The Royal Palace at Madrid

Enamored by Versailles, King Phillip V started construction in 1738. Though the Royal Palace in Madrid does not match Versailles in Paris, of course what could, it is ornate and beautiful. Cameras are not allowed, as I learned after taking only one picture inside the armory of an armored horse, so here are a few of the outside, along with the horse.IMG_0590IMG_0597IMG_0592



So what is Barcelona? Spanish, Mexican, Catalonian

It is my last morning in Barcelona, this morning we head to Madrid. Google maps says I am in Spain, so Spanish is the language right? Don’t they speak Spanish in Mexico? Yet the signs and names here are mostly in Catalonian??? And thankfully most all speak English.

Catalonian, at least to my ear sounds a bit like Spanish, with a hint of French thrown in. That fits, since the old Principality of Catalonia spread into the south of France. The Principality is now, after a complicated history (check Wikipedia) an autonomous community of Spain. And there are a large number of folks who would like to see it become an autonomous nation once again, evidenced by the return of the language and the flying of the Catalonian flag.

The Spanish in Spain does not sound like the Spanish in Mexico. It seems to be a bit softer, and I think I hear some different phrases, but since my Spanish is muy pequeño it is hard for me to catch it all.

Barcelona is a big city, second largest in Spain, and like most large cities it is active. People stay up late, and the proliferation of cafés is testament to their love of talking with friends, I like that. And that is what I will remember about this city.

The architecture does live up to its reputation, though I must admit Gaudi is a bit too gaudy for me. Yet there are amazing buildings every time you turn around. The fútbol team is my favorite and it would have been amazing to see them play. The food is so wonderful, hams, sausages, tapas, cava….  But the placas (plazas in Spanish) are what I will remember most.

So my passport stamp says Spain, but I think I will remember Catalonia: independent, life-loving, beautiful people living in a wonderful place. I hope to return again, to dodge bicycles, motorbikes, and cars on narrow streets. Taste cava and anchovies in a small placa, sketch a cathedral, and watch the parade of interesting personalities that call themselves Catalonians.

Barcelona, no Top-10-lists for me!

IMG_0106 I love reading travel guidebooks, particularly the Eyewitness series, lots of pictures and simple to read. But I don’t really care about visiting landmark locations; give me a plaza café instead of the Sagrada Familiia any day.

As I write this I am in Barcelona, Spain. Top-10-lists would list anything by Gaudi as a must see, especially his La Sagrada Familia and his Disney-like park. La Ramblas is packed with pickpocket bait — ill-dressed people with confused looks, waving maps to advertise that they are tourists waiting for pickpocket stories to take back home.

The guidebooks have pictures of Sagrada Familia, yet I could care less if I go there, it will be crowded, it is expensive to enter. I already have a picture of it in my mind, so what advantage is there to be able to say, “I saw it?” What is the appropriate procedure? You get there, along with the throng, and then look; how long of a gaze is required to say, “I saw it?” But then you do get to cross it off the list of “things to see.”

Travel is so much more than checkmarks on a list of “things to see”, what about experiencing the culture, the people, and the food; that you will not find in a crowd of tourists, for that you have to avoid the top-10-lists and head to where the locals hang out.

Some years ago a well meaning friend suggested that when you travel all you have to do is sit in a café with your Rick Steves’ Guidebook on the table and before long other Americans would come up and talk to you. Now I loved that friend, and I support all that Rick Steves has done to promote travel, however when I visit a foreign country it is not for the purpose of meeting people from back home, I already know what it is like there. I want to see what the people here do, how they live, what if feels like to be part of their culture.

Barcelona is perfect for my kind of travel; the plazas and the cafes are all it takes to keep me happy. They seem to be located every few blocks, and they all have a café or two. So you grab an outdoor table, order a beverage, and sketch, listen, watch – this is Barcelona.

When I get home I feel left out of the conversations that include all of the “tourist” things, but my memories and sketches are more precious than any list. So off I go to find the next plaza, another sketch and another memory.