British Airways
Renaissance Hotel




Commuter Rail/Metro
  City Map
Hop-on Hop-off Bus
    Casa Batllo

La Pedrera
    La Sagrada Familia
    Barrio Gotic
    Las Ramblas
    Mercat St. Josep
    Miro Museum





























"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then to rest afterwards;"  I was looking forward to putting into practice an old Spanish proverb I had recently come across Five years after one our most glorious trips ever we were returning to Spain.  Sumptuous living amidst rich, never-ending history and culture.  That trip included Madrid, Seville, Cordoba and two weeks in an ancient farmhouse in Andalucia, but that's another story!

This time we were heading to Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia (Catalunya):  in Spain, but not really of Spain.  As any Catalunyan is quick to tell you, Catalunya has a history and culture and identity all it's own, and is gaining more and more freedom from Spain all the time.

Me on Las Ramblas

Anyway, we loved Spain last time and jumped on this offer to trade homes for two weeks:  they (Sandy and Doro) would stay in one of our homes here in Arizona for two weeks in February, and we would stay in their home in Barcelona for one week, then continue to their B&B/resort on the island of Menorca for another week, with car exchanges, too.  This would be our third home exchange;  the first two had been excellent, not only because of  the great monetary value (free accommodations!), but more for the new friends we've made.

Which is why we prefer non-simultaneous exchanges.  A classic trade is just that:  you're on your way to their home while they're on their way to don't necessarily meet, much less have a chance to get to know one another.  Obviously, non-simultaneous happens best  when a party has more than one home in an area.  Like, we have two in Casa Grande, and they have one each in Barcelona and Menorca.  

Our vacation home exchange in Alella;  dinner on the back patio with local groceries

So we made the trade, had the time of our lives, and this is the story.  (To learn more about home exchanging, go to

British Airways  has a great flight from Phoenix to London Heathrow departing late at night (in the summer) which gives you all day to fart around and get ready, then you get on the plane, have dinner, go to sleep and wake up in London in time to catch another flight or go right to your room.

When we were offered an upgrade to business class for $300 each, we took it.  Imagine:  upper deck, champagne, lie-flat beds, free from the rabble.  Gin & tonics and sleeping pills with salmon and avocado appetizers, salad w/great red pepper dressing in a little bottle, filet w/wilted spinach, baked potato, pear and cherry flan with port for dessert...and no hoi polloi.  And a lie-flat bed...night-night!

View from Business Class window(s)

Renaissance Hotel Heathrow   It turned out to be hard to get to Barcelona with such a late arrival time, so we had decided to be leisurely and burn a night at Heathrow.  Our room at the Renaissance was small, old, and unattractive and cost £15 to get to from the airport - fie!  Skid marks in the toilet, a large dead spider caught up in the curtain, lotsa little things here and there.  And a great view of the runway and more 747s than I’ve ever seen anywhere but no way to open the windows to hear the roar and smell the kerosene burning - double fie!

To get that sweet scent I tricked Woman into going out for walk to find restaurant for dinner.  In the airport-side parking lots we found lots of kindred spirits - plane spotters w/binos.  The weather was beautiful and cool, quite unlike the desert inferno we had just left.  At the Pheasant Public House we had passable beer-battered fish & chips and a roast chicken and lamb plate.  And ale.

And I worried all night about getting up for our extremely early flight - leisure ends - but we checked in OK by 06:00, us and zillions of Brits headed for holiday in the Med.


There are two ways to look at the siting of your accommodations, of course...sometimes you wanna be right downtown in the middle of it all with the noise and the fumes and the hassle, and sometimes you prefer to recharge in the serenity of a suburban location, at the expense of the hassle of getting out of Dodge, so to speak.

Of course, the taxi driver had no idea where our destination was, but we sorted that out through the miracle of international cell phones with a call to Sandy and Doro, our exchange hosts who were on Menorca.

Our trade home living room

Once in our cozy home, we followed Yolanda the housekeeper into town so she could show us the grocery store, where we bought stuff like produce, wine, alien cuts of meat we had never seen before, and proceeded to settle in like bureaucrats in Washington.

Our Bodega in Alella

We find that anytime we stay in a place for more than a day or two, we get into a daily rhythm, usually bracketed by coffee on one side of the day and cocktails on the other.

(very) Late morning at the train station

Here, we fell into a schedule of  late wake-up and leisurely morning, head into the city for 4 or 5 hours of sightseeing, reverse our steps back to Alella for more provisions and then to our patio and the waiting wine.  I cannot remember a more enjoyable routine, ever, on any of our travels...knowing we had a suburban oasis waiting for us at the end of a day made the City and its bustle quite the more tolerable - even enjoyable!

Cocktail Hour

Commuter Rail/Metro
So after our lazy morning we would drive to Masnou (Port), park, buy train tickets (5E total, roundtrip), wait 10 minutes, then enjoy the 20 minute ride into town along the coast, passing by the beaches close enough for it to be obvious that they were, indeed, top-free, in the best Mediterranean tradition.  Arriving at Plaça Catalunya, we would start our daily adventure.

Plaça Catalunya


Hop-on Hop-off Tourist Bus
We like to do a bus tour immediately when we hit a new city, to easily get a general feel for the entire city in just a few hours.  Lately, hop-on hop-off buses have become very widespread, and for 34€ (total) we bought a day pass in our first minutes in the city and hopped the red bus north.

Hop-on hop-off tourist bus

View of Casa Batllo from tourist bus

We got off for lunch at a place called La Oca, a huge, full and hurried lunch place full of smoking locals, for mussels fisherman style, gazpacho and a four cheese pizza w/2 beers (€ 23.64 inclusive of tip and VAT).  Back on the south bus, we rode all the way back to Plaça Catalunya...very tired by then, after a half-day of riding, gawking and eating.

Barcelona outwardly looks just like any old European city...coulda been Paris or Rome, coulda been Milan.  In fact, the people at lunch most resembled Milanese in my experience

If all of Europe is - to me - different, in a "fruity" way, then this place is jungle-fruity...with the prevalence of modernism everywhere, some of the more borderline wacko modernism is just plain gay (not that there's anything wrong with that) - and I mean that in the best of way...possible.

The City was very very smoggy when we were there...the white sky reminds of Beijing without the construction cranes.  In fact, there were no skyscrapers at all...a few tallish buildings here and there, but just a few...kinda anemic...reminds again very much of Milan.  Then again, it's kinda nice to have a city to yourself, not having to compete with construction!

The real jewels of the City are Antonio Gaudi and his creations - primarily Casa Batllo, La Pedrera, La Sagrada Familia, and Parc Guell.  Personally, I am very attracted to his curvy surrealism and wild use of gaudy (pardon the pun) colors in tile and glass.  All of the curves and colors add up to a very welcome relief from's amazing, organic and beautiful.

Casa Batllo
On one day we popped out of the underground station at Plaça Catalunya, walked up Passeig de la Gracia to Casa Battlo and took a self-guided tour inside.  Built in 1905-1907 for a prosperous family, Casa Batllo well represents the visceral, undulating, and organic qualities of Gaudi's work in that period.

The glass...

The tiles...

The curves and the colors...

La Pedrera
Just a few blocks away from Casa Batllo can be found La Pedrera (Catalan for "the quarry"), which was also built in that magical period of 1905-1907.  We couldn't possibly find the time to tour this one, but we bought some stuff at gift shop.  That counts, doesn't it?

La Sagrada Familia
A short ride away on the underground is Sagrada Familia, perhaps the best-known and most-recognized of all of Gaudi's works, and certainly an international icon on the level of the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben.  When you search the internet for clip art for "Spain" this is what you get!   It's really beautiful and incredible and huge...and unfinished.   A work of art in progress.  And I didn’t at all get the horrible feel I get at most  Catholic churches - rather a very pleasing feeling instead...the same as at the other two Gaudi buildings we visited.

Barrio Gotic (Gothic Quarter)
On the other side of town, south of Pla
ça Catalunya, from there to the Port, is the Gothic Quarter, or where the old stuff is.  Every European city's got one, and Barcelona's is a trove of historical gems.

Las Ramblas
The primary pedestrian street in the Barrio Gotic, from Plaça Catalunya down to the Port, Las Ramblas is teeming with street vendors and buskers.  Also - according to travel guides - pickpockets and thieves.  We didn't experience any of that, but we were never drunk there at 2am either.  All in all, it was a very pleasing ramble down to the water.

Mercat St. Josep
Along the way down Las Ramblas to the Port, you can't miss the old market, full of sights, sounds and smells, as all markets are - except in Amerika.  We love 'em.





After the smells of the food at the market, we sat down for lunch at el Cochinillo Loco (crazy pig or something?), just next door, for paella, fish plate, gazpacho, churrasco, and flan.

At the southern end of Las Ramblas lies the waterfront.  Though renovated for the Olympics several games ago and reputedly now a people draw, we thought it a little moribund.  A fancy shopping building, but not much going on, and no roof deck on which to suckle beer whilst watching the harbor. 

Very nice renovated, people-friendly port area

Eurostars Grand Marina Hotel

At the top of Montjuic (we took the funicular) at the museu Miro we found a pleasing park with a very good museum full of strange and very interesting stuff.  Miro enjoyed a really long career;  we liked his ‘40s stuff best.

And this has nothing to do with the quality or not of the collection, but the museum boasted great views of the city through the windows.

One of the great day trips possible from Barcelona is a drive to the small town of St. Sadurnia to visit the Freixenet cava.  Cava is the indigenous term for the facility, derived from the caves that the bottles are stored in for fermentation at a constant and cool temperature.  Freixenet is the leading Spanish sparkling wine - they can't call it champagne because the French have that trademarked - but that's what it is.  And for our $8.99 (brut), a very good value indeed.

The countryside, once off the expressway, was beautiful and it musta been a slow day at the cava, 'cuz we got a custom tour with a cute tour guide all to ourselves.



Afterwards, we drove on to a town called Vilafranca and beyond, stopping at a little roadside restaurant for a real Catalan lunch...well, our lunch (atún salad) may not have been, but the restaurant certainly was.  A group of (patently local) men who arrived before us and left after we did were gustily sharing a 4- (or more) course meal.  Siesta time...

One night we got all dressed up to go out to fancy dinner...drove up the mountain to a fancy restaurant, decided no...past a Chinese restaurant, no also...drove thru Alella foothill neighborhoods... stuff...Russian mob money? Who lives here? Some really fancy digs.

Where does all the money that pays for all this fiberglass come from?

We finally ended up back in the port...seems like I’ve been eating fish forever on this trip...damn mediterranean diet...two nights ago, tuna...tonight fish dishes is like putting lipstick on a pig...just never gonna be great.  Woman had fabulous gnocchi...I was still insisting on fish.  Go figure.

That night I (thought I) ordered an Alella tempranillo for €13.50.  We received an Orbus "dry red wine" form Alella...loved it and thought it drank well above its cost, so I ordered an extra bottle to "take with" to Menorca for Sandy and Doro.  When the bill came it turned out to be the bottle one row above (on the menu) and three times as expensive as the one I thought I had ordered!  Just goes to show I know a nice bottle of Red when I taste one....finally...after all these years of practice.

Our $50 bottle of wine

So good-bye to Barcelona.  Sitting in 2nd floor sala of the Balearia terminal building, watching sailboats go through the tricky pedestrian bridge to Maremagnum, waiting for it to close again (must be scissor action...doesn’t raise and lower) it seemed like we had consumed a week in a day or two.  I couldn't believe it was time to go, but don't cry for us, because we were headed for a week on the Island of Menorca.



We didn't do a whole lot more than we did do here in Barcelona, and we still saw lots of amazing stuff!  Certainly we could have done more - there's plenty to see, and it's all quite attractive, really, but the way I look at it, you can't eat all the sweets in the candy store, or there'd be no reason to go back!

Notwithstanding the great sights in the city, we were always ecstatic to get back home to our pool and garden in the sun for wine, naps, wine, snacks, wine, newspapers...etc

One day a lady is sitting behind us, out in public, nursing her baby...also a lady in a restaurant at the Miro museu was doing the same...and there are muchos bare breasts on the beaches...and guess what?  NO ONE SEEMS TO CARE, AND SPAIN STILL FUNCTIONS AS A COUNTRY.  Getting into the 9th floor elevators after deciding not to wait in a line for department store cafeteria food, we were accosted by a flagrant nude advertisement for some kind of cosmetic creams or something (below)  Can ya imagine this in Macy's?  Kinda nice to have one less thing for society to get upset about and throw people in jail for, not to mention...well, uh...

Catalan language and culture is more like French than Spanish, I wonder, since France is about an hour away...

We're really looking forward to some "island time"...relaxation, inspiration, writing, eating, drinking, sailing, napping and visiting w/Sandy and Doro to solve all of the cultural mysteries we encountered n Barcelona...

It occurs to us that we’ve now spent more nights in Spain than anywhere else in Europe and loved every minute of it and believe that it stacks up very favorably alongside the old favorites France and Italy and are a little surprised and a lot pleased by that!

Why am I always so surprised that other places are real?  Like, they're just pretending that Barcelona's a big hoax, and when I step off the plane I'm gonna be right back where I started, like in a dream.  Every time I think I'm at the boundary of the known universe, it turns out I'm just where I had planned to be going...and it's real.  And cool.

Thanks for reading, and see ya next time, from the island of Menorca!!!!!


NEXT:  One week on Menorca!





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