Today was definitely a good day. I am starting to become a believer in my original plan to finish off this trip with a couple of days in Barcelona (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barcelona).
Considering all 12 cities I visited on this summer gallivant, Barcelona, by far, is the most tourist friendly and I'm not talking about the tourist shops and dumb little decals/souvenirs, I'm talking about placing someone who has no idea about the city yet can easily get around and manage (with as little of hassle as possible) to see all the sites. The streets are all properly marked and names easy to find, subway is very efficient and very recognizable, bi/trilingual signs everywhere and smaller detailed maps surrounding popular corners throughout the city. I don't know why it was so difficult for many of the European cities to come on board to the fact that tourism is a major economic factor and it doesn't take a lot to make the city more enjoyable for travelers.
The weather got up to around 85 degrees today making a trip to the beach (reachable by subway in under 20 minutes pretty much everywhere in the city) a perfect way to relax this already beaten and bruised body. Even in this most "touristy" spot I was able to get a pitcher of Sangria and a bag of olive oil chips for around $9. I love Spain. With a towel down and the 55 SPF evenly smoothed out across my casper-like skin I napped while the waves hit the sandbank 15 feet in front of me. Perfect day.
I was there for a few hours before heading to grab some paella () from the local menu del dia at a nearby restaurant just a 10 min walk off the tourist trail.
Also while in Barcelona I was able to see Gaudi's Garden () and his Sagrada Familia ( ). The city is currently doing a major preservation on most of his buildings throughout Barcelona but that doesn't keep the jaw from dropping and shutters from capturing moments sure to be reviewed in the following years in frames throughout my house.
I also purchased my final form of transportaion for tomorrow's journey over to Madrid for the weekend. The last time I was in Barcelona (January 2007) the only ground transportation available was a bus that took 8 hours...but now Spaniards (and tourists) can take the speed train making that trip a meager 2 hours and 50 minutes as the train hits speeds a tad over 185 MPH (it's like sitting shotgun in a Nascar), I love Spain.
Many people throughout this trip have asked me my favorite place so far (quite a valid question) and of course I can list off the most famous cities we all grew up reading about (London, Paris, etc.) but I'm starting to realize that those places are mostly in my head because of certain artifacts or events throughout history and I love to see those things and make them priorities in my first few hours in any city...but I don't think artifacts should make the city, it should be the people and customs (completely realizing my bias in this statement) I choose Spain everytime. It's such a special place. Every city I've been to in Spain (Madrid, Barcelona, Toledo, Segovia, Granada and Sevilla) I always notice the genuine people first.
The people in those cities are proud of their culture. They are proud to live where they live. The people want to show off the things few tourists know about...the great local spots. They want to teach you their culture. They want you to leave their city wanting to come back. They want you to spread the word of how great their country and heritage is...and I do.
Spain will always be my favorite country outside the United States and whenever anyone asks me where they should travel if they have 7-10 days of vacation time...Spain. Head down South to see the Alhambra in Granada (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alhambra), bus over to Sevilla and marvel at their Guinness Book of World Records cathedral http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seville_Cathedral and see the tomb of Columbus (real name is Cristobol Colon), head to the center of Madrid for the afternoon siesta and Museo del Prado, Retiro and Reina Sofia (and of course Paco's and countless botellines of Mahou cinco estrella), take the 30 min speed train to Segovia and stare at the 5th century Roman Aqueduct http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aqueduct_of_Segovia and the fairy-tale castle http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcázar_of_Segovia. Grab another speed train on over to Toledo and cross the bridge and moat in the hill-top city and over look the rivers and finish off by heading Northeast to Barcelona and grab some Sangria and Paella while sitting on the world-famous beaches http://www.barcelonaweekendbreak.net/images/barcelona-beach.jpg.
You may not see the Eiffel Tower, the Mona Lisa or the Colesseum but those stories only go so far. Remembering conversations made in Spanish bars and cafes can be remembered with laughter and fond memories and replayed in your head over and over...until you make yourself go back the next year.