Diary entry from Syndia:
Karen had a rather uncomfortable second night in Limerick, as the air mattress she was sleeping on decided that it was no longer going to stay inflated, and strongly resisted attempts during the night to re-inflate it. Anyway, we gave up on the mattress, and Karen slept on a real mattress for the rest of the night after promising not to elbow and kick me in her sleep, like she had in Paris (Note to Karen: isn't it nice to be the author? I can record history any way I want to).
We woke up very early and took a taxi to Shannon airport. The pre-booked taxi was delayed for some unknown reason (twenty minutes late at 5.00am, and you could hardly argue the traffic was heavy), but we made it with time to spare. The flight was uneventful and I slept for most of it, and we landed in Girona airport mid-morning, then caught the shuttle bus to Barcelona. I'm pretty sure I slept through most of that drive as well, but woke up a little to see the seemingly endless multi-storey apartment blocks, and the very occasional attractive stereotypically-Spanish house in the hills.
The main bus terminal wasn't marked on the map we were using, but I felt adventurous (very odd for me) and tried asking a local where the taxi rank was in Spanish. He had no difficulty understanding the question (since the word "taxi" is common to both languages, and we clearly looked in need of one given our luggage, this isn't all that wonderful) but unfortunately the answer was a little less clear (though Karen would tell you that his hand signals were perfectly decipherable, and that I was just being dense). I had worked out that we had to go upstairs, anyway, so we waited for the lift. The nice man thought we hadn't understood that we needed to climb up the stairs and ushered us towards them, and then, seeing me struggle with my big suitcase, picked it up (I protested and tried to tell him I was fine, but he ignored me. The thought did occur to me that he may well be running off with our luggage, but I suppressed this as very silly given it was a bit heavy to run fast with it) and carried it to the top of the stairs, then pointed at the very obvious taxi rank, and gave me a big hug and kiss on the cheek. We certainly couldn't complain about the local reception.
We reached our hotel and checked in. We were offered a choice of a room facing the street or a room facing a back alley (I think. Karen says the other option was a room without a window), but we took the street room as we were told this would have a nice view. The first thing we saw when we drew back the curtains was a crowd of builders working on the scaffolded building opposite. They waved at us in a very friendly way, but it was hardly the view we were hoping for. But the room was nice, though basic, so again, no cause for complaint.
We had lunch in the restaurant next to the hotel. I apologise for having taken so many photos of food, but they were different to the usual things I eat. I had a traditional Catalonian spinach dish which was very cheesy, and had sultanas, pinenuts and bits of ham in it. Karen had a traditional Catalonian salad. As you can see, we were pretty keen to eat all things traditional. Of course, this later backfired on us in Madrid, but that's another story.
We went exploring in the streets around the hotel. We were conveniently in very close proximity to the Catedral, but the famous façade was covered in scaffolding and I have to admit being a little tired of looking at cathedrals anyway, so we didn't venture inside. We had had plans to go back another day, but ran out of time. Barcelona has lots of big wide streets, interspersed with quaint narrow alleyways running in all directions. I tried taking lots of photos to show this, but wasn't all that successful. You'll just have to use your imagination. Some of the locals thought I was trying to take photos of them instead. There are beautiful buildings covered with stenciled designs, and there are buildings that have a very baroque feel, and others that feel very Middle-Eastern. And then there are the Art Nouveau-ish buildings which looked different again.
We walked down La Rambla, which is the main street and has different sections known according to the markets that are found in each . there's the Bird Market which sold budgies, canaries, pigeons (which Karen found strange as they were the same as the pesky pigeons found all around the city), chooks, and green lizards (which incidentally aren't a type of bird); the Art Market, which had lots of touristy paintings of Barcelona, bulls and flamenco dancers; the Flower Market, which is rather self-explanatory; and the bit where lots of living statues congregate. I wouldn't have thought being a living statue would be all that lucrative, but there seem to be lots of them in Barcelona.
After reaching the end of La Rambla and walking around the marina, we decided to go in search of a Gaudi building, given he is so famous and popular. The first two buildings we tried to see were covered in scaffolding, and we were afraid Casa Batllo would also be covered as we could see scaffolding in the region we were expecting it to be, but we finally were in luck and saw the House of Bones, which is the most organic building I have every seen built out of stone. I took lots of photos. Be grateful, as I purged quite a few of them. Then after having seen this amazing façade, we went in search of the Sagrada Familia with renewed vigor. We hired audio-guides and wandered around taking lots of photos. The Passion façade was completely different to any cathedral I have seen before, and the supporting columns reminded me again of bones. The ceiling and interior columns are beautiful and so graceful and majestic. I'm running out of adjectives. On the other hand, the Nativity façade on the other side looked really messy and made me think of all the Gothic cathedrals I've every seen, all mixed into one big ugly lump. The only things I liked about it was the tree with doves at the very top which were barely visible, and the turtle and tortoise holding up the main columns. The turtle holds up the column on the sea-ward side, and the tortoise the column closest to the mountains.
We ended our first day with a nice meal of paella, which I had been wanting to try ever since everyone at work had been telling me about it. It was very good, but after having anticipated the meal so much it was a bit of an anticlimax. That night, I broke the shower (this really wasn't my fault. And it wasn't entirely Karen's fault, either ).