Posted by: rkurzweil | 05/11/2009

Barcelona – Part I

I have just gotten back from an incredible trip to Spain. I got to visit Barcelona and Madrid on this trip. It has truly been one of the most extraordinary trips I have ever taken. Over the next few posts, I would like to share with you my journal of this amazing trip. I hope you enjoy it!

Map of Spain

Map of Spain

Barcelona is located in the Northeast corner of Spain, in the region of Catalunya. This region is bordered by France to the North and the Mediterranean Sea to the West and South. It is a part of Spain, but has its own language and culture, its own cuisine, and its own styles of art and architecture.

Catalunya

Catalunya

April 30 – May 1, 2009

It has been about 10 years since John and I have gone to Europe. In fact, the last time we were there, the Euro was not yet in use. Each country still had its own currency. Say that I am excited is an understatement. I have never been to Spain and have long wanted to visit, particularly Barcelona and Madrid.

We had three flights to get to Barcelona. When we got to the airport, we found out that our first leg was delayed. We were early enough, however, to get put on an earlier flight so that we would not miss our connection in Dallas. From Dallas, we flew to JFK in New York. I cannot remember the last time I was in that airport. It is possible that it was on our last trip to Europe.

We had about a 4 hour layover in New York, which gave us time to eat something and to relax a little at the Admiral’s Club. Our first flight left Austin at around 8:30 am. Our flight out of New York left at 6:45 pm, so at this point, we have already been in transit for more than 11 hours (including the drive to the airport in Austin). The flight from New York to Barcelona is over 7 hours. Unfortunately we had a family with two pre-teen children right behind us on the flight. They did not sit still the entire flight and kept hitting our seats and talking loudly and being a general nuisance. Also, the flight crew on the JFK-Barcelona leg was not very nice either. We were served a dinner and a light breakfast. The woman that served our trays kind of threw the trays at us both times. She was not even looking. Oh well. The good thing about traveling is that you usually forget the flight as soon as you start enjoying your destination.

When we arrived in Barcelona, there was a bit of confusion. We had been given the typical immigration/customs forms to fill out. In addition, there was another form that was handed out. The crew mentioned that they had this form, but did not know what it was, had not even looked at it, and that it was not required. Turns out, it was required and they did not have enough of them on board. This new form was due to the swine flu outbreak that started in Mexico and was spreading all over the place. Everyone was required to fill out an information form stating where they had come from and where they were going, their passport number and other information. In addition, there was an information sheet about the swine flu. Although there were jet bridges, we were parked out on the tarmac and a stairway was wheeled up to the plane. We had to walk out onto the tarmac (of course, it was raining). We were greeted by a dozen or so officials, all wearing masks, who took our information sheets. Then we had to get on a bus to be brought to the terminal. It all seemed a little overdone, especially since the crew on our plane was so completely uninformed about the process, and since the so called swine flu was already being touted as not being the feared pandemic. I realize that this whole thing was something that the Spanish government probably required, but it seems very strange that no one had told the American Airlines staff ahead of time what was going to be required.

Anyway, once we got through all of that, we went through the immigration (which took less than 5 minutes – just about the quickest I have ever experienced), got our luggage and then finally went through customs. Customs was even quicker. We just walked through the “nothing to declare” door and were done. No one even said anything to us. I am sure it will be a little more involved when we leave Spain.

Getting to the hotel was a bit of a journey as well. I talked to the information desk at the airport and they informed me that taking a cab would be very expensive and that we would be better off taking the train to the center of town and getting a subway from there. I waited in line at the tourist information desk and ended up buying a 5 day Barcelona Cards that included entry to all the trains, buses and metro lines. It also included entry into a number of museums and other major tourist destinations, and discounts for many other attractions in the city.

We found our way to the train stop and waited for the train. Along with maybe 200 other people. The train comes once every half hour, so we had to wait about 20 minutes or so. Needless to say, it was very crowded on the train. We took the train to a station in the city called Passeig de Gracia. Once we got there, we went outside and took a cab the rest of the way. We could have gotten a subway, but with all of the luggage (one bag and one carryon each), we thought it would be too much to try to maneuver through the subway, etc. From here, the cab ride was about €10 (which is about $14). A cab ride from the airport would probably have cost us about €50.

We got to the hotel at about 11 am. Since we had not slept very much on the plane and we had been in transit for something like 17 hours, we were quite tired. Fortunately, we did not have to wait to check in, so we did that and took a nap.

When we got up, we felt a lot better and decided to venture out to look at a few things and to find something to eat. It was May 1, which is a holiday in Spain – May Day (or Labor Day). I was surprised about this, as I thought May Day was a communist thing and had no idea that it was celebrated in Europe. It is comparable to our Labor Day. Because of the holiday, most stores were closed.

We went out of the hotel and walked up to one of the large “diagonal” streets that cross Barcelona. I loved how the street was set up. It was a fairly busy street with about 3 lanes of traffic going in each direction. But in the middle where we would have a median, there was a wide paved area which is for pedestrians and bikes. There also was a subway/tram line on both sides of this median. We ended up getting on the tram and taking it to the Glories station. There is a modern building there that is extremely unusual and quite fetching. We also knew that we were near the Sagrada Familia, so we walked from there.

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia is breath-taking. I have seen many pictures of it, but they do not do it justice. When you are standing in front of it, it is unlike anything I have ever seen. Unfortunately, it is covered with scaffolding, as the work on the church is ongoing. We will be going back later on this week. I don’t know if you can go into the church or not. I certainly hope so.

(To Be Continued)

To see some of my pictures from Barcelona, click here.

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Responses

  1. Hello Robert….looks like you are enjoying life!
    just discovered your wonderful blog.
    I am going to read your trip to Spain this weekend.
    I am going to Madrid, Barcelona and London in late may with some friends from San Fran….
    Hope you have some good tips there.
    Lew

    • Thanks, Lew. Hopefully some of my experiences will be useful to you. Have a great time. Spain is GREAT!


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