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Monday, November 19, 2018

Barcelona, Spain - The Ramblas Ramble - A Self-Guided Walking Tour

We were very happy we made the decision to arrive in Spain a couple of days before our Mediterranean cruise left from the Barcelona port.  Today we would have a full day to spend in Barcelona.  That gave us the time we needed to see everything we wanted to see here and more.  We had an amazing morning visiting La Sagrada Familia (read about it here) and now we were excited for what we had planned for this afternoon.

After we settled into our hotel, Hotel Continental Barcelona, when we arrived here the day before, we did Rick Steves' Barri Gotic self-guided walking tour (read about it here).  Today we would do his Ramblas Ramble tour.   The Ramblas Ramble tour was pretty much just walking down Las Ramblas boulevard with a couple of detours off and down side streets which made it much easier to follow than the Barri Gotic tour.

Our tour started at Placa de Catalunya.  We were getting very familiar with this plaza as it was right down the block from our hotel, and we were using the buses that stopped here.   We got here very easily.


The second stop on our walking tour was Fountain of Canaletes.  It is a black and gold fountain that has been around for more than a century and it is said that if you drink from this fountain you are ensured a trip back to Barcelona.  Well, when we got to the third stop on the Ramblas tour, we knew we passed the fountain.  We backtracked and searched but couldn't find it.  I hate to admit it, but we were still having trouble following the GPS on Google maps.  

We did see a beautiful black and gold fountain, a little later that day, and decided this was it.  

Next on the Rick Steves tour was Rambla of the Little Birds.  Steves explains that this stretch of Las Ramblas was where, at one time,  you would see many kiosks selling different types of animals that people could buy and keep as pets.  These days the kiosks are selling mostly ice cream and souvenirs.

Bethlem Church was our next stop,  It was off Las Ramblas and down a side street.  This church is dedicated to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.  The locals enjoy the nativity scenes that are displayed here at Christmastime.  We loved the one just above the tremendous doors of the church.

Back on Las Ramblas we found Rambla of Flowers.  This small, but fragrant, section is where vendors sell their flowers and seeds.  There were bags and bags of seeds at each kiosk.  Some of the seeds would produce plants we had never, ever seen before.  Soko found a bag of seeds that would grow into unusual looking fruits.  I couldn't add a picture of that package of seeds as this is a family friendly blog!

Our next stop was La Bogueria Market.  This is a very busy market and we saw many different foods and produce.  Again, we saw things that we have never seen before in America.  

I spotted a delicious looking fruit and I had to try it.  If you like a fruit that is not overly sweet, has a pear-like texture and is filled with tiny seeds then you will love this fruit.  

We had a hard time finding the next stop on our walking tour.  Rick Steves called it the Heart of the Ramblas.  We would know that we were in the right place when we saw, abstract artist, Joan Miro's mosaic on the ground.  We weren't really sure what we would be looking for but we knew Joan Miro created the logo for La Caixa bank and we had seen it a couple of times.  In fact, we had just passed one of the banks.  We decided to go back to look at the logo closer to see if that would give us a hint as to what we were looking for.  We finally did find the mosaic and had to laugh at how we thought we missed it.  We were looking for something smaller and this beautiful artwork was huge!  We just hadn't gotten to it yet.

Placa Reial was the next stop on our walking tour.   It was not too far from the mosaic but off Las Ramblas. This is a town square that has both old-fashioned bars and modern taverns with patio seating.  I was excited to see this plaza as I knew we would be treated to seeing  Gaudi's first public works, two colorful helmeted lampposts.  

As were heading back out to the Ramblas we were to look across the boulevard to see Palau Guell, another Gaudi project.

Back on the Ramblas we reached our next destination, the Raval Neighborhood.  Here we were looking for elaborately costumed human statues.  There were a bunch of them and they really fooled us into thinking they were statues!  These "statues" have to audition and register with the city government before they are allowed to perform here.

Of course, there would be an Antoni Gaudi statue here!

The Columbus Monument, our next sight to see, was across the street from Las Ramblas and there was no way we could miss this 200 foot monument dedicated to Christopher Columbus.  We didn't take the ride up to the top of this building because I heard that the elevator was very tiny.  If I wasn't claustrophobic we would have liked to view the city from the observation deck.

Just past the monument is the Waterfront and the last stop on Rick Steves' walking tour.  We took a leisurely walk down the promenade.

We were curious to see the Barcelona Head that Rick Steves mentions is at the end of the boardwalk.  It was worth the walk to see this iconic sculpture.

We really enjoyed Rick Steves Ramblas Ramble tour.   Now it was time to get ready for tonight.  We saw huge signs that made us think that there was something special going on this evening so we headed back to the hotel to have a quick bite to eat at their buffet.  

Look for our post, coming soon, to find out about Barcelona's largest annual street party, that we were fortunate to be in Barcelona for,  La Merce Festival.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Barcelona, Spain - La Sagrada Familia

We decided to arrive in Barcelona a couple of days earlier than we needed to.  We were boarding the cruise ship, here in Spain, that would whisk us off to places we've dreamed about seeing for many years.  We arrived in Barcelona early on a Friday morning and we enjoyed many hours of sightseeing.  On Saturday, we had a full day to enjoy this gorgeous city.  Our plan was to do Rick Steves' Las Ramblas self-guided tour but first we were going to see, the highly recommended, La Sagrada Familia, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

We researched and found a bus that would take us to the Sagrada.  We would be able to find it at Placa de Catalunya.  This is where we got dropped off, the day before, by the bus we took from the airport.  It was only a block away from our hotel, Hotel Continental Barcelona, so it was very convenient for us to use this bus to get to the basilica.

When we got to the bus stop, we wanted to make sure we were in the right place.  There was a couple waiting at the stop and they didn't look like they were from Barcelona.  Hopefully they are Americans, we thought, but no, they could not speak to us unless we knew French!  But they were going to see Antoni Gaudi's greatest piece of work, La Sagrada Familia, so our plan was to just follow them when we got off the bus.  It worked perfectly!

We bought tickets online before we left for our vacation.  The tricky part of purchasing entry tickets beforehand is that you have to select a time, in addition to picking the day you want your ticket for.  We weren't sure how long it would take us to get to the Sagrada Familia, and wanted to be sure we were there for our scheduled time so we gave ourselves plenty of time to get there.   We wound up getting there about 45 minutes too early.   But that gave us a chance to walk around and enjoy the outside of the building.  The inside of the building is impressive, but I don't even have the words to describe the outside.  It really takes your breath away the moment you lay eyes on it.

I was so happy to see a shop selling turron as we walked around the church.  They are a nougat candy that I had read we would find in Barcelona and I was hoping to buy some to bring back to our kids.  This shop had many different kinds of turron, in addition to the usual hard or soft variety, in every shape and size.

After a little shopping, it was time to tour the magnificent church.  We were let in and directed to the area where we could pick up our audio tour headsets.  I was so glad we ordered these so we could understand what we were looking at.

Our audio tour had us starting with a look at a model of what La Sagrada Familia will look like when it is finally finished in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.  We were told, and could see here, that Gaudi's design was made up of eighteen spires representing the twelve apostles, the Virgin Mary, the four Evangelists and the tallest of the spires would represent Jesus Christ.  Presently, 8 of the 18 spires are done.

From the model, we were directed to view the Nativity facade of the building. This is one of three facades which include the Passion and Glory facades.   Gaudi wanted this facade to be on the east side of the building which faces the rising sun.  Gaudi used lots of symbolism throughout this building and here the rising sun represents the birth of Jesus.

Gaudi wanted this facade to be the most attractive and accessible to the public.   It was the only one of the three facades that was completed by Gaudi before his death.  The Nativity facade was my favorite part of the entire building.

Next the tour took us inside the basilica.  The vibrant colors that filled the spacious interior was the first thing I noticed when we entered.   We were also immediately drawn to the altar and to the cross above it.   I have never seen Jesus hanging on his cross the way he was on this one.  It was beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.

Gaudi put so much thought into every detail of this gorgeous church.  He used nature throughout the building, inside and out, and designed the pillars to look like trees with the branches holding up the ceiling.  A tortoise and turtle hold up the pillars representing both the earth and sea.

Gaudi dedicated to the four pillars around the altar to the four evangelists.   Each pillar displayed the symbol of one of the evangelists.  The lion pictured here is the symbol for Mark.

After our tour of the inside of the church, the audio directed us to go outside to view the Passion facade.  We were asked to exit through the western doors.  These unique doors tell the story of the Passion in Catalan.

The Passion facade was noticeably different from the Nativity facade.  This facade was all about the days before, during and after Jesus was crucified.  For this reason, Gaudi wanted this facade to face the setting sun.  He wanted the design here to be hard and bare, plain and simple and look like it was made of bones.

Looking on the left hand side of the facade you can see Judas giving Jesus the fatal kiss.  To the left of them is a box of numbers.  Every horizontal and vertical line adds up to 33, the age that Christ was when he died.

On the south side of the Sagrada is the Glory facade, the glorification of Jesus.  On this side you can see plenty of scaffolding and cranes.  This side is still far from being finished.  When it is done, it will be the largest and most striking facade.  It will represent the road to God - death, final judgment and finally glory.  

We would love to see La Sagrada Familia when it is finished so we are penciling in a trip to Barcelona in 2026 and crossing our fingers!  

We finished exploring this special church around lunchtime so we decided to eat at a restaurant we noticed earlier.  It had many different paella choices.  We wanted to make sure we had some paella before we left Spain so we thought this restaurant would be a perfect choice for lunch.

My seafood paella was really delicious and Soko really liked his paella which was filled with yummy veggies but I think what we enjoyed most about this meal was that it was served to us by this very friendly and extremely happy guy!

Look for this restaurant across the street from the Glory facade if you would like to enjoy some delicious paella!  Hopefully, you will also be treated to the same friendly service!

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