Category Archives: Spain

Madrid

I have to be honest, I’ve never been all that interested in Madrid, or Spain for that matter.  There are so many other places I would have chosen to go first.  Boy, was that a mistake.  Madrid is a unique and beautiful city, full of wonderful people, and I’m so glad I didn’t miss it. In most big cities, there’s a feeling of crowding, some dirt and grime, and a sense that things are just a little worn.  The opposite is true of Madrid.  It has wide, open streets with trees everywhere.  The buildings are well maintained so nothing feels tired or in need of a face lift.  It’s like a city would be if it was run by the people at Disney.  It’s clean, fresh, vibrant and varied.  And it’s like that block, after block, after block.  We walked all over the city and never found a place where we felt uncomfortable, where things were run-down, or you got the sense you were in a “bad” neighborhood.  It is a truly wonderful city. Another interesting thing is the people of Madrid don’t seem to stay home.  The streets are FULL of them.  And they aren’t rushing around like the people in New York.  They are out enjoying the day, interacting with each other, and spreading good will.  It’s hard not to be happy in Madrid, even if it did rain on us several times. My favorite thing about Madrid is Abby was there!  We finally caught up with her and she looks fantastic.  I have to say, her host family is taking excellent care of her and I can’t thank them enough, especially Cristina.  If you ever see this, Cristina,  muchas, muchas gracias!  And, I want all your recipes, especially for gazpacho! Okay, here’s some of the millions of pictures I took : )

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I know, strange picture, but it reminds me of something.  The ground floor of buildings in both Italy and Spain is always 0. So, if you’re looking for street level, punch the 0.  If you want the second floor, that would be 1; the third floor, punch 2, etc.  If there were floors below ground, they were simply -1, -2, etc.

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Here begins general pictures of beautiful Madrid.  Unlike other cities, there weren’t any iconic sights that everyone photographs.  Instead, everything was beautiful.

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I thought this was interesting.  Most of the highway-like roads in the city are underground, kind of like the Big Dig in Boston, only more so.  This isn’t a picture of a bridge.  This is a glimpse into the underground roadway where it emerges. The part of the picture loaded with plants is ground level and there are buildings, sidewalks, roads, etc. up there.

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This may seem like a simple square, but the building on the right dates back to the 15th century and is one of the oldest buildings in the city.  The one in the middle is 16th century, and the one on the right is 17th century. It still amazes me that such old buildings can look so fresh.

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A beautiful church near the Prado.

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Puerto Del Sol, one of the hearts of the city.  Abby described it as Times Square, and I think she’s right.  It was full of people at all hours of the day and night.  When I took this picture, it was near midnight.

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We found her!!!  Our dinner reservation wasn’t until 10, but we ate at the oldest continually running restaurant in the world.  It’s been open for business since about 1720.  The food was good, but nothing too fancy.

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A view of a street at midnight.

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This made me laugh.  The Ham Museum was actually an everything-ham store.  There were even hams hanging from the ceiling.  I think ham must be the national food of Spain because it was everywhere.  One of the things Spaniards like most is jamon Iberia, or Iberian ham.  It’s a lot like proscuitto, only better.

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More random street views.  Beautiful, everywhere.

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This is Plaza Mayor, the site of the Spanish Inquisition.  Today, it’s a favorite gathering place for Spaniards.

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Umm, Spidey might need a diet.

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More random views we found just walking around.  Actually, the bottom picture here is the same as the night one, above, just from a different angle.

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One of the joys of Madrid is the churro.  It’s often a breakfast food in Madrid, but more likely it’s where the kids go when the clubs close.  (By the way, clubs in Madrid don’t open until 1 am, and they close around 6 am.)  The churros are often served with chocolate for dipping, or somethings they have a little sugar sprinkled on them.  I didn’t see any with cinnamon sugar, like at Costco.  : )

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Mickey better watch it, Bob might want to steal his girl.

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More of the beautiful streets.

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This is the Institute where Abby has her Spanish classes.

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While many people speak English, translations can sometimes be amusing.  Abby said she’s seen several t-shirts around town where schlocky translation made the slogan awkward.  Here, the Gaspacho is described as “could soap.”

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I think this is more what paella is supposed to be, but the menu referred to it as a rice dish.  Bob and Abby loved it, even the little tentacles and black-eyed shrimp.

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After lunch, we just wandered the city and ended up walking through the equivalent of Central Park.  It’s called Parque De El Retiro.

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More of the Parque De El Retiro and the Crystal Palace that’s there.

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Everywhere we went, people were out enjoying the day.  Of course, this weekend was also Columbus Day.  I never thought about how that day might be celebrated in Madrid, I assumed it was just an American holiday.  But I’d be wrong.  It’s actually a really big deal in Madrid.  There was a huge parade with the King, and everything.  More on that later.

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The park was very pretty.

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This is the Prado.  We really enjoyed wandering through, but no pictures were allowed.

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More of beautiful Madrid.

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Now this was interesting.  It’s a vertical garden.  It appears they were replanting the right side, but he left side was well developed.

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So many of the streets looked like this.  Wide, open, lots of trees, clean.

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This is the parade I mentioned above.  It was in honor of Columbus Day.  We waited for it to start, but decided to move on to the art museum instead.

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Apparently, the donuts don’t go over so well in Spain so they focus on the coffee instead.

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More of the parade.  These guys were all lined up and ready to start.  I have no idea who they are, but I’m assuming they were police, branches of the military, things like that.  There was lots of chanting, singing, and cheering going on.

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Okay, time to talk about the hours people keep in Spain because they’re weird.  First, you have to know the sun didn’t rise until about 8 a.m.  When we left the hotel to catch a tour bus at 7:30, it was still dark outside.  I think that’s why typical things for Spaniards are skewed.  For example, breakfast isn’t until about 9:30, if they eat it at all.  Lunch is from about 2-4 p.m. and its the main meal of the day.  This is also the time they take siesta, if they want to.  Dinner doesn’t start until 9 p.m.

While most stores stay open all day, many other businesses still close from 2-4 p.m.  During that time, everyone actually goes home for lunch.  That means there are several “rush hours” in Spain because people come and go to work two times a day.  The same is true of school.  The kids go from about 10-2, then they return at 4 and get out around 7.

Abby was always amazed at how late the Spaniards stay out.  She said the main squares, like Puerto Del Sol, are swamped at 3 a.m. and there are many families still out enjoying ice cream and strolling around at that hour.  That includes babies in strollers and toddlers on their parents’ shoulders.

In the picture above, we were starving at 1:30 in the afternoon.  We stopped in this place, that had just opened, but it was as deserted as a lunch place that opens at 10:30 a.m. in the US.  It was beginning to pick up business at 2:30 when we left.

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McDonalds, anyone?

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This is Puerto Del Sol on Columbus Day at about 3 in the afternoon.  Very crowded.

Montserrat

We’re finally home in Las Vegas, but I have to finish catching you up on the rest of our trip.  The hotel in Madrid had horrendous wifi (pronounced weefee in Spain) and it was much easier to just go to the Starbucks down the street.  However, even that had its limitations.  Sorry for the delay!

On our last day in Barcelona, we traveled to Montserrat, a 1000 year old monastery with quite a history.  Currently, monks still live there and they run a school for musically gifted boys between ages 9 and 14.  The boys choir there rivals the one in Vienna and its about 700 years old!  We got to hear them practice and they were adorable.

We also enjoyed the beautiful, peaceful setting.  Even though it was overrun with tourists, the monastery maintained a tranquil air that was so soothing.  We’d been traveling so long, the peace was very welcome.

When we arrived, the lower half of the mountain was covered by clouds.  Not only was it beautiful, but it made me feel like we were hovering above the Earth, just hanging in space.  It added a lot to the peaceful atmosphere.  As always, pictures are the best way to see it.

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See what I mean?  I took these from the deck of the visitor’s center.

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This is the view of the monastery itself.  I took it from the same spot as the first photo.

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Some more of the scenery.

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Here we are!  In the second photo, you can see the funicular that run to the top of the mountain.  There is another that goes all the way down to the town at the bottom.

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This is the dormitory where the monks and the school kids live.  From what I understand, the school is all-year-round and the boys often travel the world for their signing engagements.  In addition to singing, each student has to become proficient playing the piano and one other instrument while he’s here.

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This is the church.  It’s been rebuilt and renovated over the centuries.  Currently, it is the home of the world-famous “Black Madonna” which is a wooden madonna that is mostly covered in gold.  She’s called the Black Madonna because her face and hands were the only exposed wood.  Sometime before the 15th century, they put something on the exposed wood to preserve it and it turned them black.  So, she’s the Black Madonna.  We could have waited in line about an hour to walk past and touch part of her, but we decided not to.  There were too many other things to see.

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This is what the buildings look like.  It was very neat, clean, and well kept.

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One of the things we did was follow the trail around the mountain for a ways.  It was well-developed and very pretty.

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See that building in distance behind and just to the right of the one with the red roof?  That’s the visitor center where I took the first pictures I showed you, above.

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We found St. Francis on the way.

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The clouds finally burned off in the early afternoon so we could see the valley floor.

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It’s hard to see, but there’s a sculpture in front of the building.

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When I zoomed in, we could see the people climbing it.  : )

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One last view before we left.  I should mention there was a farmer’s market going on so we bought some nuts, cheese and sweet bread which we ate for dinner with our left-over wine for dinner.  Yum!

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On the way home, we stopped at Codorniu where they make cava, the Spanish version of champagne.  I was surprised at how complicated a process it is.  It involves yeast, added sugar, and fermenting in concrete and steel barrels that can hold hundreds of gallons of wine. At some point, the wine is bottled and allowed to ferment again.  To remove all the yeast and sediments, they let it all settle into the neck of the bottle where it’s flash frozen and removed.  Then the sparkling wine is ready to sell.  Since it’s not made in the Champagne region of France, they can’t call it champagne.  Instead, the Spanish version is collectively called “cava.”

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An interesting thing about Codorniu is it’s the oldest continually run family business in Spain and the 17th oldest in the world.  This family has been making wine and/or cava since the 1500s.  The family is now about 500 members and none of them live on the winery anymore.  However, about 100 years ago, an ancestor hired architects trained by Gaudi to design some new buildings and the results are really beautiful.  Above is the inside and outside of the main guest receiving building.

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This is the house some of the family lived in until the 1980s.  Everything is very well maintained and the landscaping was beautiful.

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This is one of the older fermenting buildings.  It’s no longer used for making wine, now its the museum and a popular place to have formal affairs like weddings.  The squares on top of the building are full of stained glass windows made from broken wine bottles.

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Of course, there was some tasting, as well!

Here’s my original post:

AAARRRGGHH! No internet in Madrid, so I can’t update the blog.  But I promise as soon as we’re home in Vegas, probably on Tuesday or Wednesday, I’ll bring everything up to date. That includes our time spent in Madrid, which is a beautiful city, by the way.  I like it very much.  I think I like it even more than many of the cities in Italy.  Today we spent a rainy afternoon at the Prado and it was wonderful.  Tonight, we’re meeting Abby for dinner at 9 p.m. which is on the early side for dinner in Spain.  Yesterday when we were walking around the neighborhood with her, she mentioned that everything was a little busy right then (7 p.m.) because school had just gotten out!!! More later, I promise!!! Angie

Barcelona

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Barcelona is a very beautiful city, thanks in large part to its famous architects.  My favorite is Gaudi, who conceived the Sagrada Família, the church in the picture above, about 130 years ago.  We’ve been through quite a few churches in the last month, but nothing prepared us for this one.  It’s still under construction and won’t be complete until 2026 (they hope!) but it was, hands down, the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen.  Awe inspiring, humbling, enlightening, staggering . . . these don’t even begin to describe this incredible structure.

But before we get to the Sagrada Família, there are other things to talk about.  Let’s do that with pictures.

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Okay, yesterday (the day we arrived in Barcelona) was our wedding anniversary.  We celebrated by finding a quite little restaurant with the Grand Prix race on the TV and these ginormous sangrias.  They were absolutely delicious.

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Another thing to check off my bucket list:  I tried paella in Spain.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I took Spanish in high school.  I have to say it was … okay.  It wasn’t bad, but I can move on and try something else on the menu.

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This morning we took a tour of some of Gaudi’s buildings, including the Casa Battló.  It’s really just an apartment building, but an incredible one.  Can you imagine what the people of Barcelona thought when this was done back in 1906?  It was quite a shock and many people thought Gaudi was insane.

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I loved it.  It’s what a Hobbit would build if he lived in the city.  Actually, I’m sure the people who designed the movie sets in those movies were hugely inspired by Gaudi.  The top picture is looking out the windows featured in the pictures above.  I wish more of the color showed in these pictures.  Everything is very colorful and organic.

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This picture shows a bit more of the color on the outside of the building.  The whole thing was meant to be a tribute to St. George, the guy who slew the dragon.  In fact, the dragon is on the roof and the cross on top is meant to be the spear that killed the dragon.

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All the rooms were different and interesting.  Even the hallways were parabolic arches.  I got a kick out of the “chill out area” sign.

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Here’s the roof.  It was used for laundry and it held the water tanks.  I liked the chimneys.

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Here are some pictures of the back of the dragon on the roof.  They show a little more of the color.

To see more of this incredible house, take a look at the Wikipedia page; it has many more pictures.    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casa_Batlló

Or, better yet, take a virtual tour.   http://www.casabatllo.es/en/virtual-tour/

They also made one of those “movies,” using the front of the building as a backdrop, in honor of the remodel that was done in 2012.  It’s very good.    http://www.casabatllo.es/en/videos/

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Our next stop was the Sagrada Família.  Wow.  You must come here some day.  Bob and I agreed that we’ll be back again.  I really want to see it completed.  From a distance, it almost looks like a mud slide.  But if you pay attention, there’s a ton of detail.

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For example, this side of the building is dedicated to the birth of Jesus.  The entire story is told in the facade.  Can you see it?  Here are some close-ups.

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This is the Holy Family.  They are at the top of the pillar right above the doors. To find them in the picture above, look just to the left of the date stamp, right at the top of the doors.

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To the right of them are the shepherds.

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To the left are the three magi.

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Above them are the angels.  See the Holy Family on the top of the pillar between the doors?  By the way, the greenish door on the right is the new bronze door that was just hung in the last couple weeks.  An identical one will be hung on the left as soon as its finished.

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You can walk up the spires.  It’s hard to see, but there are little balconies where you can sometimes see people standing.

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Okay, here’s a close up.  See the lady dressed in white at the dark opening just to the left and above the date stamp?  We didn’t have time to climb up, but I wish we had.  As I said, we plan to come back.

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Here we are!

Okay, the main entrance of the church is under construction, so we entered through the side door.

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This is what we saw in front of us.  This isn’t even the front of the church, it’s the view of the side transepts.  Gaudi designed the church to resemble a forrest.  Because every tree is different, so is every pillar.  None of them are straight, they all lean.  They also branch off at the top like a tree and they have branching roots under the church, some as deep as 50 feet down.  They need to be very strong because when the church is finished, it will have 18 towers, the largest of which will be three times as tall as any of the towers that have been built so far.

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The stained glass windows are beautiful.  They are also modern, having been installed in the last couple decades.  In fact, they are still a work in progress because there are some places where the windows are clear glass, waiting to be replaced with the colored ones.

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The ceiling is also beautiful.

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More views of the main body of the church.  Can you see the plastic draped around the middle?  That’s the choir loft which surrounds the main space of the church on three sides.  When it’s finished, it will have room for 700 singers.  The church will also have 4 organs.

In the bottom picture you can see the clear windows on the left that will eventually be replaced with stained glass.

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This is the front of the church, the view of the altar.  The circular thing is an umbrella that hangs over a large crucifix.  It is all suspended over the altar.

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Close-up of some of the stained glass.

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These are views of the back of the church where the main doors will be someday.  Can you see the spiral staircase in the first photo?  Not sure if its for the choir loft or one of the towers.

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This is the opposite side the church from the nativity entrance.  Here is the story of the crucifixion.  It was only completed in the last few years and it was hugely controversial since it is so different from the style on the other side of the church.

What’s interesting is about 10 years after Gaudi died, his workshop was purposely burned down by a group of anti-religious radicals.  They thought if they destroyed all of Gaudi’s plans for the church, it would bring construction to a halt.  And it did, for about 15 years.  While all of Gaudi’s drawings and plans were destroyed, the clay models he built of various aspects of the church survived . . . kind of.  They were smashed by the radicals and it took the workers about 15 years to piece them back together, figure out what to do, and proceed with the work.

Gaudi knew he would never see the church completed (he worked on it for 46 years of his life) and it was his hope that succeeding generations would add their own spin to his plans.  So he’d probably love what they’ve done on the crucifixion side of the church.

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Just behind the church they are building one of the two sacristies that Gaudi planned for the church.

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The little chapel/crypt below the main altar is too small for tourists to visit.  But I found a picture.  Here is where Gaudi is buried.

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In the museum under the church, we found the workshop where they still build models of what they plan to build.  Every since Gaudi’s day, this is how the church has been built because it is so outrageous, architecturally speaking, this is the best way they can make sure all the math is correct and what they plan will actually bear the weight of the towers.

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Gaudi wanted the workers’ children to be educated, so he built this school for them right next to the church.  It looks like a hobbit school and its very charming.

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The construction has picked up in the last couple decades because it is completely financed by donations.  That’s why it has taken so long.  Now that millions of people visit every year, the money to finish the construction is finally coming steadily and that’s why they can project the 2026 completion date.

Remember, when it’s done, some of the towers will be three times as tall as the current towers.  It will be the tallest building in Barcelona.

For more, check out these links. http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagrada_Fam%C3%ADlia      or  http://www.sagradafamilia.cat

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This is another iconic building in Barcelona.  I don’t remember the name of the building, but it houses the water district.  As you can imagine, the building has a few nicknames.  I don’t know what you were thinking, but bullet and rocket are the most common.  : )

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Tapas for lunch!  I tried these little peppers because my mom raved about them after her trip to Spain.  At least, I think this is what she described.

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Bob ate the squid.  I’m not normally squeamish, but I’m just not interested in squid.

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We found this square near our hotel.  Pigeons were everywhere.  It reminded me of what Abby said about the stray cats in Madrid.  She said there was one stalking a pigeon in a city square there and she and her friends thought he was so cute . . . until he pounced on the pigeon and shredded it!  She said it was more than a little horrifying.

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Cheese!

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We stopped at the Apple Store on the square because we haven’t seen the new iPhones yet.  I had to laugh because they’d installed these steps with plenty of seating for anyone who wanted to take a break and use the free wifi.  The main floor had all the tables of gadgets to play with and the balcony upstairs had the line to buy the new iPhone.  Well designed.

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Okay, this store–El Corte Ingles–is an amazing place.  It sells everything, literally.  It’s also HUGE.  The footprint is at least as big as Costco, but it’s NINE FLOORS!

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I love the whimsy found in so many of the buildings.  Here, a tree was built into this brick building.

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This one is hard to see, but there are little balls sticking out of this building.  It looks like a pin cushion.

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This is a music museum and performance theater.  It’s a monument to artistic tile work.  I loved the little ticket booth.  Again, kinda Hobbit-like.

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This store made me laugh.  Everyone could use a happy pill!  If you don’t read Spanish (and I barely do) some of the ingredients of these happy pills include blue sky, British humor, black humor, “I love Barcelona,” ho ho ho, and a good nap.