Barcelona is a tough one to write. I did not enjoy Barcelona. There were quite a few factors that influenced me, but overall, it didn’t feel special to me. It felt like Chicago, or Atlanta, or any other big city. Yeah, it had a few special attractions, and it is a pretty city. It doesn’t hold a candle to the cities in the US for beauty, though. (I might be spoiled by living near Chicago, which is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities on the planet.)
Whenever you read about touristing in Barcelona, the guidebooks will start with a warning that it is filled with pickpockets that are practically shameless in their acts. Barcelona has one of the highest incidence rates for tourist crime in all of Europe. So, that put me into a sense of fear right out of the gate. Keep in mind that just a month before this, we’d been robbed at Disneyland, a place that has relatively low incidence rates of theft for a theme park. I’m gun shy about theft these days and probably will be for awhile. I packed really light for the day, which meant I had no water bottle (not that it would have helped me since I never saw a public water fountain). I only brought my pancake lens for my camera, which is my cheapest and least obtrusive lens. I also had no entertainment for waiting; this will become relevant later.
Another factor at play is that I was at this point suffering from a full blown UTI, as well as being on my period. So, I was just generally feeling like crap before we even left the boat. We had no real agenda for Barcelona, and we kept going back and forth on taking one of the ship’s tours specifically because we didn’t have a good agenda. But, we had read so much about how the public transit in Barcelona is easy to use and great, so we couldn’t stomach the idea that we’d be on a bus all day (the one bus tour never let you off). Keep in mind we were just coming off of having spent a good bit of the day on a bus in Provence. We had read that there were tourist buses offering hop-on/hop-off touring, and so we decided to compromise to that plan so we could see a bunch of things easily.
It didn’t help that our particular visit to Barcelona was plagued with problems. Our first bad omen was that, as we came out of the terminal, we couldn’t find the shuttle to take you into the center of the city. Turns out we had missed it while we were asking to figure out where it was. It was a really short walk away, at a stop that was not marked at all. So, we ended up sitting for twenty minutes waiting for the next shuttle. Then, we got on and rode to the Columbus plaza.
From there, our plan was to buy tickets for the tourist bus. But, after examining the tourist bus map, DH figured we could save ourselves from wasting time with stops we weren’t interested in by walking down the waterfront for awhile to a different stop, thus getting ourselves onto a different bus route. It was a hot walk, and there wasn’t a ton to look at from my POV, though I did see a giant lobster that I later realized was the mascot for the Barcelona Olympics.
Once we turned away from the waterfront and headed into the city, I started getting really nervous. Barcelona is weird, because it’s like, normally, you kind of want to stay in touristy areas to avoid crime, but in Barcelona, you kind of don’t want to be in touristy areas but you also still have to avoid the other bad areas. So, you’re just constantly terrified. Along the way, we came across a giant protest, and strangely, that made me feel a little better. The signs had cross marks over scissors, which we jokingly said was a protest against barbers, but I’m sure it actually meant “no cuts” or something similar.
Also, I needed to use the bathroom really badly, and finding a public restroom in Europe is not easy. Say what you will about the huge number of fast food restaurants and Starbucks in the US, but they all generally let you run in and use the bathroom. That’s a frickin’ public service that they offer basically for free (unless you’re in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, of course). Restaurants in Europe may not even have a bathroom inside. If they do have a bathroom for customers, it may be smaller than your smallest closet, and it’s often tucked back in the kitchen or another not easy to find area. And they do not want you to use it unless you’re not just eating but sitting down to eat (which always costs more than getting to-go food). Public restrooms were readily available at tourist attractions, but finding one outside of a tourist attraction was tough. (Even ones near tourist attractions were generally pay toilets.) It really makes you wonder if that’s yet another reason that the racers on TAR get so messed up all the time. They probably get lost trying to find bathrooms, or they’re annoyed because they really need to pee. Anyways, we stumbled onto a church that was clearly a tourist attraction, and I had high hopes that there might be a bathroom inside or nearby, so we went in and walked around. No luck, but it was a pretty church, I guess.
After walking through the church, I was getting to the point of not being able to walk very fast because of having to go to the bathroom (plus the UTI was doing its thing), but we came to a place that seemed like a Spanish equivalent of a Panera Bread, and I managed to find the (smaller than airplane bathrooms) bathroom. Relief! We did not buy anything, as we couldn’t find a to-go menu, so thank you random bakery restaurant place! Sorry about making your bathroom stinky!
A few blocks later, we were at the tourist bus stop. Of course, there was a public (pay) toilet in a park right behind the bus stop. D’oh! So, we were basically waiting for a bus that looked vaguely like this one:
There was another couple, from the Netherlands IIRC, waiting there for a bus, too. DH validated the bus map on the station wall while I chilled on the concrete, relishing the shade. And we waited. And waited. The other couple noted that they’d already been waiting for over a half hour. We waited some more. Now, they were at an hour, and we had been there for twenty minutes, for a bus that should come every twenty minutes. They gave up and left. More tourists came up to wait, a mother and daughter from the US. Another 15 minutes go by with no bus. DH and I reason out that the protest we saw is on the bus route, and it’s possible the protest has cut off the bus route from getting to where we are. But, another walk about half as far as we’d already gone and we could get to the subway. So, keep in mind that, at this point, it’s been around two hours since we left the ship, and we haven’t seen anything except a giant lobster and some random church.
We head to the train station, seeing a few cool things along the way.
I remind DH at the ticket machine that we can get a multi-ride ticket and share it to save some money (a tip from either CruizeCast or the guidebooks). So, at the point where we go down to the stop, we’re feeling pretty good that we’re smart tourists doing good things. The train/subway is, of course, way cheaper than using the tourist bus anyways, so we’re saving money like mad. We find a good spot along the wall and station ourselves with all the locals waiting for the next train (of which there were many…which should have been a sign, I suppose). So, we wait. And wait. And wait some more. An announcement happens, and some people groan and leave but most stay. We ask around and find out that the announcement said the train was delayed another 15 minutes. We don’t have a good alternative, so we wait. Lots more people arrive. We edge closer to the track, because it’s now a situation where we worry that we won’t get onto the train because so many people are there. Sure enough, when the train finally arrives, it’s one of those shove yourself in situations. And, guess what? Lots of people in Barcelona are sweaty and stinky. I’m sure I was, too, but unlike most people on the train, I’m at armpit height. Plus, I can’t reach the overhead things to hold onto, so I have to clutch DH and try to balance. It was not a fun ride. We get to our station, get off, and plan to transfer, but we can’t seem to find the next station. We end up going above ground and then spot it across the way, but we’ve made our way to a nice street, and DH convinces me to just walk it. It really was a kind of nice city street, reminiscent of Michigan Ave. in Chicago.
We were walking to an area called the block of discord. It’s called that because a bunch of different architects, including Gaudi, designed buildings on this one block, and it’s like they started trying to top each other. The result is a bunch of buildings that don’t sync up with each others and are, if you’ll forgive the pun, really gaudy. But, here’s the fun part. It’s not like the block is marked. Though the guidebooks make a big deal about this one block, the architecture isn’t so obviously crazy that you notice it. We walked past it and turned around to come back because we’d missed it. There’s also enough “normal” buildings between that it’s just not that apparent.
The best example of what was meant, though, was the Gaudi building and the one next to it.
Then, you have the very famous Gaudi building. What I discovered in Barcelona is that I’m not a fan of Gaudi. I’ll get into this more later.
There was a huge crowd of people outside it taking pictures, just sitting around, and waiting in line to go in. This, of course, triggered my nervousness, because now we were in a touristy place where it was easy to get jostled. Our next planned stop was to take the train to the Sagrada Familia, which is a big and constantly under construction church largely done by Gaudi. It’s basically *the* thing you’re supposed to see in Barcelona. We went down to the subway, which was right near the block, but it turned out that we basically had to walk all the way back to where we started, underground in a poorly ventilated tunnel, to get to the right line. Ugh. And, of course, the train took awhile, again. And the train was crowded, again. It wasn’t as bad as the first one, but it wasn’t great, either.
It’s hard to describe, and since I didn’t have a zoom lens, it’s even hard to see. What looks like dripping wax from a distance becomes more and more detailed as you get closer. Then, you see that it’s got all these flowers and decorations surrounding biblical scenes. Still, I have to say…I just don’t like Gaudi. It feels like something designed by a 10 year old. Like, Tim Gunn needs to come along and tell Gaudi that he’s over-accessorizing and to take some stuff away, that it’s too literal. That skull building? Tell me you didn’t draw stuff like that when you were a kid. Or even the Sagrada Familia…you can’t even focus on anything because there’s all this crap going on. It looks like a hot mess. If that’s the best of modern architecture, it’s a sad, sad time in architecture. I’ve tried to go back and look at it without being hot and tired and frustrated, thinking I’d like it more. I just don’t. And when I got to what was *the* thing to see in Barcelona, and that crazy ass mess (IMO) was it? I was just like, “No. I’m done. I’m going back to the ship.” DH wanted to walk around and look at it more, so I camped out at the nearby park, in the shade, and watched people while he walked around and listened to the Rick Steves podcast for the area.
Long chicken! Diverkings! 🙂