Our sat nav surprised us today: it actually knew where a caravan park was. I guess Barcelona was a big enough city that budget accommodation made it on the list. It made a refreshing change not having to worry about where we were going. We opted for the scenic route along the coast to avoid tolls and it was just like driving down the Great Ocean Road, narrow and winding, only the water here was much bluer and calmer.
The caravan park was situated right on the beach and, therefore, more expensive than most caravan parks. We found the perfect spot, along a wire fence that overlooked the water. We hadn't washed our clothes for 12 days (laundries seemed to be non-existent) so that was our number one priority. Once our clothes were in the machine, we pulled the awning of our van out for the first time, sat in the shade with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and drank the afternoon away. I think I could have stayed there for the next week.
The tourists in the caravan opposite us came up to say they were leaving today and lumped a heap of yoghurt and jam on us (the good stuff too, not the cheap crap that we normally buy). We definitely picked the right spot. The only down side about the caravan park was that it was close to the airport and planes were leaving Barcelona every five minutes. Fortunately we were able to tune out to the intense roar after a few hours and get back to our leisurely afternoon.
Once it was dark, we sneakily dumped our TV by a garbage bin. We never used it, could almost never find a signal and I'm pretty sure no one else would want such an out-of-date piece of technology. By the next morning, it was gone.
I had to sprint to catch the bus today, which I normally wouldn't do but it beat waiting 20 minutes for the next one. Forty-five minutes later I was in beautiful Barcelona; I just wasn't sure where in Barcelona I was. I found the info centre quickly but then had to wait 20 minutes just to buy a map. After I walked out I realised there were little info stands everywhere selling maps.
Barcelona is so huge and overwhelming that I couldn't decide what I wanted to do. I walked to a contemporary arts museum but when I arrived I decided it didn't look that interesting, so instead I walked for half an hour to see a plaza that I had passed on the bus. In the centre was a massive statue, flanked by two just-as-massive towers. To one side there was an old bull ring that had been converted into a shopping centre, with escalators going to the roof for an okay view over the plaza and up to a palace on the hill.
From there I caught the metro (easiest metro system in the world; it actually counted down the seconds until the next train arrived) back to where I started to meet Danny. We both caught the train towards Park Guell, designed by the renowned Gaudi (it felt like half of Barcelona was designed by Gaudi). Barcelona had the genius idea of putting in outdoor escalators to take us up a ridiculously steep hill – thank you to whoever designed that. The park was possibly the strangest park we had ever seen. There were crazy-looking buildings dotted around that reminded us of gingerbread houses, plus a huge crowded platform offering views over the city with bizarre statues and columns underneath. Street sellers were everywhere on the platform, until a cop arrived and every one of those street sellers disappeared within seconds. It was quite funny to watch, and obviously a well-rehearsed routine.
We walked down the hill (bypassing the escalators) to try to find a market, which didn't seem to exist. A policeman came to my assistance but just treated me like a five year old: “Just remember, you need to hold the map this way up”. Thanks for the great advice. We wandered over to La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's famous church, which has been a work in progress since the 1880s. They predict it should be finished by 2020. No sense of urgency there. The exterior looked like any other church, but inside was a different story. It was without a doubt the best church I had visited. Ever. In fact I would say the best building I had ever entered. It is way too hard to describe other than to say it was amazing. Gaudi apparently took inspiration from nature and science, and the reflections of light and the rainbow effect they created were incredible. I am definitely coming back once it's complete.
On our way back to the centre of town we passed a few more Gaudi buildings, which were so distinctive we didn't even need to read the signs. We walked down the Rambla (the main road leading down to the water) and stopped in to get a drink and some food. For the very small amount we consumed, we paid way too much – that's the last time we eat on the main street. While walking towards the cathedral Danny found a small antiquities market, so he wandered through that while I visited the church. It was also undergoing construction so it wasn't at its best. What surprised me was that people were in confession right in the middle of the tourist walkway, and we could hear everything they were saying (not that I understood the Catalan language). You would think there would be a private section for things like that.
The next morning began with a peaceful walk along the beach, the only other people in sight being fishermen. Beautiful.
Once again I had to sprint for the bus. When I jumped on board I discovered it was the same bus driver as yesterday. He must have recognised me, as he made some smug comment in Catalan. I just smiled and bought my ticket.
Once I arrived in Barcelona I caught an escalator up a hill (I love the escalators here) to a palace that contained an art museum, ranging from Renaissance to modern art. I was a bit over Renaissance art so I quickly walked through that section to the modern stuff. It wasn't overly big or exciting, just a few decent paintings here and there. The Picasso room was the highlight, along with a temporary photo exhibit of Haiti after the earthquake. It was well captured and quite moving.
I randomly met Danny after visiting a castle (he had visited the Joan Miro museum) and we walked to the water together, admiring the thousand or so yachts in the port. We briefly toured the old part of Barcelona, with tons of small alleyways and plazas, before separating again. Danny was keen to see plaza George Orwell for no reason other than it was named after George Orwell. I walked up La Rambla, which mostly consisted of souvenir stores, flower stalls and street artists. I also spotted another Gaudi building, strolled through a contemporary art museum that was a bit of a letdown, inched my way through a plaza where there was a huge protest going on (thousands of people, dozens of police, a handful of news reporters), then finally caught up with Danny again in a different plaza devoid of demonstrators. We walked through a nearby market together, containing mostly food and carcasses, including skinned goats' heads with their teeth and eyes still attached. Plus loads of tripe. I didn't last long.
For dinner we ate kebabs that were served with soft sheep cheese. I like sheep cheese but I'm not sure it was right for a kebab. It ended up being too rich and made us feel slightly nauseous. We walked back to the converted bull ring/shopping centre to catch the sunset and see the lights over Barcelona at night. It turned out there weren't too many lights and none of the major sights were lit up, which was a disappointment.
We were making our way to the bus stop when we saw our bus go past, so we had to bolt for it – again. This is becoming a habit.
For the third morning in a row, I ran for the bus. Once again, I made it. This must be a record. At least it was a different driver this morning.
I visited La Pedrera (another Gaudi building) and the first thing I had to do was climb 200 stairs. My legs were exhausted from all the walking and hill climbing over the last two days and the last thing I wanted to do was climb 200 stairs. But with no other options, up the stairs I went. It was the strangest roof I had ever seen: the floor was undulating, going up and down all over the place, plus there were weird-looking chimneys and hidden staircase entrances dotted around. Situated inside the building was a small museum dedicated to Gaudi, showing his other works. There was also an apartment that I walked through, showing how a typical family lived in the 1930s. This part seemed a bit odd and was extremely boring, so I sort of sprinted through it. At the bottom was an art exhibition, which had nothing to do with the rest of the building but it held my interest for a while.
After the Gaudi experience I strolled around the city, saw the Barcelona version of the Arc de Triomphe (pretty much the same as the Paris original), walked through a park with people rowing on the lake then headed over to the Picasso museum. It was set out chronologically and thankfully displayed English descriptions of his life and inspirations at the time of each series of paintings. It much better than I expecting it to be, giving me a newfound appreciation for Picasso.
Once outside again I wandered over to the Contemporary Art museum. The exhibition was heart-breaking, conveying the stories of people who have disappeared without a trace in ten countries, including Spain. Both photos and videos highlighted the atrocities that are constantly occurring but never talked about. Definitely not a place to go if you're in need of a pick-me-up.
I met up with Danny later in the afternoon to catch the bus back to the car. Before you ask, yes, we ran for the bus again. Danny had spent most of the day on the laptop, trying to load current maps onto his iPhone so we can navigate our way around with ease. He was unsuccessful. On a positive note he did surprise me with a jar of Vegemite, which he happened to find in a British store. It took me all of five seconds to get stuck into it. Thanks Barcelona for coming through with the goods!