Spring Break in Barcelona, part I

Steve Reed, Cottey's director of public information, traveled in Barcelona, Spain, with Cottey students, faculty and staff over spring break. He reported back with a series of articles written as letters home to his mother. This is the first of five letters.

Buenos dias, Mama! Or should I say Bon Dia, as that's how you say “good morning” or “hello” in Catalan.

We have safely arrived in Barcelona, although weather in the States did delay both flights a bit. Fortunately we avoided the large amount of snow the weather folks were predicting. We arrived at our hotel, 505 Catalan, checked in and met our tour guides, Ann and Anna.

That first afternoon was a bit of a whirlwind because of our late arrival. We received our metro passes, got Euros from an ATM and set off on a walking tour. We took the metro to Plaça Cataluña, explored La Rambla, and saw the Cathedral of Barcelona and the Plaça St. Jaume (St. James) where a lively protest was going on.  It was teachers and parents protesting budget cuts in the public schools. No matter where one travels, some things are the same the world over. 

After the walking tour, Priscilla, one of our admission representatives, and I went to the Boqueria, a large covered market to grab a bite. It was 3 p.m. and we hadn't eaten since breakfast. I'll tell you more about the market tomorrow as Priscilla and I are taking a group of students there for one of our educational modules. I will say the meat and potato empanada I had was delicious.

After that it was back to the hotel for me and an early bedtime. Twenty-four hours of travel is exhausting.

The Cottey group at Park Güell.
Tuesday morning, our entire group went on a bus tour of Barcelona. There are approximately 60 of us on this trip. (There are another 12-14 who went to Australia.) We drove through several sections of the city and saw how Barcelona had grown from a small walled Roman town into the city of 1.8 million it is today. We saw the different styles of architecture in the Gothic area to the styles of Antonio Gaudi in the early 1900s. Gaudi is probably the most well-known architect in Barcelona, and his unique designs are part of what makes Barcelona the city it is.

Our first stop off of the bus was the famous Park Güell. (Pronounce it "gway") This park was originally planned by wealthy investor Eusebio Güell to be a housing development of 60 homes. He hired Gaudi to design everything. Gaudi designed the plaza and market area and the viaducts along with a model home. Unfortunately for Güell, the housing development was a flop. The two-hour carriage ride to the town center made living there impractical. Added to that were the stresses of World War I on the economy. Only three buildings were constructed by the time Güell’s heirs sold the property to the city. Today it serves as a remarkable public park as well as a work of art.

Back on the bus and the next stop was Montjuic which means mountain of the Jews. There was a large Jewish population around that area until the 1400s when Christians kicked all of the Jews and Muslims out of the country. That area today hosts a number of art museums and the Olympic venues from the 1992 Olympic Games. We were allowed a few minutes to explore the park (and purchase a snack or drink). On the ride back, we passed the Olympic Stadium and the arena where indoor sports like basketball were held.

The bus then took us to Spain's most popular tourist attraction, La Sagrada Familia (The Sacred Family). We were told that over 4.5 million people per year pass through this Basilica. It is without a doubt Gaudi's masterpiece. It was begun in 1882 and is still under construction today. When people would ask Gaudi why it was taking so long, he would reply, "My client [God] is not in a hurry."

Even though it isn't yet completed, Mama, it is stunning. Each of the four entrances, when complete, will tell a different part of the Gospel story. The east side, most of which was built during Gaudi's lifetime, features the Nativity of Christ. On the west side is the Passion of Christ highlighting his death. That side is a remarkably different style than Gaudi's Nativity. Of course, it was a different sculptor, Josep Suberachs, who created it.

The stained glass inside La Sagrada Familia.
Inside the basilica, everything soars upward. Large columns that hold up the roof branch off giving the impression that the visitor is walking through an enormous forest. The stained glass windows on the east are of "cool" colors like blue and green. The west side features glass in "warm" tones like red, yellow, and orange. As the sun crosses the sky, the colors inside the church change from blues and greens to reds and yellows, mimicking the colors of the day as the sun warms the earth. I'm so glad we all got to see inside this beautiful basilica. 

We were on our own for the rest of the day. Priscilla and I met up with Dr. Tammy Ogren and two students, Abby and Tiffany, and went to look for lunch.  Our only rule was, “No chain restaurants.” We were out to eat local. In just a few blocks we found an Italian-style restaurant that featured specialty burgers.  Definitely not a chain! The food was very good. I'm so glad we had two Spanish speakers in our group. Abby and Priscilla have been a big help when my limited knowledge of Spanish was insufficient. Still, I think a non-Spanish speaker could get along ok here.
The Cotttey bicycle tour group.
After lunch we had to hustle to meet up with our bike tour group. Close to 30 of us paid to take a tour on two wheels of some of old Barcelona as well as the seafront. We had great fun and got to stop for a bit at the beach to take photos and avoid waves while looking for shells.

About the time that was over, faculty and staff needed to meet for their dinner. The college provides a meal in a nice restaurant for those who worked to create educational modules and help students. We ate at a very elegant seafood place called El National. My scallops and vegetables were amazing, and the flan I had for dessert topped off the evening. 

We left the hotel at 9 this morning, and it was just after midnight when we returned. All-in-all, it has been a very full day of Barcelona exploring, and I for one am ready for bed. More mañana (tomorrow).
Your loving son, 


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