Introducing our first guest writers, the McDermotts (Sarah, Kate, and Dan), who met up with us in Barcelona for a wonderful week November 2-7.
November 1 – 7
Kate: On our way to the apartment on Monday, our cab driver Andy was talking about how proud he was to be Spanish and how he thought it was ridiculous for Catalonians to want to secede from the country… wonder how he feels about this?
Kyra: In June, Barcelona elected Ada Colau as Mayor of Barcelona. Her background, path to office, and future for the city are all quite fascinating.
How we got there
Dan: A car ride…to a train ride…to an airplane. Kate, Sarah, and I drove to Kate’s office parking lot, boarded the light rail to the airport and took an afternoon flight to Amsterdam. After our 8 hour flight to Europe, we found out our 8am flight to Barcelona was cancelled due to fog.
Sarah: We found cots in the airport to rest on for a few hours until our 2pm flight. We arrived in Barcelona at 4pm on Monday and met Andy our driver who would take us to the apartment and met Ben and Kyra there. It was so great to see them both after our long journey!
Kyra: Bla Bla Car! We have attempted to use the ridesharing app five times now and had been cancelled on four times. Our trip from Barcelona to Madrid potentially made up for all the other bad experiences prior. As we waited for our car to arrive, a man approached us and introduced himself as Fran. He spoke impeccable English and told us that he had lived in Madrid his whole life but had recently taken an internship in Barcelona when his girlfriend began grad school there. Our driver, Carles, who spoke very little English but was kind and thoughtful, shortly thereafter met us. If Fran’s internship at Siemens doesn’t work out, he should seriously consider a career in foreign diplomatic relations because I’ve rarely met another person with such impressive translation skills. It wasn’t only that his English was wide-ranging and accurate, it was his genuine curiosity about all of us and the care he took to make sure no one was ever in the dark about what someone else had said in a foreign language. Carles even dropped us off right at our hotel when we got in to town at about midnight.
Ben: Another thing Kyra didn’t mention is that after all of this, Fran offered to go out for a drink with us in Barcelona at the spots he had liked in the past month. Incredible conversationalist and quite the host, it’s sad that we weren’t able to meet up with him in Barcelona. Hopefully when we’re back or he’s in the US we can take him up on the offer.
Where we stayed
Kyra: We arrived to Barcelona a day before we were meeting up with Ben’s family, so we stayed in a hotel for the night. After sleeping in a twelve-bunk dorm for the week prior, clean sheets, a private shower, and a breakfast buffet were a very welcomed respite.
Kate: Mom, travel agent extraordinaire, booked a fabulous Airbnb right in the city center of Barcelona. It was never more than a 10 minute walk to anywhere we went and it had a large family space where we could all talk, eat and play cards/Yahtzee.
Sarah: It was within walking distance to grocery stores, shopping, restaurants, the train station and the main attractions. It was on the third floor and the 5 of us barely fit in the elevator:)
Ben: My favorite part about the apartment was that the family room was just that! We all hung out in that main room to eat dinner, talk about the day, what’s going on at home, or just relax. It was like a home away from home.
Sarah: There were many great choices for food. Our favorites were the Tapas bars and the bakeries:) I enjoyed the Starbucks every morning, within walking distance of the apartment, but we also tried the strong European espresso one morning and sampled some delicious pastries too! Our last night in Barcelona we had a wonderful meal at La Bona Sort. Kyra tried the Octopus, Ben had an ox burger, and Kate tried the delicious egg and potato omelette. We also tried – and enjoyed – various kinds of sangria!
Kate: Tortilla Espana and patatas bravas – also SANGRIA. Being there re-inspired my interest in cooking and I have made several attempts at recreating some of the awesome food we had there.
Ben: As mentioned above, Sangria and Patatas Bravas (french fries with curry sauce) were a hit, although the red sangria wins over white any day.
Local View and Lessons Learned
Sarah: One of my favorite memories of Barcelona was the night we turned left instead of right as we left the apartment. I loved the quaint neighborhoods and streets that we walked through to get to La Bona sort. So I guess a lesson learned would be to not always take the same road or path. Try other roads less traveled because you might be surprised what you find. We as human beings are creatures of habit, but when we break a habit and try new avenues, we find delight in unexplored areas. Our lesson was learned all because Dan suggested we go to the Picasso museum. Thank you Dan for giving us a new adventure! 🙂
Kyra: At dinner on our second night, we got to hear about how Sarah and Dan met, when Dan was a bartender, what they did after college, and how they got engaged. Personally, this was one of my favorite parts of the trip AND there were a lot of lessons learned.
Gra“th”ias – Thank you
Bueno – Good
Sarah: We were all very happy that most of the people we encountered during our visit spoke English. If the merchants only spoke Spanish or Catalonian, pointing and gesturing worked just fine:)
Sarah: On our city tour, we enjoyed watching a group of 5 year olds all wearing matching jackets and each carried their own personal character back pack. They were on a field trip viewing a smaller replica of the country of Spain.
Dan: The tour of the Sagrada Familia basilica was definitely a highlight. It was amazing to see Gaudi’s architectural designs first hand. His style was unique and unappreciated at the time and now he is considered a genius. Construction on the basilica began in 1882 and the projected date of completion is 2026!
Dan: The Inside-Out Basilica
When we asked friends what we should see in Barcelona, most everyone named Antoni Gaudi’s unfinished magnum opus, Basilica de La Sagrada Familia. It was begun in 1881 and is planned for completion in 2026. Gaudi placed much of the ornamentation – statues and stories – on the exterior, believing that the interior should be reserved for undistracted prayer. While impressive, I didn’t care much for the outside of the church – it’s just too busy. I do applaud the architect’s originality and progressive thought. The interior though impressed me very much (save for the Baldachin which looked to be retrieved from a carnival or state fair). It’s and amazing and striking mix of architecture, art, nature, color, design, and spiritual reverence. We mostly prefer buildings – like other people – to provide a simple aesthetic exterior. We like them and say they are pleasant to look at. Sagrada Familia reverses that completely with all the complexity messiness (i.e. The cubist crucification) on the outside – and the clean, well-lit lines of nature inside.
Our guide, Neomi, told us of an age-old debate on whether Gaudi was a genius or whether he was insane. I think that’s the wrong question. George Bernard Shaw said that, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world, the unreasonable man persist in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Gaudi, I think, was unreasonable. And persistent and stubborn. And influential on a generation of protégés who continue to bring life and color to Barcelona’s architecture and to its people and many lucky visitors
Sarah: Another highlight was our day trip to Sitges on the coast. It was a quaint town with very narrow streets and beautiful beaches.
Dan: We were supposed to meet Kyra at the train station and were unable to find her. Without cell phone service it was very difficult to send her a message. Walking down a street toward the train station and one last attempt to find her, we experienced a bit of serendipity when we ran into her at a Gelato shop.
Kyra: I cannot remember a time in recent memory that I was more relieved then when the McDermotts found me in Sitges. Early that day, I parted ways with them to attend a debate that had been coordinated for my project. Ben and I planned a time to meet at the train station, which was 40 minutes out of Barcelona proper and the McDermotts headed to Sitges. It was a great plan, except for one major flaw: no back up plan. The debate ran long, which also meant that I missed the train, which runs every half hour. As I was leaving the DesignIt office, in frenzy, I sent an email to Ben with a type-o telling him I’d be a bit late and would arrive at 1:05 instead of 2:05. Long story short, I couldn’t find him at the train station, as planned, so I wandered through the streets of Sitges looking for wi-fi. Finally I found a gelato shop where I emailed and waited for his response. Just as I was about to tell him I’d be waiting at X place until X time, then I’d head back, I looked up and saw Ben, followed closely by Kate, then Sarah and Dan.
Sarah: We were all so relieved to all be together again and decided it was time for a late lunch. Most of the restaurants we tried were closing and done serving lunch, but we managed to find SuperPollo and ordered a great chicken dinner to go which we ate on the beach looking out at the Mediterranean.
Dan: At the Picasso museum, it was fun to see the artist’s style and progression develop over the years, from his teens to well into his 70’s. He was an amazing artist.
Kate: When I got back to Minnesota, the most common question I was asked was, “What was your favorite part about Spain?” and I always had to answer, “Seeing my brother.” Second favorite was the Sagrada Familia – I didn’t know what to expect but it was amazing!
It was so great to see Ben and Kyra and spend time exploring Barcelona together! Safe travels as your European and Asian adventure continues! Love you both- Sarah, Dan and Kate:)