day 17 :
tuesday, 27 september
We put the hammer down and sped off to Barcelona on the high-speed autoroute for the better part of the day. Even though we were cruising at a good 140km/h, we were regularly passed by Audi A4s, A6s, and Mercedes doing well over 160km/h. Nobody seems to care much how fast you drive in Spain, so we just stayed out of the passing lane as much as possible. This was the only traveling day where we didn't stop, except for lunch. One interesting landmark was a huge arch over the highway, marking the Greenwich Meridian. We don't often find ourselves at exactly 0 degrees 0 minutes 0 seconds longitude, but we realized that we must have crossed this earlier on our trip when we were traveling in France.
We walked back to the Hotel Onix after dropping off our rental car. If you're looking for a place to stay in Barcelona, we highly recommend this hotel. Just two blocks away from the Plaça Catalunya on the Rambla de Catalunya, it couldn't be in a more perfect location. The hotel is modern, the staff friendly, the rooms very clean, and the price quite reasonable for a large city.
After settling back into our hotel, we walked down to the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) section of Barcelona in search of dinner. We decided to try Cal Pep, a tapas restaurant that many on eGullet.org claimed to be the best in Barcelona. Our verdict was that it was good, but not even close to the best tapas on our trip, or even in Barcelona. Pep himself devised our menu, and it turned out to be more fried food than we cared for. In addition, Dawn had to change our order halfway through the meal when we realized that were going to get more shrimp instead of the beautiful mushrooms sitting near us on the counter; we wanted a little variety and the local-foraged mushrooms ended up being one of the best dishes of the evening. While we found it to be a good idea on the rest of our trip to let the owner recommend the best dishes, it didn't work so well for us tonight.
After wandering around the city a bit today, we've concluded that Barcelona is one of the coolest cities we've ever visited. The architecture is beautiful, the city itself is very historic (dating back to the 1st century B.C.), it has great restaurants, the streets are pedestrian friendly (with many pedestrian-only streets and passageways), and there's a seemingly-endless list of things to do and see. Combine that with Spanish culture - a very friendly, outgoing, sociable, fun-loving attitude - and you think, "Hm, what more could I want in a city?" It turns out that our only request would be to enact some non-smoking laws, but given how much smoking is a part of the culture, this is probably wishful thinking.
For nearly the first time since we arrived in Europe, we decided to turn on the TV tonight to see what was going on in the world. We caught a bit of CNN's international channel, and we abruptly realized we had really been living in a secluded, alternate reality during this vacation. Hurricane Katrina had hit just before we left Seattle, but we had no idea that a second hurricane had hit the gulf region in our absence, among many other news stories.