From Practically France to Practically Portugal…

Hooooo-kay amigos, I am back, with more adventures!  Or, as Jason says, “Vamos a corregir la tarea.”  Actually, I’m already back in America.  I started this blog before I left, but got into too many adventures to finish it.  So this is part one of a two part blog blitz!  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  FIRST!

Before leaving Barcelona, on our last morning there, we checked out the Sagrada Familia and Park Guell.  Both of these were designed by Antoni Gaudi, one of Spain’s most famous modernist architects:  La Sagrada Familia, his masterwork, was started in 1915, and has been under construction for various periods ever since.  Gaudi died in 1926, and La Sagrada Familia was picked up by other artists intent on finishing his design.

The man was a total genius.  He used inspiration from natural sources, and has one of the most unique styles I’ve ever seen.  I posted a few pictures of two of his houses in Barcelona in the last post, but check out his cathedral, his magnum opus:

Every square inch of the outside is detailed.

The roof of the cathedral.

It has more natural light than any church I’ve ever been in.

He designed the columns like trees, to make you feel like you’re in a forest standing in the center of this thing.

I’d visited once before, but never been inside.  Jason had never seen it at all.  It was mind blowing.

After that, we picnicked in Park Guell, another of Gaudi’s creations.  Check these photos out:

It’s like EVERYTHING is a mosaic.  Pretty sweet.

The angles…

Inspired by a palm fan…

Gaudi’s house.  He actually lived here for a while.

Flowers on the street.  Nothing to do with Gaudi at all.

We bought some souvs in Barce… that’s Jason speak for buying souvenirs in Barcelona.  We’ve racked up a pretty sweet selection of souvenirs.  Did I mention that Jason bought a mini working catapult?  And I bought a sweet castle reproduction… so then we had to supplement this Middle Ages set-up with a knight.  See below.

Storming one of Spain’s many castles.

And then we were off to other adventures.  We stayed overnight in a town called Manresa, which was intended to just be a place to sleep, but we ended up finding this super amazing crepe restaurant.  Crazy decorations on the walls, and the kitchen was actually a bus!

Notice the advertisement for the automatic milking machine? 

Amazing crepes made with black wheat.

The kitchen!

Our next stop was Montserrat (, because we wanted to visit the famous monastery there.  The abbey sits at nearly the highest point in all of Catalunya, and the monastery dates back to the 1100’s.  A young boy’s choir has been a part of the heritage for nearly that long as well, and still sings daily.  It is said that the quest for the Holy Grail ended somewhere in these sawtooth mountains…

I really wish I’d actually taken this picture, but instead I stole it from Wikipedia.

It is also said that the mountains look like the spine of a sleeping dragon.  We didn’t have to fight Smaug on our trip, but we did have to battle some crowds.  This is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of north-eastern Spain, and for good reason.  It’s also a major site of pilgrimage, and the Virgin of Montserrat gets tons of offerings a year.   Apparently in 880 a group of shepherd boys saw a light from some point on the mountain, and this led folks to a cave in which the Virgin of Montserrat was located.  They attempted to take the statue out of the mountains, and when they got to the site of the current monastery, the statue got so heavy they put it down and decided to build a new monastery around it. 

View from the top, above Montserrat’s monastery.

The Virgin found here is also considered special because it is one of few black Madonnas in the world.

The 12 apostles, at the entrance to the basilica.

The boys choir is actually considered the oldest music school in Europe, called La Escolania de Montserrat.  Every day at certain times they sing the hymn to Our Lady of Montserrat, called the Virolai.  The basilica was packed when we went, but the singing was beautiful.

For days afterwards Jason would break into impromptu song.

Then, we got a wild idea, and decided to drive 2 hours in the opposite direction from the rest of our plans to go to a museum.  Sounds a little crazy, but it was the Dali museum!  Salvador Dali is one of Jason’s favorite artists.  He grew up in a town called Figueres, about 20 miles from the French border.  Before he died he moved back there, and planned the museum there.  His house with his wife was a few miles away, and was turned into another museum after his death.  So clearly, to really see what Dali was about, we had to head there. 

More Dali info:

The museum was RIDICULOUS.  His most famous work isn’t there (called the Persistence of Memory, the one with the melting clocks:, but so much other stuff is.  It was also super-duper-uber busy, and I now believe that the most obnoxious teenagers on the planet actually come from Italy, but it was still out of this world.  Check out some of this stuff:

Dali’s portrait of Picasso.

Zoom in on this picture and check out the details.  Amazing.

That was like a Dali photo dump.  The thing is, the guy was so damn prolific!  And he did EVERYTHING.  Sculpture, painting, paper mache, jewelry, stone… he even built his own TOMB in the MIDDLE of the MUSEUM.  Mind-blowing.  I know I’ve said that before, but every time I thought I’d found or seen the coolest bit of Spain, something else blew my mind again.

Also, he was an extremely quotable man!  He was known for being ridiculous, even going so far as writing a fictional autobiography.  But it just made him more popular.  Some Dali-isms:

“I have Dalinian thought: the one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous.”

At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.

“Democratic societies are unfit for the publication of such thunderous revelations as I am in the habit of making.”



Anyway.  It was possibly one of our favorite stops on the entire trip, and it was totally spur of the moment.  Wonderful. 
Think I’m closing in on the end of our adventures?  Not even close, my friends.  After the Dali museum, we drove about 8 hours (well, Jason did.  I wisely did not add myself as an extra driver to the rental car.  Clever, yes?).  We wanted to visit a town called Albarracin that two of our friends, Dave and Leanna, had recommended to us.  It’s a sweet small town that gets a historical certificate-thingy from the Spanish government, so it’s gets lots of Spanish visitors.  But it’s also a bouldering destination!  Check out the write-up from Dave and Leanna here (and also just read their blog, because they’re really cool and we like them):
And then here are some photos that Jason and I took while there:
Super awesome tiny roads in this town.

Clearly, the bouldering was awesome.

It was set up high in these pine woods…

And the views were awesome.

Jason: “Take a picture of this!”

In the entrance to our hotel.

The town is SUPER old. 

The remaining wall, and Jason on guard.

None of the streets are straight, or even… this is NOT a fish eye lens!

A bar with a mace and swords on the wall.  Of course we had to get a beer there.

Of all the places I went in Spain, this one ranks highest on the “I want to go there again” scale.  It was peaceful, beautiful, the bouldering was stellar, and it had all the things I love about small towns in Spain: our hotel was a former convent, the city had a wall around it, there were towers and castles still standing, and, perhaps even MORE important: there was a park with a display of old school TREBUCHETS and war machines.  

In the royal chair.  Summon the jester! 
This place restores and builds these machines, and every single one of them works.  They make replicas for movies, and they also build little 2 foot tall ones for purchase… I desperately wanted to bring one home, but couldn’t think of a way to fit it in my luggage.  Instead, I bought a letter opener that is a replica of a knight’s Templar sword.  It has a sheath.  Perhaps the coolest souv ever purchased.
And after all this crazy climbing and tourism and such, we needed a break.  So we drove down out of the mountains, and went to the BEACH.  It was a touristy town on the Costa Del Sol, and it was wonderful.  We didn’t take many pictures, and we didn’t look at ANY historical sights.  We ate, and we drank, and we beached.  Booyah.

It was 80 and sunny and GORGEOUS.

Coffee on the balcony every morning.
Paella– watch out!  It’ll gitcha.

The most entertaining part was Jason, as usual… the sunset would be pretty, and he’d look over at me and go, “Romance.”  Or he’d see the ocean and the palm tree grove, “Romance.”  Wine at dinner = romance.  We went to the beach and sat out under the sun at least twice at day, sometimes more.  Amazingly, I didn’t get a sunburn!  I did purchase SPF 50, so perhaps that has something to do with it…  
But, I’ll leave you with the romance until the next post.  Or, as Jason has sung, “Aaaamoooorrree….”
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