SPAIN – Not with you 2 idiots!

I think Texas went to hell… and somebody forgot to tell us; because, there’s no way it’s supposed to be this bloody hot! The only people excited about the weather in Texas right now are Scott Fisher  – Austin’s Fox 7 Weather and air conditioning repair man-woman-persons. Just trying to be politically correct. Scott do something! Anyway, I was thinking about taking a vacation to Arizona, just so that when somebody says “Man! It’s hot!” I can reply… “It’s not as hot as Texas!”. OK, I’ll step down from the weather soap box now.

Plaza de Toros - Seville, Spain

As I jumped in my black SUV (Super Urban Van). Just kidding. And that’s actually quite creepy. As I jumped in my SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) this evening at 6:37pm, I couldn’t believe that the temperature gauge showed 111F (43C). WHAT? 10 hours of sitting on black asphalt at my company parking lot will do that to a vehicle. Before I could project any profanities from my mouth, the black leather seats burned my black backside as I was grabbing the black steering wheel.  It was at this moment that 2 thoughts came to mind.

A) OUCH! Why did I buy a black SUV with black leather? Because it was October when you bought it. That was my sub-conscious answering the question. I quickly told it to shut up!

B) There must be a patio in Spain somewhere that I could be sitting with a sangria (or cerveza) right now listening to flamenco music.

Las Ramblas - Barcelona, Spain - Nov 2003

November 2003. I had been dating a girl in Texas for about 6 months. I really liked her. A LOT. So, what do you do when you REALLY like somebody? You go to Spain with your friends Mario and Chad. Huh? Mario had been to the United States. Chad had been there too. Unfortunately for the 3 of us… I had the most travel experience, and I only spoke 1 language – English. 2 if you count Jamaican as a language. So there we were, The Three Amigos on our way from London, England to Spain. Our destination… the capital of Catalonia – BARCELONA!

View of Barcelona from Montjuic Castle

Like good little tourists, we took the city bus from Barcelona Airport (El Prat de Llobregat Aeropuerto) and wheeled our luggage about a mile after getting off at the wrong stop in the city. Nice. Real nice. We were off to a great start. In case you want some solid transportation advice -There are a couple of different buses.  Aerobus Express Bus Service and then the other one. We took… the other one. Don’t make that same mistake. Aerobus is an express service to the city center. More specifically, to Placa Espanya or Placa de Catalunya. Makes life MUCH easier for navigation. These are the troubles I go through so that I can hopefully one day turnaround (albeit 8yrs later) and help others avoid failure… or looking like 3 idiots from Texas. Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before we found our destination and settled into our hotel. I’m quickly realizing that I’m going into waaaaay too much detail about this trip, so let’s zoom out a bit for a more bird’s eye view of the adventure.

Madrid, Spain - Nov 2003
Madrid, Spain
Madrid, Spain - Nov 2003

If you’re slightly familiar with who I am, you will know that I LOVE to people watch. If you have no idea who I am… I LOVE to people watch. Now that this has been established, I can tell you that one of the greatest places on the entire Planet Earth to people watch – Las Ramblas, Barcelona, Spain. We “rambled” if you will from one end to the other and everything in between. I’m not sure if it was Anthony Bourdain (one of my Travel Channel favorites) or Samantha Brown (another Travel Channel favorite) who said that if you want to learn about a city, go to the marketplace and see where the locals buy (and even eat) their food. In Barcelona, the epicenter of market life is Mercat de La Boqueria. Probably one too many beers inside us, we played “Where’s Waldo?” amongst the various fruit and vegetable stands. In addition to Dublin, Ireland, The Rialto in Venice, Italy, and Saturday morning in Ljubljana, Slovenia city center, Mercat de La Boqueria is definitely one of the most impressive marketplaces I’ve ever seen.

"Where's Waldo?" - Mercat de la Boqueria - Barcelona, Spain

Which reminds me. The FOOD! I think paella is to Spain as BBQ is to Texas. It’s everywhere! And… it’s good! I think I ate paella at least once per day. Chad stuck to anything with the word pollo (aka chicken). Mario was addicted to the cured meats and breads. Food in Spain is fantastic. Funny story. On our last night, we went to a Chinese restaurant by the hotel. Mario is Mexican. Do NOT confuse this with being Spanish. A Mexican from San Antonio, Texas speaks a completely different Spanish than a Chinese lady who speaks Catalonian Spanish in Barcelona. Meanwhile, Tweedle Dum (that’s me) and Tweedle Dee (that’s Chad) just stood there smiling. I ordered carne de res y brócoli. I’d eaten enough paella to last a lifetime, so could make out BEEF and BROCCOLI from my pathetic Spanish skills. Can’t remember what Mario ordered; but, he tried to order chicken fried rice for Chad. The lady was arguing with him in Spanish and there were a lot of arm movements. To make a long story short… poor Chad got a piece of FRIED CHICKEN and a bowl of white RICE. This is what makes travel FUN!

The Alcazar – Seville, Spain

Before leaving Barcelona, I recommend doing the cheesy double decker Barcelona Hop-on Hop Off  bus tour around the city. You truly get a taste of Barcelona and Antoni Gaudi’s architectural influence – Sagrada Familia – Park Guell – Casa Batllo.  And if you’ve got some time to spare, visit Montjuïc Castle – Castell de Montjuïc, where you get a fantastic panoramic view of the city. We actually walked up to the castle, so there’s probably an easier way to see the city; but, recommended. My favorite place in Barcelona… Barri Gotic – The Gothic Quarter in the old town. Plaça del Pi, located just off the Ramblas, and the church of Santa María del Pi are definite highlights; but, the entire area is filled with incredible history, architecture, culture, arts & crafts, cafes, restaurants, shops, and of course… people watching!

La Sagrada Familia (under construction) - Barcelona, Spain - Nov 2003
Statue of Christopher Columbus - Las Ramblas, Barcelona
shopping in Barri Gotic - Barcelona, Spain - Nov 2003

The next few days, we had a BAD experience in Madrid. I don’t hold any grudges against the city of Madrid; however, Chad had his backpack stolen while checking in at the hotel lobby, and that just left a negative cloud on our trip. Rather than focus on negativity, we cut our Madrid stay short by a day (or two) and jumped on the Ave down to Seville. The Iberian Rail Pass was awesome. Highly recommended. My assessment of Sevilla is… THIS is Spain! Sevilla is over 2000 years old, so to be standing there was remarkable. As we walked across the plaza in the historic quarter, our eyes locked onto the massive structure before us – The Cathedral of Seville (Catedral de Sevilla). Built on the site of a mosque, it is the third largest church in Europe and the largest Gothic building in Europe. It also boasts the largest altarpiece in the world. Taking just over a century to complete (1402-1506), it is unfathomable that we really don’t have any architectural structure in our entire country (United States of America) that dates back this far. The Alcazar across from the cathedral showing a mixture of Arabic, Muslim and Christian rule is now the residence of His Royal Majesty Juan Carlos when he visits Seville. Mesmerizing! Looking back across the plaza, it is unavoidable to notice the horse-drawn carriages that line the old town square and feel like you’ve been transported back in time. As we made our way to a few tapas bars (a variety of appetizers and snacks – not topless bars), sangria in hand, the sun setting quietly on the city of Sevilla, my thoughts clearly embraced the fact that this is truly one of the most romantic and beautiful cities I have ever seen in my life… and I’m here with you 2 idiots!

Torre del Oro - Seville, Spain - Nov 2003
Old Town - Seville, Spain
Cathedaral of Seville, Spain
Seville, Spain - Nov 2003

That girl I was dating back in Texas… she’s now my wife (5yrs married). One day, I will get back to Sevilla; but, for now, I’ll cherish the time I spent with my friends. Especially remembering the deafening silence while standing in the Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla – the oldest bullring in Spain. There was no bullfighting or corrida that day. It was November. The short season was over at the end of September. Think of it what you will… I’m not here to judge anyone by their traditions. Because that’s what it is… a cultural tradition. For me, it was the history of kings and royalty, the gathering of people – all classes. I’ve never been to Rome; but, one day I hope to see The Colosseum for the very same reason – because of the cultural and historical value of the venue. Not because of the cruelty (or sport) that occurred there.  And once again, I’m stepping off my soap box.

Plaza de Toros - Sevilla, Spain
Plaza de Toros
Puerta Principal
King's Box - Plaza de Toro, Sevilla, Spain

After a few days in Seville, we took the overnight train from Sevilla to Madrid to Barcelona. It was like being home. As a gift to ourselves, we attended a futbol match at legendary Camp Nou between Barcelona FC (my favorite Spanish team) and Real Betis. Hanging out with the fans before the game at the bars across from the stadium when the players buses arrived. Everyone in full song and admiration for these superior athletes and superstars. It’s about as big a deal as going to Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park for a baseball game. EPIC! 95,000 fans chanting and yelling in support of their teams in the biggest stadium in Europe. Three Texans occupy a small space in the lower right hand corner of Camp Nou – standing in awe at the display of skill before us on the field.  An experience I will NEVER forget.

Barcelona FC vs Real Betis @ Camp Nou - Nov 2003
The Three Amigos - JCooke, Mario & Chad - Spain - Nov 2003

Everyone has a “That’s it!” moment while on vacation. OK, so maybe it’s just me. In Slovenia, it was Lake Bled. New Zealand it was Lake Tekapo and Mt Cook, the day I proposed to my wife. Scotland – The Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye. I could go on and on. For my trip to Spain… you would think it was seeing my favorite Spanish team play at Camp Nou. Nope. The last day of our time in Spain, Chad and I took a train from Plaça d’Espanya in Barcelona to Monestir de Montserrat. From the small village below the 4,000ft rugged mountain, we took the rickety rackety old cable car up to this incredible monastery dating back to the 9th Century. For someone who is afraid of heights… I’m not sure what the heck I was thinking; but, an experience I would not exchange for anything. The view was breathtaking, and caused us to pause and wonder… “How did they get everything UP this mountain back in the 9th century to build this place?“. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Since the 12th century, pilgrims have been drawn to the mountain to venerate the miraculous statue of the Black Madonna (La Moreneta). In 1996, 2.6 million visitors came to Montserrat (Serrated Mountain). I’m sure it’s a different experience for everyone; but, for me… I just felt PEACE.

Cremallera de Montserrat, Spain - Nov 2003
cable car ride up to Montserrat, Spain
pathway at Montserrat

A valuable spiritual, cultural, and historical experience that is why the Monastery of Montserrat became my “That’s it!” moment for our adventures in Spain. Chad had just lost his mother (Eva) to cancer, so without words, we exchanged a nod of acknowledgement and separately said a silent prayer for her. As we took the funicular down the mountain (wasn’t about to get back in that crazy cable car in the fog!), I quickly realized it was the end of THIS trip; but the beginning of the planning phase for my next destination.Only question is… Where to next?

Montserrat Train Station – Catalonia, Spain


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