After our lovely (and sad) farewell dinner the previous evening where we bid farewell to our new Odysseys Unlimited travel mates, we left Madrid early Saturday morning heading to Barcelona traveling via the AVE, the high speed train. It turns out the Spain is second only to China (!) in number of miles of high speed track. However, with the plethora of bargain airlines available for local travel, it’s often cheaper to fly rather than travel by rail. Nonetheless we chose to go by AVE and it was an excellent experience. Extremely smooth, quiet, and on time.
We arrived in the heart of Barcelona and were settled into our hotel (The Alexandra Barcelona) by mid-afternoon - enough time to get oriented and follow part of Rick Steve’s Barcelona walk. We focused on Plaça de Catalunya, La Rambla and environs - the exciting (and very crowded) eating and shopping area of city.

That evening, we connected with old friends, Dave Balint and Jane Heywosz, now residents of Benalmadena in southern Spain near Malaga, who traveled up to Barcelona to meet us. It was great to catch up, and we enjoyed a superb dinner at a relatively new restaurant Louro on La Rambla. Highly recommended!

The next day, it was back to "serious" tourist stuff. We took the metro to the Picasso Museum. There are several museums dedicated to Picasso in various cities around the world, but Spain, and Barcelona in particular, is where he spent his youth. This museum contains over 4,000 works (yes, he was incredibly prolific) including many from his early years. It was amazing to see works by a thirteen year old Picasso that are traditional looking portraits of phenomenal skill and detail. The works are arranged chronologically, so there are plenty of the more abstract and primitive style works as well. Our favorites were a series based on the Velásquez masterpiece "Las Meninas" which we had just seen in Madrid at the Prado. In 1957, Picasso became obsessed with this painted and he recreated it in his own inimitable way. But he didn’t stop at one - he created 58 different paintings including ones focused on specific individuals from the original - enough for 3 rooms full! Sorry, no photos were allowed, but here’s a sample from the internet:

After the museum, we made a brief stop at a somewhat bizarre chocolate museum that we happened upon.

Then we spent time strolling and people watching. Barcelona has numerous parks and wide boulevards and it was fun to see local families enjoying Sunday afternoon together.

Also, near our hotel we passed by our first Gaudí-designed building of the trip, Casa Milà (aka La Pedrera) a modernist apartment building completed in 1912. (We’ll have much more to say about Gaudí tomorrow).

We met Dave and Jane for dinner again, this time at a Los Caracoles (The Snails), a 180 year old restaurant in the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic, in Catalan) that specializes in - you guessed it - snails. They were delicious as was their fire roasted Catalan chicken.
We said farewell to Dave and Jane and headed back to the hotel to get ready for the next day visiting Gaudí’s Parc Güell and the indescribable Sagrada Familia.