I’ll admit that I’m writing this late. In general the nights have been a bit packed, so I haven’t gotten a chance to write after each one. At the moment we’re actually aboard the Celebrity Equinox, headed towards Nice and Villefranche. I consider this a failure on my part.
Day 1: Plane / Mont Juic, Part I
We flew into Brussels on the aptly named airline, Brussels Air. The flight was long and super cramped and I watched a couple movies aboard; American Hustle was pretty good, The Watch was pretty terrible, and I’m actively judging my friends who used to watch Chuck, because the pilot was available, and the show seems like it has nothing to offer other than Miranda from Mass Effect in her underwear for no apparent reason, which kinda makes up for the rest of it, so I take it back.
The flight took off at 10:30 or so and got into the Brussels airport sometime around 11 the next day. I was surprised both by how dirty the Brussels airport was and how all of the advertising was in English. I had no euros and was unable to make any purchases there, but I would totally have gotten some Belgian hot chocolate had I had the chance. That ish is thick.
The plane we boarded in Brussels to take us to Barcelona didn’t come to the gate we were boarding at; instead, we went through the gate and got on a bus and drove around the airport until we arrived at the plane that would actually take us to our final destination. The bus must have been driven by Derek Zoolander, because it ultimately came to a gate like three to the left of the one we boarded through, but we drove all the way around the airport to get there. I assume the bus could only make right turns.
The flight from Brussels to Barcelona was much better; it was only an hour and a half, and in addition to being in “flex economy,” which apparently means more legroom and better service, the flight was sparsely populated, so there was no one in the middle seat of our row. Also, they were playing Looney Toons, which distracted me from reading and had the benefit of being watchable with my own soundtrack (which consisted largely of music that was popular 20-30 years ago). All-in-all, a pretty OK experience.
We got to Barcelona around 3:00 or so and checked into our hotel with relatively little issue; the cab driver did not speak English, but the hotel people did. After a shower, I barely remembered that I’d been awake for 27 hours or that I’d spent the night in a 2’ x 2’ square of space.
Yelp! recommended a tapas place a couple of blocks away, and it was INCREDIBLE. They served tapas on bread (we later learned this is the Basque way to serve tapas, as montadidos or pintxos, held together with a toothpick). They count the toothpicks on your plate at the end and they charge you one euro per toothpick. Adventurous folks can attempt to get a discount by eating the toothpicks. All of their tapas was a single euro, too, despite being unbelievably tasty and altogether not that small, and pitchers of the best sangria we had on the trip cost only ten euros. (I’m having trouble figuring out how to type the euro symbol, esp. since I don’t have Internet right now. Euro problems, amiright?) Plus, the proprietress was kinda cute in a “I’m foreign, but I speak a little English, and I’m going to serve you delicious tapas” kind of way. I guess you had to be there.
After that, we climbed partway up the mountain near our hotel, Mont Juìc (or maybe Mont Juíc?). We made it to a restaurant with a beautiful view of the city and ordered a bottle of wine. Eventually it got cold (the weather, not the wine), and we went back down the mountain, and some combination of the wine, the cool air, and the fact that it was only 8:00 (2:00 PM back home) combined to give everyone a second wind. We went to another tapas place near our hotel to get another bottle of wine and quickly lost our second wind, amongst some fish-flavored olives that were, quite frankly, really gross (but free, with a brief and repetitive Spanish lesson).
After that, we went to our hotel, and so concludes the first day of the journey.
Day 2: Walking Tours / Grilled Meat
The second day started with us sleeping for a long time. We were able to meet up with two more members of our group, who got in late on Saturday night. These two were the organizers of the whole shebang, so they had stuff for us to do. That stuff largely involved walking to points that were walkable and reading from Rick Steve’s Barcelona. We also checked out the cathedral in town, and as it was Sunday, the locals were doing a Catalan folk dance out front at noon. The braver members of the group attempted to participate, but when it became somewhat clear that they had no idea what they were doing, they were invited to leave. I did not participate, because I have the feeling that if a bunch of foreigners came and treated my heritage as a tourist attraction, I’d be somewhat miffed. But that’s just me; also I don’t know what my heritage would be other than eating too much and inventing McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, and I’m not too worried about foreigners stealing that from us.
Not a lot else really happened that day; the afternoon largely consisted of walking tours guided by Rick Steve’s book; we made it to the harbor and checked out a cool lobster statue that was left over from a restaurant built for the 1992 Olympics (although at the time it was just a mystery to us why it was there), and an enormous column modeled after Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square, topped with a statue of Christopher Columbus pointing, inexplicably, toward the Mediterranean.
We knew that the last of our party would be arriving that night, and that we should wait for her for dinner, but we were all pretty hungry, so we attempted to find a café in which to order a snack and maybe a pitcher or two of sangria. The promise of sangria and the lack of viable options (we wanted to find somewhere off the main drag, since we had seen 10 euro sangria the day prior and the main tourist road, La Rambla, was posting prices in the 20 euro range), led to a condition of sangria-induced crankiness known as “sanger” (largely in me). Eventually we found a suitable option or two near Maria del Pi, a church nearish the cathedral, and no one was sangry anymore.
Eventually we met up with our last member and grabbed a late dinner (even by Spanish standards) near our various hotels; paella was served. I got a dish called “grilled meat.” I was not disappointed.
Day 3: Best Tour Ever / Factory Burger
Monday started off with more of the same; we did some more walking tours out of the book. We actually walked all the way across town and climbed a mountain and made it to a park that overlooked the city; it was probably about a 3-hour walk. The park, or at least parts of it, was designed by a Catalan architect named Antoni Gaudi who may or may not have been the inspiration for the word “gaudy” (actually) . I won’t go into detail about him (at least not today), but suffice it to say that I have no patience for his nonsense. Also, we visited a market along the way.
The park would have been greatly improved by a zip line taking park-goers into town, but we had no such luck. Instead, we walked down the mountain and took the metro back to the hotel, as we needed time to change and get ready for our outing that evening, which was a guided tapas and wine tour through the city.
At 5:00, we met in a public square with our guide, Paul, who would take us on our guided wine / tapas adventure. We made four stops, three food stops and an extra wine stop, during which we learned a bit about the city’s history, the geography of Spain, and the context for the wine we were drinking and tapas we were eating.
Basically everything I know about the city comes from this tour. Here we learned about lobster statue previously mentioned, not to mention that we were correct about the overpriced food and drink on La Rambla. We learned that the montaditos we ate the first night are called pintxos when they’re held together with a toothpick, we learned that the letter “x” is pronounced either like a “ch” or a “sh” (i.e., some restaurants refer to their chips as “xips”), and we learned that the scars in the face of a monastery we had visited the first day were from bombs dropped during the Spanish Civil War. We heard about the movement to free Catalonia from Spain, and what the various flags flying from windows in the city mean; we learned about the classical method for making cava (the Spanish equivalent of champagne), and we found out that the most delicious tapas are spinach croquettes and iberico (both these facts are disputed, but only by the foolish).
We also had a lot of wine. Like… a lot of wine. By the time we got back, we were pretty sauced. However, two of our ten-member group didn’t join us on the tour and still wanted to go out afterward. So of course we did. This was the beginning of a night of poor decisions, starting with the bottle of wine we had at a bar down the street, and culminating with what can only be described as Grade D rat meat at Factory Burger across from our hotel. And I don’t mean like meat that’s so bad it’s barely legal and might as well be rat meat, I mean if you took all of the rat meat available in the city and graded it, this would be second-to-last. It was that bad. And undercooked, at that. The next day it was all I could taste until about 3:00 in the afternoon, but through some miracle, no one got food poisoned. That was pretty much the only plus to come out of the night as we stumbled back to our hotel room sometime between 2:30 and 3:00 in the morning.
Day4: La Sagrada Familia / Nice Restaurant, Part I
Tuesday begins too early and with a crippling hangover. We have to be across town at La Sagrada Familia, a Gaudi-designed megachurch that’s been under construction for the last hundred years. I’m not exaggerating; they’re hoping to finish in 2026 in time for the centennial of Gaudi’s tram-accident-related death.
The church is certainly impressive. It’s easily the tallest thing in the city (from the mountain park the day prior, it seemed to barely be below us, despite being all the way across the city and down a mountain). It has 3 facades (two of which are even complete!), which I, with all of my inability to judge scale, will claim are at least infinity feet tall, with sculptures depicting in incredible detail and symbolism the birth of JC and His passion (incidentally, “the passion” always seemed a weird way to describe His being brutally put to death, but maybe that’s just me?). It had interior columns made of granite, basalt, and porphyry, which you can tell from the number of “y”s it has is incredibly expensive and strong. And these arches branch several times and eventually spread into beautiful Catalan arches, which are a apparently thing that Gaudi invented using hyperbolae, just for fun. It’s actually a pretty cool effect that makes it look like the building is being supported by big stone trees.
On the other hand, at the center of each arch is an electric light, because there’s not enough natural light entering the church. Midway up each porphyry column, where they branch into smaller columns, is a weird knob described by Gaudi as “an ellipse, then rotated about its major axis 45 degrees, then rotated again about its semi-major axis 30 degrees, then again about its major axis another 45 degrees the direction whence it came, which rotations shall be performed at the apex of the first full moon of the first year of the new millennium, repeated thrice forward and backward in a graveyard whose sixth stone from center reads ‘The One’ and whose caretaker is a wolf, howling once only every third moon,” or some other total nonsense. And on these is inscribed a cartoonish drawing depicting the spirit animal of each of the four Gospels (not kidding). The outer bell towers are made of concrete and made to appear to be melting for what is best described as “no apparent reason.” The aforementioned symbolic sculptures on the facades are concrete (rather than, say, a carveable stone like marble), and appear to have been stamped out by a factory press. The whole thing reminds me of a child who draws a picture of a flower and immediately thinks, “… but what if we added glitter? And a dinosaur? And … a … jet? And an explosion! And then the jet is shooting the dinosaur with, like, a missile! And it’s happening on the moon! And there’s lightsabers!” The end result is something that’s breathtaking to behold in its scale, but that looks like it should be given a gold star for having technically taken the assignment to completion and hung on a refrigerator until the gold-painted macaroni necklace gets made for Mother’s Day while shelving any plans for little Mikey to go to the local arts magnet school.
After that, we headed across town and spent most of the day walking up the hill overlooking the water. Nothing much exciting happened on our journey, but highlights include seeing the ’92 Olympic stadium (remarkable in that a: its gift shop was open and b: it evidently predates the seemingly universal directive to build overly enormous coliseums that will never be used again – this was a pretty small stadium that will never get used again), a fort overlooking the city (remarkable in that it was the site of the last pre-Franco Catalonian head of state’s execution), the national Catalonian museum of art (remarkable in that it is enormous and has huge waterfalls out front leading to a fountain), and a black-and-white bird (remarkable in that it has made a powerful enemy and I will destroy it… assuming I encounter it again on my journeys through the Mediterranean).
That night we went to a Michelin-rated restaurant and ate a seafood-heavy dinner; the meal was for the most part excellent, but occasionally ventured too far toward the edge with such dishes as an iced strawberry tartare swimming in a pool of strawberry vinaigrette. All-in-all, really good though.
Day 5: Picasso Museum / Nice Restaurant, Part II
Wednesday was our final full day in Barcelona; two of our group of 10 left us for good, and the rest of us woke up late and spent most of the day wandering about, doing stuff we hadn’t been able to do yet, like see the Picasso museum. This led to a fun game we call “Picasso or Childrens’ Art,” which will come up again when we get to the ship.
The rest of the afternoon was spent making sure we had discovered all that Barcelona had to offer from a culinary perspective. First, we ventured to “the best churros and chocolate” in the city, according to our aforementioned guide Paul, where we discovered that “Spanish hot chocolate” is a codename for “a melted brick of semisweet chocolate served in a cup.” We found another café near Maria del Pi and made sure no one got sangry, and then we headed back to the hotel to get ready for our second Michelin-rated restauarant. This dinner was less edgy, but overall probably better, with a delicious … actually, I don’t really remember a lot about that dinner, because we were pretty drunk when we showed up. But it was really tasty, trust me.
We had a good time in Barcelona, but by now everyone was ready to get on the ship. Stay tuned for adventures from the sea!