After recovering from the SATA(n) flight--which required serious stretching, a hot shower, and a lot of sleep--we spent two fantastic days in Barcelona, including a quickie half-day side trip to Montserrat.
Montserrat is a gorgeous Benedictine abbey set in the side of a mountain. To get there, you take a train from Barcelona, then a cable car up the mountain. Check out the view looking up from the cable car...see the monastery on the upper right? It blends in with the mountain. (Tip: if you still can't see it, click on the photo to enlarge it. Then click your Back button to return to the blog.)
Once you're up there, the abbey itself is gorgeous:
And the view across the valley is spectacular. It's also not for those with a fear of heights. Some of the viewing points have very sharp drop-offs.
There are a lot of hiking trails around the area, but we bypassed those in order to get back to Barcelona and see La Sagrada Familia before it closed for the day.
I've been fortunate enough to visit dozens of cathedrals in Europe. A lot of them look alike after awhile; La Sagrada Familia stands out for two reasons. First, Gaudi's funky architecture makes the exterior of the cathedral unlike any other.
Second, the cathedral is still under construction. Since most cathedrals were built in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, having the opportunity to go inside one that's only partially finished is interesting for the architecture and design geeks amongst us. Right now, they're in the midst of installing the stained glass windows. A huge display in the front of the cathedral shows the process, how the glass is selected, and gives information on the artists completing the work. The stone floors are also being installed. I loved being able to see both works in progress.
After La Sagrada Familia, we enjoyed a fantastic dinner near the top of Las Ramblas on Placa Catalunya, where our hotel was located, then did some people watching before heading to Montjuic and the Magic Fountain for even more people watching. The Magic Fountain is similar to the fountains at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas: a giant water show set to music. I liked the fountain in Barcelona better than the Bellagio, simply for the atmosphere.
The next day, we took a long walk along Las Ramblas, which is the main street of Barcelona's downtown. Largely pedestrian, it's full of shops and sights, and therefore, tourists. I snapped an early-morning photo of this street performer applying his makeup before the tourists were out and about:
A couple of Gaudi-designed houses are off Las Ramblas, as is one of my favorite sites in Barcelona, La Boqueria, a giant marketplace. I ate breakfast there each day (sooo good!) and had lunch there, too. Whenever I arrive home from a trip, I discover that my camera is jammed with more pictures of the markets than anything else, and this trip was no exception. Check out all the fruits at one stall and the nearby juice bar.
I chatted for a little while with a friendly woman selling eggs, even though she didn't speak much English and my Catalan is nonexistent:
And though there were a lot of fish stalls, I had to take a photo of this one. It contained the highest percentage of seafood I couldn't identify!
Seriously, click on the picture to see it larger and see how many items you can identify. If you know what they are, post to the comments!
(EDIT: The stuff in this case may not be seafood at all--note the heads on the right--but it was in the market near the seafood stalls, which is why I thought it could be seafood. But if someone says, "You idiot, those are goat parts!" I will not argue the point.)
There's lots to see in Barcelona away from Las Ramblas, as well. We spent most of one day walking around the Gothic Quarter, going through the old churches. Many of them were empty, so walking through them felt surreal. The streets themselves are beautiful, too, with arches like this:
And street musicians like this guy, who was phenomenal. Not only was he a talented guitarist, his voice was beautiful. I left a tip in his guitar case, and so did a few other tourists:
We got our dose of art by walking through the Picasso Museum--a must-see for anyone who likes Picasso--then headed a few blocks away to the Chocolate Museum. Yep, Barcelona has a museum dedicated to all things chocolate! There are displays about how chocolate is made, about the history of chocolate production, and about all the different types of chocolate. There are also displays of chocolate art. For instance, this depiction of a bullfight, made entirely out of chocolate:
And this recreation of the house from the Pixar movie UP:
Sadly, the photos don't do the chocolate justice. In person, the detail is amazing. It also made me very, very hungry. Fortunately, at the end of the tour, we stopped to have chocolate and coffee from the museum's coffee bar.
Eventually, we made our way to the waterfront where Christopher Columbus is mistakenly pointing away from the New World (oops.)
After one last meal on land--because who can resist eating in Barcelona?--we boarded our cruise ship to head to our next stop...Malta!