Barcelona: Our city of dreams!

I started this post with the intent of following the normal layout: what we did day-to-day, and then add some pics for fun. Then, I realized it would be the world’s longest post as there was just SO MUCH that we loved and it would be hard to trim down the content. Because of that, you’re getting our Top 10 reasons to visit Barcelona; maybe I can keep commentary below 1000 words.

So, in no particular order:
1. & 2. Art and Architecture. I’ll let the pictures do the talking. This place is paradise for someone that loves art and architecture. Most of the art/architecture in our pictures was designed & built by Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926). (Look him up…he’s a creative genius!)

La Rambla: Performance street artist--he stayed completely still until someone dropped a coin into a protected slot. Then he did a precise number of movements that had him end up sitting in the exact same spot.  There were quite a few of these artists along La Rambla, and they were all so impressive.

La Rambla: Performance street artist–he stayed completely still until someone dropped a coin into a protected slot. Then he did a precise number of movements that had him end up sitting in the exact same spot. There were quite a few of these artists along La Rambla, and they were all so impressive.

Casa Batllo: Looking down the internal light-well.

Casa Batllo: Looking down the internal light-well.

Casa Batllo: The patio and rear facade.

Casa Batllo: The patio and rear facade.

Casa Batllo: The front of the house. Given the nickname of "House of Bones".

Casa Batllo: The front of the house. Given the nickname of “House of Bones”.

Casa Batllo: Sarah enjoyed looking down at the people on the sidewalk from the main drawing room. Basically she photo-bombed alot of people taking pictures of the house!

Casa Batllo: Sarah enjoyed looking down at the people on the sidewalk from the main drawing room. Basically she photo-bombed alot of people taking pictures of the house!

Casa Batllo: Looking down one of the Attic halls. Was meant to give the sensation of the skeleton of a large animal.

Casa Batllo: Looking down one of the Attic halls. Was meant to give the sensation of the skeleton of a large animal.

There was SO MUCH graffiti all over the place, that I began taking photos of the security doors that looked pretty cool. Another form of 'art' throughout Barcelona.

There was SO MUCH graffiti all over the place, that I began taking photos of the security doors that looked pretty cool. Another form of ‘art’ throughout Barcelona.

Sagrada Familia: The super-steep, Spiral Staircase found in one of the towers. Normally closed to the public, I was able to take them down after going up in the gallery. No railing at all, so it was a little scary, but so worth it!

Sagrada Familia: The super-steep, Spiral Staircase found in one of the towers. Normally closed to the public, I was able to take them down after going up in the gallery. No railing at all, so it was a little scary, but so worth it!

Sagrada Familia: The brass doors on the Passion Facade of the church. There were 4 of these doors total.

Sagrada Familia: The brass doors on the Passion Facade of the church. There were 4 of these doors total.

Sagrada Familia: The stained glass allowing the light to come in down the southeast side of the Nave. The Northeast side had orange, red and yellow stained glass.

Sagrada Familia: The stained glass allowing the light to come in down the southeast side of the Nave. The Northeast side had orange, red and yellow stained glass.

Sagrada Familia: Looking up to the ceiling of the nave. It's supported by a 'forest' of fluted pillars, made to look like trees.

Sagrada Familia: Looking up to the ceiling of the nave. It’s supported by a ‘forest’ of fluted pillars, made to look like trees.

Sagrada Familia: The northern entrance, also known as the Nativity Facade. The 3 doors on this side are dedicated to Faith, Hope and Charity.

Sagrada Familia: The northern entrance, also known as the Nativity Facade. The 3 doors on this side are dedicated to Faith, Hope and Charity.

Arc del Triomf: Was used as the main gateway to the 1888 Universal Exhibition.

Arc del Triomf: Was used as the main gateway to the 1888 Universal Exhibition.

3. Open spaces to run around. So, this is more a Sarah favorite. We learned our lesson from our Munich trip and to keep from having some major meltdowns, we specifically made time each day for Sarah to run and play. There were quite a few parks that we had to choose from, as well as open squares that were pretty safe for a running toddler. We noticed that parents here were a little more at ease with their kids straying from them. There were a couple of times that we found ourselves looking for parents of little kids that wandered near us. I think as Americans, we were not used to this, but I’m sure it’s very liberating for a little one to have that freedom. (That’s not to say we’ll do it though! This momma is a little too protective.)

Parc de la Ciutadella: Once home to a citadel in 1715, it was turned into a park in 1878. Sarah loved the boat lake, the playground (of course), and being able to run around being loud!

Parc de la Ciutadella: Once home to a citadel in 1715, it was turned into a park in 1878. Sarah loved the boat lake, the playground (of course), and being able to run around being loud!

Parc de la Ciutadella: Sarah thought this was 'so scary' at first and asked what it was; after a short explanation, she was game for sitting on the trunk!

Parc de la Ciutadella: Sarah thought this was ‘so scary’ at first and asked what it was; after a short explanation, she was game for sitting on the trunk!

4. The food was A-Ma-Zing! We tried everything we could, from paella to roast chicken, tapas to pizza. Fortunately, Barcelona is smoke-free inside restaurants. Unfortunately, outdoor seating is not, and people do not care if you have a small child with you or not. We tried sitting outside at a couple of places, and had people chain-smoking beside us. It was a lot off-putting, but we learned our lesson and chose to eat at odd times, or inside. We found our favorite meals were at places off the beaten path.

Mercat de Sant Joseph or La Boqueria: Barcelona's most colorful food market. Located just off of La Rambla (and minutes from our apartment!) This was one of the candy stalls.

Mercat de Sant Joseph or La Boqueria: Barcelona’s most colorful food market. Located just off of La Rambla (and minutes from our apartment!) This was one of the candy stalls.

La Boqueria: Shopping for some sausages to bring home.

La Boqueria: Shopping for some sausages to bring home.

La Boqueria: Fish Stall. Actually saw some marine life that I had never seen up close before!

La Boqueria: Fish Stall. Actually saw some marine life that I had never seen up close before!

5. They LOVE children! Sarah was constantly being touched or patted by strangers (though, not in a scary, creepy way.) They would launch into a full on discussion with her and she would reply with ‘Hola’ and ‘Barcelona’. She was a hit with the locals–especially the elderly.

Sagrada Familia: I love this photo. She was happy to be able to walk (and dance) around and the stained glass in the windows looked amazing!

Sagrada Familia: I love this photo. She was happy to be able to walk (and dance) around and the stained glass in the windows looked amazing!

6. Our apartment. Since we were going to be there for 5 days, we chose to rent an apartment. It was cheaper than a hotel and with Sarah in tow, we felt it would be nice for her to have the run of the place and not have to be quiet at all times, for fear of bothering people through paper-thin walls. Also, to have a fully stocked kitchen at our disposal guaranteed at least one meal a day made at home…and cold milk at Sarah’s disposal. We were fortunate in our apartment choice in that it had a 24 hour grocery right next door and was a 1-3 minute walk to a subway entrance, a pier, La Ramble (a historically popular tourist destination), an open square that was great for running off some energy, and multiple shops and eateries. Other than a little bit of an off-putting smell coming from the bathroom sink, this place was perfect!

Monument a Colom, aka, Columbus. It marks the spot where Columbus stepped ashore from his 1493 voyage to the Caribbean. (The locals considered him one their own, as opposed to an Italian.)

Monument a Colom, aka, Columbus. It marks the spot where Columbus stepped ashore from his 1493 voyage to the Caribbean. (The locals considered him one their own, as opposed to an Italian.)

Port de Barcelona

Port de Barcelona

7. Going in November was perfect for us. Apparently it isn’t as crowded with tourists. The longest we waited for anything was about 20 minutes to get tickets for Sagrada Familia (which was worth the wait on so many levels!!) Everything else was pretty much walk in and go…including food.

8. Another plus for November is the weather. In the 5 days we were there, we had rain only once. It was sunny and in the low 60’s during the day and cool during the evenings. So, unless you’re wanting to go to Barcelona for the beaches, this is a great time of year to go. The one downside is that we had to pack for layers, but it wasn’t too bad since we’re used to that now. HA!

9. No sense of urgency. We never felt rushed to do anything. And because of that we were able to do and really enjoy almost everything on our list. We all slept in, took our time with everything we did, ate meals off schedule, and even went to bed off-schedule (Gasp!! I don’t think she was in bed before 9:00 any night we were there!) The locals have multiple meals throughout the day, with a really late tapas and wine meal anytime after 9:00, so we tried to go with the flow. Granted, eating that late for us was not going to happen, but still being out and about after 8:00pm was a huge deal!

Sitges: A beach town that we stayed at for one night. We got to see locals surfing and enjoy some really good food!

Sitges: A beach town that we stayed at for one night. We got to see locals surfing and enjoy some really good food!

Running around on a quiet pier.

Running around on a quiet pier.

Montjuic: The fountains in front of the Palau Nacional (houses an art museaum.) The fountain at the foot of this hill, Font Magica, puts on a music and light show as darkness falls. We were able to catch one of the shows.

Montjuic: The fountains in front of the Palau Nacional (houses an art museaum.) The fountain at the foot of this hill, Font Magica, puts on a music and light show as darkness falls. We were able to catch one of the shows.

10. Complete strangers were so nice to us…and very worried about our security. I had different people come up to me and tell me to ‘watch’ my camera around my neck and the backpack on our back. Fortunately we never had an issue, so I felt we looked ‘intimidating’ enough. Seriously though, apparently pick-pocketing is an issue in Barcelona, but with the little one in tow, we weren’t really in the types of environments that promote that. We felt safe the whole time we were there, but we were also a little more aware of our surroundings than normal too.

And finally, one to grow on,
11. Basically, if given the chance, you should just go.

Last night in Barcelona! Walking home from dinner down La Rambla.

Last night in Barcelona! Walking home from dinner down La Rambla.

PS- on a totally different note, this was the first time that Sarah had to have her own seat on one of the budget airlines. She’s 2! What 2-year-old is going to sit calmly in an airplane seat? Well, not ours! We really didn’t want to take her bulky car seat since we wouldn’t need it, so we researched our options. We eventually found a travel seat/backpack by Trunki and it was a life saver. She used it on the plane and in cabs (and it could also be used in restaurants as a booster seat.) So, for you parents out there that will be traveling with little ones, look this thing up!

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Oktoberfest!

If Oktoberfest in Munich happens to be missing from your bucket list, it’s time to update the list!

We chose to go on the first weekend, due to all of the ceremonial events that took place in the first 48 hours. So, we flew into Munich the Thursday before and unfortunately, by the time we got to our hotel and settled in, it was about dinner time. We took the opportunity to check out our little neighborhood and found a small bar/restaurant not too far from us. We ordered some amazing schnitzel and beers, and let the little one be entertained by drink coasters. Win-Win for everyone involved!

Matching game with beer coasters

Matching game with beer coasters

We woke up Friday, ready to explore! Fortunately, we chose our hotel due to its proximity to the Underground, so after a few stops we were in the heart of Munich, or Royal Munich. Our first stop was the Englischer Garten (English Garden). This place was huge, over 1,000 acres of land with streams, bridges, beer gardens, etc…basically, plenty of room for an almost 2-year-old to run. We found the Greek temple, built in 1837 for King Ludwig I, and the Chinese pagoda beer garden, erected in 1790.

Hanging out at the Greek Temple

Hanging out at the Greek Temple

The beer garden at the Chinese Pagoda. We arrived just as they were opening.

The beer garden at the Chinese Pagoda. We arrived just as they were opening.

After a light lunch of pretzels and beer (don’t worry, the child had legitimate food to eat besides pretzels), we took off to continue our tour of Royal Munich.

We did a lot of walking on Friday…with no purpose of visiting anything specific. Because of the walk we eventually happened upon the Hofbrauhaus, Munich’s most famous brewery. It’s been around since 1589, with some major renovations in 1950, after its destruction in the war. Anyway, due to Oktoberfest starting the next day, to say it was busy is a mild understatement. There are no hostesses to get you a seat, no reservations to be made; it’s a game-on atmosphere where you hope for the best in finding a place to sit and eat, & you share a table with strangers.

The Hofbrauhaus

The Hofbrauhaus

Fortunately, having Sarah with us actually helped. These two older gentlemen were giving me the eye and told me they were leaving if we wanted their spot! Yah! We sat down with two young guys, who I’m sure were super-excited to have a little child ruining their buzz with her stares. Regardless, we got some very tasty food and beers, and our waitress loved Sarah and brought her some entertainment in the shape of coloring pencils and paper. Not that she needed it though. Between the brass band about 15 yards from us, people talking to her (because it’s apparently the cutest thing to have a little one there), and just the overall happy loudness of it all, she was perfectly fine. We loved this place. Put it on your list if you make it to Munich.

Getting a bite and a beer at the Hofbrauhaus

Getting a bite and a beer at the Hofbrauhaus

After our early dinner, we continued our tour until we were ready to call it a day. A perfect day in Munich.

Unfortunately, Saturday’s weather was total crap! Rainy, cool, and windy. Not a great first day of the festival. Regardless, we bundled up, put on our rain gear and headed to the Oktoberfest grounds, Theresienwiese, or Therese meadow.

We made it in time to watch the ceremonial arrival of the brewers and beer-tent landlords. They come in on horse-drawn carriages covered in flowers. Pretty neat to see.

The Spatenbrau beer barrels arriving at the Oktoberfest grounds during the ceremonial arrival of the brewers and landlords.

The Spatenbrau beer barrels arriving at the Oktoberfest grounds during the ceremonial arrival of the brewers and landlords.

We also ‘heard’ the tapping of the first barrel–no way we were getting in that tent! Truthfully, I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of people there. We were shoulder to shoulder, at times completely surrounded. and not moving for minutes at a time. No one was rude, but it was not the most comfortable feeling, especially when Sarah wanted nothing more than to get down, and that sure wasn’t happening! After the tapping, the crowds dispersed throughout the festival and it wasn’t too bad.

So, the beer tents. What Oktoberfest is really all about. Huge, ornately decorated tents; some able to seat 10,000 people! There are 14 major tents and 21 smaller tents. Everyone is welcome inside, but in order to sit, eat and drink, you must make seat reservations at least 6 months in advance. Unfortunately for us (i.e. Matt), we didn’t do that and could only check out the tents with no beverages in hand. They each had beer gardens, but they fill up immediately, and people DO NOT MOVE!

Lowenbrau beer tent

Lowenbrau beer tent

Inside the Lowenbrau beer tent

Inside the Lowenbrau beer tent

The Spanferkel beer tent

The Spanferkel beer tent

We walked around the festival, which is just like an upscale state fair, but much more expensive. We did end up finding a merry-go-round beer garden that had a small table that we snatched up. We finally had a beer at Oktoberfest.

Our Merry-Go-Round beer garden

Our Merry-Go-Round beer garden

We’ve been asked multiple times about having Sarah there and would we do it again. She desperately wanted to just get down and run and due to the crowds of people, that couldn’t happen. We were ‘those parents’ for a bit and put one of those harness things on her so that she could walk but not get too far away from us. (We got a few stares, but whatever, we never lost her!) So, we’d definitely do it again, but not with a toddler, or on the first day/weekend!

Family pic atop the Bavaria Statue, overlooking a portion of the Oktoberfest grounds

Family pic atop the Bavaria Statue, overlooking a portion of the Oktoberfest grounds

Because we were leaving late Sunday night, we had plenty of time to be tourists again throughtout the day. We headed towards the City Center and Royal Munich areas, with the goal of going to the Marienplatz and to the Residenz. The Marienplatz is a square of shops and cafes in the heart of Munich, known for a gold statue of the Virgin Mary that was erected in 1638. When the statue was taken down for cleaning in the 60’s, a small casket, containing a splinter of wood said to be from the cross of Christ, was found in the base. That seems kind of important, right?! The Rathaus-Glockenspiel is located here as well and is known for its chimes and re-enactments of two stories from the 16th century-a marriage of Duke Wilhelm V, and Schäfflertanz, or the coopers’ dance, regarding the plague of 1517.

The Marienplatz, waiting to hear & see the Glockenspiel put on its show

The Marienplatz, waiting to hear & see the Glockenspiel put on its show

Random home covered in this crazy green growth (kind of looked like kudzu)

Random home covered in this crazy green growth (kind of looked like kudzu)

While walking around, we happened upon the Costume and Rifleman’s Procession. Another Oktoberfest ‘top event’–according to the guidebooks. It’s Europe’s biggest folk parade with horse-drawn carriages and marching bands! Around 9,000 people from all over Europe walk, in full folk regalia, a 4-mile route to the Oktoberfest grounds. Sarah loved it, she would wave to people and they would wave back! It was all so extremely cool to see!

Costume and Rifleman's Procession

Costume and Rifleman’s Procession

Costume and Rifleman's Procession

Costume and Rifleman’s Procession

Costume and Rifleman's Procession

Costume and Rifleman’s Procession

After the parade and a quick lunch we headed to The Residenz (Royal Palace.)

Getting lunch at the Augustiner

Getting lunch at the Augustiner

Started in 1363, it is considered one of Germany’s true treasures. We spent most of the afternoon here, just touring the Residenz Museum and Ground Floor (due to time, we chose not to include the Treasury or Cuvillies Theatre.) The Ancestral Gallery and Antiquarium are worth the visit alone, but there was so much more to see and it should also be on your list of places to see!

Antiquarium: The bust of Julius Caeser

Antiquarium: The bust of Julius Caeser

The Grotto Hall: created using seashells, among other things

The Grotto Hall: created using seashells, among other things

As morbid as this is, perhaps our favorite room was The Reliquary Museum room. A collection, founded in 1577, of religious relics mainly from a Catholic standpoint; bones of saints encased in gold, or children’s mummies encrusted with jewels. It took me a few minutes to realize what I was looking at (i.e. bones inside ornate, jeweled shrines) but once I did, I had to start over. Completely amazing!

Reliquaries Chamber: Relic containing pieces of Christ's Cross and Crown of Thorns

Reliquaries Chamber: Relic containing pieces of Christ’s Cross and Crown of Thorns

We had a list of things we wanted to try to see while we were there and only one place was missed, so that’s not too bad. Especially when traveling with a tiny person that doesn’t like her routine disrupted (i.e. late afternoon milk and Peppa Pig.) We have every intention of going back when Sarah is old enough to understand the history of WWII, so that we can visit some of the more somber places of Munich history. All in all, another great trip!

Trying out her dirndl--a little too big for this year though

Trying out her dirndl–a little too big for this year though

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