Barcelona Adventures, part 1

Hi all! First thing: if you're in Arizona, please come see me, Erin Bowman, and Rae Carson at the Phoenix Changing Hands location tonight (November 8th) at 7 PM! We're celebrating Erin's new book, RETRIBUTION RAILS, and would love to see you!

I, of course, have to start with an apology... My plans to dive right back into blogging were rudely interrupted by vacation. ;) I'm on a really tough deadline (this manuscript is due at the start of December, so I only have about two and a half months to write the first draft), so the last few days before we jetted off were spent packing and trying to hit the end of act one. One thing I really struggle with is the guilt associated with not working when I know I could be--hence why I put off posting for almost a full week after returning home. I feel a little more comfortable with where I am in the story now, and I have NaNoWriMo to keep me motivated, so I thought I'd cheat on the manuscript and tell you a little bit about my recent Barcelona adventure. I'm going to split this post in two, both because I know it's going to be a long one and because I have to go pick Erin up from the airport in a bit...

The first thing I have to tell you is that, yes, I accidentally timed this adventure with their big push for independence. My mom and I booked this trip back in April with the specific intent of traveling in celebration of her birthday, so it was a total coincidence. We debated back and forth over whether or not to cancel, but we got plenty of reassurances from people in Barcelona that the situation wasn't nearly as dangerous or dramatic as the news was making it out to be. It was going to be a judgment call after we read the situation there. And that situation ultimately was incredibly peaceful. Most people went around living their lives, business as usual. That said, we did see increased police presence as the week went on, and we were just taking off to fly back home when they declared independence. 

I was talking to Agent M about it when I got home, and I thought she made a good point. You could throw a dart at a map of the world and it would likely land on a place where there's civil unrest. That seems to be 2017's speciality--it has been eleven months of this shithead of a year stirring endless pots of trouble. And, actually, this trip really reaffirmed for me how important travel is, if its within your means. I tried to read up on the situation in Catalonia before we left, but I gained a much deeper understanding of the independence movement by being there and talking to Catalans. There were flags everywhere around the city (the triangle with the star on top of the stripes is the independence movement flag), but the desire for independence seemed even stronger out in the countryside, where whole villages banded together to declare their desire to be independent from the rest of Spain. 



One thing I definitely underestimated was how long of a flight it is from Arizona over to Spain--I think my brain is still conditioned to think in terms of when I lived in NYC... In any case, we had a mega layover at JFK (again, cheap tickets) that ended up not being too bad in the end. My poor mom sat next to a screaming child--literally screaming--the whole AZ -> NY leg of the trip, and I still feel guilty about it since I picked the seats.

One of my favorite Mama B fun facts is that she refuses to sleep on long distance flights because she wants to maximize her movie watching time. (Meanwhile, I've somehow trained myself to fall asleep anywhere and within five minutes of sitting down on an airplane...???) She spent that seven hour flight very happily moving from one movie to the next and I passed the hell out after eating the airplane food version of ravioli they served with dinner.

The Barcelona airport is really beautiful and modern-looking. I'm not sure if it's just when we flew in, but we just sort of... walked through security and passport control? It was the easiest passport experience of my life. Then, after picking up our bags, we were off to our hotel. We stayed at  an adorable boutique hotel in the Gothic neighborhood of Barcelona (P.S. the best meals we had were all in the El Born neighborhood, just next door). Refusing to give into jet lag, we got a recommendation for lunch and then went to walk around. 

One important thing to know about me is that I was born without any sense of direction. The streets in the Gothic Quarter are amazing--they're so narrow most cars can't pass through them, and they wind around and through one another. Either I lived in medieval Barcelona in a past life, or it's actually much easier than the maps imply, because I somehow managed to figure them out pretty quickly. Speaking of maps, it took me forever to realize the reason I was struggling to navigate with them: the streets were MUCH shorter/smaller than I was estimating, so we were constantly blowing past our turns. 

Without really planning on it, we found the Barcelona Cathedral. I've visited a number of very beautiful churches in my travel, but WOW. There was something about this one that really resonated with my spirit--maybe the gorgeous way the light was filtering through all of the windows? The incredible artwork? The cathedral was constructed from the 13th-15th centuries and really reaffirmed how incredible human creativity and determination can be. 

After walking around a bit more, jet lag finally got the better of us and we scooted on back to the hotel for a nap, dinner, and then back to bed. Total party animals, right? ;) 


The reason we called it quits early on night one was knowing that we had a day tour planned for a number of big sights. Usually I'm pretty good at planning a trip itinerary and getting around on public transportation, but Mom and I were total strangers to Barcelona and I ended up deciding we'd have a better time if we went on actual tours and really learned about the city and the surrounding areas. A few days before we left, I sort of panic-booked three day trip tours for us, including the one we were taking on day two.

We were on a mini bus--actually, it was like a mini mini bus--and had an early start, because it was a Sunday and we were heading up to Montserrat to see the monastery. Montserrat means something like "serrated mountain," and was named that because, you guessed it, it looks as if the top half of the mountain has been sawed off. The drive up is so winding that I felt like I was white-knuckling it a bit, but the amazing views more than made up for it. Our mini-mini bus deftly navigated around all of the brave cyclists who clearly love torture and the hikers who seem to love it even more. I can totally see why Montserrat is a popular weekend destination when the weather cools off. It's a gorgeous place for recreational sports. 

The monastery, Santa Maria de Montserrat, enshrines the image of the Virgin of Montserrat, a black Madonna statue. (The Madonna and St. George share duties as patron saints of Catalonia.) The statue has some intriguing legends surrounding its discovery (or rediscovery) in the mountains.

Montserrat ended up being a surprise favorite of mine. It was an incredibly peaceful place. Aside from driving, you can also take a kind of train up--at one point the track looks so steep that it's basically vertical, but our tour guide assured us it was an optical illusion. Right next to the monastery is a school for the boys who sing in the famous boys' choir. We ducked our heads into the service that was being conducted during our visit but couldn't stay to hear the boys sing. Our tour guide described them as being the next best thing to hearing actual angels sing.

After leaving Montserrat, we returned to Barcelona to walk around La Sagrada Familia. Here is where I confess to being totally under-read on Gaudi and Sagrada Familia, beyond knowing that it's perpetually under construction (though they apparently have completion date in mind: 2026, the centenary of Gaudi's death) and that slow construction has been due to the fact it's funded solely on private donations. The famous facade that most people are familiar with is the side that depicts the Nativity, so it's overflowing with life and growth, the opposite side depicts the Passion, and is much starker and restrained in its design. The main entrance is a nod to the Glory. So the sun rises and strikes the Nativity facade first, then, at its highest point is over the Glory facade, and sets facing the Passion. 

We didn't end up trying to get tickets to tour inside--you have to leave a few things for your next visit, right? 

After that, we continued our Gaudi adventure by visiting Park Güell. Tip: you also need tickets to get into Park Güell now, and, according to our tour guide, it's for the best because it spaces visitors out in such a way that people aren't constantly on top of one another. Which, yes, is good because the park is probably a lot smaller than you think it is--it definitely was smaller than what I had imagined! 

The park was conceived as being a public space for a new neighborhood of expensive homes, but the full project was never finished--only two houses were ultimately built (though Gaudi lived in one of them--the pink house--for about twenty years). Being pretty unfamiliar with Gaudi (I know, for shame), his ideas and point of view really clicked for me at the park, and, actually, helped me pinpoint the overall character of Barcelona, which feels like such a warm, inviting mixture of French and Mediterranean cultures that has resulted in something uniquely its own. Gaudi's work is so organic and thoughtful about how it interplays with the natural environment around it (recycling pioneer!). There's a touch of whimsy that really lifts your heart when you see it. I loved the bright colors of the mosaics, too.

After that very full day, we headed back to the hotel to figure out dinner. My mom laughed her ass off showing me the photos she had taken of me falling asleep on the bus ride back (I told you--I can sleep anywhere!). Aaaaand I'll leave it there for now, because Erin's flight just landed! 

See some of you tonight at Changing Hands, hopefully! Remember--Phoenix location!

Alexandra BrackenComment