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Monday, May 20, 2019

April 16-17: 2 days in Barcelona

We got up early at 5:20 and ate breakfast at the hotel before going downstairs to get out the bike boxes and await the taxi. The driver showed up on time, and we just about managed to squeeze the bike boxes into his car. The flight was run by Vueling, and we were very impressed: the flight was well organized, left on time, arrived early, and the bikes showed up but we didn't find them because we didn't realize that the Barcelona airport was so big that there was more than one oversized baggage output in the same carousel area.

We took the taxi to the hotel, and were very pleased with the service we got. Not only were our rooms immediately available, they gave us a very nice room with which to store our bike boxes. We headed out to Tapas 24 for some lunch, and then walked downtown to the Tourist information center. We'd already pre-booked the Picasso museum for 5:45pm, and a eTapas tapa tour for the next evening, but I wanted to see if there was a walking tour that would work for us.

The tourist information center told us that since it was holiday week in Spain, everything was booked up! Well, that meant I could switch to my secondary objective, which was to shop for cycling jerseys for Bowen and Boen, since I was so impressed by what Arturo could get for me last time he was in Madrid. The tourist information lady saw my sample of Bowen's bike jersey, and didn't even blink an eye. "I'll send you to ProBike." She got out a map, and gave us directions for taking the bus there.

"What sort of nerd visits Barcelona and visits a bike shop?" I asked Mike with a wink. We took the bus over there and then went and the friendly, English speaking staff showed me the rack full of kids clothing, all at astoundingly high European prices. But you can't buy this stuff in the US for love or for money, so I was resigned to it. I was especially drawn to the UCI World Champion jerseys, and bought a matching set so Bowen and Boen could look like a team. My wife would later say that she'd have been happy to wear that jersey also, if there'd been a women's version. Add in a random bike jersey for Bowen, a couple of pairs of bike shorts, and now we were well over 200 Euros. But this was where having English speaking staff members came in happy, after I asked about dropping the VAT tax for it, the staff lit up, and filled out a form for me. I remembered that there was a tax bureau at the tourist information center.

I also noticed that the Garmin Edge 1030 was on sale, and after you eliminated the VAT tax, it would be cheaper than any mail order store in the USA. I told Mike, who'd been complaining about his Edge Touring running out of battery in the middle of a ride that if he wanted a replacement unit this was a very good deal. He hemmed and haw'd about it coming with European maps, but for me it would have been a feature. "Don't tour in the USA! USA touring sucks!" I told him. He would not be persuaded.

We went back to the tourist information center with the tax forms, and they gave me a series of new tax forms to fill out. I would give the tourist information center 3% of the tax rebate in exchange for getting cash right away. In exchange, they gave me a page with a bar code to scan when I got to the airport for my departure, which validated the rebate. I've tried to get VAT rebates in other countries before, and this was by far the easiest tax rebate I'd ever gotten. I was surprised that the tourist information center wasn't crowded with Asian tourists getting tax rebates for expensive handbag purchases, until I realized that maybe only bike equipment was cheap, and no one else would come to Europe to shop for kids cycling jerseys and shorts.

While waiting for the form to process, I noticed an ad for a boy's choir up in the mountains. This turned out to be Mont Serrat, and the center did have tickets for the next day, departing at 10am and returning at 4:00pm, which was entirely compatible with our Tapas tour. It was in the opposite direction from Girona, so there was no chance that it would be easier to do a trip from there than from Barcelona, so I signed up on an impulse. Mike demurred, preferring to spend the day in the city rather than do a tour.

Cash in hand and hungry again, we went over to the city's food market. Later, a tour guide would tell us that it was a tourist trap, but the sights and sounds were wonderful, even if the food was inconsistent. I had empanadas which were wonderful, fried squid which were mediocre, a raw oyster that was fresh, and ice cream that was merely OK. Mike was still perplexed that I could keep eating, but I figured that if dinner was at 8:00pm, at 4:00pm I could eat a few snacks and still be hungry for dinner. Plus, this was the cheapest food I'd encountered in Barelona, and I expected dinner to be expensive, so it was OK to spoil my dinner.
We then visited the Picasso museum, which was small but excellent, with lots of examples of themes in his career, but also missing huge gaps in his opus, and left me feeling like I should be a Picasso aficionado before showing up, as it just assumed that I knew everything about him.

It was a good thing I stuffed myself, because after the museum Mike said he was still stuffed, so I think we just skipped dinner. On the way back to the hotel, however, we saw a Laundry Bar. You could eat dinner and do your laundry at the same time! What a great idea. I think I just bought a few fruits from a supermarket and called it good for dinner.
The next morning, we walked out to an anemic and expensive breakfaste that happened to be just across the street from Sagrada Familia, which was sold out of course, because of the holidays, but we could see the outside, which was still nice. After that, I had a walk to catch my bus and headed for Mont Serrat.

While on the bus, I questioned if the whole thing wasn't a scam, because the bus dropped us off at the mountain cog railroad which we would ride to Mont Serrat. Why shouldn't I have just taken the train from Barcelona then? It turned out that I would have had to catch the 8:15 train and gotten an extra 15 minutes and would have made it back in time for my dinner tapas tour, so the bus did save significant time!

The Mont Serrat chapel was a good place for a concert, with great acoustics. The boys' choir was also excellent, though I ended up having to sit in the aisles because the place was so crowded. After that I took a vigorous hike up the hill (which started by hopping onto a funicular), which turned out to be far more strenuous and scenic that I expected.

I got off the bus precisely at 4:00pm as promised and took a long meandering walk which magically netted me an empanada. Barcelona's city streets are empty but strangely not devoid of cars, which I would expect from a busy city center. We met the tour guide precisely at 5:00pm and were joined by a group of New Zealanders traveling as a family.
The tour included demonstrations of various forms of pouring wine/beer/alcohol products, which wasn't something I would have discovered by myself.

But obviously it wasn't catered to cyclists. We ate everything presented to us but I was still a little peckish. Mike had already assembled his bike, but I was too worn out to do so that night, so I decided that I would just eat breakfast in the hotel and then assemble the bike and head out immediately for the train station right after all that tomorrow.

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