And now for something completely different, We’ve shifted from a funky, still somewhat gritty but gentrifying old East Berlin neighborhood to a glitz-and-glamour location in moving on to Barcelona. Our hotel is on Barcelona’s equivalent of New York’s Fifth Avenue, or whatever high-end shopping district you identify with. It’s lined with all the big names — Gucci is directly across the street — but we are unlikely to be doing any shopping. Pat the planner picked the hotel because of its proximity to some of the creations of the famed Barcelona architect Antonin Gaudi.
The opening photo is of his first masterpiece La Pedrera, formally known as Casa Mila for the man who paid for its construction. La Pedrera was actually a derogatory nickname for the building meaning “the stone quarry” because Barcelonans didn’t love the house when it was completed in 1906. But it’s widely considered to be Gaudi’s first masterpiece because it was the first building he had built from scratch. We plan to finish our week in the city by touring the inside of the building and attending a jazz concert on the roof — should be very cool.
We can see the top of La Pedrera from our hotel room. Also visible from the hotel’s rooftop restaurant and bar is Gaudi’s even more famous La Sagrada Familia. The huge cathedral celebrating the life of Christ is still under construction nearly 100 years after Gaudi’s death. (He was eccentric, but very religious. He died after being hit by a car while walking to church.) We were outside of the building as part of a four-hour walking tour and will return for an interior tour later in the week. We will have more to report at that time. Once again we had an ex-pat guide, this time an Australian who came to study Spanish for six months and never left. He was also the third guide with a name beginning with J, this time Jarrod. Just one of those weird coincidences.
We loved Berlin but it is the rare person who comes to Barcelona and doesn’t fall in love with it. No exception here. We have to say that it feels more comfortable to us because we have visited many Spanish-speaking places and our limited knowledge of the language helps. It is more extensive than German for sure, though the Catalan dialect is a different animal. Many Barcelona residents also speak some English, especially in the hospitality sector, but we feel like we can muddle through here more easily.
The city also doesn’t seem to be outrageously expensive. We had a seafood dinner last night that included prawns, grilled fish and wine that came out to around $65 including tip. Note that tipping here, as in Germany, was on the order of 10% or so. Basically you just round up the total. Servers in European restaurants are paid better than their US counterparts and tips of 20% or more aren’t expected and generally aren’t doled out by the customers.
We have observed that while there are a lot of tourists, our sense is that the volume isn’t quite back to pre-pandemic levels. There appear to be a lot of Brits and other Europeans around because it is a short flight for many of them, and it was a three-day weekend in much of Europe for a Catholic holiday. Our hotel is in a good location with lots of cafes and restaurants around. On our first evening we trekked over to a nearby spot called the Dow Jones Bar. All of our ex-DJ colleagues know of the Wall Street-themed bar. It advertises having satellite access to U.S. events, and we had faintly hoped we might be able to catch a bit of a Rangers hockey game that was being played on Sunday afternoon, but there was a soccer game on that involved Spain so that wasn’t happening. It was fine; we likely wouldn’t have been able to stay awake for the entire game anyway.
Yesterday’s walking tour took us through the ancient Gothic Quarter that dates to the city’s founding by the Romans under the rule of Augustus. Portions of a wall built by the Romans are still visible, as are columns from the original Roman forum that are inside of a medieval structure. We also visited El Born, which abuts the Gothic Quarter. Our guide lives in El Born and recommended a number of restaurants. We hope to get back to check one out. The winding streets could make it a challenging exercise, but we will see. The city’s beach, created for the 1992 Olympics from sand shipped in from Egypt, is also on our to-do list. Today we are off to visit some of the markets and sample some of the foods aided by another local guide.