Part 07: Barcelona, Spain (& Poland) | Europe, 2015

So I found a cheap flight to Poland, where we were headed to visit my husband’s friends next, and it had a stop-over in Barcelona. It’s really funny, though, because they are nowhere near each other. I’m sure that’s why it was so cheap. lol. But, anyway, who am I to pass up a day in Barcelona? I fell in love with everything there immediately:

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I mean, there’s a beach in the city! And every building is a gorgeous work of art! But let’s start at the beginning of the day: we flew out of Sofia really early in the morning, and, because of the time, ended up in Barcelona at six am or so. We took the train in from the airport to Barcelona proper, and we then had a few hours to kill there & see some stuff! When we got out of the train station, there were immediately a few Gaudi buildings (yay!), nothing was open yet, but the streets were all ours. However, when we got out of the train station, I realized just how big Barcelona is. We’ve walked around Paris and Rome, and they felt like nothing on this! I have no idea why, I haven’t actually looked up if it’s bigger. I assumed we could walk the equivalent of a few train stations and get to the Sagrada Familia, as in Rome, but we got off closer to the gothic quarter and, literally, saw it gleaming on the hilltop in the distance. lol. Unless I was wrong. Thing is, I’m not great at planning ahead of time, so short stops can be tough with no planning and limited time. lol. Also, we had trouble getting our bearings with the map, there.

Nevertheless, we wanted to see what was around where we were, because every building was beautiful, the streets were wide and gorgeous, and it was just us walking around! We wandered, got a breakfast of stuffed churros (which is the one thing I did know to do, for sure) and some coffee, and wandered around the Arc de Triomf, and down toward the beach. And that was it! Out of time. A few hours flew by. We just decided that we have to come back with at least four or five days to see everything here, next time! (And more of Spain, too). I loved the little taste of it we got to see!

We arrived in Poland and stayed with friends at their house just outside of Krakow for just under a week. We saw lots (there’s a lot to see!) while we were there: Krakow, itself, is home to the gothic Wawel Castle, which we wandered around for a few hours. It’s really old, but in impeccable shape—and so well-preserved over the years that the cathedral is literally a mish-mash of centuries of styles and decor, especially from the outside: really, really cool! You can climb up the bell tower, and there’s also a ‘dragon's den’ cave below. We also went to visit the Wieliczka salt mine, which was way cooler than it sounds: you walk way, way underground to see lakes, caverns, and a cathedral that was hand-carved by some of the workers in their spare time after work over the course of sixty years, plus you can lick the walls! It was really interesting. We also walked around the Jewish quarter one night (which actually felt a bit Brooklyn, complete with a food truck yard), had the area’s famous sandwich, a Zapiekanka, went to a hundred-beer bar, and walked around the gorgeous old town at night. I either forgot my camera or forgot film all week, so I don’t have a single shot! Learned my lesson. It was nice to take a bit of a break from touristing here, too: we also spent a lot of time coloring with their kids, hanging in the backyard, and celebrating birthdays.

Once there, we learned that Auschwitz, or Oświęcim in Polish, was within an hour’s drive—so we visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. It’s one of those historical sights that is kind of daunting and scary to go see, but also so, so necessary to acknowledge what happened and honor those who passed through the camps: and it is multiple camps. You go on a guided tour through Auschwitz and learn a lot of the history, see the bunks and where the workers walked daily, and the infamous ‘work (makes) you free’ (not true!) sign, and then you hop on a bus to the second, larger Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. It was a really sad and eye-opening day. It’s horrifying, the truth of what went on in these camps: it’s one thing to learn about it in school, it’s another to see piles of hair and shoes.  That they were able to hide such huge places behind farms and factories when this whole area of Poland was taken over, the staggering numbers of abandoned belongings, the cramped quarters, the distances they had to walk every day: everything. It kind of hits you that it was not very long ago that some people did these horrible things to other people, and it’s scary. It’s scary, but something more people need to see: it’s such a huge part of our recent history. Needless to say, it felt really disrespectful to take pictures as a tourist here, to me. So I watched, listened, learned, teared up.