Travel Throwback – ¡Bienvenidos a España!, April 2008

April 2008
Spain – Barcelona & Valencia

If you have even a basic understanding of Spanish (or if you read the dateline above), you’ve already figured out that the new country I visited in 2008 was…Spain! Yes, that’s right – the guy who had (mostly) only traveled to the UK, yet who holds an undergraduate degree in Spanish finally made it to a Spanish-speaking country (I know – kind of crazy I hadn’t visited one previously). And the story of how this trip came together is a little different than my previous trips though. Picture it – Minneapolis, late March 2008…

Right off the bat, I experienced a notable life change between my last trip and this one – I moved! Before this trip, I was living in Nebraska (mostly in Omaha, though I did spend a year living two hours north of there in Norfolk), but I got a new job with Target that moved me to from stores to our corporate headquarters in Minneapolis. I actually already knew about about the move while I was on my 2007 UK/France trip, but I didn’t move until about a month after I returned from that trip, so this was the first trip taken from my new home (notable because Minneapolis/St. Paul has a much bigger, international airport, unlike Omaha).

So anyway, a new home base and a new airport to travel from – what better way to break both in than by taking a trip? In all honesty though, I wasn’t looking to take a trip at the time, but the opportunity presented itself to me. Or rather, it presented itself to Ruth Ann and SHE couldn’t say no, so she asked me and then I couldn’t say no. I don’t remember if she was actively looking at trips or not, but she somehow found (or got alerted to) a really cheap round-trip fare from Chicago to Barcelona – it was something like $500. So she emailed me (I assume it was email, since I still wasn’t on Facebook at this point and texting wasn’t really a thing yet) and asked if I was interested. At that time, I sat in a cube across the aisle from my then-boss, so I rolled my chair over and said “Hey, what do you think about me taking a trip to Spain in about a month?” Did I mention this was all happening in March, so only a handful of weeks before we would actually take the trip? Keep in mind, I was still new to working in a corporate environment and hadn’t taken a real trip since my move, so I wasn’t sure what she would say, but she quickly said it was fine with her as long as my work was covered (which it of course would be), so the wheels started turning. Ironically, my first trip from my new international airport turned out to be to Chicago – ha! But the great airfare Ruth Ann found was, of course, from Chicago (where she lives), so I had to make the trip there. It’s a quick flight and me traveling there first allowed us to then coordinate our travel together from Chicago, which is always nice (as opposed to flying separately and meeting at the destination). So before we knew it, we had plans to visit Spain!

As seems to be the norm with these throwback posts, I’m hazy on the details of how everything came together in terms of where would be going and what we would be doing, but I know that we ended up going to both Barcelona and Valencia. I *think* that was the plan from the beginning, but Ruth Ann can correct me if I’m wrong! As I said above, my undergraduate degree is in Spanish, so I was happy to visit any Spanish-speaking country and Ruth Ann is always game to visit somewhere new, though I don’t think either of us had specific designs on Spain generally or Barcelona/Valencia specifically (I’m pretty sure we’d never even talked about Spain before she found the great airfare deal!). For our accommodation, we found a perfectly decent hotel in Barcelona, though I can’t remember the name of it. For the Valencia leg, we booked the AC Hotel in Valencia, which was an independent hotel chain at the time, but has since been bought by Marriott. Although we were going to return to our original hotel when we got back to Barcelona, we enjoyed the AC in Valencia so much that we booked the AC Hotel Barcelona Forum instead! The fact that we couldn’t use the air conditioning in the first Barcelona hotel anyway (it was still April, so they hadn’t turned on air conditioning for the building yet, which meant we couldn’t use it in our room) made me even happier to say goodbye to it.

So, hotels are covered, but what did we do with our time in Spain? My specific memories of that are a bit muddled (hey, it was over a decade ago), but as I was reviewing/editing my photos, a few things came to mind. For those who haven’t been there, Barcelona is on the coast, so there are lots of great views of the Mediterranean, so we took full advantage of that on our first day via an afternoon boat trip. I remember it being pretty breezy on the water, but the views were great! And we of course spent some time exploring Las Ramblas, a series of short streets full of little shops, restaurants, street performers, and lots of tourists! It’s a great place to walk around, but the aforementioned tourists made it pretty crowded and you also have to be very aware of pickpockets (as you do in many big cities), so be sure to visit, but exercise common-sense caution. Another must-visit spot we hit was Park Güell, a park system, home of the Gaudí House Museum, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Oh, and of course, no trip to Barcelona is complete without a visit to La Sagrada Familia, the always-under-construction, MASSIVE church designed by Antoni Gaudí. And I mean that literally – it’s been under construction perpetually since 1882! According to the interwebs, it may be completed by 2026, which will be 100 years after the death of Gaudí. Talk about extended timelines! I have to assume it has progressed significantly in the ten years since we were there, but I saw some pictures of it on Facebook just the other day as some friends are currently visiting and there are definitely still plenty of cranes and construction happening. Perhaps a return trip will be in order when this amazingly gothic building is complete! Also on the list for Barcelona were the Museu d’Història de la Ciutat and the Fundació Juan Miró, both of which were worth visiting. The first (City History Museum, in case you were looking for a translation) has a lot of cool Roman ruins, while the second is a museum focusing on the modern art of, you guessed it, Juan Miró. And even if you aren’t into museums or modern art, this particular museum is perched at the top of Montjuïc, a big hill that overlooks Barcelona, so you can enjoy the spectacular views instead of (or in addition to) the art. And even more fun, the museum is reached via a neat funicular, so you get to experience a fun journey and an interesting destination. Does it get any better than that?

Hmm, I guess I remembered more than I thought I did! But still, that covers just about everything for Barcelona, so check out some pictures before we migrate to Valencia.

My first view of Barcelona from the train station at the airport.

Ruth Ann taking a picture of me taking a picture of the view from our room.

And here’s that view!

Having a meal on our first day. There aren’t many pictures of me from this trip (still no smartphone selfies yet!), but I snagged a few from Ruth Ann.

Exploring Barcelona.

Lots of great buildings and interesting architecture to see here.

And lots of palm trees! Barcelona is on the Mediterranean, after all.

The Columbus Monument.

The base of the monument.

The old Customs building in Port Vell.

The start of our cruise from Port Vell.

More from the cruise.

The water was so blue!

Walking around Las Ramblas.

A street performer on Las Ramblas.

Monument to Fransec Macià in the Plaça de Catalunya.

Ruth Ann in the Plaça Reial.

More of the Plaça Reial.

This is Orígens, a restaurant we found by chance, but enjoyed so much that we went back a second time!

I’ll be damned if I can remember what church this is!

I’m pretty certain this is that same building, but looking up this time.

I really liked the look of this rainy, narrow walkway.

This guy was really talented!

Again, no idea where this is, but I think it’s a cool picture. 🙂

Entering Park Güell.

The steps (and gecko statue) in Park Güell.

Close-up on the gecko.

The serpentine bench in Park Güell designed by Gaudí.

Me on the bench!

Ruth Ann got to sit on it, too.

We walked down below the bench, too.

I’m really glad we did because there’s great art like this to see underneath it!

Furniture inside the Gaudí House Museum, which is inside the park. As the name implies, it was Gaudí’s home for about 20 years.

An office, presumably Gaudí’s, inside the museum.

I loved this door!

One of the views from outside the museum.

La Sagrada Familia is a very imposing building!

Amazing to think that it’s been under construction for nearly 140 years!

Given its height and design, it’s kind of a hard building to photograph.

This is definitely a building where you can’t forget to look UP!

Windy staircase.

It was sometimes hard to see where the building started and ended.

Great stained glass!

Getting higher up in the church!

Amazing views from the top!

The work-in-progress nature of the building made it easier to feel like you could just fall from a height like this. Thankfully, neither of us did. 🙂

I’m pretty sure I took this somewhere near the top, but I can’t remember for sure.

Looking down, down, down.

Back safely on the ground again.

So much awesome!

Getting a photo from a different angle.

I call this “Portait of relaxation after a long day of walking.”

The first of lots of Roman ruins/artifacts from the Museu d’Història de la Ciutat.


Cool floor tiles. The color was still so well-preserved!

Some of the bigger ruins. It was so hard to get good photos here because we weren’t allowed to use flash and digital cameras in 2008 just didn’t do a good job without flash.

More busts.

A cool Roman (presumably) passageway in the museum.

Heading into Fundació Juan Miró to see some of Juan Miró’s art.

I still have no idea what this little guy is.

Colorful, if somewhat odd, art.

More colors!

These guys were delightfully creepy.

As I said above, if Miró’s art isn’t your thing, you can just savor views like these!

More incredible views.

Maybe I should have warned you that that there would be a lot of pictures, eh? Hopefully you enjoyed them though. But wait – there’s more! Did you forget about Valencia? I can’t remember exactly how long we were there, but I think it was only for two nights, so we didn’t have time to do a whole lot. We definitely explored the beach a bit (no swimming in the sea though – it was only April, after all), paid a visit to the Valencia Cathedral (including the Chapel of the Holy Grail), and also strolled around the gorgeous and futuristic-looking Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències (City of Arts and Sciences). Oh, and of course we saw some Valencia orange trees, too! Looking back, I think we both wish we could have spent more time in Valencia as it was a lot of fun, but that just gives me a reason to go back (especially since Scott hasn’t been there anyway).

Right, picture time. There aren’t nearly as many for Valencia!

Our AC Hotel in Valencia.

Palm trees by the beach.

Gorgeous water!

I may not have gone swimming in it (I remember it being pretty cold, despite the warm air temps), but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get my feet wet!

And Ruth Ann did, too!

Sandy footprints.

Breezy palm trees.

Just a cool-looking building.

The Cine Rialto.

Ruth Ann enjoying a Coke.

The tower of the Igelisa de Santa Catalina.

Inside Valencia Cathedral. Again, it was hard to get good pictures because we couldn’t use flash here, either.

More amazing stained glass.

Lots of colors to see in this altarpiece.

I remembered to look up here, too.

Methinks I may have cheated and left the flash on for this one. I won’t tell if you won’t!

The mummified arm of Saint Vincent of Saragossa.

This is potentially the Holy Grail, though it’s usually known as the Valencia Chalice.

I’m pretty certain this is the blue dome of the cathedral.

An orange tree! They were everywhere and there were also lots of oranges on the ground, rotting and being walked over. That was a bit sad to see!

The City of Arts and Sciences.

The buildings were so cool to look at!

I really love this photo!

Outside the Plaza de Toros de Valencia bullring. We didn’t go inside, but snapped a couple photos of it before we caught our train back to Barcelona.

Monument to bullfighter Manolo Montoliu outside the ring.

The Estació del Nord (North Station).

And with that, I think it’s safe to wrap up my first-ever trip to Spain! We had a really great time and I’ve still not been back to Barcelona or Valencia, though I’m looking forward to revisiting both at some point (we already have a potential trip itinerary planned for the future that includes both cities). I did get to experience two other Spanish cities (Madrid and Toledo) with Scott though, so you can read about that trip here. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we bring that proposed itinerary to life. You haven’t seen the last of me yet, Spain!

Coming up, it’s another 2008 trip! I’ll give you a hint as to the destination – it starts with U and ends with K. 😀 Read about it soon!

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About thejeffelston

Based in St. Paul, MN and love to blog about travel. Comment, follow, and join me on my journey!