Friday, May 14, 2010

Part 2 - Barcelona

Our flight from London to Barcelona went smoothly.  There was quite a long line for customs once we arrived but luckily Isaac fell asleep in the stroller while we were waiting, slept through baggage claim, and even transferred to the car seat in the cab and slept all the way to the hotel.  One nice thing about the Barcelona airport is that the escalators are just a flat moving ramp instead of steps.  Makes sense, doesn't it?  Most everyone is pulling a suitcase, or pushing a luggage cart, stroller, etc so why wouldn't you just have a flat surface instead of steps?

On our drive to the hotel I noticed something out the window, which from a distance looked like some type of cliff dwellings or little apartment buildings.  Whatever it was, I found it captivating and intriguing.  As we got closer I could see more detail: a plethora of crosses, angel statues, and headstones made it obvious that this was the city's cemetery.  I regret not snapping a picture but thanks to flicker and some other tourist's photography skills, I have a picture anyway!

The Barcelona Cemetery

We stayed at the Hilton Diagonal Mar which is right across from the ocean on one side, and a large shopping mall on the other.  We thought it was a great location and enjoyed having the views of the city and the water from our window.  Our room was a nice size (especially for Europe) and they brought in this extra long pack n' play for Isaac which worked out perfectly because Isaac is a pretty tall kid.  I have never seen one of these in the US.  It was just like all of our Graco pack n' plays except the length was that of a standard crib.

View of the Mediterranean from our hotel room

You can see Torre Agbar right in the center of the picture, Sagrada Familia a little to the right, and the Tibidabo church is on top of the mountain in the top right corner.  

View from our room - that is the mall right below us

After getting settled in our room a bit we headed out for dinner.  We just walked across the street to the mall and chose from one of the many restaurants facing the large courtyard.  We ate at Vip's, which was a little like a TGI Friday's or some other chain.  Charlie and I thought the food was decent, but I think it was probably Isaac's favorite meal of our entire trip.  He is normally such a good eater at home, but for some reason he barely ate anything while we were away.  That night at Vip's he got some of his favorites - chips with guacamole and refried beans.  It felt a little late to us, eating dinner at 8:00, but the night was still young in Barcelona!  Dinner for them is usually around 9:00 or 10:00 at night.

Isaac eating dinner at Vip's

Dinner at Vip's - papas fritas and some kind of taco things

Something interesting that Charlie noticed right away when we sat down for dinner was that the menu was not in Spanish.  We later learned that as part of Catalonia, Barcelona has two official languages: Spanish & Catalan, which is more similar to French than Spanish.  Charlie speaks Spanish well and had no problem speaking with the locals, but the written Catalan threw us off a bit.  

Charlie at Vip's

Friday was a big site seeing day for us.  It was Good Friday, so the stores were all closed, and I think many of the locals were out seeing the tourist sites with us!  There were big crowds everywhere we went.  The first stop was the Sagrada Familia.  It is one of Barcelona's top tourist attractions and for good reason.  This church is an enormous tower of catastrophe!  Construction began in 1882 and it is not expected to be completed until 2026.  It is considered to be the "master work" of architect Antonio Gaudi, who designed several other famous buildings around the city.  I'm not a huge fan of his work, but it is definitely unique!  We did not go inside because a) there was a long line, b) it cost a lot of money, c) Isaac would not have been patient, and d) to be honest, we just weren't that interested.  Isaac liked this place because there were lots of tall cranes.

The Nativity Facade at the Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia Spires (plus a crane)

Some bizarre architectural details - gotta love the fruit on top of the church!

After viewing some of the facades and architectural details from the street, we strolled over to the nearby park to sit and enjoy the sunshine for awhile.  After several days of cold & rain in London we were grateful for the warmer temperatures.  Isaac chased pigeons for awhile and we shared a lemon ice.

View of Sagrada Familia from the park (Isaac & I are on the bench in the bottom right corner)

From there we set out walking to several other nearby sites.  We saw La Pedrera, which is another Modernista Gaudi building.  Charlie said he thought it resembled a Toon Town building because of it's curvy exterior and the way it seems to kind of melt into the pavement.  By day it serves as a tourist attraction, and by night it serves as a nightclub to the locals.

Isaac & Charlie at La Pedrera

Next we passed by Casa Batllo, another Gaudi building, on our way to Palau de la Musica Catalana.  This was one of my favorite buildings that we saw because I loved all of the colorful mosaic tiles and the  pillars around the exterior.  We would have liked to go inside to see the famous stained glass dome, but we opted not to because of reasons a, b, & c previously mentioned. 

Mosaic pillars at Palau de la Musica Catalana

Charlie at Palau de la Musica Catalana

Isaac & Carrie aPalau de la Musica Catalana

We stopped by the Barcelona Cathedral and found that it too was under construction.  This was good news for Isaac because spotting a crane always brings a smile to his face.  We passed by a church, Esglesia de Santa Maria del Mar, and stopped inside for a minute.  To our amazement, Isaac happily sat in a pew and quietly observed the sculptures and stained glass windows.  Too bad our church building at home doesn't have such an ornate chapel!  

Charlie at the Barcelona Cathedral 

Isaac checking out the Esglesia de Santa Maria del Mar

While on this trip Isaac learned how to pose for pictures.  Before long he was picking out his own photo ops.  He would run up to a truck, turn around, and say "eeeeese!"  And then before I could even snap the photo, he'd come running back to see himself on the camera screen.

After walking around most of the day, we went back to the hotel to just relax for awhile and snack on some donuts.  Earlier that morning we stopped by the supermarket at the mall hoping to stock up on bottled water and snacks, but unfortunately it was closed for Good Friday.  The good news was that we found a Dunkin Donuts that was open, so we picked up a box to take back to the room.  I rarely eat donuts, but when I do, I really love their Boston Cream.  It's probably a good thing that there are no Dunkin Donuts in CA!

Around 8:30 we went back to the mall for some dinner.  We ate most of our meals over there because it was just so convenient to walk across the street and they had a decent selection of restaurants.  Even if it wasn't the best or most authentic food in the city, we did have some good meals.  That night we chose a Spanish place called La Casa del Pescado.  We ordered off the set menu which allowed us to sample a lot of the regional food.  They served us a seafood soup, some mixed olives, a pasta carbonara, green beans with diced ham, a Spanish version of bruschetta, and Russian salad which was like an egg based potato salad.  Charlie had the lamb chops and I had a seafood paella.  I must admit, I didn't love any of the dishes, but it is always fun to try something new.  It was crazy to me that as we were leaving the restaurant around 10:00, there were families with little children and babies just coming in for dinner!  

Carrie & Isaac eating dinner at La Casa del Pescado

Spanish bruschetta, olives, pasta carbonara, Russian salad, green beans & fish soup

Lamp chops w/ french fries and seafood paella

On Saturday we were looking forward to doing a little shopping because it was the only day of our trip that the stores were actually open.  We started out our day at McDonald's.  Confession:  we ate a lot of McDonald's in Barcelona!  Internet service at our hotel cost 27 euros/day (approximately $35), but the wifi at McDonald's was free.  So yes, we went to McDonald's everyday and sometimes twice a day (though we weren't always eating).  

Isaac the drink snatcher - this kid loves soda! 

After breakfast we were finally able to get into Auchan (the supermarket) and stock up on some drinks and a few other snacks for the hotel room.  I liked their shopping baskets.  They had regular shopping carts, but they also had the smaller baskets that you could either carry or pull.  This store had the escalator ramps too so you could shop with your cart on both levels.  

Shopping at Auchan

Next we took the subway to La Rambla, which is a shopping promenade in the center of the city.  It is filled with shops, restaurants, street performers, and souvenir stands selling all kinds of jewelry, art work, flowers, and even birds.  Though it is packed with people, and feels a little kitschy, it was still interesting to see.  At the end of the boulevard is El Corte Ingles - a huge seven floor department store that carries everything you could possibly think of!  We knew there was a cafe inside and we were hoping to sit down for a drink or a little snack, so we kept going up and up and up these escalators, and when we finally reached the seventh floor we found a cafe that was totally packed with a huge line of people waiting to sit down.  So we turned around and headed right back down.

The people in Barcelona seemed to really enjoy Isaac, more so than the people in London.  Lot's of people, mostly on the subway, would want to touch his face or his hair and someone was always willing to give up a seat for him.  And Isaac loved loved LOVED the subway!  This was by far his favorite thing in either city.  He loved to watch for the trains coming down the tunnel and feel the gust of wind as they rushed into the station.  He also loved having his own seat and watching out the window, and counting all the stops until it was time to get off.  And the escalators in the stations were pretty fun too.

Anyway, after leaving the store we headed over to Barceloneta, which is a neighborhood right on the Mediterranean.  I loved this area because the architecture is all 18th century, rather than the more Modernista feeling that you get in many other areas of the city.  (Okay, I know this is nerdy but I saw an episode of the Bachelorette where they went to Barceloneta and so I kind of had it in my head that that was how the whole city would look.)  We walked down through the harbor, stopped for some gelato, and then walked along the beach all the way back to our hotel.  There was a nice pathway where Charlie also went running every morning.  

Once back at the hotel, Charlie offered to stay with Isaac while I did a little shopping.  I am always up for shopping!  The mall was totally packed and crazy, but I managed to walk away with a couple of little finds. Apparently, Charlie & Isaac had a little photo shoot while I was gone because this is a sample of what I found on the camera later on:

That night we went back to the crowded mall once more for dinner at a Mexican place.  Definitely "mall food," but with Isaac it's really just so much easier to grab a quick bite than to try and sit in a restaurant where a meal is a 3 hour event.  

Sunday morning we awoke to cloudy skies and rain.  It was Easter Sunday and we knew that not much would be open.  We started our day with Toblerone McFlurries and then spent a little more time in our room just relaxing and waiting for the weather to clear up.  I had read in our guide book that the museums had free admission on the first Sunday of each month, so we thought we'd try our luck at the Picasso museum.  It took a bit of wandering before we found the place and along with it, we found a packed alley way and about an hour long wait to get inside the museum.  Needless to say, we did not go inside.  By this time the skies were clear and it had turned out to be a beautiful day. 

In addition to the cemetery, one thing I noticed while driving into the city was a church building on top of the mountain overlooking the city.  Tibidabo is the highest point in the city.  In addition to the church, there is an old amusement park located at the top of Tibidabo.  Our journey to the top began by taking the subway out to the edge of the city.  There is an old trolley that runs from the subway stop to halfway up the rest of the hill.  Like most things in Barcelona that weekend, the line for the trolley was just a little too long.  We decided to walk and get a little work out in.  Finally, we boarded a funicular (a cable car on a steep railway) that took us the rest of the way up.  Upon walking out of the station we were immediately greeted with a spectacular view of the city.  Even with the views from our hotel room, we hadn't realized how far out the city stretched.  From the top of Tibidabo we could see Barcelona stretching out all around us and the Mediterranean disappearing into the horizon.  It was quite breathtaking.

Carrie & Isaac at the Tibidabo lookout

Charlie at the Tibidabo lookout

A view of Barcelona from Tibidabo

As I'm sure most two year olds would be, Isaac was much more interested in the amusement park behind us than the views in front of us.  The park is over a 100 years old and has a quaint charm to it.  I would have loved to stay longer but being up so high with wind chill it was pretty cold out.  The two rides Isaac chose to go on were the ferris wheel and the airplane.  We walked right onto the ferris wheel, but the airplane was a different story.  The line didn't look that long, but I just didn't realize how slowly it was moving!  The airplane is a 1928 replica that is propelled by it's own engine and turns in circles above the park.  We probably waited 45 minutes for this - the longest we waited for anything during the entire trip!

Isaac riding the ferris wheel at the top of Tibidabo

Charlie waiting for us down below

The Temple de Sagrat Cor at the top of Tibidabo

The airplane ride

After some down time at the hotel that evening we headed - you guessed it - across the street to the mall for some dinner.  This time we chose a place called Freeway, an international buffet.  Unfortunately their attempts at French, Italian, Mexican, Asian, and American cuisine were rather unimpressive.  They did however get the Spanish food right!  We had seconds and thirds of the bread with jamon serrano & manchego cheese, and also the grilled chorizo sausages.

Our last day in Barcelona was spent relaxing on the beach & by the pool.  Since we had booked a beach front hotel on the Mediterranean, I think we were both hoping that the weather would be a little warmer than it was.  The low 60's are pleasant enough, but not exactly ideal for sunbathing or swimming.  But the Wood brothers can never pass up an opportunity to get in the ocean, and sure enough Charlie went for a quick swim in the freezing cold water!  Isaac is still a little wary of the ocean and greatly disapproved of his dad disappearing under the waves.  The two of us stayed safe and dry up on the sand.

Later on that day we spent some time at the pool.   Isaac can never resist a pool, even one that is filled with freezing cold water!  I never went in past my ankles, but Isaac kept getting a rush out of stepping down to his waist and then jumping back up to higher ground.  Charlie, of course just dove right in!  He even talked Isaac into coming with him out to the middle of the pool.  I'd like to say I was perfectly content to just relax in the sun, but I was not.  I was feeling a bit irritable that day and not enjoying sitting outside with the cold wind.  So our pool trip was cut short by me, the grump.

Can you tell I was really happy to be there?

For our last night in Barcelona we headed out to another La Rambla type boulevard known for it's shopping and restaurants.  We ate dinner (not at the mall!) at an Italian place that was actually fairly authentic, and shared a margherita pizza and spaghetti carbonara.  Our last stop for the evening was to see the Torre Agbar.  It is an egg shaped sky scraper that is covered in blue and red fluorescent lights and marks the technological district of Barcelona.  There's not anything to do there other than to take a picture, so that's just what we did.

The Torre Agbar at night

Isaac waiting for the subway train

Tuesday morning we were sad to pack up and leave, but after 10 days of vacation we felt ready to get back home.  We flew from Barcelona to JFK and then back to LAX.  It felt like an incredibly long day, and it was!  After being awake & traveling for 22 hours we finally dropped into bed, happy to be home.  And Cracker was very happy to have us home too!  

We thought Barcelona was a charming city and we enjoyed having time to enjoy the culture and to just relax and be together as a family.  Barcelona is not home to any famous tourist sites, and there is no one thing that would draw us back there, but the city as a whole was impressive and worth paying a visit to. We do wish we had not visited during a holiday weekend when things were so busy and crowded.  But most of all, we just enjoyed having a family vacation and spending time together.  We feel very fortunate to be able to travel to such fabulous places and to create wonderful memories.

Next stop:  Costa Rica!