Carson really wanted to check another country off the list before he turned 30, so we made it happen! Instead of travelling over Christmas, when we felt things might be busier/more expensive/closed for the holiday, we left December 15 and returned on his birthday, the 19th. We traveled with two friends from our time in Marburg.
We flew from Dusseldorf and it was a short flight, just over two hours with no time difference! We had to do a little hunting at the airport for the best way to get into the city (it wasn't really clear when we checked online), and eventually settled on the Metro. Barcelona has a really neat metro card called a T-10 where you can get 10 rides for 10 Euro, which works out to be about half the price you'd pay if you were paying for rides one at a time. So we took the blue line to the Congres stop and then walked a few short blocks to the apartment we'd rented. It was spacious and HAD HEATED FLOORS and a washing machine.
We were staying outside the tourist area, so when we went to look for a place for dinner, we found a very local place. All the dishes were served on small plates and were meant to be shared amongst the table. We realized very quickly that nobody knew enough Spanish to really read the menu, so we were aided only by a somewhat faulty Spanish dictionary app, and another customer at a nearby table who happened to speak a little English.
We ordered shrimp, which were served cold with the heads on and were SO SALTY. I had one and pushed the plate away.
Carson thought he recognized a word from his high school Spanish so he ordered confidently and then realized when this plate was set before him that there was an extra letter in one of the words so whatever he thought it was turned out to be octopus. They weren't bad even though they were quite a surprise.
We also ordered calamari, fried pig nose (yeah, I didn't try it... Ben was the only one who did, and he ordered knowing what it was), some sort of non-nose pork, and some other meat thing. It was an adventurous meal and we decided that our next meals in Spain needed to be accompanied by menus with pictures. We called this a "VERY cultural experience".
I was really tired, so I went back to the hotel and rested and went to bed early, but the others went exploring. They found this beautiful hospital complex and walked past the Sagrada Familia.
Here are the metro tickets we purchased! They worked on the buses and subways in Barcelona.
The next morning, after snoozing our alarms a few times and leisurely awakening, we headed out to explore the city.
Here's the hospital complex that wasn't too far from our hotel. I believe it's owned and used by the university there.
We spotted the Sagrada Familia from the front of this hospital.
Ivan had searched for a place with pancakes and found one that was about an hour's walk away (because we didn't walk very fast and because we stopped to take pictures/check on line times for Sagrada Familia) so we trudged past lots of neat things as we followed the directions there. The place was called Mama's Cafe, and they did indeed have pancakes. Carson and Ben and I ordered sandwiches, but after we saw the pancakes, Carson and I split an order. I haven't seen pancakes like this in Germany, and these were delicious. Probably not authentically Spanish, but we were okay with that.
We traipsed through a market as we wandered around some more.
And we spotted so many orange trees everywhere! It wasn't crazy warm there (temps were in the high 50s/low 60s and the sun wasn't out), so I was surprised to see citrus fruits!
We walked down a street filled with stores we could never have afforded, all with security guards in tuxedos in the entryways. I'm sure they would have let us in, but I wasn't about to go into Versace and accidentally break anything, so I just looked in the windows and made everyone guess how much this pair of shoes or that suit or backpack were worth (the prices were listed).
On that same street, we passed Casa Mila, or La Pedrera, a building designed by Antonin Gaudi.
Near that was Casa Batllo, another Gaudi-designed building. These places are open for touring, but we were more interested in seeing the outsides.
This is a candy store.
We walked to the cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar next. There was a Christmas market in front of it, mostly selling nativities, handmade goods, and the strangest squatting statues.
Okay, so this is a thing in Barcelona. These little squatting statues are typically of a little peasant man, uh, defecating, but there are lots of statuettes of famous people as well. This is probably one of the weirdest things I've seen, but it's a thing here, and I read that it's common to have these little men in nativity scenes, which has been a thing since the 17th or 18th century.
I don't know that the fascination is with this sort of thing, but another thing we saw a lot were these smiling logs. I thought they were just popular, but when I looked up their significance, their significance is that this is a log that traditionally children would take care of because it was supposed to poop out presents on Christmas Day. It's called Tio de Nadal and you can read about it on Wikipedia.
Anyway, the outside of the church was beautiful, but they charged 10 euro to go inside, so we just looked from the outside and then looked at the Christmas stands.
We got gelato as it started to rain. I had lemon, one of my favorites.
The Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic) is really neat. It's full of twisty narrow streets lined with shops and apartments with balconies full of plants. It didn't appear to be in a grid and so it would be easy to get lost in these streets. They were so beautiful though!
It had been sprinkling a little all day, but just as we made it to the marina, it started really coming down, to the point where it was hard to see, so I threw my raincoat on over my jacket and camera, but everyone else got SOAKED. We decided to hop on a bus and go back to the hotel to throw things into the dryer so we could go out and explore some more.
We got on the bus right near the Columbus Monument (Monument a Colum) so when the rain let up for a second, I snapped a picture in the middle of the street.
There was a grocery store right next to our apartment, so we took a second before heading back up to grab some things for breakfast since we had a full kitchen. I love visiting grocery stores in other countries because they sell such interesting things. For instance, whatever this is isn't bagged, is hard, and has claws at the end.
And these cute cans have grapes in them!
We dried off and made a plan and headed out just after dark. We got off the subway at the Catalunya stop and walked around looking for a dinner option with pictures.
So many places had tapas specials and people outside to lure you in and tell you how great their restaurants/bars were.
I don't remember the name of it, but we chose this place that gave you a drink, three tapas and paella or some other things for cheap. It was good, but I felt like all I could taste in the paella was green pepper and I prefer other tastes, so it was okay. People eat really late in Barcelona, so when we got there at 8, the restaurants were still mostly empty and that felt strange.
We split up after dinner. Ben had met someone on the plane from Germany who was on our return flight as well and they'd decided to meet up for drinks, so he and Ivan took off for that, and Carson and I continued exploring where we'd left off that afternoon.
We didn't get a good picture of the Columbus monument because just as we got close, they turned off the spotlight on him!
We walked around by the port and saw some huge cruise ships setting off, walked past a busy mall filled with glittering stores and restaurants, and enjoyed being by the water. It was a mild and pleasant night, made a little warmer by the rain from earlier.
We took the subway back most of the way and then got off and walked, admiring the Christmas lights in the streets. For a place where oranges are growing, leaves are still on trees, and no other signs of winter, they really made this city look festive!
The next day we went to Montserrat, so more on that soon!