Barcelona!

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View of the city of Barcelona from the Entrance of Park Güell. Note Sagrada Familia off in the distance.

I had to prepare myself for my next ship assignment as Destination Specialist; this time I would be flying to Europe for the Mediterranean End-of-Summer/Fall Season. Despite the enviable ports of call, it is always an emotional jolt to leave the cozy environs of my home in PA and join the frenzied pace that this itinerary demands.
My sojourn began on August 25th. The turn around port for this itinerary was Barcelona and I was scheduled to embark the ship there on August 28th. I asked to be flown in a couple of days early to reacquaint myself with this mega-gemstone of a city. 
 
I rarely sleep well on overnight flights bound for Europe…there is too much stimulation in general, in particular my seat at the end of Zone 4 against the wall with no recliner far too cramped to get comfortable. Everyone reacts to jet lag differently. I find the act of dimming the lights and feigning slumber only to be jostled two hours later by an egg sandwich wielding flight attendant a mean-spirited form of make believe. Let’s just PRETEND it’s 8am even though we all know it’s really six hours earlier! 
 
I carry on with the pretense that it’s later than my body knows it is as my plane lands and I hop the shuttle to my hotel in Barcelona’s suburban of Prat del Llobregat.  After a satisfying two-hour snooze my body felt less duped by the time change and I was ready to hit the ground running.
 
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Las Ramblas after a summer shower

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A surprise at every turn: The Old Town’s labyrinth of back streets, alleys and courtyards

El Prat del Llobregat is to Barcelona what Flushing Queens is to New York City: a noisy diverse neighborhood flanked by a major international airport – charming in its own right but not the reason anyone visits Barcelona. I hopped the bus and train to Las Ramblas. A few years back when I worked for AIDA Cruises Las Ramblas had been a regular stomping ground as it runs from Barcelona’s main square, Plaça Catalunya, down to the old Port (Port Vell). We were fortunate to have had an overnight there every two weeks. Las Ramblas is actually a series of smaller “rambla” streets, all joined together to fom the plural Las Ramblas. The often-crowded street is popular with both tourists and locals. The center part of the Rambla is pedestrianized and bordered by trees. Kiosks, flower stalls and street artists and pickpockets are in abundance.  
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Chinese dragon on facade of early modernist building “Casa Bruno Cuadros”

Oh this city is so vibrant! It is a cornucopia of light, vivid colors and mind-blowing architecture! The avenues are wide and adorned with tree-lined pedestrian walkways, cafes and plazas…but those are the typically cosmopolitan hangouts. Barcelona’s unique essence is reflected in the art nouveau masterpieces created by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi.  Sometimes referred to as ‘God’s architect’  Gaudi’s unique and distinctive style is influenced by forms of nature reflected in curved construction stones and signature mosaic patterns. His whimsical awe-inspiring structures are found throughout Barcelona, and although I didn’t have time to revisit all of his works, strolling along Passeig de Gracia, past two of Gaudi’s most important creations, Casa Batlló and La Pedrera, made my heart sing.
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The Balconies of Gaudi’s Casa Batlló

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La Pedrera, also known as Casa Milà

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Gaudi’s Masterwork In Progress, La Sagrada Familia

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La Sagrada Familia, statue carved into the cathedral’s back wall

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Above and below: Visitors from all over the world come to Barcelona to explore Gaudi’s iconic Park Güell

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Above and below: Port Vell

I had just 36 hours to spend on my own in Barcelona before embarking the ship and enduring a 3-month stint of ship life in all its resplendence, bedlam, fatigue, despair and garden variety dysfunction.  My last hour of abandon and anonymity was spent down by the waterfront at Port Vell, watching locals and tourists alike stock up on summer as the last weekend in August came to a close.
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