Monday, December 2, 2013

Spain, Part III: Costa Brava and Barcelona

I'm only 5-6 months late on this post.  Oops.  Although it's late, I still want to document and share the last part of my trip to Spain.  I started my trip with one day in Madrid and then five with my friend Lauren in Mallorca. We then headed over to Barcelona to meet up with our friend Mayu, catch some of the Fina World Championships, and to do more site-seeing.

I had received multiple recommendations from friends to travel north up the coast along the Costa Brava, and since Lauren had never been either, we decided to go.  When we landed in Barcelona, we got into our sweet rented car (just barely managing to fit our backpacks in it), and then headed north.

The drive was very scenic and as we headed into Tossa de Mar where we were staying, the views were breath-taking.

It was still ridiculously hot, so we did a little exploring but mostly with the purpose of finding some cold drinks.  We were only there for one night, but I'm glad we decided to go.

The next morning we continued north to Figueres to see the Dalí museum. It. was. so. cool. Dalí is a weird guy, but the museum was fascinating.  But more on that later.

We headed back to Barcelona and returned our cute little car.  That night we had our first sporting event to go to.  The Fina World Championships is the major international water sports competition, which is held on the Olympics off-years. Our friend Mayu is currently the Spanish National Team Coach for synchronized swimming.  (She lived with Lauren's family as an exchange student back when we were in high school and she trained and coached with our club team).  So that first night in Barcelona, we headed to the site of the 1992 Olympics and watched the synchronized swimming team free routine competition.

It has been SO long since I watched good synchronized swimming and it was really nice to be wowed by one of my favorite sports!

When we left, I was wowed again by the BIGGEST and COOLEST fountain I have ever seen (and I'm pretty sure the highest in the world).

The next day the sports continued as we watched 4 women's water polo games (half of the top 16 teams) followed by the synchronized swimming team combo routine competition.  I think both Lauren and I re-fell-in-love with water polo again, and we decided to buy tickets to watch Team USA play Spain the next evening.

Sadly, we didn't have that much time to explore Barcelona, so we did our best to cram in the key sites to see.  We walked La Rambla and went to La Boqueria (where I'm pretty sure I acquired a stomach bacteria, despite the delicious food).

The devil empanada...

We explored Casa Battlo, where I fell in love with Gaudí,

checked out Casa Milá (also Gaudí),

cried a little at the beautiful, spiritual, and truly awe-inspiring Sagrada Família (by Gaudí),

then made a quick stop in Park Güell (also Gaudí).

(I'm planning to write a little more about all the art I got to experience in Spain, so stay tuned.)

That evening, we headed back to the pool to cheer on Team USA in water polo (USA synchro didn't qualify this year, so we didn't get to see them compete).  Since it was the year after the Olympics, many of the gold-medal-winning team had retired.  Most of the Spanish players, who won the silver in the Olympics, stayed on the extra year to be able to play in their home country.  This did not bode well for us in the Spain vs USA game. :(  We also got mocked by many a Spaniard who would copy our English and yell "Go USA" in fake high-pitched girl voices.

After the game, we met Mayu and grabbed some beers and pizza in the village (like the Olympic village).  It was so good to be able to catch up with her after so many years.  It was also really fun to see what a star she is in Spain.  In the US, synchro is not highly respected.  In fact, it's made fun of regularly. I would guess that the average American could not name one single synchronized swimmer, let alone any coaches.  In Spain, however, the national team duet is on billboards all around Barcelona.  People call out to Mayu to get her autograph and take pictures with her.  She needs people to help get her through mobs of adoring fans.  I clearly competed in the wrong country.

Mayu, in the red shirt, signing autographs for all of her fans

The next morning one of Mayu's wonderful friends drove me to the airport a mere 2-3 hours after he dropped us off at our place.  My stomach was beginning to gargle and little did I know it was going to be a very long flight (and few weeks), but I won't go into those details. I'm mostly better now. :)  Other than that, the trip was awesome, and I can't wait for my next big trip (Ireland, June 2014)!