This is all rather boring, I can tell. Let’s get to some more pictures. First, beaches. I’ve seen a few beaches, but this one takes the cake on my list. It goes on for something like 7 miles. It was extraordinary. Smooth yellow sand, full of people, and the water was truly the perfect temperature. During the heat of the day, it was fairly crowded, but the thing was so long that there was room somewhere. There’s not too many beds directly on the water, so everyone funneled from the rest of the city down a few main streets. Have you seen those Nat Geo videos of the great migration? Three million wildebeests or something like that, rushing across rivers? Seeing people head to the Barcelona beach, just before midday, was reminiscent of that.
The most prominent and popular structure in the city is La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece. Growing up, I always heard people say, about mundane things, “it’s too gaudi” or “I don’t like it, it’s a little gaudi.” I’m a little embarrassed to admit that until I started researching this trip, I didn’t understand the origin of that phrase. Now I do. And while I now understand it, I see that using it as a negative description is a disservice to a genius. You stand in awe when you see what he created. The texture, detail, and brilliance are indescribable.
Several years ago, I read Ken Follet’s wonderful two books about builders in ancient Europe. They were mainly in southern England, but they both had a short stint on the continent, so I don’t mind describing them as such. They are great books, and he is a master storyteller. The books center around the construction of great structures, mainly one epic cathedral. While reading, I had to research the layout of a cathedral, as I was completely ignorant of the nomenclature, e.g. Nave, Transept, Choir, Crypt, Apse, etc., etc. I’m still not too clear on it, but Follet paints such a beautiful picture, you want to visualize it correctly. After reading, and watching Starz’ fantastic translation of the first book to film, I thought I had a good idea of what it would be like to walk into a great cathedral. The even columns, towering walls, celestial ceiling, I thought I could imagine those things correctly in my mind.
I was wrong. I was so wrong that I question whether or not I actually read those books.
The exterior of La Sagrada Familia is beyond stunning in it’s own right. The texture and crenelations, the sculptures and spires will make you reach to hold onto something as you gaze upon it. Then, in the most extraordinary contrast I’ve ever seen, you walk inside, and the smooth lines, branching columns, and sheer polish take your breath away.
The most dedicated cynic, while walking among those epic branching columns, glaring at that most intricate ceiling, could not feel the tiniest sliver of irreverence. It wouldn’t be possible. I’ll never forget being there, looking for so long that my neck screamed in protest, then sitting in a pew only to lean back and look longer.
I hope these pictures do it at least a little justice. They may be a bit out of order, but here they are:
The food in Barcelona, for my palate, was hit or miss. Admittedly more hit than miss, but I still got ahold a few things that weren’t for me. I’ll admit that a lot of this is because I’m not game for any more than the most basic seafood, and seafood is king here. I had good paella, good croquettes, chorizo, and many other great dishes. They have a locally produced ham here called Jamon Iberica that is absolutely amazing. Old fashioned, hard-cured, red meat. The best place I found was a little hole in the wall where all patrons are standing, and it’s nearly a fistfight for space. Imagine the Dry Bean at midnight after a big Aggie win, but with stellar food. That’s this place, and I’m sorry for the non-Aggies who won’t get that reference. Just think, very small place, very good, and very crowded. Unlike many places, this joint had no English translations on the menu above the bar, no pictures of the dishes, and also, everything was in Catalan, rather than Spanish. It’s not too different of a language apparently, but enough so that I was well out of luck. When I found a space close to ordering position, a nice couple very quickly saw that I was out of my element, and needed help. They turned out to be Christian & Friederike, a very cool German couple who mentored me in the ways & methods of that particular dive. Thanks again, Christian & Friederike!!!!
This is the morning I left Barcelona. What a nightmare to get out of the city. But, just had to take it slow and try not to backtrack too much, and I finally made it out.
Ok. I’m very tired. Climbed about 2,600′ on Lagertha over the last two days. I’m going to sleep. I have more pictures from Barcelona, though, so here they are. I have a feeling that on this trip, when I have been too long between posts, but am very tired, I may just do image dumps. The remainder of this post is the first of those. I hope the pictures are worth it. The pictures of the beach below are from Ft. Lauderdale, where I ate lunch waiting for my flight to Copenhagen, rather than from Barcelona.
Happy reading, and I hope you are all well.
And pretty people. Lots of leather pants on pretty people, and lots of pretty people on bicycles. The combination of the three seems a bit dubious to me, but as I completely lack experience with leather pants or being pretty, I’ll reserve judgement for now. Seriously, though. The Scandinavians must have a selective breeding program in place. It’s the only explanation.
I had a few hours to spend around the city central during a layover. Copenhagen seemed like a wonderful city. The people were very warm and kind. I’ve always heard that about the northern European countries, so I was glad that my brief experience there proved it true to me. The only downside to my little stroll was the lunch I had. The special of the day at a little corner cafe was an open faced sandwich. What could go wrong, right? Well, one piece was topped with very large and very fragrant chunks of raw, white, fish. Another was coated with a meat paste of some kind that would have possibly tempted me nearer to the full moon, but not that day. Regardless, a longer return trip will be needed one day to beautiful Copenhagen.
One evening a few years ago, I came across a video on the internet that piqued my interest. No, it wasn’t one of those kinds of videos. It was two rather scruffy looking guys showing how to make a stove out of an aluminum can. They appear to be in some exotic locale, but I’ve no idea where it was. The little stove is simple and ingenious. I quickly grabbed a coke zero can out of the trash, repeated their efforts, grabbed some isopropanol from under the sink, and gazed at the perfectly symmetrical flame as it flickered from the rim. The video went fairly viral for a while, so you may have seen it. If not, take a look. It is interesting, even if you have no plan to trek out on a lightweight camping trip.
The other thing that stuck with me was that the two guys looked like they knew a bit about adventure. They looked like they had a story. I followed the electronic bread crumb trail until I came upon Tom’s site proper. Then I started reading. Then the sun came up. Then I followed a few links to other blogs by people who are “bicycle tourers,” and I read more. I think I sought out a breakfast burrito and a coffee at that point, but I kept reading after. I was completely enthralled. There was no question in my mind that this was for me. This mode of travel, this approach to seeing a place appealed to me more than any I’d previously been aware of. I decided at sometime during that night that I would do this. Barring anything catastrophic that took away the use of my legs, I would do this.
The basic instructions for traveling the world on a bicycle, according to Tom, are simple:
- Get a bike.
- Quit your job.
- Leave (Start pedaling).
This severe approach, while attractive, wasn’t quite for me. I needed to plan a bit, and wait for the right time with work. This was the right path for me, and I believe the timing has mostly worked out for me to go now.
I’m going to fly to Europe this month, get on my bike, and ride about the place. Prospective countries are Spain, UK, Ireland, Scotland, Netherlands, Germany. That’s about as much of an itinerary as I have. I don’t know how far or how long I’ll make it. I may not even like it, but I doubt that.
If you want to delve into this mindset, I’d recommend reading over at http://www.worldbiking.info This has been my favorite cycle tour blog. It follows the story of Amaya and Eric, a couple that have ridden over 140,000 miles through 96 countries during the last few years. All on their bikes. There are trials, and there are tribulations, but they’re still on the road because the positive aspects outweigh any other. Amaya’s writing is nice to read, and it’s full of great pictures from the road. If you go all of the way back to the beginning of the blog posts and read to current, it’s quite an exciting story that spans several years and many, many miles.