At last, Paris, for last

Due to Internet limitations, the Senior Year Abroad blog has suffered. Some of that was also due to the author’s procrastination and lassitude. We will catch up on the crossing and London shortly. And add photos when I figure out how to get them back off the phone and into the computer.

But now we are on the the last leg of this trip and our entire Senior Year Abroad. Back to Paris, where it all started just 13 months ago.

After a lovely day and a half in London packed with sight seeing and friends meeting, we Ubered over to St. Pancras Station and the Chunnel train first thing on a gray morning. St. Pancras is an international station, so entry to the train platforms is restricted by train time. Fortunately, we had to wait only a couple of minutes to be let through into passport control and security. The process is pretty much the same as in airports–coats off, luggage loaded on the rollers to be scanned, phones and keys out of your pockets. (I actually forgot to take my British change out, but passed through the scanner without incident.)

Passport control is fairly serious, much more so than in the European countries. The passport officer gazed intently at me while holding my passport in his hands to make sure I was the same person in my photo. That never seems to happen in the Schengen Zone.

Sufficiently screened, we grabbed a cup of coffee and a croissant to wait for our train, and boarded without major incident or drama, except for my momentary move to the wrong car and Lynn missing our seats in the correct car, forcing us to swim upstream against the tide of passengers moving forward.

The Chunnel ride, like most European trains, is great. We tooled through the English countryside at some 280 kph and crossed under the Channel so fast, I didn’t realize we had done so, until Lynn pointed out that the signs were now in French.

Two hours later, we emerged into Gare du Nord in Paris to a confusing swirl of taxi hustlers trying to take us on an 85 euro ride to the Left Bank. Lynn sensed something was very wrong, as the cab “representatives” all claimed a strike of taxis against Uber was disrupting their regular departures.

First we walked downstairs under the station to an area where the reserved cabs are stationed, but felt extremely uncomfortable about getting into a black car with no cab sign on top. Then we went back upstairs to the main taxi line to be told the cab would be a flat 85 euro charge to go to the Left Bank. We declined that as well.

Neither the train information booth nor the police seemed to know anything about a taxi strike, so I hailed Uber. As we walked out of the station to hail an Uber driver, I saw a line of cabs right across the street. We took the first one, operated for the first time ever in my experience in France by a English-speaking driver. He knew exactly where we were going. The fare was 13 euros.

And he knew nothing of an anti-Uber strike. He explained that Gare du Nord has turned into a cesspool of taxi scams, as most of the arrivals are from England and don’t know any better. (Understandably–a cab to Heathrow from downtown London can easily hit 100 pounds on a bad day.)

At 36 rue Broca, Marie Forget, our landlord’s wife, greeted us at the door, grabbed Lynn’s suitcase and led us up the stairs to the apartment. All 61 of them.

Once she showed us around and left instructions on how to use the key, Marie departed, and we were home in Paris once again.

Lynn instantly detested the apartment.

After all the great luck we have had with apartments in Paris, Nice, Venice, Florence, Lisbon, Madrid and Barcelona, our good fortune ran out on rue Broca.

First, the VRBO web site spotted the apartment far from its actual address, which you don’t know until you have paid. According to VRBO, the apartment should have been but two blocks from our place last year on rue Laplace. Instead, rue Broca is many blocks away, though still in the Fifth, and not close to the river or Blvd. St. Germain at all.

But worse, in Lynn’s eyes, the apartment was unclean and unkempt. That’s a mortal sin. And it’s raining and cold.

Luckily, it’s only a week, and we will find good wine and good food and good times, regardless of the weather and the relative condition of our apartment.

After a quick, damp walk to a nearby alimentation for essentials (coffee, milk and wine), we trudged up the 61 stairs to unpack, charge up and settle in. Within minutes, Lynn had already found two promising restaurants steps from 36 rue Broca.

Maybe our luck has not run out after all.

 

First day at sea: exploration

Our first day at sea awoke to heavy fog outside, seas about 4-6 feet and chilly breezes about 15-18 mph. The Cunard TV channel 45 displays a loop of position and conditions, and channel 43 shows a bridge cam of the view forward. Not much on this foggy morning, as we steamed eastward toward the longitude of Nova Scotia.

It was easy to sleep in, as tired as we had been from the long day before. Besides, it doesn’t get light until late at this time of the year and latitude. Our stateroom in the forwardmost bow of Deck 5 gives us more ride for our money, for sure. The motion is gentle and subtle though constant. On the other hand, we have noticed that in the areas farther astern feel the engine vibrations much more, a constant, persistent low level vibration at your feet.

We barely made breakfast in the Britannia before they shut it down. Lynn’s Eggs Benedict was deemed excellent. My eggs were poached perfectly, although accompanied by tasteless Cumberland sausage. The croissants were quite buttery and flaky, not quite French but certainly passable.

We signed up for a small Internet package so we could have some basic level of e-mail. It’s expensive at $.75 a minute (Embarkation Special–$47.95 for 135 minutes), clumsy to log in and operate, excruciatingly slow to load (despite more than 800 hot spots around the ship), and we have to hold our stateroom door open to get on at all. Later the next day I learned that the system requires more than just a simple log-off, as our 135 minutes disappeared when I did not close down a browser tab properly, leaving me technically online, even though I had clicked the log off button. I understand this is a satellite based system, but in this day and age, you would think that 21st century shipboard online access would be cheaper, faster and simpler. It’s none of those.

(Special note: this is also the reason there will be no photos until we reach England and regular Internet access. I can’t download photos from my phone to drop them into this blog.)

Internet aside, our goal this first day at sea was to explore the ship from stem to stern, top to bottom. The bridge viewing area is on Deck 12, in a small space behind a glass wall separating the working staff from us passengers. Deck 12 is 41 meters (135 feet) above the waterline. The bridge crew of two officers and their quartermasters work four-hour watches, and the viewing area offers informative brochures about the operation of the ship and its technical specifications.

After our initial circumnavigation of the QM2 along the promenade outside Deck 7, we launched on our most important exploration of all—the quest for a Bloody Mary. No need to wait for Sunday.

The ship offers a number of friendly watering spots, including as the Chart Room, the Golden Lion, Carinthia Lounge, the Veuve Clicquot (figure out what they serve there), Sir Samuel’s, a pool bar at the indoor pool and a host of others. They all play some form of music all day long to attract passengers to stop in and sample their wares.

Since all your food is included in your passage, the only extra charges are for beverages. Prices are reasonable–$8.95 for a Bloody Mary and most regular mixed drinks, $4.75-6.50 for beer and $8-14 for wine by the glass. Our first Bloody Mary was in the Golden Lion, the British pub where a lively game of darts goes on all day long.

Verdict on the Bloody Marys—just fine, but require a bit of instruction to the bartenders for more Worstershire and less Tabasco. We will keep testing across the ship.

After a lunch at the sprawling King’s Court buffet restaurant that runs almost the entire length of Deck 7, we made our way back to the stern of Deck 14, where the indoor pool and hot tubs are located. The golf simulator is adjacent to the pool, and on the spur of a moment I signed up for the pitching contest. Some 15 of us swung away to a pin 90 yards away. Miraculously, I actually hit the green on my first shot and finally finished 7th in the contest, after being ranked as high as 4th.

Wednesday was the first of three formal nights on the ship, so we gussied up ion our best to join our dinner companions in the Britannia. The experience of wearing a tux and long dress to dinner is what the Queen Mary 2 is all about—elegance from another age.

Sadly, during the day, the QM2 experience is much like any other cruise ship. The uniform dress includes—even in early January on the North Atlantic—shorts, t-shirts, flip flops and tattoos. Brits do not dress any more elegantly than Americans.

We embark. And embark again

Travel day at last. Alarm goes off at 2:30 a.m., then again at 3:00 a.m. United Cab arrives at 4:00 a.m. With no traffic on I-10 and few people flying out at ungodly pre-dawn hours, we were through security and walking down the concourse to our gate by 4:40 a.m.

Concessions in MSY do not open until 5:00 a.m., so we had to wait a little while before Lynn could purchase coffee. Thankfully she had the foresight to make a ham and cheese sandwich in advance that we munched on while we waited for the plan to take off.

If New Orleans was foggy and muggy, New York was foggy, rainy and cold when we landed three hours later. The cab to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal cost nearly $50. Combined with a $42 ride to MSY, we spent nearly a hundred bucks in transportation before we ever boarded the QM2.

The Brooklyn terminal is a huge warehouse-like structure, staffed by very chatty, friendly officers who guided us through the security lines (much easier than airports), then to check-in to receive our guests cards, then guided us to a seat in a huge hall to wait on the ship.

Also waiting to board the ship were hundreds of “in transit” passengers .” These were people who boarded the QM2 in Southampton, sailed to St. Thomas, then on to New York and finally back to England. Talk about a Great Loop.

For the most part, the “in transit” passengers are ancient. Wheelchairs, electric scooters and canes are everywhere by the hundreds. One even collapsed while waiting, bringing out the EMT officers and finally being wheeled out of the terminal wearing an oxygen mask.

Our boarding number was 20, so we were prepared for a long wait to walk aboard the ship. In the meantime, I bought a hot dog at the concession stand (not bad but definitely not ballpark standards). Soon after, they called out numbers in large groups, so our 20 card was the third group called.

Actual boarding was uneventful and most well organized. Our group walked through a long enclosed gangway into the main lobby of the ship, where we were greeted warmly by the staff to direct us to our respective cabins.

Ours was the most forward on Deck 5, the last one before the crew’s quarters. Although nicely spacious, our cabin is smaller than the ones closer to mid-ships, and the port looking out over the Atlantic is small and round instead of large and rectangular. Nonetheless, we found it quite comfortable and spacious.

When we unpacked, we found some of the clothes in my bag a bit damp from leakage of rain through the zippered top. Two t-shirts and Lynn’s bathrobe needed a bit of drying. But more importantly, the wine was fine.

By now, we were extremely hungry, so off to the King’s Court buffet restaurant we went in search of a quick lunch. Seemingly, so did the other 2,500 or so passengers. The King’s Court is a multi-room affair offering everything from burgers and hot dogs to prime rib and sushi. We were glad to sample their salad bar (Lynn) and carvery (Tom). Our review was that the food for a buffet was not bad but not exciting either. Something tells me that will be our experience everywhere else too.

The mandatory safety briefing and lifejacket donning session was held at 4:30 p.m. Our muster station was located in the gym, and our muster teachers were all strikingly beautiful young British women. Turned out they were doing double-duty—these were the dancers in the show staged each evening at the Royal Court Theatre. If the ship goes down, I hope they jump into the same lifeboat with us.

After a short nap—remember, we had been up since 3 a.m.—we continued our exploration of the huge ship. Map in hand, we found our way to the Commodore’s Lounge overlooking the bow of the ship to view our embarkation. About 5:30 p.m., the bow of the ship slowly moved away from the pier.

Our voyage had begun.

And then the waiters closed all the window shades that looked out over the bow. They obscure the bridge’s view ahead so must be closed when the sun sets.

We retreated to our stateroom for a free glass of wine and view of the Hudson passing by through our porthole.

Since we had chosen the late 8:30 p.m. dinner seating in the Britannia Restaurant, we explored yet another bar, the Carinthia Lounge, where they specialize in Portuguese and Spanish wines (and Port, needless to say).

Then it was off to the Britannia to meet our dinner companions. And can you believe it? Sitting next to us were Conrad and Barbara Streuli, the parents of Stu Streuli, New York Yacht Club’s communications director. We had plenty to talk about. The third couple was from Cleveland by way of New York, and they too sail and boat. Cunard did well in our pairing. An auspicious start to the crossing.

Time to go

Sunday. Last day in Barcelona. It’s a lay day, because we have done just about everything we wanted or could do in the last three weeks. But it is also a getaway day, so a few good-byes must be said.

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Sunrise from our apartment. How could you ever, ever get tired of this view?

Brunch at Milk. Still the best Bloody Mary in Europe. The yellow stuff being spooned into the mixture was celery salt, exactly what we add at home. And he squirts an enormous amount of citrus from a squeeze bottle into the concoction. Plus the beer topper. Not sure I will try that at home.

Eggs Benedict are near perfect. Well, maybe just completely perfect. The eggs are expertly poached. The yolks run a rich, deep orange. You can use the toasted baguette to mop up, but the Lyonnaise potatoes are even better. We timed our entrance precisely at 10 a.m., walked right in and were immediately seated at the bar to watch the masters at work. Within 15 minutes, we could see in the back bar mirror a crowd of petitioners waiting in the street for their turn at Barcelonan brunch excellence.

We waddled back the two blocks to our apartment for a quick respite, then walked up to the cathedral to see if the band was playing this Sunday and the locals were dancing the traditional sardana we had seen our very first day here. To our disappointment, there was no band on the steps of the cathedral, no group dancing. The placa is taken over by scaffolding and lights for the Christmas celebration (aka sales tents) that will start next weekend.

(By the way, since Spain and Europe are not burdened by Thanksgiving, they have already started Christmas decorations and promotions. Milk was festooned with garlands and a Christmas tree when we walked in earlier today. Signs have been posted for at least a week on the major shopping thoroughfares like Passeig de Gracia promoting the beginning of Christmas shopping any day now.)

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The light standards are already in place for the Christmas sales market on the plaza in front of the Barcelona Cathedral.

No dancing, no music at the cathedral, so we made our way back to the apartment and started to do a little advance packing. We have found that packing 75% in advance saves 90% of the hassle and stress on getaway day.

Then it was off for a last walk through the harbor to look at the monster yachts. Ona had already departed, leaving Phoenix2 and Mayan Queen to loom over the quay. They are still massive, still waiting to head to the islands for winter.

And after that a final visit to Fastnet, our Irish sailing bar in Barceloneta. Mariola, our Polish/Irish bartendress, welcomed us warmly, and as she drew our last beers, she announced that she too would be leaving Fastnet in a week to go back to Poland for Christmas then return to get another job in Barcelona. We bade safe travels to each other and promised to ask after her at Penny Banger when we return. They will know where she winds up.

Finally, it’s off to Sensi Tapas for our last supper in Barcelona.

As always, Sensi was superb. Made for Americans. Comments about that another time. After dinner drink at Penny Banger. Good night and good bye, Barcelona.

Up MontJuic and down one more time. And again.

One of our favorite spots in Barcelona is MontJuic, as it is for most Barcelonans too. It’s an extensive park with fountains sprinkled throughout the green space and topped by the historic castle and the Olympic Stadium. From our apartment, getting there is part of the fun. We walk down Passeig de Colom to La Rambla, then take the Metro one stop to the funicular, which transports us right up the hill, all on one Metro ticket.

funicular-montjuic-station
The funicular brings you right to MontJuic on the same Metro ticket.

Saturday was at least our third ride up the hill. This time we were bound for the Olympic Stadium and complex at the top, a walk of about 15 minutes or so from the funicular station. The idea was to tour the stadium, then walk all the way down to Placa Espana at the ground level. The trip offers some of the best views of Barcelona around, with Tibidabo in the distance and Familia Sagrada standing out on the horizon depending on where you are on MontJuic..

Barcelona, which is not all that much larger than New Orleans in population,  hosted arguably one of the most successful Olympics in modern history back in 1992. The main Olympic stadium, officially named Estadi Olimpic Luis Companys, was originally constructed in 1927 for the 1929 International Exhibition and Barcelona’s 1936 Olympic bid, which went to Berlin. It was refurbished and repurposed for the 1992 Olympics and continues to host athletic events and major concerts to this day.

olympic-stadium-name
The Olympic Stadium is named after the last elected president of Catalonia, Luis Companys.

Remarkably, the stadium is open to the public to tour and walk about for free . The main concourse overlooking the field is open for viewing about 180 degrees around the stadium. A  gift shop and cafe are both conveniently located steps from the main entrance.

olympic-stadium
Open Jump is one of the programs for kids to participate in sports on the actual Olympic field. The spire just to the right of the clock was the Olympic flame during the 1992 Games.

A new program called Open Camp Europe offers young people the opportunity to go out on the field and actively participate in a number of sports like soccer and track, plus other fantasy activities like broadcasting from the press box. Tickets range from 5-20 euros, depending on the level of participation. It was in full swing when we visited.

olympic-interior
The interior of the stadium includes a shop for team jerseys and tickets to participate in the sports activities on the field.

 

 

The stadium is the crown point of an extensive plaza that leads down MontJuic all the way to Placa Espana. It is a most interesting walk down past the Olympic arena, the rows of tall columns flanking the center and the Telefonica needle that served as the visual symbol of the Games in 1992.

olympic-stadium-walk
The walk down from the stadium is named Placa Europa, landscaped all the way down to the fountain at Placa Espana.

Beyond Placa Europa, a monument to the origins of the EU, the rest of the walk is a pleasant stroll that winds more or less around MontJuic to the huge fountain in front of Placa Espana on the ground level. We enjoyed that so much that we decided to do it again and go up to the Museum of Catalan Art, about halfway up the hill.

Rather than walk all that way, we availed ourselves of the convenient escalators that whisk passengers up MontJuic to the museum past the cascading fountains, all of which were in full operation. Once again at the entrance to the museum, we walked right in, since our tickets were good for two days.

We made a quick visit to view a temporary exhibition of paintings by a rare female artist in Barcelona, Llüisa Vidal, who painted around the turn of the 20th century. Although considered “modernisme” by the museum, her style was reminiscent of late Impressionism and quite attractive.

cascading-fountains
When all the fountains are in operation, the effect is pretty impressive. Not surprisingly, the walk down from the museum is named Placa des Cascades.

Then it was back down MontJuic along the series of cascading fountains, all of which were in operation and quite impressive in their totality. As we descended Placa Espana to take the Metro back home, Lynn noticed an extensive shopping mall inside the station. It’s hard to miss, with a food court on one level and department stores, etc. on the next two. She had been on the hunt for nail polish remover for weeks, so hunt we did through the Mall de Placa Espana. And by golly, she found it.

placa-espana-fountain
Great fountain, but it could use a heroic central statue.

Now all we had to do was get back to the Metro station, which was not all that simple. First we descended one level too far and wound up in the parking garage. Then we finally reached the station for the L1 train, and, weary from  walking, Lynn plopped on the bench to wait for the next train. Unfortunately, we needed the L3 line not the L1, so off we walked again, this time for what seemed like a half a mile to get to the correct platform. Even then, we went to the wrong side by mistake and just barely missed a train home. Luckily, even on Saturday the trains only run three minutes apart.

By the time we reached our apartment, we were pretty tuckered out. Going up and down MontJuic twice will get your three to five miles of walking in for the day and then some. But it’s well worth the effort.

 

 

 

Two last museums

We have seen so many museums, they tend to run together. But we keep searching and visiting and marveling.

One that we have long wanted to see but for some reason had never visited was the National Catalonian Art Museum perched up MontJuic park overlooking Barcelona and the Placa Espanya. Getting there was a most pleasant walk through MontJuic’s gardens and water features after a scenic funicular ride up the hill.

montjuic-fountain-1
One of the many fountains and water features scattered around MontJuic.

Once again we turned down the hill too soon and found that somehow we had missed the monumental museum building. Luckily for us, the Barcelona government has installed a series of convenient escalators to whisk visitors to the museum from the bottom of the hill.

montjuic-steps
Fortunately, there is also a series of escalators to carry visitors up the hill to the museum. But the steps are quite attractive.

The museum is housed in a most impressive building that looks like an ancient castle or capital but in fact was built in 1929 to house a museum. How convenient.

catalonia-art-museum
Impressive building that certainly looks more than its actual age.

The National Museum of Catalan Art is noted for its collection of Romanesque church paintings, all salvaged from ancient buildings now destroyed. The collection of Gothic paintings is also impressive, and the Renaissance and Baroque rooms display a large number of excellent examples of El Greco, Velasquez and Ribero. It also includes an large collection of modern art and design, including two rooms exclusively devoted to Gaudi’s furniture.

catalan-art-museum-interior
The galleries are organized well, and art is displayed in a human scale, despite the soaring ceilings in the building.

It’s not a small place; it took us all of three hours to walk through the collections, including a stop for lunch at the cafe on the edge of the huge performance hall.

catalan-art-museum-hall
The performance hall dominates the center of the Catalan Art Museum. The museum galleries surround the hall on two floors.

One awfully considerate aspect of their ticket pricing is that seniors pay nothing at all. And the tickets are good for two visits within a month, just in case you can’t get through the entire place in one trip.

The next day Lynn found reference to the Frederic Mares Museum, which we had never heard of but is located right behind the Barcelona Cathedral and the Gaudi Museum. How we had missed this for the last three weeks is a mystery, as we have walked past there literally dozens of times.

mares-museum-entrance
Right next to the Barcelona Cathedral. In fact, there are at least four museums surrounding the cathedral.

Frederic Mares was the most distinguished collector of Catalan art in the 20th century. He donated his entire trove of sculpture and–what else can you call it?–“stuff” in 1946. Mares was a noted sculptor in his own right, and some of his works are also on display. The massive collection is now housed in a restored section of the old Royal Palace of Barcelona next door to the cathedral.

mares-museum-2
Just one room of sculptures in the collection, this one houses mostly 20th century works.

The museum is organized into two sections. The first is the collection of sculpture ranging from ancient times to the 19th century. Mares collected scores of pieces on the same subject. Entire rooms are filled with Gothic Madonnas. Other rooms hold dozens of Gothic crucifixion statues, some larger than life sized.

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One of the rooms full of Madonnas. There were other Madonna rooms, plus a separate room of life-sized Crucifixions.

One room even showcases an entire portal of a Romanesque church salvaged for display before it was completely destroyed.

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One of the more simple, organized rooms of “stuff.”

The second major section, called the Collector’s Cabinet, consists of room after room of “stuff” from Mares’s personal collections.

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Two rooms of ceramics.

A room of fans. A room of pipes. A room of jewelry. A room of watches and clocks. Plus rooms of photography, toys, keys, pharmacy bottles, posters, documents and on and on consisting of no fewer than 17 galleries. All crammed full of stuff.

The impact is overwhelming, because you just can’t view everything. Mares must have never thrown away a thing, the ultimate hoarder.

mares-museum-photos
A small antechamber adjacent to the entrance shows a number of large photos of the actual interiors of Mares’s home as he lived with his trove of “stuff.”

 

 

 

 

Gaudi’s first palace

One reason our trip down from Tibidabo was a bit shorter than the voyage up the mountain was that we saved two stops and a transfer on the Metro to visit the Palau Güell, Gaudi’s first major work for his long-time client.

Eusebi Güell was an industrialist, a politician and Gaudi’s biggest and most enthusiastic patron. The two became BFFs, and Güell’s palatial home just a block off La Rambla was Gaudi’s first major commission from his client. It’s called a palace for a reason.

palau-guell-room
Lynn listens to the audio guide in one of the several semi-public rooms in the palace.

The home stayed in the Güell family until 1945, although the patriarch himself only lived there a few years before moving his residence to Colonia Güell, his experiment in collective living for his mill workers. Apparently, Mrs. Güell didn’t like the place much herself. The Palau Güell has only been open as a museum for about five years, even though it was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO back in 1984.

palau-guell-dr
The dining room, as sumptuous as it is, seems a bit small for a family with ten children.

The excellent audio guide takes the visitor through all the rooms of the magnificent home and clearly explains many of the prominent architectural and design features that make the house so unusual, even by Gaudi standards. Gaudi touches abound everywhere, even though this is a very early work of his. Güell was rich beyond imagination (his fortune was estimated to be $70 billion in today’s dollars), so no expense was spared. With ten children, Gaudi needed a lot of room.

palau-guell-br
A very spare bedroom, bereft of furniture.
palau-guell-out-back
The view out the bedroom proves this is a real neighborhood.

One minor criticism is that all the rooms are for the most part empty of furniture. I would prefer to see furniture, even if not originals, in the rooms so that the visitor can get a better feel for how the occupants actually lived there. In their defense, much of the home’s furnishings were distributed to other Güell residences as the descendants moved into their own homes over the years after the death of the patriarch. However, the museum audio guide includes a number of photographs of the rooms as they appeared when the Güell actually family lived there.

palau-guell-roof
Those are just some of the chimneys that have been reconstructed.
palau-guell-roof-bat
At the peak of the attic spire is a weather vane in the shape of a bat with intricate wings.

The roof alone is worth the visit, because there you can see what later became the fantastical features of Casa Batlo and Casa Mila years later. The chimneys in Palau Güell are for the most part reconstructed in recent years from Gaudi’s plans and models. But together they create a theme park of Gaudi’s imagination not to be missed.

 

 

Sunday afternoon at the beach–in November

Barcelona has a number beaches, some of which are quite near us in adjacent Barceloneta, the neighborhood where the Fastnet bar and Somorrostro are located. We have walked near the beach many times but never actually strolled along the sand and viewed the Mediterranean.

After a post-Milk Bloody Mary/brunch nap, on another gorgeous autumn Sunday in Barcelona, we set out for the beach.

The city beaches are well maintained and artificially refreshed, with breakwaters quite a bit like the Mississippi Gulf Coast every quarter mile or so to reduce the inevitable erosion of the sand out to sea. Our bartender at Penny Banger told us the better, more natural beaches where the locals go in the summer are several kilometers up the coast in Costa Brava.

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One of several sculptures that grace Barcelona’s beaches.
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A sailboat raced ends, as the committee boat heads back to harbor. It was a very, very light air day, and it looked like the race was called off.

Nonetheless, on this beautiful Sunday, Barcelona’s nearest beach was crowded with families, residents and tourists. And merchandise sellers. By the hundreds.

We have seen these guys (rarely a woman) all over in just about every city we have visited in Europe. But never in the numbers that lined the Barcelona beach that Sunday. Almost exclusively African, each one lays out a blanket with ropes tied to all four corners joined in the middle so the entire haberdashery can be pulled up and moved out in seconds when law enforcement shows up. We have seen them near the bridge over the marina here, in front of rail stations everywhere, in the squares and plazas and bridges and riverfront walks of all major cities.

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The trash and trinket trade goes on and on along the beaches of Barcelona.
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In both directions.

But never in these numbers. They stretch on for nearly a mile. And this is just one beach. Each “vendor” sells only one kind of merchandise–purses for one, sneakers (mostly Nike) for another, bracelets, key chains, scarves, and on and on. The selections actually repeat themselves–once you walk past about a half dozen, you start over with purses, sneakers, scarves, key chains, etc. all over again. Lynn theorizes that they are all independent operators who pick up their merchandise from a central warehouse that dispatches them to certain geographic areas.

All the major luxury brands are there–Gucci, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Nike. I’m sure they are all genuine.

 

Provisioning, press releases and more boat porn

Monday was sort of a bifurcated day. I had to move a press release for the Zurich Classic at 7 a.m. CST, which is 2 p.m. our time here in Barcelona. So we needed to be back home about lunch time without having time for a big lunch.

We needed a few things for the pantry and had wanted to visit Mercat Boqueria, Barcelona’s largest market and located just off La Rambla. Boqueria is indeed huge and packed with people streaming through the narrow aisle between the stalls. Lynn easily found the sausage she was looking for and the peppers to cook with the sausage. We also located a very nice wine store featuring Catalonian wines and others at reasonable prices. Following Boqueria, a short walk up La Rambla took us to the Carrefour, where we bought a bag of coffee to wake us up the rest of the week.

Loaded with our Monday market shopping, we ducked away from the bustle of La Rambla and into the quiet narrow streets of Barri Gotic in search of an early simple lunch. After a couple of detours at shoe stores for Lynn to check out boots, we stopped at a little shop right around the corner from our apartment that we have seen several times with a line stretching out into the street.

No wonder. The place is tiny, just a couple of tables and a counter. It is a Greek-Spanish establishment that features bocadillos (Spanish poor boys) to take out and tapas to eat in. For 4.50, we grabbed a 12-inch chicken bocadilla fully loaded with feta cheese, two different sauces, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, olives and lentils. It was plenty for both of us, accompanied by a small glass of wine.

Press release released, we went back out for another stroll, this time to the harbor to see yet more boat porn, a third maxi yacht that had just pulled up alongside the quay behind the Phoenix2 and the Mayan Queen.

ona
Ona us about to go on the market, so save your pennies.

Ona is even bigger than the first two, topping out at 110 meters (363 feet). It was built in 2008 by Lurssen, the same shipyard that built the Phoenix2 parked right in front of her. My research could not identify the reclusive owner, but did discover that he is in the process of building a replacement to Ona that will be about 156 meters (500+ feet). Ona is apparently not a one-owner boat, having been previously named Dilbar. In her present configuration, Ona can carry up to 20 passengers and a crew of 47 at a cruising speed of 18 knots.

While I could not discover the nae of the owner, I did learn that he is building a new boat of some 500+ feet. So Ona will be on the market soon.

 

Voyage to Tibidabo

Tibidabo is the highest point in Barcelona, 1,680 feet up with a spectacular panoramic view of the city below all the way out to the Mediterranean. You feel like you can almost see Majorca in the distance.

tibidabo-view-from-church
Even through the haze, the view overlooking Barcelona is breathtaking.

At the peak of Tibidabo is the odd combination of a Gothic church and an amusement park next door to each other.

tibidabo-park-and-church
Not too many places will you see a Gothic church and an amusement park cheek by jowl together.
tibidabo-basilica
The main church of the Sacred Heart is relatively small and unusual for Gothic churches, square in shape, with no apses on either side of the nave.
tibidabo-crypt
Not uncommon, but the crypt has a more elaborate interior than the main church.

 

tibidabo-airplane-ride
The Tibidabo amusement park offers a vintage airplane ride in addition to the assortment of conventional rides like the carousel, Ferris wheel, monorail, etc. all situated on different levels of the mountain.

Here is how you get to Tibidabo from our apartment:

  1. Take the L4 Metro at the Jaume I station for one stop.
  2. Transfer to the L1 Metro at the Urquinao station.
  3. Take the L1 Metro for one stop to Placa Catalunya.
  4. At Placa Catalunya, take the FCG train, either S1 or S2 to Peu del Funicular. (Be sure to board on the correct side–the one with open doors. It’s embarrassing when you try to go through the wrong side of the train.)
  5. At Peu del Funicular, take the funicular to the top at Vallvidera.
  6. At Vallvidera, take the 111 bus to Tibidabo.
tibidabo-bus-stop
As we waited on the 111 bus to Tibidabo, that little bar was starting to look pretty welcoming.

As long as your journey does not take more than an hour and 15 minutes, you can do all this on a single Metro ticket.

We cut it close on the way up, because we must have missed the 111 bus and had to wait 15 minutes for the next bus to arrive. We returned back down in less than an hour, catching the bus, the train and the Metro all right on time.

tibidabo-funicular-station
The funicular is Barcelona’s oldest. The photo is probably a century old, but the entrance looks exactly the same today.

Regardless, the view alone is worth the adventure. And now we know which side of the train to board.