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Barcelona with day trip to Montserrat, 2012

Georgia & Zig

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Episode 1: Tuesday, April 10, 2012. The Flight to Barcelona

65 degrees. Blue skies and wispy white clouds. Emily, Nicolas, and Nina carried us to the Bluegrass International Airport at 11am for our 1:25 flight. Changed planes in Atlanta for our flight to Barcelona. Lousy movies. Saw pieces of “Bridesmaids” and “Hangover,” but watched all of a Glee episode and “Glee, the Movie.” Fun music and the over-wrought characters. No wonder I love opera.

Gained 6 hours on flying East. We got to Barcelona about 8am local time on Wednesday, April 11. Really can’t sleep on intercontinental flights. Arrived bushed. The first day of each overseas’ trip is a killer. The only pocket money we had was 20 euros left over from our 2010 trip. We burned that up buying two 10-euro bus/metro tickets. Each ticket was good for 10 rides. The Barcelona metro is very similar to Paris’ but not so far below ground. Paris is just more hilly I guess. But at one station we walked 7 or 8 escalator flights down. It was SO deep the walls were covered with a translucent lighted material that gave you the illusion of filtered sunlight—otherwise you’d freak out thinking about how deep into the earth you were going!

Our hostel, Levante, was close to Las Rambles, the Rodeo Drive of Barcelona. At 8am the metro was not crowded but still notorious for pickpockets. Actually, all of Barcelona was notorious for pickpockets, as I would personally find out—twice.

We tried to use our bank cards to get euros at several places. They were refused each time. That happened to us once before at the little German town of Passau but that was because I was trying to get more than the local limit. Hard to believe that a big city like Barcelona would have a local limit, but I tried requesting 60 anyway. Didn’t make any difference: “Card refused.” Eeek! Cashless in Barcelona was a very scary thought. I needed to send Emily an email so she could contact the bank and find out what was wrong. Couldn’t find an internet café. Eeek! This was not a good start to a 3-week trip. Luckily, we did find our hostel and they had a break-room with a public computer, so sent Emily and Jenny a message, but knew that it would be hours before they’d be awake to receive it.

From the hostel break room computer we checked on our online bank account. Couldn’t see any problem but did see that the bank had an “on-line chat” system. It was available at 9am Lexington time. We decided to head out for something to eat—hoping that the credit cards were still working. And they were! So we had a leisurely walk around old Barcelona without any pressure to buy anything—since we only had about 3 euros in coins. Lucky that was enough for some gelato or we wouldn’t have make it!

Back at the hostel the chat-line with “Sandy” at Republic Bank was completely successful. Georgia and I both had to answer some questions about ourselves that were taken from “the public record” to prove that we were who we said we were. That was kind of nerve-wracking but it worked. They were all multiple-choice questions about where we had owned property, or what my mother’s maiden name was, or where I had worked, or what eye-color was listed on my driver’s license (I had to look that one up!) Poor Georgia got asked a question about someone she’d never heard of. One of her choices was “I don’t know this person.” We both passed with flying colors. I can now prove that I am John F. Zeigler, because I can answer a series of multiple-choice, personal questions about John F. Zeigler found in the public record. The philosophers agonize over the essence of self-identity. Knowing the answer to multiple-choice personal questions in the public record! That’s the real essence of self-identity in today’s world!

“Sandy” confided in us that we had not been picked-on. They did have our notice on file that we were going to be traveling in Europe at this time, but Barcelona’s thieves and pickpockets were so famous that the entire country of Spain was blocked! But now our “block” was lifted and we were VIP Travelers! I know I certainly felt Very Important.

First thing we did was to rush out and get 300 euros from the little bank around the corner. It worked! I was so proud I felt like waving my three hundred euros at the pickpockets gathered around us at the ATM machine. But Georgia, Worldly World VIP Traveler that she is, suggested I should just put the cash in the little thin money belt I keep under my shirt, tucked in the front of my pants. So I did.

The Barcelona Cathedral was close by so we headed there first. We saw buskers playing violins and guitars and two men blowing enormous soap bubbles to the delight of children. The old city, as you would expect, had those tiny little cobbled streets and sidewalks about the width of a plank. But, there were few cars, so you were relatively safe walking in the streets—you only had to avoid the occasional pickpocket crashing into you.

The stained glass at the Cathedral was disappointing, but the enclosed garden was lovely and tranquil. We bought some nice postcards and took pictures of the geese and the palm trees. Then we left to find some more gelato. Also found a store selling the Spanish attempt at champagne: “Cava.” We popped the cork in a piazza while sitting on a bench facing a charming little playground. There weren’t any children playing. It was sundown and they were all probably getting fed and bathed, but we toasted the Spanish sunset and listened to music wafting from a nearby bar and tickled our noses with Spanish bubbly. And then we lurched back to the hostel.

It was the most unusual building I’d ever been in. Outside it looked normal enough but the inside was hollow. It reminded me of a giant grain silo. The elevator was located in this central shaft, and there was a skylight at the top illuminating the interior of the building. The rooms were arranged around the outside of the building and each floor had its own gangplank or walkway across the central shaft like a skinny drawbridge. Very odd.

But we were too tired to feed the crocodiles in the moat. So we ventured across the drawbridge and so to bed.

Episode 2: Thursday, April 12, 2012. First trip to Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell

We slept late then Metro’ed and walked our feet flat across Barcelona to the outside of the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia. The line was much too long to make it inside today. It stretched across the front, down the side, and around the back—several hundred yards. We just walked around the glorious outside. For me it’s always looked like an enormous sand castle. It’s very humbling to realize that this amazing building first existed only in the mind of Antonio Gaudi. How is it possible that a mere human mind could contain such magnificence? In 1883 when he was 31 years old, Gaudi took charge of a project already underway for 2 years. The crypt had been excavated, so he couldn’t really change it very much, except to raise the ceiling of the crypt so there could be windows admitting sunlight and air circulation! And this raised ceiling then allowed for some lovely decoration as well. It was only a taste of what was to come. How in the world could he persuade others to help him realize such a vision? There is still nothing to compare with it. His drawings and sketches must have looked like renditions of a basilica from Mars.

We were walking around the outside following a pair of teenaged girls from New Zealand. They looked up in awe at all the towers and pinnacles and cranes and workmen. One elbowed the other and exclaimed; “You know wut? I daun’t think it’s finished yet!” I could have died! Wish I’d had the nerve to tell them that it wasn’t scheduled to be finished for another 25 years. “All your really important buildings need to take 150 years to complete!”

The main entrance is the “Nativity Entrance.” It is the unique part of the basilica directly overseen by Gaudi who died in 1926—hit by a tram on his way to work.

We then caught bus 92 to go to Parc Guell. We got off at the top at the east entrance. Everywhere you walk in Parc Guell you find the hints of ideas brought to glorious fruition in the Basilica itself. –including the pickpockets. Anywhere you find large crowds of tourists in Barcelona you find pick pockets.

As we walked along one of the garden paths arm in arm I heard a wet “plop” and felt the back of my neck splattered with something. It was like the gigantic bird who christened me in the Bahamas years ago, but this liquid was black as pitch and I was immediately “helped” by a sympathetic Spanish couple. The woman wiped off my face with tissues and went to wipe off my back and butt while her partner motioned overhead to the birds. They wanted to “clean me off,” and “clean me out!” Georgia, thanked them and shooed them away immediately—already having read about that particular gambit. Me, I knew they couldn’t get anything unless they undressed me but I still hated to be splattered just so they could find out I had nothing to offer. When you visit the tourist sites in Barcelona wear old clothes and remember to keep your money in a money pouch under your shirt and tucked into your pants. But whatever the “poop” was composed of it, at least, washed out easily and didn’t leave a stain. That was thoughtful.

Gaudi lived only a few blocks away from the construction site in Parc Guell. We walked to his little home. He had one small bedroom with a lovely ivory crucifix on the wall. It was of his own design and showed the dying Christ with his head thrown back and his knees drawn up high. (The full-size version was located over the altar at Sagrada Familia.) A tiny single bed—almost a cot—and a modest dresser and chair completed his bedroom furniture. Very ascetic.

He walked to work every day, either to the construction site itself or to the laboratory on the grounds where he worked out scale models of the Basilica to test his completely unique ideas about how to support a stone roof. In fact, Parc Guell, which surrounds his house was also a gigantic test of his ideas. A huge plaza—where a thousand people could easily gather, surrounded by one long continuous sinuous mosaic bench, is in fact, the roof of an underground chamber, and completely supported by terra cotta columns also covered with mosaics.

We ate tuna sandwiches and drank sangria in the park and took lots of pictures of the unusual architecture and mosaics.
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We then left the park walking downhill. We happened upon St Philip Neri Church, with a simple stone neo-gothic sanctuary, where we saw a guitar concert with four guitarists. They were funny as well as very talented. The acoustics would have been great for chanting but for four guitars there was too much reverberation. Their encore was Ravel’s Bolero. Two of them started on guitars and then a third played the base part sharing a guitar with one of the two, then the fourth joined the upper alto. Four people on two guitars! Then toward the climax all 4 people were playing on just one guitar! Funny.

Then we found Taller de Tapas for supper. I had asparagus and roasted lamb and Georgia had mussels and grilled calamari with tomato bread and crème brulee for dessert plus a bottle of Cava. Yumm!

Then to bed.

Friday, April 13th, Sagrada Familia

We arrived there about 9:30 and the line was less than half what it had been the day before. We got the audioguide and lift tickets. Took lots of pictures! Lots of looking! Lots of listening to the audio guide. Then took the lift to where we had to take lots of steps back down through the bell towers. Wow! Nice vistas.

I find it very difficult to describe the experience of Sagrada Familia. With most magnificent buildings you can capture it in a few words. Not this magical space. Gaudi wanted to capture the feel of a glorious forest, and he succeeded. The columns supporting the stone roof rise in a slight spiral, like sycamore trees. About 30 feet off the floor they branch out in smaller “limbs” which actually come in contact with the ceiling. Not all the stained glass has been installed but it is apparent from what is there that it will only be various earthtones—different colors depending on which direction the windows face. When completed they will throw colors on the floors and walls suggesting a dappled forest glen.
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The entrances are probably the most amazing part. The “Nativity Entrance,” completed during his lifetime would have been very avant garde at the turn of the twentieth century. The “Passion” entrance is very blocky and massive—like the art and statuary of the 1960s. And the “Eternal Glory” façade is still being constructed. It is very avant garde for the 21st century. How a man working in the 1880s could have a “three-century” artistic vision is beyond me. No wonder there are inquiries being made into his possible canonization.
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Back outside we caught the Bus Touristica which took us past Gaudi’s Casa Mila and Casa Battila. We got off in one of the neighborhoods and had coffee in an outside café. We walked around looking at the architecture on the way back to our hostel. For supper we found a large department store with groceries in the basement and bought picnic food, then ate in the park out front.

We took the bus back to Sagrada Familia to view the crypt and Gaudi’s tomb and stayed for Mass. After Mass we went to a Mexican restaurant for margaritas with lemon, and “sweet dreams” tea with sweetened condensed milk. Not really a good meal but close to our hostel.

Saturday, April 14th, Abadia de Montserrat

Today we took a train to Montserrat. It was freezing cold and I wore a short sleeve shirt and left my gloves. L We rode the funicular up to the top of the mountain and took lots of pictures. Then I walked to St Joan’s hermitage. The views are breathtaking. There are some hiking paths and one can also hike up and/or down the mountain. It’s possible to stay at the abbey guesthouse but we didn’t know this before we left home.
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We went to Mass in the Abbey Church and then into the museum which had a nice collection. There is also a grotto which is a holy sanctuary for religious pilgrims now where an image of the Virgin Mary was found in 880.

Back in Barcelona it was raining hard so we had a picnic in the room for supper.
 

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