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.
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 yours...you 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.
So we made the trade, had the time of our lives, and this is the story. (To learn more about home exchanging, go to www.HomeLink.org)
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.
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.
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.
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!
Hop-on Hop-off 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 curves and the colors...
Barrio Gotic (Gothic Quarter)
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.
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...
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 bacalao...fish sucks...cooking 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.
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 think...no 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 exists...it'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!