We hated to say goodbye to our home away from home in Dubai. We had a wonderful visit with our children, celebrating Ollie’s 21st birthday. We particularly enjoyed Steve and Cheryl’s villa, and getting to know Mary, their live in housekeeper, who was now a part of our extended family.
Having looked for great airfare deals, we hopped a flight from Dubai to Barcelona. The European leg of our journey was about to begin.
Within an hour of dropping off our bags at our Airbnb, Ol and I were out exploring our new neighborhood around La Sagrada Familia (Basilica of the Holy Family), in Barcelona, Spain.
The weather was perfect. It was warm but with with not much humidity. It was a perfect summer day. By the time we stopped for an afternoon glass of Sangria, the temperature was cool and comfortable. We picked a cafe with a view of the famous unfinished Basilica designed by famed Catalan architect Antoin Gaudi (1852-1926)
We couldn’t believe how great our Airbnb was. We were in a great neighborhood, just blocks from the church surrounded by charming parks, tree lined streets, shops, and cafes. The metro was only a few blocks away.
We were welcomed by our host Alex who was from the Ukraine. He showed us around the apartment which would be ours for the next two weeks. He offered us a welcome bottle of wine, maps, and suggestions on dining. He then showed us to our room, which was modern with a king size bed and a great picture window that opened to the street.
Over the next few weeks, we enjoyed our visits each evening with this amazing young man. At thirty years old, he owns a beautiful flat, owns several language schools, is fluent in numerous languages, and has time to be an artist performing acrobatics on aerial hoops.
Ol and I now had two leisurely weeks to figure out where we wanted to go next on our journey around the world. When we left Dubai, we decided on flying to Barcelona because we love Spain and though we spent over a month in the country a year ago, it is a city we had yet to visit. Ok, we were also lured by the cool weather and the cheap flight!
We knew that we wanted to explore Eastern Europe, as neither one of us have ever visited that part of the world. We just didn’t have a plan. So, over one of our daily afternoon glasses of Sangria, we tried to plot a course through seven or eight countries. Our goal was to try to end up in Greece for a few weeks before taking repositioning cruise to the Caribbean in late September or October.
Maybe it was too many Sangrias, but when we saw how close we would be to Russia, we decided Russia had to be on the itinerary. A little known fact about Ol is that he studied Russian language in college.
We quickly realized we couldn’t visit Russia without a lengthy Visa process which could only be completed back home in the States. However, there was a loophole! Tourists visiting Russia on a cruise ship do not have to undergo the full visa process.
I immediately started googling cruises and the repositioning cruise. I quickly discovered that there was a twenty-four day TransAtlantic cruise leaving from Helsinki, through Russia, the Baltic's, and ending back home in New York. I jumped at the deal I was able to find.
After booking this amazing cruise, we went back to enjoying the art and architecture of Barcelona. We walked everywhere and quickly decided that this was one of our favorite cities in the World. We were already making plans to come back and stay for at least a month. There was so much to do, the food and wine was incredible, and as always we love the warmth of the Spanish people.
We enjoyed not planning anything. Instead, we set off in a different direction each day. We ended up exploring the Picasso Museum (which we loved), and the Contemporary Arts Museum (which was a disappointment). We trekked around trying to find all of Gaudi’s architectural masterpieces (which we mostly did). We wandered into a flamenco show, gardens, courtyards, and shops. We were back to traveling slowly. We even got to catch a showing of the new movie "The Lion King" at Spain's largest cinema, only a few blocks from our apartment.
After daily walks around the city, we finally had a morning tour scheduled. We booked a guided tour of La Sagrada Familia, the amazing church that dominates the skyline. It did not disappoint. I have been to more churches than I can count and I think this one may be my favorite.
I loved the incredible way Gaudi used light and color in his architecture. The entire basilica emanated peacefulness. I felt as though Gaudi was actually able to capture The Holy Spirit. It is a masterpiece that radiates light and joy.
The church was consecrated in 2010 and has a completion date scheduled for 2026, the one hundredth anniversary of Gaudi’s death. The church has been under construction for over one hundred and thirty seven years.
Gaudi’s masterpiece has become the symbol of Barcelona, with over 2.5 million visitors a year. The church construction has a budget of over 25 million euros a year and is self funded. Last years tourist fees created a surplus of an additional 25 million euros, and these funds went to charity.
Since we had mastered the metro we decided to take the train to the Cava region of Spain to visit the Freixenet vineyards. This is the largest producer of sparkling wine in the world. The vineyards are located in Sant Sadurni d’anova, Catalonia, an hour train ride out of Barcelona.
After the tour, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch with a tasting menu and cava pairings. We were excited when we were served a boutique cava produced in a small vintage called “Oliver”, that we both loved. After a long day of wine tasting, we were grateful that all we had to do was get to get on the metro to make it home safely.
We spent another morning at Gaudi’s UNESCO World Heritage site, Park Guell. We enjoyed soaking in the genius and brilliance of all works Gaudi, including touring the home where he spent his last few years. The park he conceived within a park, is truly masterful, even by today’s standards. Like the Sagrada Familia which was his life work, it is a place that fills your soul. The park is a failed subdivision built before its time. Now it is a city owned park, enjoyed by thousands.
We also took time to enjoy Barcelona’s beaches and waterfront. Unfortunately, after a late day, we hopped on the subway from the beach’s busiest station where I experienced my first truly negative travel experience. My iPhone was swiped out of my hands as I was jostled by a group of local young men. With my phone in hand, they jumped out of the train door just as it was closing. By the time we got to the next station, it was long gone.
We had been warned by Alex and others to be on the alert for pick pockets, but I think I just got too comfortable in our adopted city. I can’t even blame it on having a Sangria!
When we arrived at the police station, we joined a rather long line. It was the same at the Apple Store. Apparently, this happens many times a day in Barcelona. The pick pockets feel emboldened because there is not really any police presence on the street. I actually had to laugh when I saw on the news that the police hand out beach kits with clothes, shoes, a towel, and a subway ticket for people who get their belongings stolen when they are in the water. I guess I should consider myself lucky! I was saddened that I lost my favorite personal photos and videos of Tanzania and Dubai, as they didn’t make it to the Cloud or our blog posts.
After thoroughly enjoying Barcelona, despite my phone setback, we were ready for a new adventure. Over the past few weeks we have become downright spoiled. It started with my trip to the Serengeti, and then our friend’s beautiful home in Dubai, and Mary taking such good care of us. Now we had Alex’s beautiful home and neighborhood. We decided we just weren’t up for roughing it in Eastern Europe right now.
Maybe we were just tired and Ol was still getting over his Kilimanjaro trek. We decided to look for a home to rent around the Mediterranean and maybe settle down for a few weeks. When I was researching our options, we found the perfect compromise.
I discovered that there were plenty of ferries that left from Barcelona as well as cruise ships. I found a cruise that was scheduled to leave from Barcelona in a few days. The last minute rate was incredible! The deal included no gratuities, a beautiful ocean view stateroom and the itinerary was just what the doctor ordered for weary travelers.
We could spend the next twenty-four days cruising the Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea. After we booked it and finished our daily Sangria, we looked at the luggage store across the street and each purchased a carry-on suitcase with wheels, a first for our journey! After all, we didn’t want to look like backpackers on our first cruise!