After breakfast at Cafe Zurich, we spent our first full day in Barcelona seeing the major Gaudi stuff. We started at the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s most famous architectural creation that is still 20 years from completion. (Gaudi, Austin tells me, was run over by a tram but his architecture plans are still intact.) From the outside the church is stunning. After paying 5 euros to go inside I can say it was dissapointing. There are some pretty good views on the inside of the forest-like architectural style amidst all the construction and scaffolding and construction workers. A friend from San Francisco had told Austin that if we go to this Gaudi then we just have to climb to the top of one of the towers and get an amazing view. How wrong this turned out to be.
To get to the top you can climb the stairs or take the lift. Before knowing about the stairs we simply waited in line for the lift (a 2 euro fee). We waited and after a few minutes decided against the idea of a 30 minute queue. We walked around to the other side, out of curiosity’s sake, and amazingly found another lift with a much much shorter line. Why the staff didn’t re-direct people from the other line to the shorter one is beyond me. Around the wall, though, lay the entrance to the stairs. Yay! Avoid the 2 euro fee and take advantage of our youthful energy and bulging calves. We started the trek up the narrow, dark, windy stairs. Up and up and up. Heart pounding, chest sweating. A little workout. We got to the "top" only to realize that stairs only go about 3/5 of the way up. WTF? Why wasn’t there a sign that said this? Everyone who went up the stairs was pissed and we all cursed in our respective native tongue. The view from our little 3/5 platform sucked. We walked all the way down the stairs to the bottom and re-queued for the lift. Austin and I took the proactive approach of warning each person before they headed for the stairs. The stairs attract a lot of go-getters but convincing them it was a scam was easier than I expected. Finally the lift took us to the top. The views were OK, but frankly, I’ve seen better. All that for this? Then we had to climb back down the stairs where we bumped into people going the wrong way and were caught behind a Japanese baby whose parents refused to pick him up and instead used the 300 steps in a claustrophic dark spiral staircase as his practice session for walking. About 15 seconds away from the bottom we hear a voice from a girl ahead of us: "It’s a dead end!" We all stop in our tracks. I turn to Austin and the Brit behind us: "No fucking way. This has been a total disaster." Austin cooly responded, "I’m sure there’s a door." Of course there was a door. The woman just didn’t think to open it.
Next up was Park Guedell, a Gaudi-designed urban park that would be a stunning place to hang out and read and walk if there weren’t so many tourists! To me, it seemed like a cross between an African desert, Thailand beach, and Palm Springs, CA boulevard (that’s right – I’ve never been to Africa or Asia, but I know my stereotypes). The only thing I remember from Park Guedell was my search for water and the immense satisfaction I took in finding a free fountain.
We bused over to the FC Barcelona soccer stadium, next. FC Barcelona is the City’s European club soccer team. Of course entrance to anything and everything costs money and weren’t about to throw down another 7-8 euros just to see a stadium or a musuem about the team. So instead we parked ourselves at a fast food sandwich place and hung out in the shade until 2 PM. Then the more cultured and art inclined Austin headed for some other musuems while I found a gym near the hostel. Having been on the road for more than a month, my travel pace has slowed and I’m no longer able to do dawn to dusk tourism. My workout was noteworthy only for the Spanish girl working out next to the lat pulldown machine who did endless, and I mean endless, buttocks exercises and sure enough her shorts said in English "I’m doing this for YOU." Thank you?
For dinner we dined at an outdoor cafe where we both got Paella Mixta, a tasty seafood-esque Spanish dish Austin recommended. It was pricier than I would have liked and the without-a-tip-I-don’t-give-a-shit waiter didn’t provide a positive ambience, and the homeless person who approached our table with a plate asking for us to give him some food was a little unnerving, but all in all it was a good outdoors Spanish meal.
The next day Austin visited a Pacasso musuem while I hunted for a laundrymat, where I met an American family from Texas whose Dad got a job in Qatar in oil and now they live there for four years. We spent the afternoon on the crowded but gorgeous Barcelona beach where the sun was aplenty, water quite warm, and mood of the beachgoers upbeat. Four hours later we heard thunder and people started leaving — but for a few drizzles, the rain never came. As I write this on the train to Madrid, I can say Barcelona is a beatiful city with friendly people though not "stunning." I’m told Barcelona is an interesting contrast to Madrid, so I will write more on the two cities after spending several days in Madrid.