Spain 2017 – Pre Tour

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By Susan Mahr

October 3rd

Seven of us departed the US a day early in case of travel interruptions and to make the recovery in a new time zone easier. Susan and Dan (from Wisconsin) met Mary (Missouri) in Philadelphia for their flight to Barcelona, while Cindy (Minnesota) and Linda (formerly of Kansas, now Albuquerque) who had traveled together before, and Charlene and her adult granddaughter Hannah (both Missouri) were on the same flight on a different airline. Because of the Catalan separatist referendum vote that had taken place on October 1, there was the threat of strikes in the city and we weren’t sure that the buses running from the airport to the city center and taxis would be working when we arrived, so we had arranged for private transport for each of the two groups before leaving the US.

October 4

Early in the morning on the plane Dan celebrated his 70th birthday with a special card from his cats and a festive package of birthday cookies from Susan. We landed in the morning in Barcelona, under cloudy skies, deplaned done portable stairs onto the tarmac to take a bus to the terminal, snaked through long lines reminiscent of the queues at Disneyland on a busy day to get through Immigration (they were very efficient there, though, so the lines moved quickly), retrieved our luggage, and found our driver so we were to the H10 Hotel Cubik about 10:45. Our rooms would not be available until early afternoon, so we stored our luggage and Susan, Dan, Mary, groggily went out to explore the nearby city (the others had gone out on their own before we did, having arrived about half an hour earlier). We wandered through the old streets with shops and restaurants filling the lower levels of the historic buildings, with hotels and residences up above. We poked into a little cheese shop, and talked with the saleswoman, who told us about the local cheeses. We ended up purchasing a small slice of the very tasty Urgelia, a young cow-milk cheese to try (the other recommended one was made of goat milk). After our little snack we continued on the streets crowded with pedestrians, bicycles, motorscooters, small delivery vans, taxis and other vehicles, stopping to admire shops, buildings until we got to the Aqueduct and gate of the Roman wall. Two semicircular towers that defended the gate have been conserved (1st-4th centuries), while one of the aqueducts that carried water to the Roman city of Barcino (end of 1st century) was reconstructed. Behind those ancient buildings we could see the tall gothic spires of the Barcelona Cathedral constructed from the 13th to 15th centuries (but the neo-Gothic façade constructed in the late 19th century over the nondescript exterior that was common to Catalan churches). We went around to enter that large church with the official name of The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, and walked through the crowded interior to view the soaring golden arched columns and all the side altars with their statues and lit candles (electronic ones instead of real open flames now), but didn’t spend the 3€ to go up to the roof for the view of the city from there. As we exited into the courtyard rain began to fall from the dark, low clouds we’d seen earlier. We lingered under the porticos for a little while as the shower passed, then exited the cathedral grounds.

By then it was about 1:30, so we wandered off in search of a place to eat, ending up at Taverna del Bisbe in the shadow of the Cathedral. We sat at tables under large tent-like umbrellas on the plaza to enjoy drinks and tapas. Mary had a glass of cava (Spanish sparkling wine, similar to champagne), Susan tried the sangria and Dan enjoyed the local Estrella beer. We shared local olives, roasted almonds, a small skewer of marinated pork, tomato-smeared bread, and little chunks of Roncal (a hard, creamy sheep milk cheese) marinated in oil and herbs.

When we were done with the light meal we returned to the hotel and found the other four travelers in the lobby, just waiting for their rooms to become available. As soon as we got keys to the rooms we quickly dispersed, and most of us took a nap until about 5:00. We met up on the rooftop terrace for drinks and more tapas for some (ceviche, a ham and mushroom pizza, an omelet). Charlene and Hannah had not taken a nap, and were exhausted, so they departed after an hour or so, while the rest of us (minus Dan) continued talking and enjoying the refreshments until the sun had gone down. By 8:00 we were all ready to give up, too, and retired to our rooms for a good night’s sleep.

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