Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Time to "Tauck" About My Trip

I have been putting off doing what should have been a total pleasure for me: talking about my September trip to Spain and Portugal. This in no way reflects on my desire to share, or remember the events of those two glorious weeks, but a simple set of facts. There were 2000 photos taken, and such an intense cultural experience that by the end I was both physically and mentally exhausted. I didn't know where to begin to even think about all I had seen and experienced, let alone lay it out neatly and succinctly for you.

It all started with my husband and I taking a bus tour with the well regarded tour company, Tauck. They are known for their high end accommodations for hotels, food and cultural immersion. They charge a lot, but they give more, to the degree that by the last day I was whining about wanting to stay behind from the city tour and just experience our amazing five star hotel.
So, short of writing a history and travel guide for you (for which I am completely out of my league), I have decided to write an installment for each section of the tour, basically sharing through photos and small remembrances, the highlights. (We all know that only some of you read all the words, and that many more just enjoy the pics, and that's fine with me, too.)

So this is where it begins, Day 1, a girl and her camera at Le Meridien Hotel on La Rambla, at the heart of Barcelona. (You'll want to check out this link for the great introductory video.) We arrived a day early to acclimate to the time change; napped away our Sunday afternoon, while a street party of tourists and locals played out below our open window. Unlike most American hotels, it was such a pleasure to be able to have fresh outside air in every place we stayed, and I was able to avoid that dreaded stale air conditioning. (European AC isn't as cold either, and we didn't mind.)

This view of the elegant bathroom allows several observations about what we experienced throughout the trip: 1) the toilets were all square like this (unlike American oval shapes), 2) we had all sorts of useful (but not always used) extras like TV monitors, scales and bidets, and 3) we had so much luxury, like this etched glass wall, and all sorts of mood lighting, that you felt like you needed a guide on how to use your room. By the way, on the other side of this wall was the door to the room, so that if someone were using the bathroom, and say, the maid was delivering a turn down service, the person in the bathroom would not have total privacy. 

One of the very few occasions on which I worked in my travel journal. This was breakfast at the hotel restaurant Cent Onze, and I drew my slightly grumpy (still jet-lagged) travel companion, and some of the inside and out-the-window details of my view. It would have been fun to do this once a day, but I soon realized that it takes a lot of mental energy to draw and journal, and I was often more in need of total downtime when the time was there to do it.

On our first official city tour we had a brief stop in the famous city market, Mercat St. Josep (La Bouqueria). These fabulous fresh juice drinks were emblematic of the healthier treats we found throughout the trip.

Here is an example of a modern building designed to accommodate and honor the old. You can see how they bridged the alley for convenience while encouraging easy passage  to a special historic street just beyond. All through our trip we saw the elegance and ease with which history is honored and showcased while melding with modern life and architecture. 

In the Barrio Gotico, the medieval quarter of the city, we experienced a breathtaking meeting room of all the "world's" great leaders of the time. 

Reminiscent of Venice's "bridge of sighs", this ancient ally was full of modern life.

You cannot spend time in Spain without a thorough immersion in the work of their most famous architect, Antoni Gaudi. This famous house, Casa Battlo (snapped from the window of our tour bus) is carved sandstone, with stained glass windows, and inlaid with glazed ceramics and pieces of broken glass.

Not a computer generated kaleidoscope image, but one tiny view of the most famous tourist site in the entire city. Looking up to the ceiling of the Temple de la Sagrada Familia, which has been under construction for over a hundred years, and is still unfinished (but getting close.)

On our own, before the start of the tour, we found our way to the most magical park in the city, Gaudi's Park Guell, a childs' (and adult) wonderland. Behind me, as I stand on the upper square with its surround of winding ceramic encrusted bench, the city spreads out to the South and the Mediterranean Sea behind me.

A delightful surprise: Monk Parakeets squawking, flying, and nesting in the palms throughout the park.

The fantasy world included private grottoes in which to relax, get out of the heat, and enjoy the view of the blue, blue sky.

I may not have access to good public transit where I live now, but having been a resident of Philly and DC during many years of my life, I am very comfortable getting around even foreign towns on the subway. I found the ticket system easy to use, even though I don't speak any Catalan.

I have experienced street entertainers in many places, but was totally blown away by the character mimes along Las Ramblas. I was told they are licenced by the city and must meet very high standards to be given the opportunity to make quite a good living this way. I do believe the source of this character was the painting, "The Burning Giraffe."

Well, I hope you enjoyed this tiny taste of Barcelona. (And by the way, our favorite meal here was sitting on a curb eating amazing gelato out of a paper cup.) Do follow the links to learn a bit more. As we leave the city, on our next installment, we will begin our journey to Montserrat, Cardona, and La Seu D'Urgell.