June 13, 2012: Barcelona Tour Bus Day

Today is our primary tour bus day.  Our chance to really get out and see the sights of Barcelona.

While I was out for a walk last night I discovered that there was a playground, just a little one, right down the street from our hotel as a large fountain in the middle of the street.  A perfect landmark and the “official” city tour buses have a stop right there so the location is perfect.  I told Liesl about it last night and she spent all evening begging to go to the playground.  We told her that we would go this morning.  So, of course, she woke up talking about the playground and we just had to go the moment that we could get out of the door.

On this trip the whole idea of playgrounds has really taken off for Liesl.  She has always enjoyed them but she was never into them like she is now.  Now she seeks them out.  It used to be little more than going down slides for her but now, finally, she is into swinging, bouncy horses, see-saws, climbing ropes and ladders and pretty much anything that she can find.  She just loves them.  Anytime that she sees one she demands that we stop.  Fortunately Europe is completely covered in playgrounds.  I have never seen so many.  There seems to be one around every corner.

We walked down and both Liesl and Luciana played for a while on the playground.  Luciana is too little for most anything so she pretty much just follows Liesl around and watches.  She is starting to be able to climb up some things and she likes to go down the slides with her daddy holding her.

The playground this morning was in the middle of a large pedestrian square with views of the fountain.  It is very nice.  The playground is split into two areas, one small area with just a slide, and one small area with a see-saw and some spring powered bouncy horses (or whatever animal they are.)  Liesl and Luciana spent a while on the slide without any other kids around.  Then we moved over to the other side and for a bit a little boy came and he and Liesl did the see-saw together.  Liesl really liked that but she was too little to actually put her feet on the ground so she just rode the see-saw while he did all of the work.

While Dominica watched the girls on the playground I was sent out to forage for food.  I had to just settle from stuff from the supermercat on the square as there did not seem to be any restaurants serving food at this time of day, around eleven, in the area.  Spaniards appear to be, and are from what we have heard, rather peculiar about their eating schedules and those schedules are pretty much unique to them so, as an outsider, it is likely that whenever you are getting hungry that there is no food available for you in Spain.

After the playground it was time to get on to the red route bus and take the beginning tour of the city.  We opted for two day passes so that we could use the hop on, hop off bus routes today and tomorrow as we wanted.  Sometimes that is just the easy thing to do as a tourist.  Dominica used that extensively in London in 2007 and was really happy with it.

The red route took us through the heart of the city and the main areas.  Barcelona is just a crazy beautiful city and, from what we can tell already, the weather is really nice here.  Lots of sun but with cool sea breezes that never seem to stop.  Anytime that you are in the shade it feels great.

Barcelona is a very much alive city.  There are people everywhere all of the time.  Everyone seems to get out and stroll and there are bikes going everywhere too.  It is nice to see bicycles again in abundance as Italy had very few.

One thing that really stood out to us was that the primary language on everything was not Spanish but was Catalan.  I knew that Catalan was spoken here but always thought that it was an “underground” language and also confusingly thought that it was incredibly close to Spanish and figured that someone speaking one or the other could at least understand the other person.  Wrong again, Scott.  Catalan is a rather different language and while it is a Romantic language it is not part of the same group as Spanish but is more closely related to Provencal from southern France.  From seeing it written Dominica and I felt that it is far closer to Italian than to Spanish.  So much so that for a while Dominica was convinced that Italian was being used everywhere.

The tour went well and we got to see a ton of stuff.  Barcelona is what a city would look like if it was built for the express purpose of being an architectural museum.  It seems that every building is something special.  A drab, ordinary, everyday building in Barcelona would be a monument or preserved building elsewhere.  The city of Gaudi does not disappoint.  It will make anyone into a lover of architecture.

Barcelona is also surprisingly green and full of fountains.  Both Dominica and I said that this was probably the most beautiful city that we had ever been in.

We listened to the tour and decided to get off just before it returned us to the starting point where we had gotten on to the red line so that we could transfer to the green line which is the shorter, seasonal line that runs along the sea shore.  The switch was easy but after just one or two stops we decided to hop off and explore the beach – one of the primary missions of this trip to Barcelona was to make sure that we got our feet into the Mediterranean.

The clouds had rolled in and there was a good breeze blowing and for just a little bit it was actually a little bit chilly.  We got off of the bus and walked down the beach.  The beach here is amazingly clean sand and very wide and surprisingly devoid of many people which is truly amazing as the streets everywhere are full of tourists who, by and large, are obviously wearing swimsuits under their clothing.

We walked down to the water.  Luciana was pretty afraid of the water and would not let us take her close to it.  I went down and tried the water and it was pretty old.  Dominica took Liesl and, while she didn’t want to do it, she did let Dominica get her feet in the water.  So at least three of us officially went into the Mediterranean.

The sun came out pretty quickly and the people swarmed back on to the beach in a matter of minutes.  It never felt busy in the least.  There was tons of room for everyone.  We easily had half an acre to ourselves.  But there were people here and there all along the beach, no shortage of people but never anyone in your space either.  Definitely one of the nicest beaches that I have ever seen.

From the beach we walked back towards the city just a little bit and found a Man-go (a chain here) restaurant that does tapas.  So we went in and ate lunch.  For us the standard tapas fare includes patatas bravas, Spanish tortilla and similar items.  Here we got squid and, for the first time ever, cuttlefish.  Both Liesl and Luciana loved cuttlefish.  They ate a bunch.  That is pretty much all that Liesl would eat, in fact.

We hopped back onto the green line and took that entire route until it returned us to the red line.  We transferred which only took ten minutes and after a few more stops were back to our hotel.  We discovered that the red line actually had a stop almost directly in front of our hotel that we had not discovered earlier.

We were pretty tired at this point from all of the running around and being out in the sun so we stopped at the hotel and relaxed for a while and let the girls do some napping.

After a while Dominica decided that she really wanted to get back out and do some more touring of Barcelona.  So we set out again and took the red line from out hotel in the middle of the afternoon up to Catalunya Plaza and from there transferred to the blue route and route which took us out to the northwest and out away from downtown into the outer reaches of the city.  This is the route that includes the Sagrada Familiar, Gaudi’s uncompleted masterpiece that, after 140 years just passed the halfway to completion mark this year and for decades has been the symbol of the city.  This is the one thing that we absolutely had to see on this trip and there it was.  There is no way to describe it or to even show it is pictures.  The basilica is larger than you imagine and is breathtaking.

The tour buses took us to many Gaudi buildings, most of which we knew from travel and architectural studies, but boy are they something to see in person.  Each one is truly a masterpiece.  Like nothing I have ever seen before.

The blue line is a long one and by the time that we were done and returned the Catalunya Plaza it was the last drop off of the evening and the final red bus had already run.  We were not worried as we had Metro tickets in our pockets and without luggage it is trivial for us to walk a few kilometers to get back to the hotel, even carrying Luciana and pushing Liesl in the stroller.  So walk we did.

We stopped off at a little bread shop on the way and got baguette pizzas and some pastries.  The walk itself was quite easy both in that we did not get lost whatsoever and that it was mostly even, level ground.  Luciana ate a lot of my pizza and nearly half of the pastry.  I’m not sure if she was starving or if she just loved the food.

During the walk we stopped by at the old Roman ruins that were the foundations of the current city.  Amazing stuff.  This old city with these ancient buildings right there in the middle that have stood for so long.

We got back to the hotel no problem at all and settled in for the evening.  Dominica doesn’t like to eat and walk so she started eating her pizza now but did not like it (pickled peppers on it) so she sent me out to the supermercat to pick up chips and a drink for her.  I went out and returned shortly with chips and a liter of fruit juice that she drank in no time.  Definitely getting dehydrated which is really easy to do when traveling under the best of conditions and super easy to do when dealing with kids and being out in the sun all day.  We got a lot of exposure today for sure.

We talked a bit and we both agree that Barcelona is the best city that we have been in anywhere. If we were to opt for city living over village living, Barcelona is the big contender.  It is a massive city, about three million, but feels mostly small.  Each little neighbourhood has its own everything so you can live locally, like in a village, but have the resources of a really massive metropolitan area.  And there is so much sun and air and open space and greenery that much of it does not feel like a city at all.  And the people are really nice too.  We are having a great time here.

Oh and the nightlife.  Barcelona really comes alive at night.  Dinner doesn’t start until eight or nine and the streets are full even at midnight!

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