We had booked return airline tickets to London via Barcelona,
(which is only about 100 miles from Canet En Rousillon, France, where we
Full,... Full,... Full,... Full! Oh, the party we were
going to miss! On and on we went, and finally, persistence paid off.
We went to the last hotel recommended in Rick's book on the main circle.
They had one large room with a balcony overlooking the busy street.
It was pretty expensive, but what the heck -- it included breakfast.
Hip, hip, hooray -- we were going to stay!!
|| After making a day trip to Barcelona, we could
tell that there was a lot to see there, so we decided to spend a couple
extra days in Barcelona before flying back to London and New York.
We went to a hotel recommended in Rick Steve's book but they were full
for the weekend. We went to a second hotel and they were full also.
Then we learned that from Thursday through Sunday there was a national
holiday and the city was booked. So now we asked every hotel we passed
if they had a room.
As you can see in the picture above, the streets were
jammed on Saturday night. Restaurants and shops were all open late
for Christmas shopping. We stayed just off of Placa Catalunya which
is a huge traffic circle with a large park in the center. Beneath
the park is a major subway hub and parking garage. It borders an
area of the city called Barri Gothic -- Gothic Quarter, which could be
translated further as "old town" and comprised mostly of pedestrian streets.
Placa Catalunya is Barcelona's Times Square or Picadilly Circus without
all the lights. It is surrounded with many upscale and mid scale
stores and theaters.
We entered a huge department store that was a half block
from our hotel. It looked similar to a Macy's or Nordstrom's but
much, much bigger. The first floor was a mix of electronics, clothes,
perfumes, hats, and eye catching stuff. I was very surprised to see
that the basement level was a gigantic supermarket. The basement level
also had a fully stocked hardware store as complete as any Ace Hardware
in the States. Cheryl set out to look at leather jackets and found
selections on three different floors. Later, I mentioned the ones
I had noticed, and it turned out to be yet a fourth location. Two
and a half floors were filled with toys. Not a lot of difference
to the toys we have in the U.S., but Cheryl got a kick out of the anatomically
correct baby dolls. We've all seen the baby dolls that "drink and
wet" -- but you should see what the little boy ones do in Spain.
(Europe isn't so freaked out by the human body I guess.) Every time
I went up an escalator there was yet another one going up. More electronics,
furniture, more perfume, clothes of all type, toys, and finally at the
top on the ninth floor, a restaurant surrounded by glass. We thought
about eating there but the waiting list was almost as large as the store
Moving on from the Placa Catalunya it is about ten blocks
down La Ramba to the port on the Mediterranean.
There is a large mall on a pier and a lot to see, but it's
all very modern so we didn't stay long. So next, let's travel back
up the famous La Rambla and take a closer look at the sights. La
Rambla has a fifty foot wide center walkway with a single lane of car traffic
on either side of it.
||The section known as La Rambla is the oldest part of
the city and is truly the heartbeat of Barcelona. At the base of
La Rambla is a towering monument to Christopher Columbus, (seen on the
left in this photo.) At this spot, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella
welcomed Columbus home from his famous voyage to America. (Little
did they know that Columbus' discovery would eventually lead to the downfall
of the powerful Spanish Empire.)
Near the port are the artists -- about two dozen of them
display their art as they work on new creations. We saw several wonderful,
unique works. The most impressive collection was one that was either
made up of high-gloss photos or unbelievably realistic paintings, (we couldn't
decide which.) Upon close examination, we decided that they were
||Across the narrow car lanes are wide sidewalks and all
types of stores. There are different sections along the long center
walkway. There is a very old public market where you can purchase
all types of fresh produce, meat, fish, cheese and flowers. Some
of the items we saw in the meat cases were pretty weird -- skinned lambs
heads with they eyeballs still intact, little skinned animals with their
legs in almost a running position, (they may have been rabbits,) and other
critters unrecognizable to American tourists like us, but regular staples
on Spanish dinner tables.
The actual restaurants were located in the buildings across
the street, but everyone likes to sit in the wide center walkway to "people
watch." It was funny to see the waiters eagerly waiting to seat us
and then run back and forth across the traffic lane, dodging cars, with
drinks and food.
||A few blocks further was an area of mimes and human statues
like the woman above. We have never seen such a variety of street
performers -- all of them so different. The boys could have spent
hours watching this Marionette, (puppet on a string.) This guy had realistic
body movements and really funny routines. These performers were stationed
all along the walk. Next, spread through the central section of La
Rambla were the restaurants; well, the outside seating for the restaurants
We watched as a small crowd gathered around a guy with three
cups and a small ball. He'd throw down a small cloth, place the ball
under one cup and begin mixing the three around. Max was certain
he could see which cup the ball was under and kept telling me to bet
five dollars. Do you think the guy could hear him?
|It was a great place to enjoy a light snack and small
drink. We relaxed and watched the people pass by and the street performers
at their craft. One slightly obnoxious street performer would start
walking with a couple or small group of people as if he were part of the
group and then make a loud fart or oink sound so that restaurant customers
could watch the group's reaction. Some were funny -- many were stupid.
Then he'd pass the hat through the restaurant crowd for tips.
We also met up with two women that handed us a carnation
and asked for a donation for some sort of good cause -- a single bill or
coin would be plenty. We had read about these gypsies at the hotel.
I pulled out the lining of my pocket to show that it was empty and as I
did she quickly grabbed for whatever might appear. The other gal
was talking with a man that was just opening his wallet. She was
grabbing to pull out his credit cards and the one talking with us turned
to grab the cash. Just then a local shouted in Spanish, "Get out
of here you gypsies". As he started to tell all of us about them,
I saw that the gypsies had jumped into a taxi and quickly drove off.
I didn't see them calling down the taxi, but since it all took place in
two or three seconds, I assume the taxi was part of the scam.
||Lots and lots of street performers -- and all so unique.
Some mimes did a great job standing perfectly still like a statue.
It was amazing to see people passing by throwing the equivalent of quarters
and dollars into his cup. When you think about it, the ones that
were better at doing absolutely nothing were making a pretty good living.
If standing there and doing nothing wasn't bringing in any coins, he would
move just a little in a robotic fashion. One or two people would
stop to see what else he was going to do (which was nothing), and then
even more people would stop. Then he would just do the statue routine
again (nothing). Soon the coins were flowing again. I really
enjoyed watching the overall psychology of the whole routine.
Further up La Rambla are several fold-up stands like these.
Closed up it looks like a big box, but when opened it's a small pet store.
Most of them were filled with birds ranging from simple pigeons to colorful
exotic ones. Cheryl wondered how many of these birds would be illegal
to bring into the States. These shops also sold snakes, lizards and
We stopped again to watch the fellow with the ball and
cups. He really thought he'd be able to draw me in, (thanks to Max.)
I tried to remain unseen in the crowd. We noticed that one guy would
eventually be talked into making a $5.00 bet. Then another fellow
would try. Then the first guy would make a twenty dollar bet and
win. Then another mix of the cups and Max would see where the ball
went. Max would say, "Dad, we can do it!" Again the fellow
would verbally work to draw me in. Now, if someone threw their money
down, he would instantaneously re-mix the cups and guess who would win?
See, it looks as if you'd get to bet on the last mix that he deliberately
allowed people to see.
Before anyone wised up to the scam and possibly speak
up, he'd grab his stuff and disappear into the crowd. As the crowd
dispersed, he'd go around the back of one of the bird shops and walk pass
his buddy who'd slip him back the $20.00 he appeared to win. Next he'd
set up for a new crowd and his buddy joined into the crowd again.
We saw these two at work several times during the weekend.
At the far end of La Rambla at Placa Catalunya Circle,
were musical performers. We were surprised to see the Peruvian's
with their usual wooden flutes, drums and beautiful music. (We've
seen them in every major city in the U.S.)
Remember, I talked about the pedestrian streets?
Here's a car driving down one of them. Parking in Europe was also
unique. We pulled into the parking garage entrance and a ramp went
down one floor. We saw three large metal doors. We were directed
to door number three. The large metal door opened -- it was a large
But the fun was yet to begin.
We returned to get our car, waited for our turn, placed the ticket in the
slot and off went the elevator. Soon our car was here and off we
drove. Just like the guy in the picture above, we carefully exited
onto a pedestrian-only street.
|| I drove the car on, stepped out to the control
box, placed the magnetic ticket the attendant had given me in the slot
and pressed the big green GO button. The door closed and the ticket
was imprinted with the location where our car would be parked and off went
the car on a robotic elevator that moved left and right as well as up and
down. We had used a similar system in London. It works like
a robotic warehouse -- tightly packing the cars in on shelves like a furniture
||As we slowly drove through the people to get into the
traffic lane, we found these posts sticking up blocking our way.
Great! Now what? Had we missed a sign or something? I
started to back up, but the crowd was thick behind us and another car was
coming out of the parking garage. Maybe I could see which way he
was going to go. Just then, a fellow approached the car and as best
he could in broken English, told us to approach the posts and they would
go down when the light changed.
||A detector in the street activates the stop lights and
these posts. Sure glad he offered this information because we were
The next day, Mitch and Max enjoyed jumping onto the posts
after a car passed and riding them up.
|Look closely at this picture and you'll notice the taxi
driver is pushing his car. In the background is the park at Placa
Catalunya. A line of taxis await their turn for a fare. As
each one leaves, the line moves up, just like at an airport. Why
is this guy pushing his taxi, you ask?
Over $4.50 for a gallon for gas in Barcelona.
||The red arrow points to our hotel room balcony.
There are restaurants and theaters across the street and next door, and
behind me about half a block is the park. Both Mitch and Max were
really pleased to see our room was right across the street from one of
Spain's finest restaurants. Do you recognize the logo in the lower
right hand corner of this photo? They couldn't wait to go out for
||I connected the laptop to check e-mail and Cheryl took
the boys out for a burger. They came back with the food and set up
dinner on the balcony.
There was lots of laughing and talking that I couldn't
put into context coming from our balcony. I kept on working, but
the giggling kept up and soon I couldn't take it any more. I wrapped up
my work and went out to see what was going on.
Across the street was a no parking zone, but as you can see,
this did not stop the locals from not only parking, but also double parking
and sometimes even triple parking. Cars would work into very small
spaces by bumping the car in front and behind them repeatedly, (not just
little touches -- good sized thumps.) We saw a few near-fights.
We watched as the people in the white car waited and honked for ten minutes
for the owner of the gray car to move and let them out. Police came
by and ticketed every car on the street several times. Most of the
people just stopped for a short time, (to pick up people at the theater
or to have a quick drink and pick up something from one of the restaurants.)
Any sizable space was never empty for more than ten seconds. This
provided a continuous comedy act throughout the whole evening.
We enjoyed different foods -- some we liked and some we needed
to develop a taste for, (and in Max's case, some we got addicted to.)
We experienced different languages and cultures, enjoyed driving on the
left but didn't enjoy getting lost. We watched people at work in
century-old markets, talented craftsmen and a variety of scam artists;
but mostly, we enjoyed meeting and talking to regular people.
||And finally, we're homeward bound. We had a great
time in England, Scotland, France and Spain. We saw so many new places
-- famous places like Big Ben, Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower and Loc Ness.
We rode a double-decker bus in London and sped under the English Channel
on the Eurostar. We were impressed with the beauty of the Alps and
the myth-like history of Versailles and Carcassonne. We learned that
the French Riviera is over rated and that small cities like Annecy and
Stratford-Upon-Avon have the same small town feel and friendliness that
we find all over the United States.
It was already December 10th, and we only had seventy-five
percent of our Christmas shopping done. We had planned to finish
up in Europe and send gifts as soon as we got back. However, the
first winter storm was about to hit so we packed up and headed south.
The cold front chased us all the way down the east coast to Myrtle Beach,
South Carolina. We finished our shopping along the way. The
RV park we stayed in was right on the beach and had a large activity center,
(but hardly any other people.) We set up a few tables and spent the
day wrapping Christmas presents. It was like having a huge family
|Our month is up; our vacation is over. Cocoa is
waiting to be sprung from the kennel and it is time to return home to our
usual routine. As our plane climbed from Barcelona we could look
down on the Pyrenees Mountains.
The cold front was a big one and it would be freezing
here tonight. So we packed up and headed farther south to Orlando,
Florida where we would stay put for several weeks and relax for a while.
Copyright Nodland 1999