Saturday, September 24, 2011

Carcassonne to Barcelona - Day 13

Sunday, September 18th
      Today actually started today about 3:30 a.m. with the passing of a rumbling street sweeper strobing its red lights across the ceiling and loud wake-me-up beep-beep-beeping as it backed up to swish another swath past the room if the first pass hadn't done the job of interrupting sleep.
      That was close-followed by a mirthful late-night group calling back and forth to each other as the wove their way down the alley outside the window. The inebriated serenade was succeeded by at least two different garbage trucks, insuring that all the trash was emptied from the dumpster containers by shaking them vigorously.
      Soon after that the clattering growl of small European motorcycles preceded the alarm clock, which was set for 6:20. We shrugged into our clothes and hauled our suitcases down the stairs, through the alley, and into the lobby of the hotel, where we found some members of our group already waiting.
      Two taxis arrived at 6:50 to load luggage and passengers for the trip through the cobbled streets of old Carcassonne before they were closed to vehicular traffic for the day. It was only about a 15 minute ride to Le Gare Carcassonne, where we had a 45 minute wait for the first leg of today's train trip from Carcassnonne to Narbonne. The route took us smoothly and silently toward the Spanish border along the shoreline of southwestern France, often with water on both sides of us. We were entertained by the sight of windsurfers and kiteboarders taking advantage of the protected bays and strong winds.
      The second leg of the ride was on the TGV ( in French: Train a Grande Vitesse, which simply means "high-speed train"), and the scenery close to the windows was a green blur as the countryside rushed by. The precisely laid jointless track made the ride so smooth that except for the view out the windows it would have felt like we were barely moving.
      The last hour and forty-five minute segment from Figueras to Barcelona was also a high speed train, reaching speeds up to 140 km/hour, but the track was not nearly as smooth. The cars bumped, lurched, and swayed as we hurtled along, but classical music and Pavarotti singing opera through the speakers soothed the ride.
       It was a short ride in heavy traffic from the train station to the Caldonian Hotel on Gran via de les Cortes Catalanes in downtown Barcelona. The taxi driver, who in some earlier incarnation must have been a Le Mans participant, wove in and out between slower vehicles with great finesse, His side view mirrors often only inches from those he was passing on one side and those on the parked cars at the edge of the street. Since I had not observed any dings, scratches, or dents in the taxi while getting in, I only grunted and screamed internally, but was immeasurably relieved when we reached our destination unscathed.

      After a short rest we met Bill and Miriam in the lobby, and the four of us took another taxi to the Plaça de Catalunya, one of Barcelona's large squares. 

     There we caught the double-decker Red Line hop-on-hop-off tourist bus, one of three tourist bus lines that drive loops through the city.
Each passenger is offered a set of ear-bud headphones, and every seat has a place to jack in. You can listen to a narrative about each landmark in your choice of Catalan, Spanish, French, English, Italian, Russian, German, Japanese, Portuguese, or Chinese!
      For an hour and a half we rode through the city, passing the famous pedestrian street La Rambla, 
along the waterfront and the huge Maremagnum shopping center built out over the water, 
marveling at the number of really large sailing and motor yachts at the harbor marinas, out past the different venues for the 1992 Summer Olympics, and up Montjuïc where the neo-baroque Palau Nacional (National Palace) houses the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. 
Its collection includes Roman, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque art as well as 19th and 20th century works of art.
      It was well after dark by the time we got back, and the four of us had a satisfactory dinner at a tapas bar near the hotel before calling it a day.

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