I made a quick evening visit to the French-Spanish border town of Portbou on Friday. Clara said I'd want to see the architecture and that it's a kind of uncomfortable/creepy place - not touristic at all, though. When I got there, it honestly didn't seem that different than other small Catalonian towns (and did seem to have a bit of tourist industry going) although there was more decay evident.
Then the next day I went back to Barcelona to do the other half of the tourist bus route. I primarily wanted to see La Sagrada Familia and Park Guell, but also wanted to check out the Glories district. After eating a really nice lunch of sangria, gazpacho, and coca (a sort of focaccia/pizza) with a green tea cheesecake for dessert (though I have to say, cheesecake in Spain is pretty much uniformly disappointing - the texture is not smooth and creamy but rather kind of fragmented and crumbly), I headed for La Sagrada Familia. When I got there, it turned out tickets weren't available to be sold until two hours later and at that point you'd still have to wait in a long line, so it would probably be at least three hours just to get in. So I only got to see the outside, which was nice but also partially covered in construction. Then I went to Park Guell, which requires quite a hike from the bus stop. Once I reached it, I found out that it, too, had over a two hour wait to even be able to then wait in line to buy a ticket. I could walk the circumference of the park for free, which I did, but there wasn't much to see as they'd purposefully gated off the actual park to start charging entry a few years ago.
I was irritated, to tell the truth; I felt the whole situation was pretty opaque and tourist-gouging (you could buy a much more expensive "cut-the-line" guided tour). This type of multiple-level entry delay doesn't typically happen (as opposed to just a line, like at the Eiffel Tower or the Sistine Chapel) and wasn't something I was made aware of in conversation or online prior to experiencing it in Barcelona. As a result of both its frustratingly sprawling nature and the waste of my time trying to see these sights, I have to say that despite the hype Barcelona is definitely not one of my preferred cities in Spain, much less in all of Europe or my overall global travels. Within Catalonia, I prefer Girona.
On Sunday I was invited to Clara's sister's neighboring house to have lunch with a group of about eight people. First we dunked ourselves in the outdoor bath to cool off (the days here are regularly around 90-95*F) and then had a bit of vermouth and tapas followed by gazpacho, salad, and paella, followed by a fruit tart, chocolate, coffee, and limoncello. It was a really nice, drawn-out meal with lively conversation.
Then the following day, Clara wanted me to go back to Barcelona with her, first stopping at Granollers Centre to see an artist residency/studio center there and then continuing on to Hangar, another arts center in Barcelona. I met some really cool people at the Granollers Centre, and then Clara and Lourdes, an artist friend of Clara's, and I all headed off in Lourdes' car to Barcelona. We had a light lunch and then made our way to Hangar, where Clara was to be interviewed by one of the artists there while Lourdes and I hung out. We had the option to leave and explore, but for the first two hours, we just sat and conversed, as it was very hot outside and we were tired from all the earlier activity, plus our conversation was surprisingly intense and interesting, given that my Spanish is not the best and Lourdes doesn't speak English. But after two hours, we decided to leave and get some gelato. Apparently just as soon as we finally left Clara's interview was done, but Lourdes' phone was on silent and I just didn't hear mine (it gets really bad reception here, so I'm not sure it even made any noise). Lourdes noticed that Clara had called, though, so we headed back with gelato in hand. Clara and I were supposed to take the train back to her car, but since we were a bit later than intended due to the phone/gelato confusion, Lourdes decided to drive us back to her car. Both on the way to Barcelona but particularly on the way back out, they kept getting us lost with competing and often wrong ideas about where to go (Clara seemed more right than wrong, though). I kept offering my GPS up, but they seemed to enjoy the heated discourse and resulting forays into weird dead-ends. They both said a GPS wasn't necessary, but I'd guess that we spent at least 40 minutes that day on being lost. I think it's a cultural disparity, as they really thought it was odd that I kept suggesting it...
The next day Clara and I went to a bird sanctuary in the early evening - we got to see some cranes and ducks from afar as well as some really cool jumping fish, but not much wildlife up close - and then to her friends' hotel in L'Escala for a really tasty dinner of mussels (I explained to them earlier that I do eat bivalves since in the ways that matter to me - cognition and pain reception - scientists believe they are no different than plants). Elena, one of the pair running the hotel, also showed me her artist studio. I really liked her artwork; it was also inspired by nature but in a much more abstract, sculptural way.