Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Spain: Day 9, Madrid

We spent our final morning in Spain taking one last walk through the (now quiet) streets of Madrid—past Botín, through Plaza Mayor, and up to San Ginés for our last breakfast of churros con chocolate.  They were even better the second time.

¡Adiós, España! Gracias por tu hospitalidad.  Te queremos.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Spain: Day 8, Segovia

From Ávila we headed to Segovia, a city that made quite an impression on me when I was in elementary school and we lived in Spain.  The castle has quite a fairytale look, but it was the Roman Aqueduct that really struck me.  I’m not quite sure the kids believed us, or could fathom the significance, that the aqueduct was built over 2,000 years ago and without any mortar. 

We had such a nice afternoon exploring Segovia—beautiful vistas, Alcázar, Plaza Mayor, Catedral de Segovia, and finally the Roman Aqueduct before heading back to Madrid.  We didn’t partake in the famous Segovian suckling pig that they can cut with a plate, but we did enjoy the best plate of patatas bravas we’d had in Spain. 

{Ella and the Alcázar; methinks he’d rather be playing soccer than off to tour some old castle…he actually did play soccer in Plaza Mayor with some local kids later that day—they taught him the cheer, “¡Golazo!” when he scored a goal; me and my girl in front of the Segovia Alcázar—Segovia was one of my favorite field trips when I lived in Spain during elementary school; the perfect vista for the castle.}

{All of the regions of Spain; castle spires; view of Catedral de Segovia from Alcázar; thank goodness for railings (unique in Europe)…it was a long way down; view of Iglesia de la Vera Cruz from Alcázar; castle spire with the Iglesia de la Vera Cruz in the distance; more views from the castle.}

{Views from inside the castle; another view from up high at the castle—some sort of bridge; you’d have to ask them what was so entertaining; taking in the view; I wish I’d had a wider lens so you could really get a feel for how high up and treacherous the castle felt.}

{Exploring the grounds of the castle; love this face; love this face; and, love this face; a last look at the Segovia Alcázar.}

{Catedral de Segovia; exploring the Plaza Mayor in search of a spot for lunch; the cathedral and Christmas lights; tormenting more pigeons.}

{Iglesia de la Trinidad, on our walk from Plaza Mayor to the Roman Aqueduct.}

{The exposed section of the 9 miles of the acueducto romano if 2,500 feet long and 100 feet high.}

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Spain: Day 8, Ávila

On our last full day in Spain we went on a guided tour to Ávila and Segovia, both northwest of Madrid in the Castile-León region.  In order to see both cities, and for the welcome break of letting someone else be the tour guide, we scheduled an excursion by van with Madrid Day Tours.  After driving out of Madrid, we drove through the rocky terrain of the plateau of Castile-León, by windmills and snow-capped mountains, on busy highways and winding roads through small villages—I was trying to take it all in, hoping to spark some memories from living in the area 30 years earlier. 

We headed to Ávila first, known for its fully-preserved 11th century walls and battlements.  At 1,132 metres above sea level, Ávila is nearly twice the elevation of Madrid and we admittedly felt it on that winter day.  It was chilly—gloves and hats stayed on during our walking tour of Ávila, but, you can see from the pictures, it really didn’t hold us back.  Our guide took us around the walls, through the Convento de Santa Teresa de Jesús (built on the birthplace of Ávila’s own St. Teresa), and on to the marketplace.  We had an hour or so to explore on our own as well, so first we warmed ourselves up with some hot chocolate and coffee and some of Ávila’s famous pastries.  Ávila might’ve still looked like a medieval city, but the shops and locals looked very cosmopolitan.  We loved exploring Ávila, however chilly—the murallas (walls) of Ávila are just a spectacular sight.  

{From left to right, top to bottom: viewing Ávila from Cuatro Postes; Ella and Jack at Cuatro Postes; the view of the other side of the wall around the city; the Convent of St. Teresa; an up close look at the walls; I love the signs and view.}

{Christmas lights; a view into Plaza de Santa Teresa; Plaza de Mercado Chico; more medieval architecture; checking out St. Teresa’s finger…you read that right (she died in 1582); so many details in everything; the front of the Convent of St. Teresa.}

{The walls and battlements; the Cathedral of Ávila; statue of St. Teresa of Ávila; the Cathedral; the perfectly intact medieval walls of Ávila.}

{Exploring the Paseo del Rastro along the walls of Ávila and enjoying the beautiful views across the plains.}

{Views from the Paseo del Rastro of Ávila.}

{A little rock climbing along the walls of Ávila.}

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Spain: Day 7, Toledo

Toledo is just a 30-minute train ride away from Madrid, so, although we knew most of the major sights would be closed on New Year’s Day, we decided to make the day trip as the city is a national monument itself.  Toledo is like a time capsule—narrow streets, fortressed walls, architecture that hasn’t been touched in 500 years.  Exploring and, quite honestly, getting lost on the streets of Toledo made for what I think was one of our favorite days while in Spain, the quiet exploration of such a historic and distinctly European place. The weather was gorgeous which was fortunate because we spent nearly the entire day outside, walking around and enjoying the views.  Enough shops were open for us to buy some beautiful souvenirs unique to Toledo, which is part of the essential experience: damascene earrings, simple pocket knives for the kids (only in Toledo), and marzipan (eaten at a park overlooking the river and rocky hills).  And, after a little searching, we even found a little restaurant for yummy lunch.  So, holiday or not, we thoroughly enjoyed our Toledo experience and we’re glad we made the time for it during our time in Spain.

{From left to right, top to bottom: our walk up from the train station; first view of Toledo; pretty close to how El Greco saw it; checking out the Tajo River and the walls of the city; Ella in Toledo; the gate on the bridge.}

{Tossing stones into the river, far down below; this is the only place on our trip that made my heart skip a beat with the kids—Jack at one point wedged his foot into a crevice to help hold him as he leaned far over the edge of the bridge to get a better look; it’s a long way down, over 30m; Toledo is surrounded on 3 sides by the Tajo River; crossing the Puente de Alcántara.}

{Stepping through the Puerta de Doce Cantos; and into Toledo; Convento de Santa Fe; checking out the view from within the city; Convento de la Concepción.}

{Toledo’s own Miguel de Cervantes; view of the Alcázar of Toledo; checking out the famous swords of Toledo; Don Quixote; the Alcázar.}

{Exploring the grounds; and trying to get a better view; Iglesia de San Miguel; we honestly had trouble finding the large cathedral among the winding and labyrinthine streets of Toledo; interesting metalwork and doorways were everywhere; Toledo is very hilly; getting closer.}

{The streets are so narrow, you find most sights framed by other buildings when you viewed them; we had such a fun time just walking around, getting lost, and exploring the old streets of Toledo; Toledo’s Cathedral—we made it; construction on the cathedral began in 1226 and finished in about 1463; Toledo’s cathedral was High Gothic; and more narrow streets and alleyways…we got lost more than once.}

{Near the cathedral; another doorway’s detail; we found a marzipan shop that was open (most were closed for the holiday) near the cathedral (mazapán has been made in Toledo since the 13th century); more exploring; quite often we had the streets to ourselves—it was definitely the quietest day, which was kind of nice after days of holiday crowds; like all of the cities we visited, Toledo was thoroughly decked in holiday lights.}

{The rocky terrain of La Mancha; checking out their new pocket knives from Toledo; trying some mazapán; we all agree—yummy in small amounts; snack with a view; I like this view even better.}

{Unstrapped myself from my camera to actually get into a few shots and enjoy the view of the beautiful terrain of Castile-La Mancha.}

{Before leaving Toledo, we climbed the stairs along the city walls to get a better view of greater Toledo.}

{Back through the Puerta de Doce Cantos (the Door of 12 Songs); hard for him to stand still for long for a picture; finding some wildlife (“take a picture, mom”); there are Moorish influences in the architecture in Toledo, too; on the bridge; a look at the Puente de Alcántara (Alcántara Bridge).}

{The gate on Puente de Alcántara; view from the bridge; Ella took quite a few pictures on her iTouch; crossing back over the Puente de Alcántara; last view of Toledo.}

{Café con leche at the train station; enjoying a drink at the beautifully-tiled train station before catching our train back to Madrid; the bar at the train station.}

Friday, January 16, 2015

Spain: Day 6, Madrid

While in Madrid we, of course, wanted to tour the Prado but overlapping the Prado’s holiday schedule with our travel schedule proved to be a bit tricky—basically, during our days in Madrid we really only had a 4-hour window of opportunity when the Prado was open on New Year’s Eve to get our fill of it.  I had purchased our tickets ahead of time online so we didn’t have to worry about lines, but we left early to give us time to explore that part of town first before entering the museum.  We took the metro from Plaza Tirso de Molina to the stop near Atocha train station, just south of the Prado, and from there walked around the area taking in the new sights and also looking for a café to stop for breakfast.  We happened upon a café right across the street from the Prado (La Tapería) and I think we had one of our favorite breakfasts while in Spain (at least for Jonathan and me), the madrileño: a tortilla española with peppers in it, pan con tomate (toasted pan drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with a very fresh tomato), freshly-squeezed orange juice, and, of course, café con leche (don’t know how I start my day without these since coming home from Spain).

At 10am, we wandered around the grounds of the Prado, appreciating the statues of famous Spanish artists as well as the extremely long line of people waiting to buy tickets, and found the entrance for us to enter with our tickets which were printed at home (you can’t beat that).  I was amazed at the rapt attention Ella and Jack had for the works of art in room after room after room.  They were especially captivated by the religious-themed Italian Renaissance art (for Jack this could’ve perhaps been due to his introduction to Raphael by the TMNT…but I think for anyone it’s pretty cool to see artwork by Raphael in person).  We regarded and discussed so many great pieces of art: a self-portrait by Albrecht Dürer from 1498 that might possibly be the first time an artist depicted himself; Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights from 1505 (it was interesting to get the kids’ take on that one); Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas (c.1656), Los Borrachos (c.1628), and a Felipe IV (c.1634-35) where you can find extra ghost legs on the horse; as well as works by Goya, El Greco, Rubens, and Titian.  About two hours in to enthralled silence by all four of us, Ella turned to me and said, “I think I’m done.” I was, too, by that point—but, boy was I was impressed with the respect Ella and Jack had for the great and historical pieces of art we were viewing (I think it did help that we’d done quite a bit of research about artists with works on display at the Prado, especially Velázquez).

From the Prado, it’s about a 15-minute walk down the pedestrian lane Calle de las Huertas to Puerta del Sol.  On New Year’s Eve—or Nochevieja as they call it—in Spain, Puerta del Sol is the place to be.  All of Spain watches the countdown to midnight on television as it happens in Puerta del Sol—it’s like our Times Square, but on a smaller scale.  When we went through Puerta del Sol at around 1pm, the place was already bustling and you could see the preparations happening for later that night (barricades around the statues, lights and stage going up, an unlit ‘Feliz 2015’ neon sign above the clocktower). 

We spent the rest of our day really just walking around, exploring more of the city, enjoying being a part of the crowds and people watching all of the crazy outfits/hats, stopping in here and there to have a tapa and drinks, doing a little shopping—Madrid definitely had an easier feel, even with the crowds of New Year’s Eve for exploring, shopping, and finding places to eat than Seville and Barcelona.  At dusk, we walked back over to Plaza Oriente and the Royal Palace area and then up to Parque de Montaña to see the intact Egyptian temple, Temple de Debod, which I really wanted to see all lit up at night.  From there we walked through Plaza de España, down the Gran Vía, and back to Puerta del Sol.  We covered a lot of ground that day.

We rung in 2015 back in our hotel room with our drinks, Puerta del Sol on the television, and 12 grapes each (it is a Spanish tradition to eat a grape for each chime of the clock tower at midnight to ensure 12 lucky months to come).  We woke up in Madrid on the first morning of 2015, so I’d say that’s a good start to the new year.

{From left to right, top to bottom: Victory and the Pegasuses atop the Ministry of Development near Atocha train station; taking this picture of Jack I realized that I had lost the eyepiece cap for my camera, never to be found again, so for the rest of the trip my eye was not placed correctly when looking through the viewfinder to see what was in focus…oy, just had to have faith that I’d put my focal point on the right thing from here on out; I love all of the balconies on the apartment buildings in Madrid; two goofballs in front of the living wall (which is probably more lush during the rest of the year) of the Caxia Forum; the San Jerónimo el Real adjacent to the Prado museum; Goya—there were statues all over the grounds of the Prado of the famous Spanish artists with works in the museum; exploring the Prado grounds; Museo del Prado; we spent several hours in the Prado exploring great works of art from European masters.}

{The clock tower of Puerta del Sol; standing at the middle of Spain (just off of Puerta del Sol); walking up pedestrian avenue Calle de las Huertas; pretty light on the street; Puerta del Sol preparing for the festivities of New Year’s Eve (Puerta del Sol is Spain’s equivalent of Times Square on New Year’s Eve); the iconic bear eating the fruits off a tree (there are quite a few different stories on what the statue represents)—there was a barricade around the bottom of the statue on this day because of the impending crowds.} 

{Looking for the door with the lazy Susan for dulces, or convent sweets, from the cloistered nuns of the Church and Convent of Corpus Christi; the outside of the Plaza de la Villa; we found the old door entrance for the convent, but unfortunately they were closed for the holiday; the entrance to our hotel—just back for a quick break before our evening stroll and dinner.}

{Out for some evening exploring—Ella and Jack loved to explore all of the touristy souvenir shops; street art; it just makes me smile how peas and carrots Ella and Jack were on our trip; hanging with a local (it was a statue); Mercado de San Miguel—a pit stop for some yummy snacks and such a pretty place; Almudena Cathedral at dusk; inside the Plaza de la Villa.}

{The Royal Palace at dusk; Almudena Cathedral at dusk; I love how all of the streets and sights in Spain are so well lit at night; we made the hike past the Royal Palace to Parque de Montaña to see the Temple de Debod, an intact Egyptian temple that was a gift from Egypt in 1968.}

{The holiday celebrations continue in Spain for the Twelve Days of Christmas leading up to Three Kings Day, Día de los Reyes Magos; the streets in all of the cities we visited were thoroughly decked with Christmas lights; pretty colors and lights; Puerta del Sol lit up for New Year’s Eve; me in Puerta del Sol on New Year’s Eve—selfies don’t work quite as well with the big camera (my camera was on a theft-proof strap under my coat, which made it rather difficult to take off which, in turn, made it rather difficult for me to be in very many pictures myself, with the exception of Instagram pics); Puerta del Sol on New Year’s Eve—we only stayed here until about 10pm before the huge crush of people, but it was fun to see it that night nonetheless.  From here we strolled on through Plaza Mayor to enjoy the best bite in Spain, a take-away calamari sandwich (I wouldn’t have guessed I’d have said that before our trip, but, man, it was perfection.}

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Spain: Day 5, Madrid

We arrived in Madrid in early afternoon of the eve of New Year’s Eve.  We stayed on Calle Cava Baja, just south of Plaza Mayor, at a hotel above a restaurant in a suite for the 4 of us (the kids were on a murphy bed—it was a very modern, well-designed, and surprisingly quiet room…Cava Baja is known for its late-night tapas bars).  After enjoying a few tapas and drinks (I had a glass of vermut negre—unlike the vermouth you drink here—with a slice of orange and it was one of the best things I consumed while in Spain), we headed out for a walk up to Plaza Mayor, over to Plaza Oriente and the Royal Palace, and then back to the area north of Plaza Mayor for some snacks and shopping.  We couldn’t miss having churros con chocolate at the famous Chocolatería San Gines on our first evening in Madrid.  Nearby at El Corte Inglés, we also enjoyed the Christmas lights show and exploring the huge department store.  We had 10pm reservations at Sobrino de Botín (a restaurant founded in 1725 that is said to be the oldest restaurant in the world still in operation).  This was probably our latest dinner while in Spain, but we figured we needed to push our nights a bit later to make it past midnight the following night on New Year’s Eve.  The food was delicious and it was definitely an experience to eat in the cavernous Botín. 

{From left to right, top to bottom: the view from our hotel room; the tapas-bar lined street our hotel was on; Plaza Mayor, all decked out with a Christmas market; beautiful architecture of Madrid (off of Plaza Oriente near the Palace); Ella LOVED the bread (pan) in Spain…meanwhile Beavis and Butthead (a.k.a. Jack and Jonathan) were chuckling, “That says panis, heh heh.”}

{Almudena Cathedral; Belén in front of the cathedral; the cathedral was completed in 1993, 100 years after construction started; gardens off of Plaza Oriente near the Royal Palace; in front of the cathedral; in front of the Royal Palace.}

{All looking into the grounds of the 18th century Royal Palace—this has been the location of Madrid’s center of power since the 9th century.}

{Sights on a walk from Plaza Oriente to Plaza Mayor.}

{I love seeing how travelling as a family brings us all together—Ella and Jack were best buds on our trip (not that they aren’t usually, but there is a bit of squabbling if they usually spend a bit too much time together).  The united goal of trying to reach Chocolatería San Gines for a snack of churros con chocolate before our late dinner at Botín, the world’s oldest restaurant still in operation (per the Guinness Book of World Records).}

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Spain: Day 4, Barcelona

We only had one full day in Barcelona, so we knew we could really only see a few major sights in depth.  Architect Antoni Gaudí’s work in Barcelona is so unique and special, something you truly can’t see anywhere else, so we decided to purchase tickets for certain time slots for two of the biggest Gaudí attractions (Park Güell and La Sagrada Familía) and center our day around touring those sights.  After a delicious, self-serve breakfast at our hotel we took a taxi to Park Güell as it was over 2 miles away, uphill nonetheless, from where we were staying (and taxis are fairly inexpensive in Spain).  We had perfect weather while in Barcelona and on this particular morning at Park Güell the light and the views were spectacular.  We had 9:30am entrance tickets to the park and 1pm entrance tickets to La Sagrada Familía so we had plenty of time to enjoy the park at a leisurely pace and then make the long walk to the church, even stopping along the way at a few souvenir shops for the kids who had money burning a hole in their pockets.    

From the park we made our way to La Sagrada Familía (with the help of the City Maps 2Go app which somehow tracks your movement without the use of cellular or wifi), figured out where we would enter with our tickets, saw the long lines at the other entrance and were thankful we’d purchased ours ahead of time online, and then found a great outside café near the church to have a little lunch before our tickets’ entry time.  This was probably one of my favorite meals, but that might’ve been because it gave us plenty of time to appreciate the very special view. 

La Sagrada Familía was the only tourist attraction for which we paid for each of us to have audio guide headsets and it was well worth it—the lovely choir music and storytelling of the tour definitely added to the experience.  And what an experience it was.  After touring Gothic churches over the previous few days, La Sagrada Familía felt so modern, yet you had to realize that construction on this still-under-construction church had began over 130 years earlier.  Touring this church was unlike anything I’d ever experienced—it truly is an inspired work of art.  All of the Gaudí creations, as well as many structures throughout the city by other Modernist architects in the late-1800s to early 1900’s, made me fall in love with the spirit of Barcelona—where else in that time period could such outrageous design have been embraced.  Barcelona truly is a special city.

That evening we took a stroll down Las Ramblas to explore La Boqueria, a public marketplace where we bought ourselves a snack of olives and chocolates (probably THE most expensive food we purchased while in Spain, but it was a fun experience each picking out a few things we wanted to try…the candied orange slices dipped in chocolate were amazing).  Afterwards, we took a very long stroll down Passeig de Gràcia (near our hotel and where the Block of Discord is) looking for a restaurant known for its paella—it had been renamed the previous month so we passed it by a few times and even returned to our hotel to ask about it before actually finding the right place, but the long walk did help push us to the normal late hour for dinner (by the time we got to 9 or 10pm some nights, it really was hard to convince ourselves sometimes that we should eat…we admittedly filled up on tapas in the evening like everyone else and then skipped dinner a few nights, or had a few oranges or a snack we’d picked up at a market).  But, on our last night in Barcelona we wanted to try some paella (it was first created in nearby Valencia) and it gave us the chance to see another Gaudí house, Casa Milá. 

Mid-morning the next day we were off on a not quite 3-hour train ride to Madrid, where we would stay the next 4 nights.  Barcelona did not disappoint.

{From left to right, top to bottom: entrance to Park Güell (pronounced “gway” by Catalans); beautiful temperate weather for lush plants at the end of December—we have coats and hats on, but it really wasn’t very cold; beautiful view from the park of the city and the Mediterranean; Ella got her new Lululemon bag for Christmas so she was excited to carry it for the first few days; this “dragon” (again, with the St. Jordi, or St. George, theme here in Barcelona) guards the park.}

{The tile benches of Park Güell; me and Ella; Gaudí had his park construction workers collect any broken plates or tile they could find around the city to help create the mosaic benches of the park; can’t beat the view.}

{The cross of Park Güell’s Porter’s Lodge typically photographed overlooking the city was under construction when we visited; the undulating mosaic benches go on and on and are completely decorated on front and back.  You can see La Sagrada Familía under construction off in the distance in a few of these pictures.}

{Between the stunning views, the morning light, and my cute kids I couldn’t help but take a bunch of pictures.}

{The construction of Gaudí’s Park Güell began in 1900, commissioned by Güell as an upscale residential community—this is the guard’s house for the community (the community was never completed and in the 1920’s Park Güell became a public park, was recognized as an artistic monument in 1969 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984); this land was known as Muntanya Pelada (bare mountain) before the park was built and Gaudí was always inspired by the nature/land on which he built; a cute boy and more intricate mosaics; the Hypostyle Room, atop of which are the undulating mosaic tile benches; another view of the guard’s house (La Casa Del Guarda)—Gaudí’s style is so singular and inspired; Ella with a mosaic sculpture of a snake’s head coming out of the Catalan flag; Jack with the mosaic “dragon” fountain, also known as the salamander.}

{Enjoying the Austria Gardens of Park Güell; the Portico of the Washerwoman (you can see her in the column here); chasing pigeons near the portico; selfie time; the inside of the portico was inspired by the shape of a wave; poor pigeons; a better view of the wave of the portico; Gaudí was truly inspired by the mountain; Gaudí’s father was an ironworker and Gaudí loved to incorporate sculptured ironworks into his sites.}

{Sights along our walk from Park Güell, which is way atop a hill in Barcelona (we took a taxi from our hotel to the park); there was a very wide pedestrian road between the lanes of traffic; the Passion Façade of La Sagrada Família, Gaudí’s most famous work, 130 years after construction began it is still unfinished; throughout Barcelona there are public water fountains and even up until the 1940s many locals still got their water from these fountains; another view of La Sagrada Família.}

{We had purchased our time-slot tickets to La Sagrada Família online before our trip, so we skipped the lines and instead had some time for a yummy lunch (fried eggplant with honey, Spanish tortilla, and calamari, and montaditos for the kids…plus café con leche and Fanta, of course) with an exceptional view; definitely not a view you have everyday at lunch; mmmm, café con leche; we did some souvenir shopping today (the kids both had Christmas money to spend)—Ella got a mosaic salamander (dragon) figurine and Jack got a Messi Catalan flag FCB jersey, both on our walk from Park Güell to La Sagrada Família (hence the bag on the table).}

{We entered at the Nativity Façade; you can see on this façade, the birth of Jesus; this façade is highly decorated and has that sandcastle look La Sagrada Família is known for; later in our tour, we climbed the Nativity Façade towers and crossed the connecting bridge; this is the Passion Façade, stark in contrast to the Nativity Façade.}

{Our tickets were for 1pm and, at that time (and perhaps it was created to have this effect at any daylight time) the light coming into the nave was so ethereal; the effect of the columns and ceiling were to look like you were looking up through trees in a forest; we each listened to the audio tour while we walked in and around the church, which I highly recommend—lovely church music played during the tour and it all added to the experience, blocking out noises of other tourists and keeping your focus on the awe-inspiring details of this church; of all of the churches I’ve experienced as a tourist, I will say (and this was in part due to the beautiful church music in the audio guide and the lovely light streaming in through the stained glass) that this might be the only one I feel elicited a truly a spiritual experience for me.}

{Ella and Jack were captivated by the audio guides, too; I spent most of my time in La Sagrada Família looking up; intently listening and learning; there were thoughtful details and symbolism everywhere you looked; I loved the light.}

{More interior views of La Sagrada Família.}

{Words from the Bible in various languages on the doors of the Passion Façade; a closer look at the Passion Façade; Roman soldiers; another view inside La Sagrada Família; floor at the Passion Façade entrance.}

{Interior details; exterior details of nature at Nativity Façade; outside Nativity Façade; JESUS on doors of Passion Façade; the Hope entry of the Nativity Façade above which has a statue of Saint Joseph with the child Jesus standing; Ella and Jack in front of the Nativity Façade.}

{Another view inside of the beautiful light; we are about to adventure up to the top of the Nativity Façade towers; a view from going up the towers, so many details from nature; there were many doves on the Nativity Façade towers; I love seeing the unique shadow of La Sagrada Família on the Barcelona city streets.}

{Another dove and the shadow on the view of the city; going down a tower; crossing the bridge between towers; my favorite view of La Sagrada Família shadow; a look at the more cosmopolitan Barcelona and the Mediterranean (plus the moon, too).}

{A look inside the church from the Nativity towers; more details up high on the towers; going down the narrow, winding staircase (eek!); you can see from here just how high we were (the people are tiny ants); “Sanctus” is repeated 9 times on each bell tower of the Nativity Façade; another last look at the Passion Façade before exiting the grounds of La Sagrada Família.}

{Conveniently (a.k.a. well planned) located across the street from La Sagrada Família was an official FC Barcelona store; Jack was in heaven and had trouble deciding what to buy without blowing his entire vacation spending money; throughout the streets of Barcelona we saw Catalan flags hanging from balconies and here “Catalans want to vote”; the previous month, an informal vote (more than 2 million of the 5.4 million eligible voters in Catalonia voted) showed that 80% of Catalans want it to be an independent state.}

{We explored the public marketplace La Boqueria off of Las Ramblas in the early evening, looking for some snacks before a late dinner—we came away with olives and chocolates.  From left to right, top to bottom: cured meats and sausages (you can see the blood sausage here, one thing we weren’t brave enough to try while in Spain); the entrance to the market; flowers along Las Ramblas; the canned meats in Spain are of the highest quality; thin slices of jamón; full legs of jamón—at this time of year (the holidays) families will buy an entire leg and slice it throughout the weeks of the holidays for guests.}

{The freshest of fish; yummy varieties of olives; fresh fruit; salted cod (bacalao)—not native to the waters of Spain, but traditional in Spanish dishes (preserved in salt on the ships coming back from fishing in colder waters and then soaked in water before preparation); goose barnacles; checking out the seafood.}

{Bon Nadal means “Merry Christmas” in Catalan; another of Gaudí’s creations, Casa Milá (or La Pedrera which means “The Quarry”); we couldn’t leave Barcelona without having paella for dinner; Jack in his Catalan flag FCB Messi jersey; I think both kids were excited about drinking their orange drinks out of “wine” glasses with dinner.}