Barcelona

If you’ve been following the blog, you’re probably asking “Hey, what happened to Pamplona?”  Well, that one is going to take a long time to write and we’re kinda lazy, so here’s a quick post about our two days in Barcelona.

It was an easy train ride from Pamplona to Barcelona on the morning of July 12th. The train station connected to the Metro so we hopped on a line going in the direction of our apartment in the gothic quarter. We got off the subway at Liceau on Las Ramblas, a long pedestrian shopping street full of restaurants and cheesy tourist stuff.  Our apartment was a clean, modern place on the 4th floor of an old building that had a bike rental shop on the ground floor. The powerful AC was a pleasant change after three sweaty nights in Pamplona.

As usual, we went right out and found a grocery store to stock up on cheap eats for the next couple of days. On our way back we made a pit stop at a little greek shop for some gyros and spanakopita. We snacked in the room with some beers and went back out to explore.

The gothic quarter is a collection of narrow streets full of shops and restaurants that is great for aimless walking. Pick a direction and go. When you hit a big street with cars, turn around and go a different direction. We zigzagged for a while before finding the path to the beach. One of the cool things about Barcelona is that one second you’re lost in medieval European streets, and the next you’re walking along in a modern beach town full of bicycles and street performers.

Into the sea

Into the sea

The sun was setting as we plopped down on the sand to open another San Miguel. Jenny ran into the water to take her first steps in the Mediterranean. After dark we walked back to the room along Las Ramblas, a much changed street in the evening with prostitutes hanging around outside sex shops and more than one offer for drugs…

The next day we rode the subway up to see the Sagrada Familia, probably the most famous church in the city. It’s still under construction (since 1882…) and defies any notion of what a catholic church should look like. You could go inside and climb some of the towers, but that didn’t sound like fun on a day pushing 100 degrees.

Detail of La Sagrada Familia

Detail of La Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

We made the long walk back from the church so we could see more of the city. Along the way we ran into another park with one of the most impressive fountains we’ve seen on the trip.

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That afternoon we walked down a street full of restaurants near our apartment and found a place serving delicious looking seafood paella. After questioning whether people in Europe ate vegetables other than potatoes, we finally got a salad before our paella.

Yum

Yum

Later in the evening we wandered around some more, going by the other main churches in the area, around the Picasso museum, and a few major squares. We snacked on pizza and ice cream and went back to pack up for what we knew would be a long trip to Nice the next day.

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Actual Duff beer! (Not actually licensed by the Simpsons)

Actual Duff beer! (Not actually licensed by the Simpsons)

 

Out of France and into Spain

Wed, June 25th – We awoke early, locked the door to the garage of our Bordeaux home, and shoved the key under the door. It was a short dawn hike to a tram stop where we got to navigate another French ticket machine so we could buy some passes to the train station. Tickets in hand, we boarded the train with other early morning commuters and basically realized that we could’ve easily gotten away without having tickets anyway. Four stops later, and we were back at Gare St. Jean where we had started our time in Bordeaux. We wound our way to an information office where they directed us to the shuttle that would take us to the airport for our 9am flight to Seville.

On a rail map, everything seems to connect. It’s a pretty series of colored lines spiderwebbing their way all over Europe. Pass sellers like Eurail give you these maps as if to say “you can get anywhere effortlessly.” What they don’t outright tell you is that to go a few inches on a map from say, Bordeaux to Madrid, involves a ridiculous number of train and station changes, and long trips on slow moving regional routes. France and Spain use different gauge track, so except for the high speed lines, nothing else really connects. That apparently simple trip from France to Spain would in reality take about 14 hours and untold amount of headache. So for a couple trying to get from Bordeaux to the south of Spain, Ryan Air steps in to save the day.

For those unfamiliar with RyanAir, it’s an Irish airline that is the epitome of budget airline. You can find $10 tickets, but they charge you for EVERYTHING you can imagine. It’s one big sales pitch for more luggage, in flight cell plans, travel insurance, food, scratch off lottery tickets, duty free junk, and whatever else you can think of. If you ignore all that, you can fly for half nothing.

Our goal was to get from Bordeaux to Tarifa, the southern tip of Spain just across from Morocco. With rail options being an enormous time drain, we booked a flight to Seville for $75, total, for two people. When we finally did the research on checking in for the flight, we realized that RyanAir offers cheap flights, but they get you when you assume that you get the same carry on baggage allowance as any normal airline. Both of our bags easily fit carry on restrictions in the U.S., but you get a tiny space and weight allowance on RyanAir, so…. Steve had to check his bag. Nooooo!!!!   At a mere $40, you get to check a bag up to 15kg, so we pack his bag full of all the non-essential stuff and left it at the mercy of the budget airline.  Thankfully, it was waiting for us in Seville.

Other than the annoyance of having to check a bag, the RyanAir experience wasn’t terrible. It was a short flight, they spoke English, and everything went smoothly. By 10:30am we had left cold, wet France and stepped out into the cloudless warmth of Andalucian Spain.

A short ride on a packed-to-the-brim bus trip from the airport took us to the Seville train station where we got off and walked the last 3/4 of a mile to Plaza Alfalfa to meet our first Spanish host.  After all the walking we’ve done, the distance is nothing, but doing it with heavy bags and in a heat that was entirely new to us, 3/4 of a mile seems like 10, and it makes you start to question the confidence in your directions when you end up on increasingly narrow, old city streets.

Eventually we found signs saying Alfalfa, and being half an hour early, we sat in the square and people watched. Surrounded by an interesting mix of what seemed to be American students, a group of wheelchair bound elderly, and an ever-changing group of soccer playing kids, we sat absorbing things, hoping that our contact would show up early… because we were sweaty and starving after a morning of travel.

After our meeting time came without sign of our guy, we started looking around and saw a man standing by himself, looking around and at his phone. For all the great things about AirBnB, one of the extra challenges it adds is that you have to arrange check-in times with most of the hosts. Just imagine trying to arrange a meeting in a place you’ve never been, with somebody you’ve never seen, hoping that your flight or train will be on time… and you don’t have a phone if something happens. You basically end up with both parties looking around a hot Spanish square at noon, hoping that one of the people there is the person they’re supposed to be meeting. At that point, you make a guess and walk up to the guy that’s by himself, looking around and at his phone, and approach him hoping that he’s Mario, your contact. This time, at least, you’ll be right.

The apartment was simple, but had all we needed for a single night’s stay. We did some laundry and used the “dryer.”

Our dryer - i.e. the sun

Our dryer – i.e. the sun

We wandered out of the apartment and went to a nearby restaurant that Mario had recommended. We were both instantly in love. Cheap tapas, cheap beer, and a team of pleasant waiters that Steve could half communicate with in choppy Spanish. We got shrimp, tuna and red peppers, mushrooms, chicken skewers, and some sort of pork with some sort of sauce that was baffling but delicious. Four San Miguels and five plates of fantastic tapas for roughly $20. Why oh why had we spent so much time in Paris???

After lunch we entered “wander the city” mode. The streets of old Seville are the non-sensical mess of narrow and winding pathways that you come to love in some European cities. You get a tourist map that doesn’t point north in a city where half the streets aren’t labeled, and learn to love being lost. We meandered our way to the Cathedral of St. Mary first of all.

Carriage rides in blazing sun

Carriage rides in blazing sun

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Past old walls and buildings mixed in with rows of men offering carriage rides from fly covered mules, we found the bus station we’d need to be at the next day for our trip to Tarifa. We went through the park and suddenly saw Plaza de Espana on our left.

Seville is the capital of Andalucia, one of the regions of Spain. The impressive Plaza de Espana was built in the early 1920’s and now houses some government offices.

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These tile images depict various scenes from Spanish history and surround the plaza

These tile images depict various scenes from Spanish history and surround the plaza

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Ceiling decorations at Plaza de Espana

Ceiling decorations at Plaza de Espana

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After getting our fill of the plaza and trying to get away from yet another native american pan-flute band, we bought some orange and lemon slushy drinks, walked along the Guadalquivir river, and got lost once or twice on our way back to to the apartment.

Covered shopping street

Covered shopping street

The Spanish siesta always seemed like an odd concept, but after seeing it first hand in Seville, it’s easy to understand the idea. Get up early, do some work. Take a break when it gets really hot out. Go back out at 9 or 10pm for dinner after the sun goes down and the weather is tolerable again. We thought we’d be able to find seating at on of the many restaurants around Plaza Alfalfa, but everything was packed at 10pm. We ended up getting some pizza and taking it back to the room to consume alongside the little six pack of San Miguel that we picked up at the grocery earlier in the day. We had pizza in France, why not in Spain?

San Miguel beer, or as our waiter referred to it - "vitaminas"

San Miguel beer, or as our waiter referred to it – “vitaminas”

The next morning we got up in time to get a full breakfast at a cafe on the square. Eggs, toast, and some of the iberian ham that they sell everywhere. Followed up with a chocolate covered donut of course (as every meal should be finished). From there, we left the room, loaded up the bags once again, and walked to the bus station to catch our ride to the southernmost tip of Spain.

Breakfast, with iberian ham

Breakfast, with iberian ham

iberian ham, which looks like this in stores...

iberian ham, which looks like this in stores…