Barcelona, our last stop and then it is time to head home. To be honest, it was a long hard day, followed by hardly any sleep and then a long flight home. The term “jet lag” doesn’t begin to describe the condition of these old bones.
What a rough day for the ship’s crew – disembark all those passengers, and then scramble like crazy to get ready for the next group, who are already lining up to climb aboard.
We had a lovely time on the cruise. Treated like royalty, food and drink up to our eyeballs, in a haze of indulged, self-entitlement we are herded out the door as the dawn just is coming up in the sky. I’d have had tears, except for the crusty sleepers in my eyes at the obscene time of day. We are in Barcelona – our final destination. 6 a.m. in the morning.
For the last month, the news has been filled with stories of political rioting in Barcelona. We were hoping it would be over by the time we arrived. The crew of the cruise didn’t mention a word about it the entire trip, and we had been checking the news as we sailed closer to our final destination. We did hear that the ship had taken on more provisions in Valencia, just in case the protests closed the port in Barcelona. The protests had been just outside our reserved hotel location, so we were a bit concerned. Fortunately, things had quieted down, and there didn’t seem to be any sign of the recent strife.
What do you do standing on the sidewalk outside the port at 6 am in the morning, loaded down with too much luggage? Take a taxi, of course, and fortunately they were nearby. Our hotel was only about six blocks away from the port, but a taxi seemed like a good idea. The driver didn’t speak a word of English, but I had a print out with the hotel address in it and he had the most sophisticated cab with all the latest techie stuff that we have ever seen.
I had booked the “hotel” online, and it was just about a half a block off the main tourist street in town, the Las Ramblas. The driver had obviously never heard of our hotel, which sort of puzzled me. But he crept down a dark, narrow alley (the sun wasn’t quite up all the way) and deposited us in front of a small glass door. My “hotel” was actually a “hostel.” Ooops! Visions of bunk beds with snoring college students sleeping off their wild Barcelona night life appeared before my eyes. What had I done?
This was not the time of the day to start wandering the streets, hauling massive amounts of luggage and a tired, hungry husband, in search of a hotel room. Oh dear….. I walked in, desperately hoping the desk spoke English. A tall, darkly handsome, God-like Spaniard rose to his feet from behind a modest desk. With a smile that could melt the heart of the Iron Maiden (not to mention a tired, overfed woman suffering heartbreak from leaving her fairy tale cruise ship), he assured me that we didn’t have to sleep with college students. We had a private room, with a bath. He smiled again, and I would have been willing to sleep in the alley dumpster. He asked if I had my husband with me, and I somewhat reluctantly pointed to the bald guy on the sidewalk.
Our room wasn’t ready, of course, but they kept our luggage and he pointed out a good place to eat further down the alley. Stuffing our luggage into lockers, we headed into the Barcelona morning.
We woke up over a breakfast of espresso and pastries. As this was our last day, I indulged in the best looking pastry I could find. Okay, I had two. Plus some beautifully ripe fresh fruit. And it was all delicious! Okay, now I’m waking up.
This was going to be a tough day, we have one day in Barcelona and then have to be at the airport at 3 a.m. to catch our flight. Which means not much sleep. George was tired out, this trip has been very hard for him. How do you even catch a glimpse of the hugely vibrant, crazy city of Barcelona in a few hours? Especially with a tired, grumpy old man who would be happy to go back to the hostel and find a free bunk bed with 24 other snoring men.
The only place open at 7 a.m. is the famous fresh food market, which was just a few blocks away.
Fresh veggies were being set up like art exhibits, fish and meat arranged, fresh pastries, nuts, candies….you name it. It was fun to be there so early and watch them. Who needs YouTube! George thought it would be more interesting if he viewed it over the pages of his book, so he found a table on the edge of the market. It was at an exotic location called Dunkin’ Donuts (yes, they have a location in Barcelona).
I walked the market, thinking it was going to be larger than the madhouse in Valencia, Spain. But it was quite a bit smaller, and due to the hour, relatively deserted. There were a few locals shopping, but only a couple of tourists. I’m sure it gets very busy later when everyone gets out of bed. But I was surprised at the size, much smaller than expected; I definitely thought it would be huge. Apparently, there are five large markets throughout the city, rather than one giant one.
Everything is more expensive in Barcelona. I purchased a small bag of fresh gummy bear type candies for a granddaughter – and it cost 8 Euros. Whoa! It was a portent to the day ahead. This is not the cheapest destination site for a visit. But the prices for fruit and meats seemed very reasonable. And the artistry! More than any other food market visited, each stall was an art exhibit. And beautifully done. The tourist and city living influence is marked at this particular market. There were a lot more prepared foods, ready to be snatched and savored.
After I had strolled through it all, I found George at Dunkin’ Donuts, finishing off a coffee and a doughnut. He looked guilty, as we had just finished a breakfast of pastries and fruit. I couldn’t say anything, as I had just stuffed my mouth with a treat I found while strolling the market. What is it about the last day of vacation and the mentality of “I need to eat every bite, see every site, buy everything I see…..”
So now what. It’s 8:30 am in a strange big city and nothing touristy is open. Well, our other big tourist spot on our list was Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. The amazing cathedral that has been under construction for decades – and still not finished. George was all for taking a taxi, but I figured we could manage the subway system. There was a metro stop right ahead and down into the bowels of the city we went.
Whoa. This is a huge system with many overlapping lines of subway trains. I was completely confused and Grumpy Pants wasn’t being particularly patient. But lo and behold, a subway ticket guy walked up and patiently explained the system and helped me purchase tickets. Everyone we have encountered so far has been so friendly! This may be a big city of 1.6 million people, but there is no big city impersonality.
We jumped on a metro train, and quickly found out we were going the wrong way. I should have had the guy walk us to the right train, apparently. We got off, went the right direction, transferred a train and made it quickly to the Sagrada Familia. We figured we would be early and avoid the huge lines. WRONG. We weren’t the only early risers, and the lines stretched down the block. And that was just to buy tickets. There was already a huge line waiting for the church to open.
George said NO. He was tired, and he wanted a chair. A part of me really wanted to go inside, but the idea of standing in line for hours wasn’t appealing. It was cold and windy – and we didn’t have coats. Without much argument, we withdrew. George wanted to sit down and I had to use the bathroom. The great universal free toilet location called Starbucks beckoned and we had yet another cup of coffee. At this rate, it won’t be a problem getting up to leave for the airport at 2:30 am – I just won’t have slept.
And what should drive by the window of Starbucks? The Hop On Hop Around Bus! George’s favorite mode of transportation. So off we went. George slept on the bus and I watched the sights go by…..This is a long route, so George got a pretty good rest.
They drove us by a number of buildings designed by Antoni Gaudi. As Bernini made his imprint on Rome, so has Gaudi had on Barcelona. The difference is you don’t see it replicated in other cities – it is uniquely Barcelona. Gaudi was born in 1852 and died in 1923. It seemed crazy these buildings were designed at the turn of the century – they are fall of the edge modern by today’s standards. He created a modern approach to architecture that is unique. He didn’t like to draw plans, and were highly individual and expressive. Apparently, the buildings emerged as his creativity blossomed during construction.
In my amtaeur opinion, you either love it or you don’t. If asked to describe it, I would say the style is similar to decorating a cake with frosting. You could enter it in a avant garde cake decorating contest and win first place. His buildings dot the city, and at every one there is someone gazing at it. I can’t begin to think how expensive owning an apartment or building would be. Probably a great investment, but there would always be someone peeking in the windows.
We hopped off the bus, and ate yet another meal for lunch. It was amazing and the service was great. George said enough was enough and wanted to go back to the room. So back to the Hop On!
Eventually, the Please Let Me Hop Off Bus neared our hostel (it isn’t allowed down the main street Las Ramblas), and I poked George to get up. On the map they gave us, it looked like it was just a few blocks. Making the mistake of using my phone map to find the hostel, it took us on a merry chase in circles. George was exhausted from his latest nap, and not happy about it. Get this man home! I thought I knew where we should go (I was right), George thought he knew (he was wrong) and the phone map was laughing like crazy while it directed us everywhere but our destination. The upside was we found some incredible old buildings dating back to Roman times! We would definitely not found that if we had walked straight back to our room.
George decided it was THAT WAY, and started walking. I knew it was the wrong way; two policemen appeared, and I asked them. Yet again, they were dazzling nice and helpful and showed us the way. We thanked them profusely, and limped our way to the hostel. At last, we arrived. And our room was ready.
This was our first hostel experience. And it was a good one. Definitely not luxurious, but it had two twin beds in a very narrow room with a clean bathroom. They also served a breakfast, that we wouldn’t be there for. Signs everywhere said no noise after 10 pm, which was kind of a joke, because the street parties were still going on when we left at 2:30 am.
George immediately laid down and crashed. I went out and finished buying souvenirs and brought back some sandwiches for dinner in the room. It was obvious that the poor man was not going out again.
At the desk in the morniwe had asked if they could call a taxi, and when we tiredly came down at 2:30 a.m. there was one waiting for us. They had also packed up a breakfast to go for us! Handed to us, of course, by another devastatingly handsome young man. This is the land of Dirty Old Woman Dreams……
The taxi driver was incredibly nice, even though his only English word was “airport.” I keep wanting to speak my pigeon Portuguese, but that just confuses everything even more. Between us, we figured out which terminal to go to and he dropped us off. The airport was eerily quiet, and darkened so the many people sleeping on the floor could rest. We made it through and found our plane. We flew to Amsterdam and had a mad run to make our plan to Portland. Who knew George could actually run that fast. The thought of missing the plane and spending one more day in another country did wonders for his speed. We made it and pretty much sat in a stupor for the next ten hours.
Back to Portland, and home. And massive jet lag. We both stumbled home and fell on the bed asleep.
It’s always strange leaving one dream world and coming back to reality. That’s what I love about travel – our reality becomes such a lovely living fantasy. How great is that. Memories to cherish, and new dreams made. I like to think that each trip just gave me a taste of something new to explore more fully. That’s what I love about cruises. We had visiting Lisbon years ago on a cruise, and I knew we should go back – and we did. Never mind that I combined it with Cartagena in my mind, it still exceeded all expectations. Portugal is a wonderful country and very affordable.
Now back, I’m dedicated to losing the three pounds gained, and it feels good to be eating on a regular food routine that I can control easier. It will come off! Every time I get on the scale I am going to envision another pastal de nata from Portugal has just evaporated from my behind.
This was a hard trip for George, and until he gets a bit healthier, we aren’t going to be able to repeat it. I love him for his heroic efforts to make a wonderful trip for me – and it was. I am so grateful to be married to a man who lets me live my dreams.
And we have new dreams. George is retiring next month and we have bought a motorhome! We are going to head off on some great domestic adventures together. And he will have his own bed going everywhere with us. He can snooze, look at Facebook and read his books in lots of new, exciting locations. How great is that going to be!