Friday, May 2, 2008
We just returned from a trip to Spain with our latest Canadian visitors. Jen and Dave Jupp arrived in Pau last Friday after an exhausting two days of travel. They landed here on a hot and sunny spring morning and were thrilled to see the lush greenery after departing Calgary amidst spring snow. They were only here for 24 hours before we ventured further south, but we squeezed in as much of France during their short stay: steak tartare, escargots, stinky cheese, baguettes, and l’apéro.
Saturday morning, we packed up the Baby Benz and headed toward Barcelona. Thankfully, Dave was the co-pilot as I would never have succeeded in getting us through the three-tiered traffic circle that took us all by surprise. After some more stressful driving moments, we safely parked the car in a parking garage and were ready to explore the city by foot.
I have heard only good things about Barcelona. Everybody seems to love that city. But now that I have seen it for myself, I must say I was a bit disappointed, yet also pleasantly surprised. First, some of the downsides. The city was incredibly expensive; pricier than anywhere else we have visited. Every time we left a restaurant or bar, we felt robbed. The hotel and parking lots were ridiculously expensive. We were relieved to leave the city just to have some control over our money again.
Barcelona is an exhausting city. It is packed with people all hours of the day. Unlike other busy cities we have visited, we could not find anywhere to get reprieve from the crowds. These crowds were certainly packed with tourists, but the city itself is huge, and not as ‘pretty’ as most other European cities. I often felt as though I was in a large South American city rather than a European city.
Now for the good stuff. Spain has produced many great modern artists, and some of their work is on display in Barcelona. We really enjoyed the Picasso museum. But the best surprise was Gaudi’s work. If you are not familiar with him, look up a picture of the Sagrada Familia, the unfinished church that he started in 1882 and will not be completed for many, many years to come. From a distance and on photos, the church appears to have a melting, ugly façade. But a close-up view of the church reveals stunning detail carved into the odd-looking façade. It is a truly great piece of art and a wonder to see in production. I would love to see it completed, but I have a feeling I will be a very old woman when that day arrives. Our next favourite Gaudi sight is his Park Guell. This public park is situated on a hill overlooking the city of Barcelona. It is a wondrous mix of green space and colourful architecture.
Barcelona has a tireless vibrancy to it, and there is no better place to experience this than on the famous street Las Ramblas. Some of its sights include outdoor pet shops selling everything from rabbits to roosters, street mimes wearing the most amazing costumes I have ever seen, art vendors, pickpockets, and clever salesmen trying to sell single cans of beer from six-packs.
More on the second leg of our trip to come.