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BARCELONA AND THE COSTA BRAVA
Hip City and Pretty BeachesJune 7-14
Aaaargh!! Why didn't somebody tell us that Barcelona has become the hottest tourist trap on the face of the planet since the 1992 Summer Olympics were held here?! We arrived on the morning of June 7 expecting to find a room once we arrived at the train station. Rooms had not been a problem in the rest of Spain...if our first hotel choice was full, there was always another one nearby with availability. Not so in Barcelona, hip destination of the south and apparently of all Europe these days. We called at least half a dozen places before finding a travel agency in the train station to help us find a room. We waited in line for over an hour, along with hordes of others stuck in the same situation. When we finally had our turn at the front of the line, we were told by the agent that Barcelona is pretty much full for weeks in advance from March through November. Great, our guidebooks mentioned nothing of this. We had read that there was an overabundance of rooms ever since the Olympics were held here, and that as long as we didn't arrive in July or August, we would have no problems. Not the case. Not only was it already high season, but it was also the week of the Catalunya Grand Prix, a major international motorcycle racing event. There were literally no rooms available in this city with tens of thousands of them!
We managed to find one room for a single night only. Even though it was more than we wanted to pay, we took it, figuring we could spend the rest of the day looking for another room for our remaining six days here. But we had no luck. We spent our entire first day scouring the city for a free room -- any room -- and came up with nothing. The city was literally packed to the gills with visitors! We were actually forced out of town. This was very frustrating because we knew we needed at least five days to see Spain's second-largest city propertly.
Jen at the Plaza Catalunya
P.O.'d beyond belief, we caved in and decided Barcelona wasn't in the cards for us just yet. Thanks to another friendly travel agent, we found a hotel in the town of Palamos, two hours north of Barcelona on the Costa Brava. About halfway to France. The same agent set us up for three nights in Barcelona upon our return from the coast (yes, that's how long we were exiled from the city before we could get a room).
Palamos was nice, real nice. It was like a decompression chamber after our Barcelona experience. The town's main beach is long and safe for swimming, and north of the town there are numerous coves along the coast with hidden beaches surrounded by the blue-green water of the Mediterranean. Better yet, it seemed to only be popular with Spaniards from Barcelona, so we felt as though we had escaped the foreign hordes back in the city. Our three days in Palamos were great. Well rested and with suntans, we were once again ready to face Barcelona.
The Costa Brava, near Palamos
Perhaps it was the frustrating incident that colored our opinion of Barcelona, but we just didn't understand what was driving people so nuts about the place. There are definitely a lot of things to see and do there, but it's so overwhelmed by tourists (Americans, mostly) that we found it very hard to enjoy ourselves there.
Some of the biggest attractions in the city are the buildings designed by Gaudi, the most famous of which is La Sagrada Familia. This tall, imposing gothic church was never finished before the artist's death, and in fact it's still being completed. This despite the fact that Gaudi's original plans were destroyed by anarchists during the Spanish Revolution. This most famous building perpetually under-construction is very interesting, and very strange. Its spires are mostly gothic, but with a definite touch of Gaudi: strange, dripping entryways and knobby protrusions everywhere. Looking at it, you have to wonder what he was on when he designed the place.
One of Gaudi's crazy buildings
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