Sunday, March 26, 2017

Exploring Gaudi

Sunday morning was our final day of touring Barcelona, but included what many would consider the highlight of any trip to the city:  The Familia Sagrada (“Sacred Family”) Cathedral.  This visit would be followed up with a tour of Park Gϋell.  Both of these sites were designed by the pride of Barcelona: Antoni Gaudí. 
Today’s tour was another one that would be a large organized group tour with 20-30 of my coworkers.  Aimee and I grabbed a quick breakfast and headed towards our tour bus.  As we made our way through the city towards the cathedral, there were a few moments that when looking out the bus windows the streets would align with the massive structure in the distance and we could see a brief unobstructed view of it towering over all of Barcelona.  

Familia Sagrada
Construction on the Familia Sagrada began in 1882, however it is still under active construction today and is not expected to be fully completed until 2032.  As we approached the building and could see the incredible ornate details around the entire outside and inside of the building it was not difficult to see how the building could take a century and a half to complete.  In response to the ambitious, long-term undertaking, Gaudi once responded “My client is not in a hurry.”  Construction continued throughout the rest of Gaudi’s life, and well beyond, delayed by periods of war and unrest in the area, which resulted in halts to construction and damage that needed to be repaired at times.  Today Gaudi is buried in a crypt within the cathedral.

While Gaudi was not assigned to the project until a year after it’s groundbreaking, the near finished complex is comprised of many signature characteristics of his works, including non-linear structural forms and an eclectic mix of gothic design with modern, almost cartoonish features.  At the tops of the many classic gothic looking spires, are colorful designs that transition from geometric shapes to arcs and circles with what look like massive cotton balls of various sizes and asymmetrical shapes.  Many of the outside walls are adorned with 3 dimensional words that are written in fonts that look like they could have been found spray painted on a New York subway wall.  Upon first looking at each of the different sections of the cathedral, the initial impression is one of traditional gothic architecture, however the longer you assess the design, the details, and the angles, the more you begin to notice the more peculiar aspects of the design.  There are very few straight lines.  Vertical support columns are not actually vertical, they are at slight angles, and they branch out like trees at the top.  Finishing touches break away from gothic shapes to the downright trippy.

One of the more fascinating items that we were shown on our tour was an upside “model” of the cathedral, where Gaudi, in the absence of Computer Assisted Design, utilized sandbags tied to multiple tethers in order to determine the angles required to appropriately distribute the weight loads of the building across its support columns.  He then used the resulting angles to design the columns throughout the building.   In recent decades much of the design and construction has accelerated due to the advent of computer driven engineering and design, eliminating the need for such primitive (though impressive) approaches.

While Aimee’s distaste for the style of Gaudi’s work overshadowed her admiration of the architectural aspects, both of us walked away incredibly impressed at this magnificent piece of work.

Park Gϋell
After the cathedral we continued on to another of Gaudi’s most famous works, Park Gϋell.  As compared to the cathedral, Park Gϋell avoids most all attempts at classical architecture and to the American visitor comes off as something straight out of a Doctor Seuss guided tour into Whoville.  Ceramic mosaics covered many of the structures with colorfully flowing and naturally curving shapes in every direction.  We spent about an hour or so wandering through the park enjoying the fun, though somewhat psychedelic design of the space.

Ryan and Aimee in the Park

Mayor of Whoville's house?

After our Gaudi focused morning tour, we had a group lunch at Can Travi Nau on the edges of Barcelona that was in a traditional old Catalan house.  Each room had several large round tables and was furnished like an old country home, and our group was led to one where we were served some more of the local fare.  At the end of the meal however we were introduced to a traditional wine pitcher called a porron filled with moscatel wine.  Our waiters brought this out and illustrated to us how to drink out of it by lifting it over the head and about 6-12 inches from your face, tilting back your head, and aiming the spout towards your mouth to allow the jet of wine to pour directly into your mouth.   Each table was then given a porron with the challenge for each person to pour and swallow simultaneously with the goal of finishing the entire pitcher in a single pour.  As each person failed, we continued to pass the porron around the table, until it was finally empty.
Don't Spill!

On the ride back to the hotel, our tour guide continued to tell us a bit more about current events in Barcelona.  There was an upcoming referendum for Catalonian independence from Spain.  She had indicated that this was something that had been building for a long time, and that there were strong indications that this referendum would pass. She discussed some of the many strong cultural differences between Barcelona and Spain, not the least of which is the language difference (Catalan vs. Spanish).  She drew our attention to the many Catalonian flags hung from windows throughout the city, 90% of which seemed to indicate support for independence. It looked clear that there were some interesting times ahead for the region.

After arriving back to our hotel, Aimee and I freshened up and grabbed a taxi to find dinner near Barcelona’s oldest brewery (Moritz) a few miles away. After checking it out, we ended up changing our mind and landed in a nondescript Irish pub down the street, and enjoyed a bit of a break from the Spanish food, which we both decided after several days in Spain wasn’t our favorite style. 

After dinner we began slowly walking in the direction of our hotel, debating weather to get a cab.  The weather was a bit warmer than the previous few days, and most importantly dry so we ultimately walked at a leisurely pace the 2-3 miles back to our hotel enjoying the city around us.

Exhausted at this point, we gathered up our belongings and repacked our luggage, as we had a very early departure in the morning.


The next morning most of our large group (except those that had extended their stay for personal travel) met several coach busses that took an exceptionally tired and worn out group of people back to the airport.  On top of a hectic schedule for the previous four days, we had only begun to recover from our initial jet lag.  After arriving at the airport however, the group was met with the unfortunate news of a flight cancellation impacting most of the 70+ individuals on the trip.  Flights were very quickly re-booked, but scattered many of us to varying connections throughout the US in order to get us back in a reasonable time.  For Aimee and I, our new flights resulted in only minimal changes to our final arrival time in Nashville.

When we finally arrived in Nashville, we returned grateful for the experience and with some great memories, but decided that though we didn’t dislike it, Barcelona probably wasn’t at the top of the list of places we’d return to in the near future. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Our Cups Runneth Over

Saturday morning, we had an unexpected excursion fall in our lap.  One of my coworkers, Dave, had rented a car, and had planned on doing some wine and champagne vineyard tours along with another of my coworkers Will.   Earlier in the trip, he had asked if Aimee and I would be interested in joining him.  We were very excited at the idea.  Dave had done some research, and there was an area only about 40 minutes away from where we were that had dozens of wineries all within a few miles of each other.  He found a few that sounded very interesting, and one or two that served lunch as well.
Porridge for Breakfast

We planned on a leisurely pace that morning, as some of our entourage were making the most of the night life, and the plan was to meet at 11:00am.  Aimee and I had looked forward to sleeping in a little bit, and grabbing a leisurely breakfast before meeting our group.

Hillside Mausoleum on Outskirts of Barcelona
We arrived at the small café in our hotel around 10:15am, thinking this would allow plenty of time.  However, we again forgot the slower pace of things here.  We ordered a distinctly European breakfast of porridge with cinnamon and bananas, which seemed like a nice foundation in our stomachs before spending the next few hours sampling wines and champagnes.  The breakfast was decent (though certainly not warranting the near $50 price tag on it) but given the typical pace of food service in Barcelona, even our 45 minutes we had allotted had us rushing the server to get us our check in time to leave.

Vallirana, Catalonia
We jumped in our car for the day, which was a large black Mercedes van.  With Dave driving, and Will navigating, Aimee and I were able to simply relax and watch the city fly by past the windows.  Though Barcelona is a large city (by US comparisons) of around 1.6 million people, it is very dense, and does not cover a large area.    It didn’t take long in the car to get out of the city limits and out into the countryside.

Vallirana, Catalonia
The first vineyard we arrived at was Albet I Noya.  We parked our car in a small gravel lot, and walked into a large courtyard with a couple residential looking buildings, and the vineyard office in between them.  Inside we found an early thirty something Catalan who spoke very good English but with an accent that only added to his aura of expertise on the subject of wine and cava.  He brought us to a small display room and provided a brief overview of some of the wines available.  The description of one of the bottles was a little lost through his accent.  Both myself and Dave thought that he described the wine as being aged in “salmon eggs”.  He repeated this a couple times, and the second time I thought it was more likely he was actually saying “cement eggs”.  Either way, I was quite intrigued.  He then explained the tasting would be 3 glasses for €3 per person.  We were interested!
Albet i Noya Vineyard

As we sat at a table in the courtyard, our host gathered some glasses for us.  Meanwhile, a young boy around 12 years old was playing with a soccer ball, kicking it against the wall of one of the buildings, catching it, and repeating.  In the other residential building someone was practicing the drums.  As we continued to wait, an elderly couple walked into the courtyard over to the building where the drummer was playing and started knocking on the door, and calling inside.  Clearly the drummer did not hear what appeared to be his grandparents, as they were left there for a good 5 or ten minutes trying to get in.
Albet i Noya

We all smiled at each other, enjoying this brief but intimate peek in the life of a vintner family.  Dave was the first to vocalize how awesome it was to be out in the countryside of Spain and getting this brief glimpse into the lifestyle of the locals.

While we were soaking in a ‘day in the life’, our host brought out several glasses for each of us.  He offered a few different wines for us to taste. We tried a red and a sparkling.  For the third, he offered the unusual sounding wine, and I again thought he said it was aged in “salmon eggs.”  We asked him to clarify salmon or cement, and sure enough it was “cement eggs.”  He said that the flavor would be very crisp with a mineral flavor to it.  We all agreed this would definitely be worth a taste.

Wine Tasting
The cement egg wine was not a disappointment. It was a white wine, and as had been described, it was crisp, very smooth, and had a bit of a mineral water flavor behind the fermented grape flavor.  All of us gave it a positive review.

After our third glass, we decided to head to the next winery.  When we arrived we were greeted by a Spanish speaking woman and we learned that, unfortunately, they were not doing any more tours this morning.  Dave’s wife who spoke Spanish, asked her for recommendations for lunch.  While they were conversing, Aimee and I noticed the distinct sound of a cork popping out of a bottle of cava down a hallway.  Aimee looked at me with disappointment and said “Oh, that’s the sound of someone else having a good time.”  Yes, it certainly was.

The woman recommended a nearby restaurant called “Ambrasa.”  When we arrived, it appeared to be a local family restaurant, with many of the tables having a clear view of vineyard outside.  We were seated and given menus, and our server pointed out a chalkboard with several specials on it.  As soon as we sat down we were given glasses of cava.  Nice!
Lunch with a view at Ambrasa

Both Dave’s wife and myself struggled to interpret the menu.  After trying for several minutes, we finally realized the reason was that it was written in Catalan, and not Spanish.  Our server, who only spoke Catalan and Spanish, struggled to help our group.  We were a difficult crowd though as 4 of us spoke little to no Spanish, and only 2 of us spoke it but were not quite fluent.  He tried as hard as he could though, even using an app on his phone to help translate what he was saying. 

Somewhere in Cava Country!

Somewhere in Montjuïc
We ultimately ordered several dishes and shared them, as well as some more wine.  Everything was fantastic.  By the end of the meal, we were all full, and had had quite a bit of wine.  Our server now offered us limoncello.  We declined but he explained that it was a free part of the meal.  Turning down free liquor just seemed wrong, so we obliged him and shared a small bottle of the liqueur.  After all this food and drink, we were shocked to see the final bill come in at only  €64.

Stuffed, and several of us a bit buzzed, we headed back to the car to travel back to our hotel.  We had a company sponsored dinner this evening.  But first, Aimee and I decided a siesta was definitely in order.

After our nap, we got ourselves cleaned up, headed to the lobby, to find our tour bus, and climbed in for the ride to the restaurant.  We arrived at Montjuïc el Xalet, and from the outside we were quite underwhelmed.  We were up on a high point in the city, and clearly we’d have a good view, however the only thing we saw advertising the restaurant was a dated looking sign that said “Restaurant.”

Once we entered however we were pleasantly surprised.  We were lead onto a wooden deck which overlooked the entire city.  Here there were servers offering tapas, and of course as much wine as we could drink.  There was a band playing Spanish music accompanied by flamenco dancers, providing entertainment.  We did once again realize we underdressed for the weather, as we were both pretty  cold having not brought jackets along with us this evening for the temperatures which were in the low 50s.  Fortunately, there were some heaters, and we tried to stay somewhat close to these. 

After a while, we tried to work our way to the back of this section of the restaurant where the bar was. This area was partially enclosed, slightly warmer, and put us first in line to enter the building, once it was time to go inside and be seated.  While we were standing near the bar, we noticed a tray of what appeared to be sangrias on the other side of the bar.  Aimee had been eying this for quite awhile, and it was still sitting there awaiting a server to distribute them.  I offered to fight the crowd to get to that side of the bar and grab her one.  Aimee protested a few times, but I finally insisted.  I navigated my way between dozens of my coworkers, grabbed a glass and brought it back.

Sagrada Familia from Montjuïc el Xalet
Aimee took a sip and immediately her face turned into a look of pouty disappointment.   “What’s wrong?” I asked. 

She answered, “That’s not sangria, its coke with a lemon in it.”  Well that was disappointing.

Only a few minutes later, they began allowing everyone inside to find a seat for dinner.  The dining area was one level lower than the reception deck, but still had a tremendous view of the city.  Since we were one of the first people into the room, we made our way over to the windows to get a seat
with a great view.  Ten minutes later however, we realized this was a wasted effort when the floor below our table began slowly rotating, our “front row” seat began to make its way to the back of the room.  Our dinner was no disappointment however.  We again enjoyed a seemingly endless supply of tapas, as well as wine glasses that seemed to be refilled after every sip we took. 

Sitting next to us at our table, was one our sales people named Susie.  She had told us that she had gotten her name on the guest list at a discotheque, conveniently located outside our hotel.  The doors opened at midnight, and she asked if we were interested in joining her.  Applying a bit of peer pressure, she explained that it was something you NEEDED to check off the list when in Barcelona.  We gave her a solid “maybe”

Once we were stuffed from an hour of tapas, they brought us a full meal, followed by desert.  The wine continued flowing all the while.  After we could barely move from all the food, it was time to get on the bus and head back to the hotel.

When we got back, many of my coworkers of course descended upon the hotel bar.  We joined them and had a few more drinks and engaged in discussions around work, family, raising of children, and the many benefits of swords including both repelling male suitors of one’s daughters as slicing frozen fish.

Once midnight approached Susie, with the help of Sophia, began to apply the peer pressure on several of us to head over to the discotheque.  Aimee and I ultimately agreed, along with about 10 other people in our group.

The discotheque, Opium, was already fairly packed with people.  Standing on an elevated platform were too attractive young woman dancing and sporting some Gaudi themed body shirts and bikini bottoms gyrating to the beats of the DJ.
Getting some fresh air outside Opium

After spending an hour or so here, and officially checking “dancing in a Barcelona discotheque” off the bucket list, we headed back to the hotel.  Along the eighth of a mile walk, our group was offered beer, marijuana, cocaine, and walked past a prostitute who appeared to have netted herself a customer for the evening.  We quickly realized that after midnight, the city takes quite a bit of a turn.  We however bypassed all these offers and headed up to sleep to rest up for our final day.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Rain In Spain Falls Mainly in Our Face

Friday morning started with an early breakfast and a mandatory employee meeting for two hours while the spouses got the benefit of sleeping in.  After “paying our dues,” so to speak, for the trip and hearing a bit about the near-term initiatives of the company, we were free to go out and do some more exploring. 

We had discussed the idea of heading back to the Gothic Quarter for lunch at the Mercat de la Boqueria with one of my coworkers Andrea and her husband Chad, so we made plans to meet in the lobby at 11:00 and head over.  The forecast for the day was rain.  Initially, it looked like it would be a rainy morning but taper off throughout the day.  As the morning went on however, it looked more and more like the whole day may be a wet one.

On the way out of the hotel, the bell hops were handing out umbrellas to use.  We had left ours in the
room, so we grabbed one to share.   The rain was light at this point, and we debated taking a cab or walking to the market.  Since the rain wasn’t too bad, and it seemed walking would give a better opportunity to sight-see, we decided to walk.

When we arrived at the market about 45 minutes later, we had worked up a good appetite.  We made a quick walk through the market which was completely packed with people.  The market had dozens and dozens of stalls which were fairly close together selling, candy, nuts, produce, meats of every type imaginable, and small short order restaurants with barstool seating around the stall.  After a quick walk through the market, we decided to pick one of the restaurants around the perimeter to sit for lunch.

Paella Bar
We didn’t find anything with indoor seating available, so we choose a Paella restaurant called Paella Bar that had some covered outdoor seating on the sidewalk and propane heating towers next to the tables.  The menu (offered in English, Spanish, or Catalan) contained several different paellas and a handful of other dishes as well.  I ordered some intriguing sounding duck and lobster croquettes, but they unfortunately were out of them.  Instead, Aimee and I decided to share a salad entrée as well as a white tuna entrée. Andrea and Chad each ordered a different paella.

Our order was taken, and the meals were served in what we were learning was the typical leisurely pace of Barcelona.  However, we had wine and good company, so we tried to curb our natural American impatience with the slow service.  The paella dishes were huge, and filled with a variety of seafood.  Our tuna entrée, to our surprise (and to my personal disappointment) was not much more than a salad with canned tuna on it.  Aimee enjoyed it although it was not what she was expecting either.  I on the other hand gladly accepted Andrea’s offer of some of her paella.

After lunch we took a walk through the market.  Aimee found some Spanish almonds which she
Lambs' Heads and Other Assorted Parts
bought a bag of, and we shared some chocolate covered strawberries while wandering.  The massive selection of fresh raw seafood and meats were quite impressive.  The scene was also likely slightly disturbing to those not used to seeing cases full of ice with things like stacks of blob-shaped fish, live lobsters crawling around on ice in the open, or a selection of half a dozen lambs heads with the skin removed, (but eyeballs remaining intact.)

After checking out the market, we decided we needed somewhere to warm up from the cold with some coffee.  We wandered up and down a few streets in the Gothic Quarter and came upon a sweets shop that had gelato, waffles with all sorts of toppings and coffee.  There was an indoor seating area that was warm and dry, so we each ordered a cappuccino, and Aimee and I also shared a tasty waffle covered in berries and condensed milk drizzle.
After our coffee, Andrea and Chad, headed back to the hotel in a cab.  Aimee and I wandered the area for a bit longer and then returned as well to take a bit of a siesta before our activities that were planned for the evening, as we still had not fully recovered from the jetlag. 

Later that evening, an optional group outing was available to take a “Sea of Tapas” tour.  This included a boat ride and wide array of tapas to give us a broad array of tastes of some of the local food.  Our understanding was that this was a boat ride on which we’d sample tapas.  We later learned this was not quite the case.

As we were about to board the bus, our organizers asked if we wanted a rain poncho, as it was now raining quite a bit harder than it was earlier.  We thought that seemed unnecessary since we’d be inside for the most part (or so we thought) however they strongly recommended it.  I ended up accepting the rain coat, and Aimee opted for an umbrella.

We ran quickly to the awaiting bus, and boarded, already fairly wet from just that short jog.  On the bus they told us they’d be parking the bus and it would be a short walk to the boat.  When we got to the harbor, the rain had become a bit more intense.  The walk from the bus to the boat was between an eighth to a quarter of a mile, and made for a very wet and cold walk.  The boat, although it contained an enclosed seating area, was also cold and drafty, and full of wet tourists.  There was a bar for drinks, however the only drink with alcohol being offered was Estrella Damm beer, in addition to the selection of sodas, water and juice.

Due to choppy seas in the Mediterranean, the boat stayed in the harbor making a slow circle.  There was a canopy on the deck, so that those that wanted to brave the temperatures, which were now dropping to the low 50s, could admire the rainy view of Barcelona from the Sea.  Here it was that we learned we would be not eating on the boat, but rather after the boat ride we were going to tour two different tapas restaurants, and then go to a third restaurant for a full meal.

Given the weather, this wasn’t the most welcomed news.  After the boat ride, we dodged the raindrops as best was possible on our way back to the bus.  We then made our way to the first restaurant.  Given the narrow streets of Barcelona however, the bus could only get us within a few blocks of the restaurant.  We then had to run again through the rain, which was an even heavier downpour now, to the  first restaurant:  Orio.  Inside we did enjoy some tasty tapas as well as options of beer or wine.  (However, the only beer available was once again, Estrella.) 

Once we started to get comfortable, it was time to head off to the next restaurant.   The routine here,
Tapas Stop Number 2
was the same.  Run back to the bus in the rain, take a drive, park the bus, and run through the rain to the restaurant.  More tapas, Estrella beer, and then back to the bus.  At this point the downpour was at torrential levels.  A handful of people opted to end the tour early, and jumped into cabs back to the hotel.  The rest of us made it to the final restaurant with clothing that was quite wet.

At this restaurant, several plates of food were passed around, as well as many bottles of wine.  Between beer and tapas at the previous restaurants, most of our appetites were gone before we even sat down.  Additionally, the poor weather, and everyone’s wet clothes left them short of patience even with as much as we all tried to make the best of the situation and enjoy it.  Although the wait staff was swiftly delivering our dinners (which were preceded by even more tapas)  they seemed to be fairly annoyed by our presence.  It was difficult to say if this was a predisposition of some sort, or if our negative moods were partially to blame for their demeanor. 

Tapas Stop Number 3 + Dinner and Wine
By the time our main meal came, I could barely squeeze any more food in my mouth.  To make
things worse, there was a pipe up in the open ceiling that appeared to be developing condensation from all the humidity from the wet people in the room, and I realized at one point, it was dripping right into the middle of my plate every 2 minutes or so.  At this realization, I gave up the battle of trying to continue to eat…that is until they brought a crème broullette dessert.  I was able to find a little room for this.

Finally, after this very large meal, we made our way back through the rain which was still pouring down, to our awaiting bus, and returned to the hotel, where everyone was glad to be able to get back to their warm rooms, and out of their wet clothes.  Unfortunately, what would have otherwise been a fun four hours of eating and drinking ended up being a long and uncomfortable series of walks through the pouring rain.  We returned to our rooms stuffed, and ready for bed, hoping the next day's weather would be more conducive to enjoying the city.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Exhausted in Barcelona

Congratulations! You were nominated for Pinnacle Club! 

This is the news I received a couple of months ago.  Pinnacle Club is an annual reward event that my company sponsors, providing an (almost) all-expense paid trip to an exotic locale for a few dozen company employees.

This year’s trip is Barcelona!  As a company sponsored event, most of the logistics, and many of the activities were pre-arranged.  As a result, unlike most of my trips that I’ve blogged about, I did not perform the scores of hours of pre-planning.  I did not have an hour by hour itinerary with maps and references printed out in a binder.  I boarded the plane not knowing what I was going to be doing for most the next 5 days.  I did have a Lonely Planet guide to Barcelona, but even that had only been purchased 2 days before.   While I do like having a default outline of activities to use as a guide or a fallback, there is also something very liberating about having a vacation that’s fairly unplanned and spontaneous.  Especially when it is one in an urban location with no car.

This trip began with a very long day of travel.  In the few days leading up to the trip, we had done a mini-vacation with our kids to Memphis.  When we returned, Aimee’s family came down from West Virginia to watch the kids.  Needless to say, a lot was going on.  As a result the night before our first flight I very quickly checked our flight time and thought it was 10:00am.  The next morning we got up, Aimee helped get the boys out the door for school, we through our bags together and were ready earlier than expected, so we jumped in the car.  As we were driving to the airport, I also realized, the flight didn’t take off at 10:00, it took off at 10:50.  We arrived at the airport at about 8:15, were given TSA PreCheck, slid right through security, and were at the gate by 8:25…with quite a bit of time to spare, wondering why we got up so early.

Some Starbucks got us through, and we sat and waited while one by one half a dozen or so of my local co-workers showed up with their significant others. Our first flight was to New York’s JFK airport, where we had to wait another 3 hours for our flight to Barcelona.  Here I found a few more familiar faces as well as met a few more coworkers that I didn’t know. 

This flight left at 5:50pm, and was to land just over 6 hours later at 6:00am Barcelona time.  Needless to say, we would not be getting a good nights’ rest before our first day in Barcelona.  After trying to get as much rest as we could, we arrived the next morning, exited the plan, got our luggage, and found a fairly large group of people next to someone holding a sign with our company’s name on it.  While the group was still assembling, Aimee and I ordered some coffee to get us kick started for the day.  I ordered mine con leche, and she had hers black, which came more as an espresso and a latte (which did bring me back to some cultural learnings from high school Spanish where I think I did learn that to be the case.)

Two large shuttle busses then transported us to the HotelArts Barcelona hotel, where we received a
Large Bathroom at Hotel Room

“goodie bag”, checked in, and were given the FABULOUS news that the rooms were ready now, and we didn’t have to wait until 3:00pm to check in.  We took full advantage of this, and headed up to the room to shower and unpack before heading out for a breakfast.  The room was a large modernly decorated room, with a very large bathroom, which included a large bath tub on one side, a shower, with multiple jets on the other, a separate toilet room, and a two-sink vanity.  This was my first experience in a shower with both an overhead showerhead as well as body sprayers down the wall.  I highly recommend it. 

Hotel Room
While Aimee was getting ready, I flipped the TV on and was amused to see in Spain: a show televised from Dubai, which appeared to be a telenovela taped in Spanish, was dubbed over in English, and had Arabic subtitles.  Interesting cross-multiple culture marketing…  Suddenly, while we were getting ready there were two large crash, or explosion sounds that, from our 3rd floor window, seemed to come from nearby just outside our hotel.  A few birds started from the sound and flew away, but looking out the window to see the reactions on the street, we didn’t see anyone that seemed particularly alarmed.  Given yesterday’s attack in London, it did make us a bit apprehensive.
Hotel Room Hallway

We successfully avoided getting sucked into taking an extensive nap by the beckoning bed before us, knowing that the more we powered through the day the quicker we’d adapt for the rest of the weekend. Instead we got ourselves put together and set out to see a few sites.  As we left the hotel, the private concierge for our group suggested we exit in one direction from the hotel, as there was a group doing some demonstration of sorts in the other.  When we looked, there was a large group of people in a crowd in front of the hotel holding flags and banners and such. In the other direction where heavily armed military or police.  We wondered if this was at all related to the noises we heard earlier.  A quick review of recent local news stories indicated it may be related to a separatist group that wants Catalonian independence from Spain.

Beach on the Mediterranean Sea outside our Hotel
Though we were very curious about everything going on, our hunger overtook us, and we headed out on foot towards a restaurant called “Milk” in the gothic quarter.  This was supposed to be a good spot that served “brunch” until 4:30pm. 

The area around our hotel was explained to us to be more of a business district.  We meandered

around the Barcelona Zoo, and made our way into the gothic quarter.  Once we reached this section of the city, there was definitely a very different feel.  The buildings were all roughly the same height—about 5 stories.  They were all very old, and their seamless walls created a labyrinth of corridors in what seemed to be random angles in multiple directions.  While there were some streets that had 2 lane roads, many of them where just wide enough for a one lane, one way road, with small sidewalks on either side, and many of them were not wide enough for cars, and only allowed pedestrians. 
It did strike us that there was quite a bit of graffiti in every part that we walked through.  Much more than what is typical in the US.  As we wandered the streets of the gothic quarter, with Google Maps guiding us, we passed hundreds of tiny storefronts, selling souvenirs, clothing, produce, and more than anything: food.  The amount of restaurants, pastry shops, ice cream shops and cafes was incredible. 

When we finally made it to Milk, we noticed it was packed, and there were a couple people standing outside.  Right next to it however, was The Benedict, which was an English styled breakfast pub. We did consider the fact that The Benedict being much emptier than its neighbor may be a sign of the quality of the food, however we were hungry and tired and decided we’d chance it.
Breakfast at "The Benedict"
We sat at a tiny table shoved all the way in the corner of the front window and side wall, with only two chairs, allowing us to people watch as people walked down the narrow 8 foot wide “street” outside. Our brunch was tasty, and did the trick.  After almost falling asleep at the table a few times, we finished our meals, got up and continued walking to La Rambla.

La Rambla is a very busy, long tree-lined walkway that breaks up the historic concrete jungle of the gothic quarter.  Along this mile long strip are vendors of all sorts of things, as well as brick and mortar storefronts.  While it made for a nice walk, our guide book warned us that anything bought here can be found cheaper elsewhere.  Additionally, it was much more crowded than the small streets we were wandering earlier.  We quickly walked through the whole area, but then continued on to other areas to explore.

Placa de Catalunya (north of La Rambla)

Narrow "street" in Gothic Quarter

Catedral de Barcelona
Given our level of exhaustion, we then began heading back towards the hotel, stopping at a few sites along the way.  The first of which was the Catedral de Barcelona.  This was a beautiful old gothic structure.  While we  were admiring it from the outside, we again heard an explosion, this time from the street about 100 feet away from us.  We immediately turned and saw smoke in the street, but no damage, and no clear cause of the noise.  People around us did stop and look in that direction, but the people closest to the smoke didn’t seem to show any significant level of alarm.  We found this strange and slightly unnerving.

After looking at the cathedral, and browsing the antiques market outside of it, we ventured to the Picasso Museum, walked through it, stopped at an ice cream vendor on the beach for a snack, and headed back to the hotel walking along the beach of the Mediterranean Sea.  Unfortunately, at this early point in spring the weather is primarily in the 50s-60s and too cold to truly enjoy the beautiful beachfront.  

We took a quick nap, before attending a mandatory awards dinner with all of my coworkers that were also awarded the trip, and then enjoyed several drinks while hanging out with several of my coworkers before heading back to finally turn in for the night around midnight. 

Our first day had wrapped up.  It seemed like an incredibly long day, but we accomplished seeing a decent amount of the city, had a little bit of food, and got a chance to relax with some of the people that I share the daily grind with each and every day.  Even without any planning, our first day seems to have got off to a good start.
Pinnacle Club Awards Ceremony