Marvelous first visit to Cataluña (a province of Spain), made entirely more marvelous by the presence/hospitality/helpfulness/over-all-awesomeness of some dear friends we’ve made since coming to the country.
Let me break it down a bit.
-Took our first night bus since coming to Spain. Have to say, definitely the way to travel if your trip is really long (which to Barcelona, it is: 6 hours)…slept nearly the whole time and got to our destination early that morning ready to start the day.
-Arrived in Girona and attended a barbacoa (BBQ) hosted by a friend of our friends, Gabriel & Rocio. I didn’t really know what to expect food-wise, as I’ve only ever barbequed in the States, but let me tell you, I was not disappointed. Ribs, chicken shishcabob-like things (not to be confused with the “kebabs” one finds in Spain, which are a Turkish food similar to a Greek gyro), morcilla (blood sausage…haven’t quite worked up the guts to try this one, but Jake did, and loved it), and then, wait for it, HAMBURGERS! As a farm-raised Nebraska girl, I have definitely been missing my beef, as it’s not super common in dishes around here. Grilled burgers were a welcome surprise that day! Oh, and I cannot forget to mention “pan con tomate”/”Pa amb tomàque” in Catalán–a delicious, but deceptively simple food you can make by grilling or toasting bread, rubbing it with a tomato so the juice, seeds and a bit of pulp soaks into the bread (but don’t eat the tomato), spreading some ajo (garlic) sauce onto it, drizzling with a generous amount of olive oil, and then topping it with course-ground salt and pepper. Needless to say, we ate ourselves into a stupor, which was fine with us. Add to the afternoon lots of new friends and great conversation (almost entirely in Spanish, awesomely) and it was simply a perfect day.
-After a much-needed siesta, we ventured out again, this time into the city center of Girona to see the sights and join in on the action of the Festival de Sant Narcis—aka more vendors of food/clothing/jewelry/and did I mention food than I have ever seen in one place; a carnival (or feria in Castellano) set up inside this giant forest right next to the town and lots of general merrymaking. Wandered around the gorgeous, medieval-looking city center/old quarter of Girona for the evening and got to listen to a bit of a live concert of traditional Catalán music from the vantage point of the beautiful cathedral above the plaza where they were playing. Overall, a simply fabulous night.
Next day, more wandering around Girona: saw the inside of the cathedral (evidently it’s the
widest cathedral in the world without being supported by pillars…the architect was so nervous and distraught about the thought of it collapsing that he committed suicide out of sheer anxiety), and more of the beautiful city center before taking off for Barcelona that evening.
-The last 2 evenings/2 days in Barcelona were a whirlwind of amazingness:
- Saw La Sagrada Familia, the famous yet-unfinished cathedral designed by the genius Antoni Gaudí…I can’t adequately explain this incredible masterpiece, but please, if you have a moment, check this website http://www.sagradafamilia.cat/sf-eng/ to see a few pics. Quite literally the most amazing cathedral I’ve ever seen in my life, and definitely the most unique as well. Gothic with elements of whimsy from the outside and a spectacular white, dream-like, vaulted interior, it’s just something you must see to understand. Definitely worth the 12 euro entrance fee and hour or more long wait.
- Saw countless other beautiful works of architecture/cultural sites including Casa Battló (another Gaudí); La Rambla (the famous “rambling” street in the heart of the city, filled with artists, vendors, human statues and more); the gorgeous Palau de la Música Catalana (though not inside, sadly); meandered through the Gothic quarter; browsed through antiques by the sea-pointing El Monumento a Colón; strolled under the Arc de Triomf; relaxed in Parc de la Ciutadella in front of the most stunning fountain I’ve ever seen, and more.
(This one gets its own bullet because I loved it so much) Basked among the dream-like creations of Gaudí in his famous Park Güell amongst intricately detailed, mosaic-ed benches/ceilings/and one large lizard; gravity-defying columns, houses that look like they’ve been plucked straight from Hansel and Gretel, etc. See photos below…
- Spent Halloween night in a “karaoke bar” that looked more like a concert venue, full to the brim (and by brim I mean probably like a hundreds and hundreds capacity) watching the most bizarre “karaoke on steroids” show I’ve ever witnessed. Definitely an interesting experience.
- Most wonderfully, got to spend time with our dear friends, Gabriel and Rocío, meet and experience the unending hospitality of their families (including Rocío’s lovable German shepard, Crum) in addition to eating incredibly well. Our send-off meal was a mouth-watering combination of a huge skillet full of seafood paella (but with small macaroni noodles in place of rice) complete with fresh shrimp PLUS this tastes-way-better-than-it-sounds “Coca Cola chicken”; roasted chicken marinated with a combo of coke and onion soup. I have no idea how we did not all gain 15 pounds from this trip.
All in all, amazing. Thanks so much to our new & old friends for making it so!