|Day 1, Barcelona:
We arrived in Barcelona early in the morning after an overnight train from Cordoba (approximately 10 hours). Our hotel was centrally located within a nice residential area called Eixample (pronounced eye-sham-plah). Despite a tired looking décor, our hotel had some pretty sweet perks, including a free food buffet available all day, unlimited quantities of free bottled water and canned beer, and free internet access. We tried to use discretion in taking advantage of the free perks, unlike the Irish crew (two Irish couples about our age) down the hall that sat in the hotel lounge from sunrise to sunset hammering back the free beer - we are convinced that they never set foot outside of the hotel during their stay. Given our early arrival we were not able to immediately check into the hotel. We left our bags at the front desk and took off on foot. As we left, the front desk person warned us that Barcelona was the pickpocket capital of Spain - more on this later. Our first stops were the Placa de Catalunya, the city's central square, and the adjacent Ramblas Boulevard. The Ramblas is a mile long people watching paradise that starts at the Placa de Catalunya and ends at the city's harbor. Shops and restaurants line both sides of the street and hundreds of people walk up and down the pedestrian-only strip that runs along the middle of the boulevard. We walked the length of the Ramblas down to the harbor, walked through a swanky harbor-front shopping center (the Maremagnum), walked down to the local beach, and eventually walked by the Olympic port and village (leftover from the 1992 Summer Olympics). After a full day of walking and familiarizing ourselves with the city, we called it quits and had dinner near our hotel. When we got back to the hotel we had our first sighting of the "Irish crew" - they were hanging out in the lounge and knocking back some free beers.
Day 2, Barcelona:
All the stress of being on a six month vacation caught up with us on this morning as we both woke up feeling a little sick. We never quite figured out what we had, but we both felt achy and tired for the rest of our stay in Barcelona (probably had nothing to do with eating out and drinking for a month and a half straight). We took it easy this day and just casually walked around city checking out the several wacky buildings designed by Antoni Gaudi. Among these were the Casa Mila and Sagrada Familia Church (see pictures). Both very impressive, however, the Sagrada Familia was consumed by construction cranes. Apparently, the church was under construction when Gaudi passed away in 1926 and has remained in a perpetual state of construction since. The city continues to work to finish Gaudi's master plan for the building, however, given that construction is funded almost exclusively by tourist entrance fees, completion of the building is estimated to be almost 50 years away. After an afternoon of Gaudi sights, we settled down for a nice dinner on the Ramblas. When we got back to the hotel there was another "Irish crew" sighting.
Day 3, Barcelona:
Still feeling a little sick, we had another mellow day in Barcelona. When we left the hotel in the early afternoon there was another "Irish crew" sighting - they were hitting the free sauce early this day. The highlight of the day was the Picasso Museum. Pablo spent his teens living in Barcelona and this museum is dedicated to his early works. Hundreds of Picasso's drawings and paintings from his late teens and early twenties (even random pencil sketches from his middle school and high school days). The museum turned out to be pretty cool. After an exhausting day of glancing at pencil sketches and drawings, we retired to a restaurant specializing in "pintxos," or open faced sandwiches. The picture-filled pintxos menu was as confusing as the typical San Francisco sushi menu, and the food turned out to be just as tasty. When we got back to the hotel there was another "Irish crew" sighting.
Day 4, Barcelona:
After a post-noon wake up call (we were still feeling a bit sick), we caught the train to a town thirty minutes south of Barcelona by the name of Sitges. Sitges is a funky little beach town that came highly recommended by our good friend Brent. The town was a very easy day trip from Barcelona and turned to be a lot of fun. The beaches were great and the locals greatly outnumbered the tourists. Sitges was a cool scene. When we got back to Barcelona in the evening we had our first close call with a pickpocket. As we stepped on the long and relatively empty escalator leading us out of the subway station I noticed a guy standing right behind me. Steph and I were standing side-by-side on the escalator, so I stepped behind Stephanie to let the stranger pass by. After a few seconds of day dreaming, I realized that the guy had not passed us and instead had moved over behind me again. It was now Steph, me, and creepy guy on three consecutive steps with barely anyone in front or behind us on the long escalator out to the street. When it hit me that this jackass was probably fiddling with my backpack, I turned around abruptly and caught the guy with his hands near my bag. We were both startled by my catching him red-handed. I gave him my best "I'm crazy and about to hit you in the face" look (my crazy look was aided significantly by the scrappy beard I was sporting), and he gave me his best "I wasn't doing anything - I just happened to be unnecessarily close to you with my hands by your backpack" look. After a brief and uneventful staring contest, we reached the top of the escalator and went our separate ways. For his troubles, the jackass would have only found a couple of books and some sunscreen. When we got back to the hotel there was another "Irish crew" sighting. In the morning we caught a train to the Provence region of southern France. This turned out to be our most eventful train ride to date.