“This is the loudest concert I’ve ever been at”

We woke up before the alarm, perhaps worried about sleeping through it.  We got cleaned up and packed, looking behind every nook and cranny to make sure we didn’t leave anything hiding anywhere in the room.  We left a note for Melanie, and then headed out.  We went up to 7 since we needed to vacate the room early, and we took our backpacks – we figured it’d be much easier to quickly get off the ship that way.  Just as we were leaving, we got to actually say goodbye to Melanie, so that was nice.  Up on 7 we got a tea, a muffin, and a donut.  We read for a little bit, until 8:30, then we were able to disembark.  It was really quick – we went down the gangway, out a door, and then straight into a taxi.

Now the non-all-inclusive part of the trip began.  We took a short taxi ride over to our hotel (the Hotel Rec), which was in the old El Born neighborhood, but close to the Arc de Triomf and some of the larger, newer roads.  It was really sleepy outside, with no one out and about.  Our driver actually stopped right near the Arc de Triomf and pointed to our hotel, which was half a block away.  He said this was much faster than trying to drive in via the narrow streets.  It was easy enough for us.

We checked in, but the room was not ready yet, so we just left our bags.  They had a nice system for that, basically the same sort of lockers we saw at the Vienna airport a few months back.  We put our own bags in one of the lockers, shut it, and took the key card for it.  We headed out and stopped briefly at the Arc de Triomf, which was built for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair.  From there we headed northeast and then northwest to get to La Sagrada Familia.  On the way over there we passed some building that we didn’t recognize – we came to find out later it was the old bullfighting ring, now long retired.

We finally saw some people when we got to La Sagrada Familia.  It was much more “whimsical” than we expected.  We thought it was “just” an intricately designed gothic castle.  But now all of the old brick stuff is getting covered up with bright colors and a lighter façade.  As Justin stated “there’s the cake, and then there’s the fondant on top of the cake.”  We had no idea about the fondant, but maybe that’s why this cathedral has been under construction since the 1880s.  Several of the towers had these brightly colored fruits on top, and there appeared to be a big Christmas tree on the northeast side.  There were also some giant cranes that towered over the tallest portions of the Cathedral.  We commented how we wouldn’t want the responsibility of being one of those crane operators.  We walked around the building counterclockwise, starting from the southeast, trying to take in as much as we could.  On the northwest side was a little park with a pond that reflected the La Sagrada Familia.  Everyone was taking photos, including some wedding photos.  On the southwest side was a ticket booth, and even at 10am all of the tickets were sold out for the day.

From there we headed uphill (northwest) towards Park Guell, another Gaudi-designed location.  There still were not very many people out.  As we were walking, we were racking our brains trying to remember why we hadn’t booked any tours for any of the Gaudi stuff, but we couldn’t quite recall since so much time had elapsed.  Once again, all of the people showed up right as we got to the tourist spot.  Tickets for there, or at least tickets for the special viewing area, were also all sold out.  So we stayed on the publicly available areas, going around the “lower” part first, then back across the “upper” part.  Right near the entry we spotted some parrots who had a nest in one of the Canary Island Date Palms.

There were good vantage points all around Park Guell.  In fact, we could see our ship, which seemed like forever ago, even though it had been only 2.5 hours since we’d disembarked.  There was a good mix of locals and tourists at the park.  There were also lots of South Asians selling water for a Euro, and these little kazoo things that made bird noises that was annoying as hell.  We went past one of the Gaudi houses, La Casa Trias, near the top of the park.  From the top of the park we could see up this hill to the northwest and there was this very imposing cathedral, but also what looked to be an amusement park, so we were not sure what it was.  [Turns out it was a Catholic Church and an amusement park right next to it.]

We walked back around the middle of the park, then down so we could walk past the two Gaudi houses at the bottom of the park.  The special paid area could walk up to these houses from above, but the street went right up to them from below, so we didn’t see the point of paying the extra money – there is surely something we missed, but we’ll likely be back.  From Park Guell we walked downhill (south) into the Gracia neighborhood.  Not much was open, and then we had an epiphany that today was likely a holiday, being May Day.  We found a restaurant with a good amount of people, so we decided to stop in there.  The proprietors were all Asian, which kind of threw us for a loop at first.  Apparently were dead giveaways as Americans, as we were called out by a regular when we came in.  The restaurant was a tapas place, and we got pedrino peppers, anchovies, jamon, olives, and papas fritas.  The food was pretty good, and we were hungry since we hadn’t gotten any real dinner the night before. 

Over lunch we decided what to do for the afternoon and evening.  Our plan was to visit two more of the Gaudi buildings (La Pedrera, then Casa Battlo), then go back to the hotel to put our stuff in the room, then go to our wine and tapas tour at 6:30, then maybe go to the football game.  We kept watching to see if prices were going down, and they were, but they were still plenty pricey.  We knew that at 9pm, however, they’d be worthless if they weren’t sold.  We decided to make a final decision by 5pm. 

After lunch we walked south some more, into the Eixample neighborhood.  It didn’t take that long to get to La Pedrera.  It was a residential building around other residential buildings, but with hundreds of tourists – all the neighbors must love that.  There were two lines, one for people who already had tickets and for people who needed them.  We got in the line to purchase tickets, but then bought online before we even got to front of ticket line, so we just went into the other line and got through faster.  We went into the inner courtyard on the ground level, and we could see some bright colors and a nice staircase going up one level.  We had an audio guide that didn’t require pressing any buttons – it simply knew what part to start based on where we were standing.  We were supposed to go up an elevator to the roof, but the line was really long, so we got directed to a set of stairs instead.

There were lots of people on roof, including dozens of Chinese tourists not just posing, but basically doing complete photo shoots whilst others waited their turn.  The roof was populated with these statues that looked like warriors, and several of the chimneys had been turned into fanciful designs.  There were a couple places with tunnels that purposefully framed La Sagrada Familia and Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor (the large church at the top of the hill to the northwest).  We walked around for a bit on the roof, eventually getting the photos we wanted, then went down one level into the attic.  The “attic” was full of arches, makes things very open yet still providing lots of support.  It also made it so that any of the walls put into the units would not be load bearing, giving ultimate flexibility to the homeowners. 

There was not a straight edge anywhere.  Gaudi apparently designed by the arches by hanging metal chains, then looking at the reflection in a mirror and using that shape.  Once downstairs again, we saw the colorful stairwell, and found out it was so that the Mila family could access their unit directly.  The building was designed for them (and others) to live in, so the original name of the building was Casa Mila.  But the neighbors hated it, and called it La Pedrera – “the quarry.”  Most everyone seems to have come around since then.

It was a short walk from La Pedrera to Casa Battlo.  Learning from what we’d just done, we bought an online ticket first, then got in that line.  Similar to La Pedrera, this was a private residence.  Unlike La Pedrera, Casa Battlo was in the middle of being restored, and people can actually look at some of the restoration up close.  We started downstairs, going through the various rooms with interesting doors and windows, including a fireplace that looked like a mushroom shape.  There was also had a ceiling that looked like a mollusk shape, something like you see in those drawings depicting the Fibonacci numbers.  We eventually made our way out onto the back patio.  From there we could easily see the neighboring buildings, and they all had the same basic size and shape, but none of the pizzaz. 

After the back patio we went upstairs, walking up to two stair columns with skylights, with the interior wall tiles having varying shades of blue to account for different light levels – lightest at the bottom, darkest at the top.  On the roof, whilst waiting for our hard hats, we decided to pull the trigger on the tickets for the Futbol match.  The roof area had two levels we could walk on, with different colored hardhats for each.  With the scaffolding it was tough to tell what was what, but the shape of the roof looked like some sort of lizard or dinosaur.  They told us a million times not to touch the tiles, but we really wanted to.  [We didn’t, for real.]  The building should look amazing when restoration is done.  Casa Battlo was the penultimate thing Gaudi worked on, just before Sagrada Familia.  Speaking of which, we could see that as well as La Pedrera easily from the roof.  Down one level, there was another attic with arches, which resembled a rib cage.  All of the Gaudi buildings borrow a lot from nature, as he thought – probably correctly – that millions of years of evolution probably showed the most optimal ways to structure things.

Just after exiting Cas Battlo, Justin purchased tickets Barcelona-Liverpool tickets on Stubhub, and now we just needed to figure out how to pick them up.  They weren’t e-tickets, we actually needed to pick up a VIP card and season ticket holder ID, or something like that.  From Casa Battlo we walked back towards the hotel, which at this point wasn’t too far away.  We’d made a huge loop today, basically never backtracking the whole time.  But because of that, we never would have known that our hotel was anywhere close to where we were walking, as we hadn’t seen any of this part of town yet.  We got there around 5:30, grabbed our bags, and headed up to our room (415 or 410, whichever one we didn’t have on the ship). 

Around 6, we headed out to get some cash and meet for our Viator tour for wine and tapas.  Also, after looking at the big Gaudi spots today, we realized why we hadn’t booked any Viator tours for them.  They were easy enough to view on your own, and were already crowded enough without a guide.  Also, it was nice to stay on our own schedule, not feeling rushed in certain areas and bogged down in other areas.  We decided we should go to the inside of La Sagrada Familia on Saturday (our “free” day in Barcelona), but otherwise we were good with what we saw today.  The spot for the tapas tour was only a 10 minute or so walk, and Crystal was handling directions whilst Justin was trying to figure out how to get in contact with the sellers for the Futbol tickets we’d purchased. 

At the tapas spot, we were the second couple there, and we told our guide Fenton a heads up we might cut out early.  At first, he was a bit caught off guard, but he quickly realized what was going on “What match are you going to?  Wait, that match?!?!”  Our group was 4 other couples, all seemingly in their late 20s or early 30s, and all seemingly newly married, and all from US – Irvine, Boston (x2), and Charlotte.  There were some really good potatoes (Patatas bravas) at the first place (La Puntual), and just after they showed up on the table Justin got a call from Claudio about where to pick up our tickets.  After wrapping up at the first place, we went to the second place, but we had to leave early and Justin was pre-occupied the whole time, so Crystal didn’t have an especially good time.  To his credit, Fenton was nice enough to give us a little extra booze since we wouldn’t make it through the entire event tonight, and he was also nice enough to show us where to grab a taxi down the street.

“We’re going to Camp Nou” was what we told the taxi driver – we probably won’t get too many opportunities to ever say that in our lifetimes (well, unless we move to Tenerife and go to Barcelona all the time).  Our taxi driver was really good (i.e., fast and changing lanes to accelerate things), but he couldn’t get us all the way to stadium because roads near the stadium were closed.  We walked the rest of way, but there were tons of people, and we weren’t sure where we were going.  We were also communicating with Claudio via Whatsapp, an app we’d hardly ever used prior to tonight.  We were meeting someone we’d never seen before, at a stadium we were totally unfamiliar with, in a country where we didn’t speak the language, in a city we’d only arrived at this morning – this wasn’t a needle in a haystack, but it was close.  Justin was frazzled, but after 15 minutes or so of swimming upstream we eventually found Claudio and got our cards, then got in line to get into the stadium.  Once inside, we used the facilities first, then went up to our seats and exhaled.

We were up fairly high, but had some great seats.  We were right next to a stairwell coming in from the concourse, and right in front of our feet was the stairwell, so there were no seats or people blocking our view.  We were right in line with the 18 yard box (the big box near the goal), and we got to see some warm-ups and the sunset in the distance.  During the intros, when they played the Champions League music the boos were overpowering, which we couldn’t figure out.  [As we found out later, it was because the Catalans feel let down and betrayed by Europe, as Spain jailed several Catalan leaders for having an “illegal” vote on independence, and Europe hasn’t put any pressure on Spain to release them.]  The player introductions were equally loud, and Crystal remarked “This is the loudest concert I’ve ever been to.”

The match started promptly at 9pm.  [It was odd, because we’re used to these matches starting at noon in California or 9am in Hawaii.]  It was a really exciting first 5 minutes, with both teams streaking down the pitch trying to make something happen.  Both teams are very offense-oriented, and so there was much more attacking than the run-of-the-mill match, plus these were some of the very best players in the word, not to mention 2 of the best 4 (and arguably the best 2) teams in the world.  Barca scored 26 minutes in, with Suarez scoring for Barcelona.  Justin was conflicted, because he wanted to be a good “home” fan, but he hates Suarez with a passion.  It was one-nil at the halftime whistle.

After halftime, Liverpool dominated first 10-15 minutes of the second half, but couldn’t score, hitting the post and causing a bunch of problems for Barcelona, especially down the right side with Salah.  But since Liverpool kept moving all their players forward to score, it gave some good opportunities to Barcelona to score on the counter-attack.  Lionel Messi [for those of you not Futbol fans, arguably the best Futbol player ever] scored a second goal for Barcelona about halfway through the second half, knocking in the ball after it bounced off the post on a rebound.  The ref gave Messi some grief about the length of his celebration, and even visibly pushed him to the Barcelona side before ensuing kick-off.  Between the ref and some fouls by Liverpool, Messi was pretty pissed off.  Then, about 10 minutes before the game ended, there was a free kick from about 30 yards out and Justin told Crystal “he’s going to go for goal this time.”  Did Justin think to record this in anticipation?  Of course not.  But Messi scored an all-timer, and it happened right in front of us.  Both Messi goals had the fans incredibly loud.

Shortly before the game ended we found out we’d been watching the match with 98,000 of our friends.  Or, more correctly, about 93,000 of our friends and 5,000 Liverpool fans behind some glass/acrylic barriers over our left shoulder that were not having a good time being down 3-0.  The whole experience was surreal, and we likened it to our first diving trip being to Palau – it was going to be hard to live up to this for whatever our second Futbol match would end up being.  It was closing in on 11pm when the match was coming to a close, and Justin told Crystal “remember when we were on the cruise ship this morning?”  That seemed like a dozen years ago.  The match ended 3-0, and everyone was deliriously happy.  [As it turns out, the chance Barcelona missed just before the final whistle was critical, as Barcelona incredibly lost the return match 4-0, and Liverpool advanced to the final and won the final]. 

After the match we headed out and started walking away from Camp Nou in the general direction of our hotel, but with the hope of catching a taxi.  There were no empty taxis, however, so we walked about halfway (or even more) back to hotel.  We saw a couple folks in quite a bad state, including one poor woman whose significant other could barely walk and eventually crashed on a bench – we hope they made it back in one piece.  We eventually found a taxi around midnight, and it was a short ride back to hotel.  We figured out what we needed for our day trip tomorrow, set our alarms, started charging electronics, then nodded off.  As first days in a new city go, we feel like we got the full Barcelona experience our first day.

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