We got up early:
for an 8:30 private tour with Top Day Tours (www.spaindaytours.com). The ship was cleared at a bit before 8am and we got off at about 8:20. Outside the terminal, we found our tour guide and boarded the bus. It was one of those large fancy coaches that holds 50 people. However, the guide said that we were only having 10 people today. Bonus!!
We were going to pick up a group of 6 and another group of 2. While we were driving to get the group of 6, she narrated the various sites going from the cruise terminal to the streets just above La Rambla, the main pedestrian walkway in the old town of Barcelona.
After collecting the other 8 people, we drove to a spot by the waterfront with one of the nice Barcelona beaches and some great views.
Next up was a visit to Sagrada Familia Church (Sacred Family) which has been under construction for the past 140 years and is famous because of Gaudi creating the major architecture. Our guide told us that it is scheduled to be completed in 13 more years. All of the inside is done and they are now working on the outside. Currently there are 8 massive bell towers completed and another 10 are in the works. The concept behind Gaudi’s work is that he is trying to create things that match nature. Nature doesn’t have straight lines and thus his work does not have straight lines. This is what makes it all seem so strange. We did not have time to visit inside (we will have to do this in our next trip), so we just observed it from the outside.
After the church, we drove by Gaudi's house:
on our way to visit the top of Montjuic which is where the olympic stadium is located. From there we had breathtaking views of the city. We were struck by how densely packed the city looks.
It also had a great view of the harbor, but unfortunately a giant set of grain elevators blocked our view of the Serenity.
We then left on the 50 minute trip to the Montserrat Benedictine monastery, up on a mountain north west of the city. The bus managed to make it up a very winding road, to an elevation of about 2500 feet. The place was beautiful, originally built in the 10th century (although it has been added to over the many centuries). It houses the black Madonna which, according to legend, was discovered by some sheepherders in the 10th century.
The place is visited by several million people each year and we were struck by how commercial it seemed. Shops and cafes dotted the lower area. Eventually we made it up to the church which was beautiful. Fortunately we arrived in time to hear their Boys Choir sing two songs (very similar to the Vienna Boys Choir). That was preceded by a gentleman speaking in five different languages and then leading everyone in what we think was the Lord’s prayer. There are 80 monks living in the monastery and another 40 or so boys (it is essentially a boarding school that they attend).
After the performance, we wandered the shops and stopped to grab a quick sandwich before boarding the bus back for Barcelona. Things that we learned along the way:
- The state of Catalonia (of which Barcelona is part of) really wants its own independence from Spain - much like Scotland is attempting.
- The economy in Spain still is in awful shape with around 20% unemployment.
- The population of Barcelona is around 1.6M people, and if you include the outlying areas nearly 3M.
- Healthcare is socialized as it is in most of Europe. Pretty much the same standard where if you need surgery or something you get on a list and wait. She did say that private insurance works fine for anything that isn’t complicated or requires special equipment and then they use the public system.
- There are a number of Universities in the area and they are subsidized so residents pay about 1500 Euros per year.
- The minimum salary is around 640 Euros per month and the average salary for everyone is around 23K Euros per year.
- VAT was recently raised to 21K for pretty much everything except food and basic necessities which is around 4 to 6%. Income taxes are about 18% for lower wages and go as high as 50% for top earners. On top of income tax they also pay property tax.
Our last stop on the trip was Park Guell, a development conceived by Gaudi. He designed the whole area including a square, roads, a market, etc. and was to build 40 homes on the hillside above. After completing the infrastructure they ended up only creating three homes because the people of Barcelona didn’t want to move outside to the suburbs. One interesting factoid is that when Gaudi created the pillars of the market place and the supports (that look like trees or something) for the roads, he figured out how to put steel reinforcement in the concrete in order to strengthen it. He was the first to figure this out.
The marketplace is mixed in the columns and there is a big area above.
Note - this is the supports for a road above:
We then left, drove back and dropped off the other 8 people and we were dropped at the ship at about 5pm. Overall, it was a wonderful tour. The guide was spectacular and the bus driver really maneuvered our bus around well.
We changed for dinner, had cocktails in the Palm Court and went to “Tastes” for dinner. This is what they call the neptune pool area where they serve “comfort” food along with a Chinese menu for dinner. It was packed at 6:30 when we arrived (they open at 6:30). We had salad and pizza for dinner that was great. After that we headed down to the Galaxy lounge for a local group of flamenco dancers. As with most things on this ship, they were great. After dinner, we wandered around a bit and then went back to our room.