Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Spain, Day Seven: Tarragona

There are a lot of smaller cities easily accessible from Barcelona. We picked Tarragona for a day trip because it was a direct train ride of a little more than an hour and has extensive Roman ruins near the sea. 

The day was perfect. Except for the one day of rain, we couldn't have asked for better weather on this trip.

The most impressive of the ruins is an amphitheatre, right next to the ocean.

The really interesting thing about this amphitheatre is that in the 800s (and again later in the middle ages), the people living in Tarragona built a Christian church in the middle of it. I love seeing how people throughout history have repurposed structures from earlier times. It's hard sometimes to remember that the United States is a brand new baby of a country, and that what we see as inevitable and enduring probably is not. (And thank god for that, President Trump.)

Here's some ruins of the church.

Here's Ben learning some information.

With a combo ticket you can go look at a bunch of other Roman stuff too. This big square building was originally a palace, but was used as a prison into the 20th century.

Nice views of the sea from the prison. We climbed a million steps to the top.


Tarragona is a regular town, too, of about 200,000 people. And of course there is a cathedral, located in an old city center.

The amphitheatre is actually located outside the ancient city's walls. The main street from the city to the theatre still exists.

From the tower you can see what remains of the ancient city walls. We really didn't intend to go down there and look at them in more detail, but we had a hard time determining how to get out of the complex.

It turned out to be pretty cool! In early modern Europe, Tarragonans tossed their trash into these Roman vaults beneath the city for convenience.

I didn't notice siesta in Barcelona, but you really see it in smaller towns. Mid-afternoon Tarragona was very quiet, with most things closed.

There was a big wedding letting out from the cathedral. The guests overall had surprisingly bad fashion sense.

Next to the Cathedral there was this little building with an open door into a beautiful courtyard. We went inside.

We kept expecting someone to come and yell at us, but nobody did. We couldn't really tell what this was even supposed to be! It might have been apartments. Maybe for church people?

Around here we came upon an energetic group of people in a square having some kind of get-together - we walked over to see what was going on but then noticed a bunch of signs saying things about how tourism was a pox on society! So we played it cool and tried to look Spanish.


This square was lined with sidewalk cafes and there were quite a few people having lunch.

We caught a late afternoon train back to Barcelona.

One problem with the unfamiliar eating schedule is that we kept getting into situations wherein we were starving and testy. This resulted in us popping into a touristy restaurant that Ben was extremely displeased with - we had a few bites of some things and then left in search of something better to do. El Xampanyet was closed but we remembered a good tapas bar just across the street, so we headed there and got a seat at the bar. This place (Tapeo) was great. Ben got sweetbreads.

A couple of American girls sitting next to me were eating this, so I asked them what it was - fish & chips with black garlic aioli - and ordered it too. Great decision!

Here's their leg. Per the waiter, they go through about two legs per week.

The night salvaged by good food, we went home and went to sleep.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Spain, Day Six: Barcelona

When we booked this trip, I only had the first few nights in Barcelona and the Monserrat hotel reserved. There are many vociferous negative opinions of Barcelona on the internet, and we decided to leave our options open in case we ended up hating it and wanting to go somewhere else. As it turns out, people on the internet are stupid and Barcelona is awesome. Before we left for Monserrat we re-booked the same hotel for the rest of the trip and went straight back to our old neighborhood. 

We only had one rainy day. We decided to get up and go straight to the Picasso Museum before it got crowded. We had tried to go once before, the day we arrived, but it was a madhouse and we were exhausted. This time it worked out great. The Picasso Museum is in El Born, only a few minutes walk from our hotel, inside several old medieval buildings that are strung together. One of the most important features of the Picasso Museum is that (TIP!) you can access the bathroom, which is in a courtyard next to the gift shop, without having a ticket. Good to note for future days of wandering around in the city.

The museum doesn't allow photography, so no pictures - but it was really fantastic. The concentration is mostly on Picasso's early life (spent in Barcelona) and development as an artist, which I thought would be boring but was actually fascinating. It turns out he was quite a good painter! Who knew!

After the museum I needed coffee so we popped into a little tapas bar just across the way. The guy also talked us into little pastries.

This was a really picturesque place!

When we got back to the hotel, I looked it up and discovered it's one of the most famous tapas bars in the city. Apparently it had opened only seconds before we arrived, because normally it's packed at all hours.

Revitalized with coffee and sugar, we set out to go to the Barcelona City history museum.

I don't mind a rainy day on a city vacation so much - it was nice to have the streets a little quieter.

This city museum was also amazing! It's built over the top of Roman ruins. There was a lot of really interesting stuff in there, and, just as importantly, almost no people.

The Roman ruins underneath Barcelona show clear evidence of what existed thousands of years ago - a winery, a fish sauce processor, shops, churches... These big vats were for wine.

As you leave, there is a beautiful, deserted great hall and chapel from medieval times. Why tourists are outside taking selfies on a park bench rather than seeing these amazing historic things is beyond me.

Still raining.

We found another tapas place to get a late lunch and hopefully wait out the rain. They had the fried eggplant with honey that we ate so much of in Andalucia.

We did a little more wandering in the rain but ultimately decided to go back to the hotel and relax for a little while. This is when we discovered the tapas bar from the morning - El Xampanyet - was wildly popular, so we hatched a plan to go back right when they opened after siesta for an early (you know, 7:30pm) dinner.

When we got there it was already packed. We snagged the last stand-up table and were soon joined by other patrons crowding around, including two Eastern European businessmen and an Austrian couple who split their time between Barcelona and Vienna. We ordered a few things and had a great time chatting with the Austrians. They love Barcelona and gave us several recommendations for various places to try.

The rain had passed and we wandered some more through El Born, stopping for ice cream before retiring for the night.

This was the best Barcelona day! Great from start to finish.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Spain, Day Five: Montserrat

I woke Ben up to look at the sunrise, but he wasn't mad.


It was Thanksgiving Day. We ate breakfast in the hotel then headed for the funicular to go to the top of the mountain. You can walk, but it's steep and a long way, and we were planning to hike around even higher above the station anyway.

This is the little village area from the funicular station across the way.

We decided to do the middle-difficulty hike. Do you wonder why I always end up hiking around on steep mountain paths when I am very specifically afraid of hiking around on steep mountain paths? I wonder. I guess I'm a good wife. Also, though, I am always glad I did it, once I'm safely off the steep path.

There are lots of additional small chapels and shrines all over this mountain.

Up up up. We could see the Pyrenees in the distance even better this second day.

Here I am with the tiny monastery far below.

We kept running across the same couple of Japanese women on this trail. They spoke no English. We sat with them and watched this goat (and his friends, not pictured) scrabble around on the rocky hillside for a while. I thought they were deer until long afterward, but Ben set me straight (and then made fun of me).

Uggghg any time there are ropes set into the wall you know it's not something I'm going to be super excited about. There were parts of this trail that were pretty intense climbs, to the point where we weren't even sure we were going the right way. But I kept thinking if those Japanese ladies (pictured below) could handle it, I surely could.

This is a pretty incredible place.

We hiked all the way back down to the monastery and picked up our bags, then headed back down the cable car.

We made it back to Barcelona in time for lunch, which we ate near our hotel at an outdoor cafe. A Russian family sat next to us at this restaurant for a time, but left after their child pounded on the table and demanded Greek chicken. The waiter explained they don't have Greek chicken so everyone got up and left. It was pretty weird.

Right next to the restaurant is this cultural center that has a bunch of old ruins with explanatory information. Wandering through there made me realize I know absolutely nothing about the history of northern Spain.

The entrance to the El Born neighborhood was right next to this building, a block or so behind our hotel. We couldn't have asked for a better location.

For dinner, we went to Cal Pep, recommended by my boss. It was a small place with a tapas bar in the front and a tiny, packed room in the back. My boss says it is "quite famous." I can tell you that it was good! We let the waiter pick what we should have. Among the things he chose were these fried artichoke hearts:

And beef tartare which was just very, very good. Sometimes my brain can't handle beef tartare, but this one made it all right.

Also fried sardines & calamari, of course.