At this rate, it may be Christmas before I catch up on our trip. But in my defense, this was by far the LONGEST day of the whole thing. You'll see why...
We spend the night with Toni at her home on Long Island. We wake early and eat Real New York Bagels for breakfast. We spend a while hanging out with a Real New York Family (Toni’s husband and kids) then pack up our backpacks and head back into the Real New York City. The kids marvel at everything: the traffic, the buildings, the traffic, the miniature villages beside the freeway that turn out to be cemeteries, the traffic...
In New York, we walk around for a while like the tourists we are and visit Rockefeller Center and Times Square. We watch Toni light a candle in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a lovely ritual that marks each of my trips into Manhattan with my Catholic friend. Eventually, we make our way to Central Park where the kids eat pizza and climb the rocks and trees; they are finally in their element.
Central Park is definitely the highlight of the city for my boys. I do love how, if you get deep enough into the center of the park and can’t see the buildings poking out above the trees, you can almost forget that you’re in the middle of a sprawling metropolis. We walk past a little-league baseball game that strikes me as funny. Can you imagine playing your regular, scheduled baseball games in CENTRAL PARK? It’s just such an ordinary thing in an extraordinary place. I think each game would be worthy of a full-scale camera crew, or at least an accompanying Simon and Garfunkle soundtrack.
Toni drives us back to the airport where we begin the process of visiting the Dude with the Closet to pick up our luggage (whew! still there) and checking through security. We reach the first gate and meet a Real New York Nasty Airport Security Officer. She takes our passports, and one by one goes through them, saying, “This passport is NOT valid…this passport is NOT valid…this passport is NOT valid…” My heart sinks. This is it. I knew some big catastrophe would keep us from getting to Spain!
The she tells us in a very condescending tone that we have neglected to sign our passports (which she seems positively delighted to have been the first to discover). My heck! Does she revel in giving people heart attacks or what? We sign them right away. Then we find a line as far away from the This Passport is Not Valid lady as possible.
We wait for three hours at the airport (because aside from neglecting to sign our passports, we are obedient travelers and we have followed instructions and arrived half a day before our actual flight leaves). We eventually run into Teri (my sister) and her son Sawyer who are taking the same flight to Barcelona. Or at least we think it’s going to Barcelona. What no one at Iberia Airlines has actually told us (and what it says NOWHERE on any of our ticket info) is that the flight will land in Madrid, we will be asked to switch planes, wait around some more, and then fly to Barcelona. By the time we get there 9 hours later, we are exhausted. None of us, including the kids, have really slept much on the flight. How can you sleep? They provide you with pillows and blankets but then interrupt constantly with various announcements, pings, movies, and 4 separate trips of the meal/beverage carts. By the time we land, the sheen has rubbed off the novelty of air travel, even for the boys.
Okay, Barcelona in three works: impressive, expensive and exhausting.
We take a bus to the Plaza that shall not be named (because I can’t remember it), find our Hostal and check in.
A word here about the Spanish floor numbering system. They skip the ground floor. This means if the nice lady running your Hostal says she’s just up on the 2nd floor, you can expect to drag your suitcases up THREE flights of steps. (This also means when you get to see the Mormon temple on your last day in Madrid and you run into the Temple President and his wife and they kindly invite you up to their apartment on the 7th floor of the building next door—thankfully in an elevator—you will be looking out the window from 8 stories up and you will be pretty much eye level with Angel Moroni, which is very cool).
The Hostal is cramped and old and consists of a few bedrooms with shared bathroom, but it’s clean and quaint and, oh yeah, IT’S IN SPAIN! so everyone is totally thrilled. It’s also in a great location, right off the Ramblas, which is the most famous tree-lined street in Barcelona. (This is the view from our window).
We take a stroll, check out the shops and street performers (you see them all over Spain; they paint themselves in metallic colors and sit perfectly still like statues until you drop a coin in their bucket; then they move slowly, like they’ve been wound up with a key, until they wind down again and freeze. It’s worth the coins to watch and far better than the beggars who you also see all over Spain but they don’t do anything but look pitiful).
We eat our first bag of Magdalenas with Danup (because we're finally IN SPAIN! and these are tasty Spanish foods I've missed for 25 years) and make our way to the waterfront. There’s a monument to Christopher Columbus there but the kids are far more interested in the carp who are competing for crumbs with the seagulls. (This is major motif in my Spain pictures: everywhere we went, the kids made a beeline for the water).
We take the subway (another cool first for the kids, not cheap at 2 Euros a person, but worth it because we're tired.
We ride to the neighborhood of the Sagrada Familia cathedral (which costs over 100 Euros for us, but is worth it and the main reason we made this whole side trip to Barcelona).
Sagrada Familia is impossible to photograph, as all good cathedrals are. It’s outrageously tall, outrageously disorganized and resembles something you’d make if you had a beach full of runny sand and a hundred years of free time. We pay extra for the audio tours and wander around the interior (under construction since 1882) and the exterior (also under construction since 1882). This building is a world wonder. The best part is our tour of the East towers (for which we also pay extra to ride up the elevator). Here’s a photo of our little group near the top.
Please note that, yes, most of us are wearing the same clothes we had on in NYC. We have now been awake for nearly 30 straight hours. We have heard that the best way to fight jet lag is just to push your way through the first day with no napping. Then your body will adjust to the new time zone. This is great advice (and I confess, actually works) but at this point we can hardly keep our eyes open. Every time we sit down on a bench we all begin to nod off and tip over onto each other’s shoulders. We form little heaps of bodies against the wall just inside the cathedral door and on the wall in front of the cathedral.
After the cathedral we eat. We walk many, many blocks to the Casa Batlló by Antonio Gaudi.
It is stunning and crazy and another 100 Euros to enter. All my kids probably remember is the various surfaces they plopped down on to rest as we wandered through the tour like zombies with audio guides.
We ride the Metro again (cha ching) to Montjuïc to watch the famous fountains. (And if you’re noticing, by the way that these words do not seem like Spanish, it’s because they aren’t; the first language of Barcelona is Catalan. To the Catalonians, this is a source of great pride. To a sleep-deprived traveler who owns a sister who speaks fluent Spainish, this is a rude, ethnocentric, politically radical, and entirely inconsiderate tradition.)
The fountains are fantastic, though I must note that the music is mostly American Pop. Where’s your Catalan pride now you Barcelonians?
The fountains don't even start until 9pm. Gabie doesn't make it that long. He clearly has reached his melting point.
We don't even make it through the whole fountain show. We're just way too tired. We vow to visit the Bellagio soon to make up for it and then ride the Metro one more time back to our Hostal and fall into bed around 11pm. We have survived a marathon of 34 hours without sleep. But guess what? We’re in Spain! No wait, we’re in Catalonia. Soon we’ll be in Spain!