The train from Lyon to Barcelona took about six hours and it wasn’t at all the sort of journey I expected. I had images of passing through the Pyrenees much like we had through the Alps, climbing tall mountains and passing through tunnels, seeing valleys and glimpsing peaks. Nope. Our journey took us along the coast and if you squinted really hard, you could see the mountains on the western horizon. We traveled through mostly flat wetlands and beaches. The further south we got in France and into the tip of Spain, the more rough and sun-baked the land became. We moved from forests and vineyards to scrub brush and fields of olives.
Our hotel was on a street just off La Rambla, a famous, wide open pedestrian walk where various kiosks and hawkers sell their wares. Apparently La Rambla can be a bad spot for pickpockets and the like, but as is often the case when Rebecca and I travel, it wasn’t that busy. There had also been some political unrest and protests, so perhaps things hadn’t quite gotten back into the groove. Whatever the case, our hotel was nice and the area was extremely walkable. Someone at our hotel gave us a recommendation for a tapas place which was quite good.
This was the point, unfortunately, where our whirlwind of travel began to take its toll. I enjoyed the heck out of what little of Barcelona we were able to experience, but the city did not get its due. We were tired and we were dragging. Originally we’d thought about booking a day trip to Madrid and boy am I glad we didn’t do that. We did take a bus tour out to Montserrat, which was pretty darned impressive and included a wine tasting stop, which is always good. The monastery area was like something out of a James Bond movie, situated high up in a mountain that juts out from the semi-desert land. The views were amazing. However, if you look off in the distance and see a cross sticking out on a cliff and someone tells you it’s just “a five minute walk,” that person is a liar. It’s a good twenty or thirty minutes, and while the hike isn’t super challenging, it’s also not flat. It’ll take it out of you.
I found over our couple of days in the city that Barcelona, like Lisbon has a cafe culture more to my tastes. I had expected to find something similar in Italy and France, but really didn’t (a recent trip to Paris makes me think what I’m talking about is more common there than in Lyon). It was much easier to find little cafes with pastries and cups of straight-up drip coffee. Not espresso. Not cappuccino. Not americano. Just a cup of brewed coffee. I know it’s a little thing. But it was nice. I don’t have a lot of things I’m especially particular about. I’m not even that particular about my brewed coffee, I just like having the option of drinking it that way.
We walked from our hotel down to the port to board our cruise ship, the Norwegian Spirit, and it was here I think that I began to learn something about Spain. It is (or was before Brexit) England’s Florida. I have never in my life seen so many old people. And thanks to Europe’s better healthcare systems, they were really, really, really old. Like holy crap old. I joked, but I don’t think it’s wrong, that my mother, who is now 81 years old, might have brought down the average age of the folks getting on the boat.
There were only two big hiccups on our honeymoon. Finding out our train was canceled when we tried to leave Venice, requiring some quick thinking and quicker footwork to catch another train and make a transfer was the first. The second came to us when we signed in at the port. Our cruise itinerary had us going to Casablanca and then out into the Atlantic to the Canary Islands and Madeira, then back to a couple ports on the southern coast of Spain before returning to Barcelona. Turns out there was a forecast for some bad weather in the Atlantic and our itinerary had been shuffled around with the islands being cut, a second Moroccan port, a couple new Spanish spots, and Marseille, France being added. Marseille had been a place we’d thought of going (instead of Lyon, I think) for a while, and now we’d have a chance to see it. I was bummed about missing out on the islands (at the time…but very glad later…). But whatever. You learn to roll with it and it had already been the trip of a lifetime, what did I have to complain about? I’ll talk more about the cruise in the next Honeymoon post.
Ten days later, we pulled back into Barcelona to catch our breath before the flight home. For our last day, we got a hotel out by the airport, not too far from a mall where we ended up getting some pretty good tapas at a random local joint, mainly because it was open. Because we can’t leave well enough alone, we still crammed in one last thing on our final day. We hopped on the Barcelona Metro, crossed half the dang city and visited the Sagrada Familia. This unfinished oddity is both beautiful and strange. I highly recommend visiting, going inside, and taking it all in. You probably should get a guide, too, as there’s a lot to learn. Here’s the thing, though. You may want to go up in one of the steeples to get some great views of the city. There’s an elevator that’ll take you up. Great. However, you have to walk down. It’s the only option. It’s a long, long, long way down a narrow spiral staircase where the center is open. Let me tell you, as someone who has a problem with heights, it was one of the most harrowing acrophobic moments of my life. Every step down on what seemed like an endless spiral with a yawning black pit off to my left…I wasn’t thrilled. The rooftop of the Duomo in Florence didn’t hit me half as hard. Just want to give you a heads-up, because once you go up, you’re committed.
I said we took the Metro and it is definitely worth noting that neither my wife or I speak or read Spanish to any useful degree. Yet, we were able to cross Barcelona, making two train transfers, in about 30 minutes. Train systems like the DC Metro could learn a thing or two from our European brothers & sisters.
That was it. We hopped on a plane and headed home. The biggest trip of my life, the most moving parts, the most languages, and some of the best memories. It was also, to date, the most amount of one-on-one time my wife and I had spent together. This was pre-pandemic, of course. It did not surprise me to find that we continued to function well as a team. Things didn’t always work out. Sometimes we found ourselves desperately trying to get our laundry dry in an after-hours laundromat as it slowly shut down automatic systems. Sometimes we found ourselves trapped in a high pressure rug sale. Sometimes we underestimated how long it would take to walk to that amazing view. Yet, we did it all together and we had a ton of fun. It all worked out.
I’ll have another post coming that will get into our cruise, seeing North Africa, befriending some wonderful folks, dealing with some truly awful people, and avoiding bad weather.