Cruising the Mediterranean: Beautiful Barcelona
Bleary eyed after a twenty-hour journey from Los Angeles, we retrieved our suitcases from Barcelona airport’s carousel and aimed ourselves at the nearest cash machine to stock up on euros. Armed with travel tips gleaned from Rick Steves’ Mediterranean Cruise Ports, my hubby, our friend and I opted to haul our cruise wear onto a shuttle bus into the city, avoiding an expensive cab ride. We stood all the way and held on for dear life — not unlike bull riding in a bumper car.
Arriving at the famous Plaça de Catalunya early Sunday morning, we corralled our luggage, trying to figure out where the heck our hotel was. Like us, many other visitors were wheeling their bags through the streets. Unlike us, they seemed to know where they were going.
As usual, my husband and I fell into our vacation backwards. Eight months of anticipating a luxurious Mediterranean cruise did not involve any prep that was useful on our part – like learning conversational Spanish! Our friend, on the other hand, was a better and far more experienced traveler. But even with her colorful street map, we were confused. I thought I’d better pick up my slack so I told them to hang with the luggage while I foraged for our hotel without our large spinner suitcases in tow. Thinking my swell sense of direction couldn’t work in a strange country, I nonetheless headed in what seemed a logical direction, then made a less logical right turn. Two blocks and many questions of shop owners later, I found myself in front of the NH Calderón Hotel.
Victorious, I raced back, praying that when we went to ask after our rooms, the hotel clerk would take pity on weary travelers arriving six hours in advance of check-in and give us our keys anyway. She did. For a reasonable price, you got a smallish but modern, utilitarian room with a view and a fabulous breakfast. “But you cannot get the free breakfast today. Only tomorrow…with the room,” she said.
I laughed. “We’re not greedy.” We thanked her in English and used the catch-all (and one of our only Spanish words) — Hola!
I hated to admit that I first felt like a fish out of water. We couldn’t even figure out how to get the lights to work in our room. Desperate, I used my smartphone as a flashlight to find my way to the toilet. I then had to return to the lobby and bother the clerk to “turn on the electricity.” She looked at me like I was daffy. Then she told me to insert our key card into a wall slot by the light fixture to get the power to come on – a smart energy saving feature now commonplace in Europe, apparently.
“Thanks,” I said. Oh, and … “Hola!”
Grousing all the way back to the hotel room, I felt like the accidental tourist, and a pissy one at that. We were not off to a great start. I forced myself to remember what we were there to do. Relax. Learn something new. Discover a people and culture we did not know. Stop expecting this to feel like home and make it home – at least for a little while.
Unfamiliar amenities notwithstanding, we were grateful to be allowed to park ourselves early and everything felt better after a hot shower.
Freshly scrubbed, we met up with our pal and headed for Barcelona Cathedral to watch the noon time patriotic Sardana dances, where hundreds of locals formed circles in the large square, jumping and dancing almost in slow motion to live music in front of the stately church. We photographed the inside of the stunning cathedral and its majestic statues and sculptures, not to mention swans grooming themselves in the colonnade.
Then, making our way through romantic and picturesque side streets to La Plaça Reial in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, we had lunch at a place called La Crema Canela. Eat there. That’s all I can say.
We ordered tapas family style and picked at each other’s plates. I had pesto risotto (risotto cremoso de pesto con queso cheddar) garnished with sun dried tomatoes and white cheddar along with the house white wine. This was the most piquant and richest bowl of comfort food I have had in ages. We fought over the last bite.
The rest of the city was likewise sumptuous and charming with its winding, narrow streets and old world architecture. We wanted to make the most of our day and a half in Barcelona before boarding the Celebrity Equinox for our cruise but got caught in an afternoon rain shower and hurried up the Ramblas back to our hotel. Yes, we actually walked in the rain in Spain.