Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Girona and Barcelona

The worst thing about taking weekend trips is that the weekend is never long enough! But I have to admit, the weekend trips we can take here are pretty amazing. This past weekend, we visited Girona and Barcelona, Spain, and I didn't want to leave!

Ryanair, the low-cost airline based in Dublin, flies from Turku (an hour south of where we live in Rauma) to Girona, which is an hour north of Barcelona. Since we arrived late Friday night, I decided to stay overnight in Girona. I'm really glad we did, because Girona is a beautiful medieval city with one of the most well-preserved Jewish quarters in Europe. Girona has a busy history, having been attacked 25 times and captured at least seven times. Today, Girona is a quiet oasis with a huge square filled with outdoor cafes, and a lovely river lined with pastel-colored homes reminiscent of similar landscapes in Lyon and Copenhagen.

La Boqueria Market
After spending the morning strolling around the Jewish quarter and the Old Town and exploring the magnificent cathedral, we took the train to Barcelona, which provided a nice look at the Catalan countryside. We were lucky that one of the train stops in Barcelona was a short walk from our hotel on the famous Passeig de Gracia street.

I like old hotels with lots of character, but I also like modern conveniences. Our choice, the Hotel SixtyTwo (named for its address at 62 Passeig de Gracia), wasn't spectacular on the outside, but the inside was definitely a 21st-century showpiece. Everything in the room operated with buttons, including the black-out shade. The bathroom was huge by European standards, with separate rooms for the toilet, shower and even a bathtub! Americans take bathtubs for granted, but they are luxuries in Europe! Plus, we had a small balcony with great views over the city.

Anyway, we walked around a bit, "ooh'ed and aah'ed" at everything we saw, and tried to get into the Picasso museum, but the line was too long. We were quite surprised at just how packed with people Barcelona was. I know summer is tourist season, but Barcelona seemed even more crowded than London or Paris. The weather was another jolt for us, even though we knew it would be hot, especially coming from chilly Finland. It was 32 degrees C. (about 90 degrees F.) and sunny the entire weekend. I loved it! We haven't had a real summer, and I have been craving sunshine and warmth.

We had  a "Cava and Tapas" walking tour scheduled at 5 p.m. I'm so glad we did this, because it was tons of fun and we met some great people from Houston, Honolulu, Toronto (by way of South Africa and Holland), and Australia. Our guide, Sophie, was excellent, and she took us to the famous Boqueria Market and to three restaurants to sample different tapas and Spanish wines. We had so much fun that we stayed at the last restaurant with our new friends way past the time the tour ended!
Inside La Sagrada Familia

The next day was devoted to seeing as much as possible as we could cram in. We had tickets on the Hop-on, Hop-Off bus tour, which I recommend taking in any new city. These bus tours provide recorded commentary and give you a great overview of a city. You can exit at any stop or just stay on for the ride.

Most people associate Barcelona and Catalonia with Picasso, Dali and Miro, but the most famous native son is Modernist architect/artist Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi lived from 1852 to 1926, and his work is seen all over Barcelona. Gaudi was a Modernist, very religious and very imaginative. His work reflects nature, light, use of non-traditional materials, mosaics, curves, and new techniques. His buildings are true works of art, and many are deservedly UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We visited his most famous projects: Casa Batllo, La Pedrera, Park Guell, and of course, La Sagrada Familia, the cathedral which is the most famous landmark in Barcelona, and which has been in construction since 1882. Gaudi worked on the project until his death in 1926, even living at the site the last year or so of his life. (Gaudi was struck by a tram, and because he was dressed like a beggar with no identification papers, he did not receive proper hospital care; by the time his identity was discovered, it was too late, and he died.)

Bench at Park Guell
La Sagrada Familia is fascinating, because it is being built entirely with donations and proceeds from ticket sales. That is why it is taking so long! Gaudi's detailed plans are being followed to this day, and latest estimates state that the cathedral will be completed between 2026 and 2028. Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the church in 2010. But as Gaudi once said, "My client is in no hurry," referring to God.

In the afternoon, while on the bus tour, we visited Gaudi's Park Guell, which is 50 acres on top of a mountain. There are magnificent views, more great Gaudi masterpieces and way too many hills to walk up and down! On the way back to the bus, though, we had a Coca Cola Light and a bowl of fresh fruit, which was refreshing. Later, we stopped at the coast to see the beach, and also to visit the casino. There was a European Poker Tour event going on at the casino, and we watched a bit of the goings-on.  we

Seafood Paella
Our last night in Barcelona, we had a nice dinner, and I finally got some seafood paella, which was wonderful. Tom had sea bass, which was also good. The next day, we took the airport bus back to Girona, during which our bus driver practiced his karaoke the entire trip, singing or whistling to every song on the radio.

And, naturally, when we got back to Rauma, it was 10 degrees C. (50 degrees F.), which was depressing. I think summer is over in Finland, although I don't think it was every really here! No worries, though -- there are more trips to plan! And I definitely want to return to Spain -- I sure wish Tom's employer would built a power plant there...

Here are the links to all the pictures:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.