Arriving in Barcelona, we returned our Fiat 500l diesel after more than 1,000 miles of driving since Granada. We were back in a city with public transportation in abundance. Gone are the sparsely populated roads and relaxing pace. Barcelona is a big city with swarms of cars, buses, taxis, pedestrians, and lots of scooters.
Our apartment was on the 6th floor of a condotel located in the heart of the city center. We were one block away from the famous pedestrian street “rambla de Barcelona” and only a couple of blocks away from the historical district called Barri Gotic with the Cathedral and old Jewish Quarter. This historical area with its ultra narrow streets and alleyways was almost exclusively for pedestrians for dozens of blocks. We have continually found it so impressive in all of the towns, but especially the larger cities, that the most vibrant and busy shopping and restaurant zones are without access by car. They could have developed the best shopping in the newer areas with easy parking and delivery, but they always select the historical areas. These areas have so much more character and charm than a typical shopping mall. We typically wander these areas staring at the buildings and storefronts – most from the 14th century – fascinated at the tenure and history that they have lived. There is a formula to the streets. Every few blocks of narrow alleys, the “carrer” opens up and there is a plaza where the sun comes through and people can gather. There are usually café’s in the plazas and frequently temporary vendors selling their merchandise.
Our apartment also was conveniently located around the corner from the Apple Store of Barcelona. The store is only one of a handful of Apple stores in Spain and it is a giant. With three floors and hundreds of people inside, it was packed. Susie had been searching for such a store since the Alhambra in Granada. She decided to see what was harder, the screen on her iPhone or the 11th century stone walkway. See photo for the answer. After making an appointment ahead of time, we dropped off Susie’s phone and they had replaced the screen in two hours. Good as new (except for the cracked camera lens).
We did most of the requisite tourist duties such as Gaudí’s buildings and the Sagrada familia along with the historical buildings, Cathedral, and a couple of museums. But what seems to stand out most in my mind is the food. We have been traveling this “jamón” crazed country for 6 weeks now. We, as a family, have been eating meat less and less. Being in some more isolated towns such as the farmhouse in Angles for the past few weeks, we have started to eat at home almost exclusively. We will grab a pastry or a coffee while out, but our main meals have been home cooked. In Barcelona, we were finally treated to some excellent flavors. Thanks to Trip Advisor we found a wonderful selection of restaurants to choose from. We went to a really cool Indian street food restaurant called Surya for dinner one night. The food was amazing. They served traditional Indian spices but in a more Spanish type of preparation. For example, we had a tapa of Indian Tortilla. Tortilla is a Spanish style omelet with potatoes. Surya adds Indian spices to it and rolls it up and served traditional Indian chutneys alongside. My mouth just watered remembering it. We also found a small global chain called Maoz that simply serves falafel. You choose whether you want it in a pita or a bowl. That’s it. They hand it to you and there is a buffet of toppings that you can add to your falafel. It is pretty much a standing room only place, but you can make your way back to the toppings as many times as you wish – we wished a lot. This was the best falafel I have ever had and the toppings only amplified the flavor.
We only had a few days in Barcelona, but we enjoyed the vibrancy and the feel of the city. Susie and I ran along the beach one morning and were impressed with the well-developed facilities and the ancient port that had all been spruced up for the Olympics back in ’92. We are passing back through Barcelona for a night at the end of this week before flying out to Italy. We are already debating whether we go back to Surya or Maoz. If only there were a Taco Temple to solve our problem.
The city of Valencia wasn’t even on our radar when we were thinking of cities to visit in Spain. When we realized that our chosen destination of Benidorm on the Mediterranean coast was a soul-less overbuilt tourist trap, we got onto Googlemaps to view the area to the north, searching for a new destination. From overhead, Valencia looked interesting; it had a big port, a huge beach with a long and wide boardwalk, and, most intriguing, a long winding park that ran through the center of town. We found a good apartment near the port, and booked it.
It turns out this long winding park is the old River Turia. In the 50’s the river flooded the city, so they diverted the entire thing to flow around the city to the west.
The dry riverbed was turned into a 7 mile long, quarter mile wide park filled with pedestrian and bicycle paths, playgrounds, sports fields, and gardens. At the south end is the the most ambitious and impressive collection of museums and performance centers. They call it La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. The buildings are impressive to look at, and are surrounded by shallow pools and stunning tiled walkways. The Opera Hall looks exactly like the Jetson’s house from our childhood TV days. The entire “campus” of pools, museums, walkways and promenades were all designed by Valencia’s famous architect Santiago Calatrava. After all these weeks of wandering around structures and ruins from the past, it was a shocking and brilliant change to wander through environs that seemed too futuristic to exist today. We felt like we were in a movie set or green screen. The photos are impressive, but as usual, they do them no justice. The scope and scale of this space is something we hope many of you can experience some day.
Valencia is a very flat city, and it is a very bike friendly town with bike trails and bike sharing programs throughout the core. This was the perfect place to get the SLO Lerners on wheels! We signed up for the bike-share for the week, and rented a smaller bike for Eden that we could easily take up to our flat in the evenings. Each day, we would just walk down the street to the nearest bike station, type in our personal code, and take a bike out of the rack. We then had 30 minutes to ride anywhere in the city before either dropping our bikes off at another station, or just checking it in and re-checking it out to continue on our way. The 30 minute time limit was sometimes annoying, but the stations are everywhere. I must say that traveling around the city by bike made this city my favorite so far (ah, but part of my heart will always belong to Porto…). The Turia Riverbed park was the most delightful creation (would you believe they first considered putting a freeway through the space!!?!) and we rode, played or ran through it every day of our week here. The community certainly uses it too; We haven’t seen so many runners since we left NYC, and families were out in force at all the playgrounds or on bikes together. Every field had a fútbol game going on, and there is even a permanent cyclocross course in the northern section of the park (Ben only cried for a minute or so upon seeing a race going on Sunday)!
We bought a package of tickets to visit some of the sights. We rode our bikes over to the Oceanogáfic, which is just like SeaWorld, where Eden was chosen to help direct and pet the dolphins. We rode our bikes over to the Hemisféric, which is a glass domed IMAX theatre. Then, on our last day, guess what?! We rode our bikes again, this time over to the large skeletal glass Science Museum that rivals San Francisco’s Exploratorium. The best part about all of these family Field Trips is the fact that we are in Valencia in December. That means we have the entire place practically to ourselves! We have seen photos online of this place in the summer, and I don’t think we would be able to navigate bikes in the crowds. Instead, we just put on our Crayola Coats and gloves and breeze around like we own the entire place. Our photos are picturesque without strangers in them. There is never a line nor a crowd to complain about. Now this is tourism I can handle!