Sunday, July 27, 2014

El Born, Barcelona (7/23 - 7/26)

Hey everybody! Thanks for stopping by to read our little travel blog. It means a lot that people at home want to hear about where we've been and what we're doing.

Sarah and I loved our time in Spain, and we were very sad to be moving on. Here's some pictures and a little bit about what we were up to!


We left Paris early, but thankfully Orly was merciful and it didn't take long to get through security and to our gate. I did get in a bit of trouble for having scissors, but after looking at them more closely, the security guy just waved me through and I got to keep them (unlike my Nutella in Ireland, RIP Nutella). The flight out of Paris was uneventful, and it was only after starting our descent that we got a good view of Spain.

Barcelona is situated in the north-east of Spain, right on the Mediterranean. The city stretches long the coast, between baking-hot beaches and a low mountain chain. Politically, Barcelona is actually part of the autonomous community of Catalonia, which is under the jurisdiction of Spain. Barcelona is the second-largest city in Spain, and has one of the largest metropolitan areas in Europe--it covers a huge area of land, stretching along the shoreline from the city center for miles in each direction.

We were staying in the neighborhood of El Born, near the beach and the beach district of Barceloneta. We almost missed the entrance to the building when we first saw it, but luckily Daniela, our host's friend who was waiting there to let us in, spotted two clueless Americans looking lost and assumed we were who she was meeting. The buildings in El Born are very classically Spanish: sandy four or five story buildings with intricate iron balconies and beautiful designs in different colors of clay and stone. The storefronts are often lined with wood paneling, and we thought our door was one of those panels--the only thing that gives it away is the keyhole and the small handle. I couldn't walk straight through the door. I had to turn sideways to fit.

Inside, the passage opened up a little bit, but it was still fantastically narrow and cramped. We felt that it added to the authenticity. The stairwell was inside, out of the sun, and lined with cool brick, but it was still stuffy and hot in there. We were staying on the fourth floor, so each journey out of the apartment and back up was an adventure in itself.

This is our favorite place that we've stayed in so far. We had the whole (tiny) flat to ourselves. The kitchen was well stocked with cooking equipment and very clean, and the little fridge kept our water very cold, which was a wonderful thing.

There was no air conditioning, so it got very hot during the day, but we had a big window and a fan, and the floor was tile, so it never got too stuffy or cramped. The air was fresh and moving, it was just really hot fresh moving air.

We spent most of our time during the day outside, but coming home to this beautiful little flat tucked away up high in El Born was delightful: a little hidden paradise.

The view from out the window. We were on the very edge of El Born, so to the left is the Plaza de Algullers and Barceloneta, the beach neighborhood, and to the right is the tight, twisting shaded streets of El Born. It looks like that row of buildings on the right is impassable, but in fact there is a tunnel at the base of it, close to the bottom of the picture, and if you pass through that arch and take a right through a tight alleyway, you come out...

Here, in El Born--the most beautiful neighborhood you could imagine. We hardly spoke as we walked around that first day, because there was so much to see and all of it was so overwhelming--the constant rapid-fire Spanish and Catalan from all directions, the smells of baking bread and the restaurants we passed, the heat of the sun and the cool of the shade, all the signs in multiple languages and screaming colors--I'm getting confused and excited all over again just thinking about it. El Born is accessible only on foot, so the streets are filled with people, and the twist and turn without any apparent planning. Sometimes, you can round a corner and come into a wide open square and see this:

Just tucked away back in the labyrinth of El Born. The neighborhood surrounds it on all sides, and you can't even see the cathedral from outside El Born... you just have to know it's there.

In our quest for a grocery store, we stumbled upon a store that sold spices, more than I had ever seen or heard of before, out of buckets and bags, and whole, unprocessed grains out of sacks. That wasn't quite what we were looking for, though, so we kept searching and eventually found a bakery, a butcher, and a produce store, so we could make some dinner.

Sarah's special burger recipe, Spanish-style! On fresh-baked rolls, freshly processed beef, and local cheese! With a side of peaches from a nearby orchard. Groceries have been a life-saver so far on this trip. We can spend around what we would spend for a single dinner out on one or two day's worth of groceries for both of us.

Over the next two days, we headed out into El Born again, and farther out into the city to the more touristy parts, to see what we could find.

The main touristy thoroughfare through Barcelona is called Las Ramblas, and it crosses almost half the city. You can find scenic squares off it on either side, all the way up the length of it.

It is very startling to suddenly hear a Texan speaking English in the middle of El Born when you've been hearing nothing but Spanish all day, but here in the square off Las Ramblas, almost no one was speaking Spanish.

I have no idea what this building is, but it is pretty. I think it is somehow related to the police.

As we approached this statue, we made tons of guesses about who the person depicted at the top was. He's dressed like he's from the Renaissance or maybe the early Industrial period, and he's looking out to sea and pointing at something. We guessed Columbus, Cortez, Ponce de Leon, and Pizarro, but we never figured out who it actually was. Any ideas?

Sarah was saying embarrassing things to get me to smile, since she knows I laugh and get red when I'm uncomfortable.

When you look one way down the street, you see mountains...

And when you look the other way, you see the beach!

Eventually, we tunneled our way back through various neighborhoods until we arrived back in El Born, sweaty and tired and thirsty.

We also spent a good deal of time at the beach in Barcelona. The Mediterranean is beautiful and cold, perfect for the hot, sunny days we had.

In Europe, men wear Speedos to the beach and women often go topless, so we had to throw out all our pictures that were photobombed by something our younger readers might find offensive.

We went to two different beaches, and the second one was definitely superior: finer sand, big boardwalk, and closer to El Born.

Of all the pictures that I took of Sarah standing by the water (and I took somewhere between eight and ten), this is the only one that was in focus. I blame her for not paying attention the entire time.

By the end of the day, we were tan (or a nice healthy pink), relaxed, and happy.

Unfortunately for us, the flight out of Spain that we thought was at 1:30pm actually turned out to be at 10:00am, so we had to get up pretty early--but it was nice, because we got to see the city early in the morning as we left for the airport, when it was cool and quiet and everyone was sleeping off their Friday night.

We made a quick stop by the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and St. Eulalia (which honestly sounds like a battle cry) on our way out, and then hopped on the bus back to the airport and headed for Germany.


Thanks for reading! Hope everyone at home is doing well. Miss you all. Lots of love from across the Atlantic.

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