Hello! If you're just joining me today, scroll down to read the posts about our trip to Barcelona and Andorra in order, starting with "Peering into the Pyrenees," day 1 of our trip, and work your way up. 

On the last day of our tour, we had a lot more to do than just load up the bus and head back to Sagunto. Instead we had a whole day planned with walking tours before boarding the buses at 6:30. All morning we walked through the neighborhoods behind La Rambla, including the gothic neighborhood and two cathedrals. It was getting chilly and the wind was starting to pick up, so we hurried through the tour and enjoyed splitting for lunch to sit in a warm place and relax. Several of us decided to go to Wok to Walk, a nearly fast-food asian place for under 5 euros, just like Lemon Grass in Valencia. It was delicious and we all enjoyed more fresh squeezed juice from the market before going to Starbucks for some warmth and wifi.

With three hours of free time we were soon ready to continue our tour, but since we had an appointment at the Picasso museum we had to wait for the whole group until 3:15. Once we arrived we had to wait for quite awhile before dividing into groups of 20. The museum was highly guarded and had more security guidelines even than I recall we had at the Louvre. Finally my group was allowed in and we found that everyone else was still there, wandering through the collection without sticking together as we had been instructed. 

We started out with some of Picasso's earlier paintings, and as we moved on they got stranger and brighter. I have seen Picasso's work before in art history books and classes, and I've never been a really big fan of any of it. Here's the thing. I spent a maximum of 15 minutes in the whole gallery and left with the first group that had been let in. There was just nothing about it that sparked my interest. But how? you may ask. How can you not care about such a famous artist? Because it's not something that I want to look at for more than a few seconds, and honestly I don't find any of it very appealing. But you don't understand what it means, you don't appreciate it for what it really is. Ok. Well that's ok with me. I appreciate art that I enjoy looking at. If I don't like the way it looks, I'm not going to be excited to see it even if it is famous (like nearly everything at the Louvre). Got a history museum? I'm there. Archeology museums of natural history? Just tell me when. Science museums, aquariums, planetariums? My favorites. But drop me in an art gallery and usually I'll have seen all I care to see pretty quickly. My favorite forms of art are those I see on packaging, logos, and concept art for Disney or Pixar movies, usually done by artists who never get the credit they deserve. Knowing that, you can see why I was done so quickly and spent the rest of the time chatting with friends while we waited to load the bus. Some people really enjoyed the Picasso museum and I'm glad it was part of our tour. I know he was a famous Spanish painter and it's cool that I got to see his paintings here in Spain (although we didn't have time to go to the Dali and Goya exhibits at Montserrat).

Our group of nearly 90 wound our way through the streets of Barcelona back to the hotel where we retrieved our luggage from the storage room (yes, quite a task) and waited for the buses to pick us up. Just as the sun went down we went on our final tour on our way out of town, a bus tour of the Olympic Village from the Summer Olympics of 1992 in Barcelona, just weeks after I was born. We caught a glimpse of the stadium and other essential olympics buildings before it got completely dark. On the bus on the way back Cristian put The Prince of Egypt in for us to watch, in Spanish of course, and I tried my best to sleep a little. We got back at eleven last night and after sleeping in a bit, I've enjoyed a relaxing Sabbath, a hike with Shannon, lunch with friends and I'm looking forward to talking to my family later!
On the third day of our trip we got to sleep in a bit, enjoy the hotel breakfast, and began our tour at ten. Our first stop was the Parque Güell not far from the Sagrada Familia. If you've seen any photos of Barcelona, you've probably seen this park with its strange architecture, tiled benches, and "wave" tunnel. It was a pretty big park and we only had an hour and a half so we had to walk through rather quickly. In addition to strange structures and walls of tile, the plant life and flowers were lovely and there were even parrots flying around, building nests in the palm trees.

The Güell park was not originally intended for public use and is not situated very well for the thousands of tourists that visit. It was designed by Antoni Gaudí, architect of pretty much anything strange that you will find in Barcelona. Built from 1900-1914 for the Güell family, it was originally on the outskirts of the city, but as Barcelona grew and surrounded the park and it became more and more of a tourist attraction, it was soon engulfed by tourists and travelers from all over the world.

Today the park serves as a main attraction and display of the work of Gaudí as well as a nice place to get away from the streets of Barcelona. It's still busy in the park but we enjoyed walking through the paths and taking photos with more personal space to stroll that one would find in Las Ramblas. The higher points offer a good view of the Barcelona skyline and a closer look at the Sagrada Familia, rising above everything else.
View of Barcelona through the smog.
After we left the park it was only a short drive to one of Spain's most known icons (besides bulls and flamenco dancers): La Sagrada Familia. I researched this strange church a bit last year and all I could think was that it was quite odd and would be interesting to see, but doubted I would love it. I'm happy to say that I was wrong, it was actually one of my favorite churches I've seen (and at this point we have seen a lot). After a bit of history I'll tell you why.

The Sagrada Familia is probably Gaudí's most famous work, even after his death and the fact that it's been continued by other architects. Construction began in 1882 and Gaudí joined the project in 1883. It is still not complete even though it's been in progress for 130 years, and I heard that it could be even fifty years more until it is finished (although wikipedia states that the completion date may be as soon as 2026). Like all things Gaudí, the church is not like anything I've ever seen and is different on each side. One side has this odd, almost drippy style, that, when you look closer, is actually scenes of the early New Testament such as the birth of Christ and visits of the wise men and shepherds. We each received an audio-guide in Spanish and I was delighted to discover that I understood basically everything it was telling me, and I didn't even have to worry about taking a DELE listening test with it. 

The Sagrada has three main towers which represent Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. The other side has carvings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and what is believed to be Gaudí's self-portrait in the middle. Another side also has fruits of Cataluña atop each pillar, something colorful that I enjoyed and found quite fun.

Once inside, the excitement of taking photos and staying close enough to Loli, our sponsor, took over and it was harder to focus on listening to the audio-guide. Unlike the "drippy" looking side of the outside, the inside of the Sagrada seemed clean and simple, although still odd and unlike any other cathedral I've seen or will ever see. The tall pillars are made to look like tree trunks and where they join to the ceiling is supposed to be like looking up into the leaves of trees as light filters through. All the white was a nice break from the over-the-top gold and red churches we usually see. Work on the stained-glass appeared to have just begun and only the front of the church and several windows were complete. Of course the stained glass was my favorite with brilliant colors filtering in on the white interior. 

Our tour seemed to go by very fast and all to quickly it was time to leave. Even though it's not a typical cathedral and is very different, I really loved seeing it and was refreshed because it was so unique compared to all the other churches we see everywhere we go in Europe.
The buses took us back to our hotel and from there we had the afternoon free for lunch and activities. Jon and Seth and I found some delicious pizza just off the main road and went to the open air market. There I found probably the cutest candy I've ever seen–tiny chocolate hedgehogs! I got one for myself and a white chocolate for Rachel along with a tiny chocolate mushroom! If you know me well then you know that this discovery was way better than any dinner or fancy sit-down food I could have gotten. Later that night I  walked around the port and then went back to the market with Rachel, Seth, Anisha and Beth and we got even more fresh fruit juice to finish off a perfect day.
On day 2 of our tour we checked out of our hotel in Andorra and boarded the bus to Barcelona. After an hour or two, we stopped at Montserrat, a mountain above Barcelona with strange peeks that share an uncanny resemblance to South Dakota's black hills near Mount Rushmore. Atop the mountain sits the Santa Maria Abbey, consecrated in the 1500s and home to the Escolania de Monserrat Boys' Choir. Click here to go to the official website of Montserrat.

I wish we would have had more free time here because there is a hiking trail to the top, a museum or two, and several little shops to by honey and nuts and jams. Instead we gathered around for a short explanation from our history teacher and had about half an hour to take pictures before we headed into the church to hear the boys' choir. The performance lasted only about 15 minutes but I enjoyed it a lot. It reminded me of my dad and I knew he would love being there in the huge cathedral with me, listening to choral music.

The Escolania del Escorial is one of the oldest boys' choirs in Europe. They perform Monday through Friday at Montserrat and for vespers on the weekends. The song we heard was in Catalan so it I couldn't understand it. I didn't realize how different Catalan was until this trip, where signs and public notices are nearly impossible to read. Everyone still speaks Spanish (or English in Barcelona) but lots of written notices are in Catalan, similar to here in Valencia where signs are in Valenciano. Anyway, here's a video of them singing Angels We Have Heard on High so you can get an idea of what they sound like.
After Montserrat, we boarded the buses and headed down the mountain where we stopped at a scenic overlook and picnic area to eat our sack lunches. The scenery was beautiful and everything about it reminded me of traveling with my family through the US, stopping at roadside overlooks, eating together and enjoying the view. We ate and rested in the sun until enough time had passed that our bus drivers, who have to stop every 2 hours for 40 minutes, could drive again. Lots of people work really hard to make these trips possible for us and the bus drivers have some of the hardest work. They have to do everything from fight busy city traffic and roundabouts to drive us up windy mountain paths, and they are always friendly and ask us if we are having a good time. 

At last we arrived in Barcelona and Cristian took the bus microphone to point out interesting things we passed. Soon we found ourselves ascending yet another mountain, this time Tibidabo, even closer to Barcelona and home to two churches and an amusement park. The view was great and we could see La Sagrada Familia rising above the city. However, it just seemed like a strange place to all of us since it is basically a mountain with a church, another church built on top of the first church, and a small carnival underneath. 

Finally we descended into the city and headed straight for Las Ramblas, a main street in Barcelona with shops, restaurants, and tons of tourists. Our hotel was right on the main street and it was a bit difficult to get everyone unloaded with all our luggage. Check-in with a group of nearly 90 is always a difficult task, but our sponsors have everything worked out pretty well and soon we were settled in our room, overlooking the busy streets of Barcelona. 

My favorite place we went that night was La Boqueria, a large open-air market with more fruit, candy, meat, and juice than you can imagine. It was only a few hundred yards from our hotel and fresh squeezed fruit juice went on sale at the end of the day for 3 cups for a euro. My favorites were banana-cocount, kiwi-coconut, and coconut-guava. 

That evening I walked around a bit with Seth and Jon and then headed back to my hotel room early, tired from our day of travel and ready for a good night's sleep. Luckily I brought my earplugs so even the ramblings of the Ramblas and the metro beneath couldn't keep me awake.
Buenos días y feliz Sábado a todo el mundo! It's been a really long time since I've blogged and I intend on getting back into it full-swing. I've had a rough last month or so and I want to thank everyone who has been there for me and supported me through everything. I have such a supportive friend group here in Spain and I've felt so much love from across the ocean as well. 

Anyway, we just got back from a school trip to Barcelona and Andorra and I'm going to try to get all my blog posts done today! It's funny how suddenly having even slow internet here at school is better than hotel internet where we've been. 

Our first day we drove all the way from Valencia to the tiny country of Andorra on the border of France and Spain, nestled in the Pyrenees. Basically the country consists of a ski town, two valleys, and a few slopes. It wasn't too cold when we arrived and it looked to have been awhile since snow fell, but the peaks were still snowy and the town was still full of people walking around in snow pants, carrying boots and polls and boards. 

Other than skiing, Andorra's main attraction is the thermal spa, which uses no "artificial" heating and consists of several large, warm pools, a hot tub or two, a "roman bath," and several sauna rooms. After several hours of free time to find food, we met up and walked a few blocks to the spa where we were ushered in and told we needed to be quiet and speak in soft voices. Once inside we realized that this was really more of a suggestion as children ran past yelling in Spanish and French. Instead of lifeguards (which we thought the place needed) there were "shushers' spread throughout the pools attempting to hush small children and even adults who spoke too loudly. It was a nice idea but didn't work too well since it was sort of like an indoor water park. 

My favorite part was the outdoor pool area. A lazy river floated from the indoor pool, through a small doorway to a whirlpool under the stars. Shannon and Justin and I went out after the crowds died down and swam around the lazy river which we had to ourselves. It was dark out and you could see the stars above and look down on the little ski town below where people rested and recuperated for another day on the slopes. The water was just warm enough that even in the cold winter air you could float around and enjoy the stillness of the evening. I can see why after a whole day of skiing it would be nice to go for a swim to relax. 

I don't actually have any pictures of Andorra but here's a few I found online. Each image is hyperlinked to the original website.
Andorra during the warmer months.
The spa from the outside with the outdoor lazy river and whirlpool.
The main pool inside with several warm pools above.