Sunday, January 1, 2012

Christmas 2011 in Barcelona Spain

Ciao, Bonjour, Hola! Another Christmas spent abroad has come and gone. Since we spent Christmas week in Paris last year and Christmas day at Euro Disney in the cold and snow, we decided to go south this year for Christmas. Hoping to find warmer temperatures and beautiful weather we ventured to south France and Barcelona Spain. Having a 12 hour drive ahead we decided to break our trip up and spend the night and a day in Arles France. If you really want to confuse yourself just go to 3 different countries and speak 4 different languages in 6 days! It was funny how fast the kids caught on and were very quick to correct Clark and I if we said the wrong language in the wrong country. :) We left Italy on the 21st and were well on our way. We had just reached our first toll booth in France when we were waiting in line, and all of a sudden felt a jolt and heard a bang. Scared the begeebers out of all of us. The car behind us smacked into us, but we were all okay and there was no damage to the van. The other driver was very apologetic and quite nervous and kept asking "okay" "okay?"  Every time we pulled into a toll booth from then on the kids would always watch behind us....We made it to Arles and to the Hotel De L'Amphiteatre, which was an old mansion turned into a hotel. Super cute quaint hotel in the smack dab middle of town.

After our arrival we ventured into town to do some sightseeing and to show off what little French I had retained from high school. Now for a little history lesson. Julius Caesar defeated Marseille and the town of Arles was made an important port city. Vincent van Gogh settled in Arles a hundred plus years ago and this is where he left a chunk of his ear! American bombers destroyed much of Arles in WWII. Arles is filled medieval tiny narrow winding streets (more on this a little later.) This quaint little town has a lot of history behind it therefore is full of museums, theaters, and landmarks. However we found a lot of them under renovation or closed for the holiday week. The main landmark is the Roman Arena (Amphitheatre.) More than 2000 years ago this is where gladiators fought wild animals. Today it is still used for local daredevils who want to fight wild animals. The arena was also undergoing an extensive restoration process.

Most of the towns restaurants didn't open up until 8o'clock or later and the kids were starving so we found a cute little bakery and bought some croissants and french pastries for dinner. Worked for me and the kids loved having all those carbs. 

Our plan was to stay another full day in Arles, but since most of the attractions were closed we decided we would head to Barcelona a day early. Now as I mentioned earlier Arles is filled with narrow (for more emphasis) N-A-R-R-O-W, twisty, winding roads. Keep in mind most Europeans drive tiny smart cars or compact cars. Not big 8 passenger mini vans. So this brings me to the second Gilleo incident of our Christmas vacation. As we left our hotel we drove down a road that we walked down the night before, as we got to the bottom the GPS tells us to go straight. My exact words to my husband were "we cannot go down that road." "I'm pretty sure we should not go that way!" I remember a car the night before trying to go that way and ended up having to back out. As my husband proceeds to follow the GPS we turn right and the road is even narrower. I am not kidding there is probably a matter of a couple inches between each side of the car and the walls. As he proceeds down the street I was sure I was going to loose my mirrors. When we get to the end of the street we are flipping out because there is clearly noway we are going to make the turn. As Clark proceeds to try, I hear concrete on the side of my van. I know you all have seen National Lampoons European Vacation so remember the part where he is driving in Germany down the narrow road trying to escape the locals and he gets stuck?'s the Griswald's all over 26 years later and in France instead of Germany! So the only way out was to back all the way out.....(this is where I took over the driving.) So I backed the van all the way up the narrow street and returned to the spot where I am pretty sure I uttered the words "we should not go down there!" Moral of this story my friends is NEVER NEVER EVER listen to Julie the GPS navigator over your wife!!! I should have taken a picture of the street we were on, but there were other people trying to get down it and we were in their way! I wanted to take home a souvenir of France, but I really was thinking more along the lines of a magnet or postcard, not a chunk of wall and dent in the side of my van! We were upset at the time, but we vowed that we wouldn't let it ruin our trip and we laughed about it a lot. My kids will have plenty to talk about when they get back to school! :) It is what it is and there was nothing we could do about it....lesson was learned and life goes on. My car will be in the shop all next week getting IT'S restoration done. LOL Ironic isn't it.

Although it was literally a relief to get out of that town, we are thankful for the opportunity to see such wonderful history and also to make wonderful history....LOL wouldn't be an adventure if something didn't make us wander off the beaten path. Now onto Spain.

DAY 2:

We arrived at our 4 star hotel in before you get to excited about the stars, let me just explain that there is a BIG difference in the 5 star Beverly Wilshire on Rodeo Drive, and the 4 star Hotel Grums in Barcelona Spain. Although it was a very nice, clean and beautiful hotel it was bar far not the Beverly Wilshire. Although it did have one of the most comfortable beds I have slept on in Europe, there is quite a difference in the American 5 star and the European 4 star! :) Anyway our hotel was located in the perfect central location to all there is to see in Barcelona, which meant we would be walking for the next four days. This was perfect since after the Arles incident and having to park the van in a narrow tiny underground parking lot of the hotel we were not moving that van until it was time to leave for home. Barcelona is one breathtaking beautiful city. With 1.6 million people and 4 million in greater Barcelona it is one of the biggest cities in Europe. Everywhere we turned there were gorgeous views, and some of the most beautiful ones were at night. After getting all checked in we walked the 5 minutes down to the harbor and sea cruise station. The harbor is lined with benches and if we didn't have three boys who love to swim with us it would have been the perfect spot to people watch. Along the harbor was a huge shopping mall, restaurants, movie theater, IMAX theatre, and an aquarium.

It was time to let the kids have a little fun so we took them to the aquarium. One of the largest ones in Europe, it far out beats the one we went to in Paris last year!

The boys had a blast at the aquarium and didn't want to leave. They saw a lot of new, interesting and strange looking sea creatures and had fun doing some exploring.

After the aquarium adventure it was time to find some authentic Spanish food. First of all 5:00 is quite early for the locals to eat. even though all the restaurants are open all day dinner for the locals doesn't start until after 9:00pm. That was ok with me, I enjoy having a restaurant to myself, plus I don't have to worry about my children disrupting someone else's dinner. So we walked along the harbor but didn't find any authentic Spanish food, just lots of pubs and go figure Italian. LOL So we decided on a little pub called Kurz and Gut! It was actually not bad tasting at all, and the boys gobbled down all their food.

Clark on the other hand was little disappointed his food didn't look like the picture.....guess Spain is no exception. LOL

After dinner we walked along the harbor and took in some nearby sights. Such a beautiful city....sorry I know I said that a few times before. :) At the start of the harbor is where the Monument a Colom (Columbus Monument) is located. The monument pays homage to Christopher Columbus, discoverer of America. This is the spot where Ferdinand and Isabel welcomed home Columbus after his first trip to America.

Day 3:  This is the day that we took in the most sights and did the most walking (I think.) This is also the day I tried to fit in with the Spanish culture and choose fashionable shoes over comfortable shoes. Big mistake....Appearance is very important to the Spaniards. Even for casual events they still dress elegantly. They are more fashionable than the Italians and probably the most elegantly and most conservative in dress in Europe. Shoes just happen to be the main focus of their dress, and they will often glance at your feet to see what your shoes look like. So hence the reason for my fashionable shoes this day......I may have ended up with blisters galore but at least I impressed the Spaniards with my shoes! :)

Anyway we started the day up the La Rambalas. This is the main pedestrian walkway up to the main central square and the way to most of the sights. The La Rambalas is filled with vendors, and restaurants. During our time in Barcelona we probably walked the La Rambalas about a dozen times. It was beautiful at night time.

Our first stop of the day was the HUGE Cathedral of Barcelona. Now I have enjoyed seeing a lot of churches in Europe but this one was breathtaking. Most of the construction of this cathedral took place in the 14th century, and this must be the year for renovations because this church too was being worked on. Inside there were 28 ritzy chapels, which are sponsored by local guilds, and they show their wealth well. The high alter sits upon the tomb of Barcelona's patron saint, Eulalia. Whom was a 13 year old girl tortured 13 times by Romans for her faith before finally being crucified on an X-shaped cross. The pews are carved with the X-symbol as well.

The next sight was the Cas Mila (La Pedrera) which means "The Quarry." This is Barcelona's quintessential Modernista building and Antoni Gaudi's last major work (1906-1910) before he dedicated his work to the Sagrada Familia.

The Basilica of The Sagrada Familia was our next and furthest stop. This church was Antoni Gaudi's most important work in the world and is the symbol of Barcelona. This building is one of the most visited in the world despite being under construction. The construction of this magnificent building started in 1882, and is not expected to be completed for at least another 20-25 years. Can you imagine being one of the many workers who have dedicated their lives to the construction of one building and never getting to see the finished product? Crazy....I bet this city will be in utter celebration when this building is finally complete.

Arc De Triomf is the arch that was the entrance to the Universal Exhibition of 1888.

Time for a well deserved break! Lets rejuvenate, fill our bellies, and rest our feet at the Hard Rock Cafe.

Time to get on our way! Lots more to see before we end the night at the magic fountains. So the next stop was the Arenas De Barcelona. This museum had rooms dedicated to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. At the time that we were there they had a Grease musical going on.
Next we stopped to awe in the beauty of the National Museum of Art of Catalonia. We will return to this building in the dark for the magic fountain show.
Now we are going to venture to view all of the buildings and stadiums built to house the 1992 Olympic games. First is the Estadi LLuis Companys also known as the Olympic Stadium which was build in 1928, and later reformed for the 1992 games.
What a surreal feeling to be in the very spot that some very famous athletes once walked....I love the picture of the torch and the beautiful sunset.....

Now that it was dark it was time to head back to the museum to get ready to view the Magic Fountain show. Huge, big, little fountains together with lights, and music at night. It was one of my favorite experiences of Barcelona. Absolutly breathtaking!!! My pictures don't do it justice, but it was beautiful. The best part was that all the music they played was Christmas and in English so the boys got to sing along! :)

After enjoying the 20 minute show it was time to hoof it back to the hotel! I think by this point we were all walking zombies! What a wonderful ending to a LONG day!

Day 4: Christmas Eve we woke and all could hardly move our legs....ha but that wasn't going to stop us. Up and at em no time to waste right? The harbor was another spot that we visited or walked by often.....I love the view from the harbor.

We are starting this day off at the Barcelona Zoo. Now if the kids remember anything about our trip to Barcelona Spain it won't be the harbor, the breathtaking churches, the magical fountains of water shooting to the sky, no it will be the day we spent at the zoo. I do have to admit that we did see some crazy crazy stuff this day, many firsts for even me and I have been to a lot of zoos in my life. Luke's favorite part was the "crazy monkey." There were three older grown monkey's with a baby monkey who looked like he just downed a couple of Red Bulls. He was bouncing off the walls literally and jumping from ropes and then pestering the other monkeys. We dubbed this little guy Luke Junior.
The Barcelona Zoo was opened in 1892 and is one of the oldest and most modern zoos in the world. This zoo used to be home to "Snowflake" the only albino gorilla ever to be in captivity in the world. We were 8 years to late on seeing Snowflake, since he died in 2003.

The second CRAZY thing we witnessed this day was this dude.....
 taking "recycling" to a whole new level. He was seen not just by me but by all 4 of my family members taking poop out of his behind and picking through it and picking out pieces to wait for it....wait for eat. YEP you can imagine my 3 (4) boys at this point. He did this a few times and then he licked his fingers. OMG my kids were in stitches, I on the other hand was really hoping that Italia (The Recycling Capital of the World) doesn't catch onto this concept anytime soon. YIKES!!

The next stop was the ostriches.....the birds that Luke claims almost ate Mason's hand off in San Antonio. We we actually not watching the birds and just walking by when one decided to relieve itself. Yep must have been a natural reaction for all 5 of us to turn and look. Sorry that we did because we saw way WAY more than any of us wanted to. I have never seen an Ostriches private parts before and I will never be the same person having seen an Ostriches private parts. YUCK! It's okay to scroll down....I didn't take a picture of IT but I did take a picture of the culprit.
We all had a great time at the zoo this day, despite learning a few things that I think we all could have gone the rest of our lives without learning. The boys will have some great stories to tell for years to come!
Parc De La Ciutadella was a military fort from where people were watched over after the War of Succession in 1714.

Before we called it a day and went in search for somewhere to eat dinner, we let the boys do a little bungee jumping!
Day 5: Christmas day and our last day of being in Spain. This day was my favorite day of vacation. We took our time getting up and didn't rush to get anywhere. Our only destination for the day was Barcelona Beach!! Our intentions were to walk the short jaunt up the hillside behind our hotel to ride the port cable car to the other side of the harbor to get to the beach. However, this was about the only thing NOT open this day. Oh well so we get to walk by the harbor once again! :) The beach was absolutely breathtaking and I'm not just saying that because there were several totally nude males walking along the beach! LOL Yes, apparently it is totally acceptable for anyone to go totally nude on the beaches in Spain. Although the weather was lovely, it wasn't warm enough to go butt naked! YIKES I'm sorry if they are in some of my beach shots, but it seemed like they wanted to be photographed (one guy actually posed for lots of people to take pictures). Just be thankful my zoom isn't very good on my camera! :)

Mason and Luke had a blast getting a little wetter than I was prepared for. They were dying to go in the water, and to bad it wasn't warm enough to swim in because they would have had so much fun! Despite that they were loving being at the beach. I don't know what we are going to do when we move back state side and are not so close to so many beaches. I could have stayed on the beach all night. What a beautiful beach....peaceful and relaxing. God's glorious beauty right at my finger tips. AWE What an absolutely splendid way to celebrate Christmas and the perfect ending to a wonderful vacation.
Time to go home: The next day we woke bright and early for our 12 hour (11 1/2) drive back to Italia. Our biggest worry was getting out of the parking garage, but we did it without incident and we were on our way with loads of memories of a wonderful week.
Thank you so much for going on our Spain adventure with us and reading my blog. Stay tuned to my Facebook page for all 1000 pictures of our trip give or take a few.....

"I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world"