Saturday, September 7, 2013


Our red-eye flight from Philadelphia to Barcelona was almost uneventful. We experienced some pretty severe turbulence right after dinner. It was quite a ride. I saw a woman across the aisle using her airline sickness bag, while her husband rubbed her neck. I heard a couple of screams from behind us—probably people spilling the complimentary wine served with dinner. (I nearly managed to save mine.)

It was impossible to sleep. Throughout the flight, the person behind me was trying to give me a shiatsu massage through the seat. I figured it had to be a child, and was surprised when she got up to find that it was a woman at least my age. She was probably on the cruise. In fact most of the people on our flight were probably on the cruise. She was tall, and I suppose she had a hard time making herself comfortable. However, I couldn't imagine what positions she was contorting herself into to be poking me that way.

We arrived in Barcelona early in the morning—tired, sweaty, irritable. We passed through customs, retrieved our luggage, and found the APHC tour people, who herded us to a bus that would take us to our hotel, the Hilton Diagonal Mar. Somehow, two lines had formed to board the bus. When Loretta attempted to take her turn to board, the woman at the head of the other line said, in a voice like frozen syrup, "That's all right, you go first." It was clear that what she really meant was was, "How dare you cut in front of me!" This was our first encounter with "Minnesota Nice," which we later learned is a subtle form of passive-aggression commonly practiced by mid-westerners, especially Minnesotans. Although not from Minnesota, Loretta was not about to be out-niced. "No," she said, sweetly. "You go ahead." After several more "You firsts," the other woman finally boarded the bus ahead of us. I'm not sure, but I think that made Loretta the winner.

There was a long line in the hotel lobby for registration, so we walked across the street and had breakfast at a place called "Canas y Tapas": fried eggs and other ingredients, such as sausage, bacon, and peppers, served in a bowl over french fried potatoes. When we returned to the hotel, the registration line was longer than ever—more busloads of cruisers had arrived while we were eating breakfast. There was nothing for it but to wait. By the time we got into our rooms, we had no time to shower before our scheduled tour of Sagrada Familia. And our luggage had not yet been delivered, so we couldn't change clothes, anyway.

Of all the wonders of art and architecture we saw on this trip—including St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel—Basílica y Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia impressed me most. The most famous work of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, the basilica was begun in 1883 and is still under construction. The spires and facades of its exterior are breathtaking, and inside, the branching columns and stained glass windows give one the feeling of being in a peaceful forest glade.

Sagrada Familia Interior

I rode shotgun on all of our taxi rides, which made it my responsibility to pay the driver. I was tired and not yet used to dealing with Euros. When we got back to the hotel, I realized I had tipped both drivers over 30%.

No wonder they were so happy.

Our luggage had been delivered in our absence. After a shower, nap, and change of clothes, we took another taxi to Poble Espanyol, a "model Spanish village" constructed for the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition, where we had tickets for a flamenco show. We drank sangria and ate tapas (flavorful cured meats and cheeses), as the performers filed in. The guitarists and singers ranged themselves along the back of the small stage, and four dancers—two men and two women—took their seats along the side.

Flamenco is certainly dramatic. Each dancer took a solo turn consisting of two or three dances. They stomped around the stage with expressions that suggested they were either very angry or in extreme pain. However, one of the women performed a silly, bird-like strut, in which she flirted with the musicians. She got lots of laughs, and was a favorite with the audience.


Our driver on the taxi ride back to the hotel was the only one we had all day who spoke English. He was from Ecuador, and was very friendly and helpful, pointing out the various attractions we should see—if we had time to see other attractions, which we didn't. I gave him a generous tip (but not 30%).

All of the chairs I saw in Barcelona were torture devices. They were either modernistic monstrosities, like the ones in our hotel, or antique monstrosities (probably designed by the Spanish Inquisition), like the ones at Poble Espanyol. I think that's why I awoke with an excruciating backache the next morning—the morning we were to board the ship. Of course, it could also have been the cramped taxi rides, or the woman kicking the back of my seat on the plane. Probably it was a combination of all three.

Whatever the reason, I could barely walk. Also, my digestive system was strongly objecting to the Spanish food I had eaten the day before. I felt like I was about seventy-nine years old—which, coincidentally, was the approximate average age of the passengers on our cruise.

Nevertheless, after a hearty breakfast of Imodium and Aleve, I felt ready to sail.

Next week—Marseilles.

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