Dear family & friends,
It’s been a busy month for us – I continue to be amazed how, as we go day by day, it sometimes seems to drag but, when viewed week by week or month by month, time seems to be passing very quickly. We think things are going well for our family – the zeal for writing to parents seems to have waned and even our best letter writers are pleading ‘busy lives’ when we see their notes. We love hearing from you and appreciate very much when you find time to send us a note. I have to plead ‘busy life’ too as the reason this letter is a little later than the 20th.
Earlier this month we got a Friday off to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We bought the 2-day version (have to be used on consecutive days) of a city bus tour that visits virtually all the major tourist attractions in Barcelona. Friday morning we found what we think is the closest stop to our piso, got our tickets and started a route that took us to some of the places we knew we wanted to visit. At our first planned stop – Sagrada Familia – the ticket line was already over a block and a half long so we skipped it saying we’d come back another day. We spent most of two hours in Güell Park – it’s easy to see why it’s such a highly recommended place to visit. Designed by Barcelona’s famous architect Gaudí, it’s about 37 acres of hilly terrain with amazing rock structures built of rocks or built into the natural rock formations of the terrain, lots of interesting but unusual buildings and colors that range from functional to strange. We hope the pictures we took will give you an idea of some of the sites found there (not yet posted but we still have hope). We then rode bus and funicular to the top of Tibidabo – the highest point in the Barcelona region. There’s a church/cathedral there that we see from the front window of our piso and that is partly surrounded by an amusement park that’s been in operation for nearly 100 years (I’m pretty sure some upgrades have occurred). While we were there the low hanging clouds blew past us partly obscuring some of the otherwise spectacular views of the city and surrounding area. The tour guide had informed us that Barcelona has a population of about 1.5 million and the greater Barcelona area has population of about 3 million – we’d been misinformed on that point by a factor of 2 (either that or someone had been telling us the number of motor scooters here). We rode the rest of the blue route, getting off the bus only for a visit to Subway for lunch, (a lot of the places we’d already visited or weren’t very interested in seeing) until we again came to Sagrada Familia and could see that the lines were much shorter than in the morning. So we stood in line, were told at the ticket window that they were closing in just under an hour and that the main floor was being cleaned and polished – we opted to go in anyway. There wasn’t much to see inside the main hall – the massive support columns for the roof and external tower structure are unusual – and the elevators were closed so we couldn’t go up but the exhibits in the basement were interesting. They showed a lot of the models used in the design and building of the cathedral, gave a lot of history (the under-construction cathedral had major damage and loss of plans and models during the Spanish Civil War) and explained how the finished product is to look. By shortly after 6:00 we’d seen nearly everything that was open to the public and were pretty much worn out so we went to the Metro and came home. After Friday’s experience we decided we’d ride the entire route, see sites from the bus and decide which one’s we wanted to spend time at – we did that and things worked out pretty well for us. So on our second lap we got off at Poble Espanya – a model Spanish village built for the International Exhibition in 1929 and it’s incredibly real even today. There are a host of small workshops where we saw people weaving, blowing glass, sewing and painting – just doing all kinds of craft things and their products are for sale in the shops. The streets and courtyards go in every direction with no apparent overall plan (so true to life here) – we were actually afraid we’d get lost in the place. We had no information about what to expect so it was a delightful experience for us. We then spent a couple of hours in the National Museum of Art – Cataluña and the thing that impressed me most was the massive size of the building itself. It’s also referred to as a palace and I think that means a palace was converted to the museum. The exhibits are divided into periods of time and, to see and read the signage associated with each piece, would surely take days. Since much of the art of those centuries is associated with the Christianity of the day, we saw a lot of artists’ paintings and sculptures using the same themes from the New Testament. For those of us without much knowledge/appreciation for that type of art, it doesn’t take long to want out (about 2 hours). Our next stop was at Plaza de Cataluña where we found a Burger King for something to eat, wandered down the Rambla again wondering if it was different in the evening than during the day (not much that we saw) and came home.
One weekend our friends called and invited us to go with them to Parc del Laborint – we deferred the cleaning of our piso and went. The park was designed, starting in the 1700s, by a wealthy family who lived on the property and it was continually expanded for a couple of centuries before they gave it to the city of Barcelona. It includes 3 levels with a variety of gardens, structures, fountains and lots of trees & shrubs – it’s very beautiful even with only a few flowers in bloom now. We found and entered the maze for which the park is named – the paths are formed by hedges consisting of a double row of tall, skinny evergreen plants. A short distance in, none of us had any idea of where we were or where we’d been so we kept wandering (as everyone in there seemed to be doing) until we found our way to a fountain and statue in the middle of the maze. There’s apparently more than one way in because we found our way out without having to cross a mud puddle that we’d negotiated on our way in – it was interesting and fun. We spent about 2.5 hours in the park and think we saw most of it but didn’t venture down the path with a sign warning of wild boars - I’d have been happy to see one from a distance but wanted nothing to do with any close up encounter.
Our friends John & Gaylene Winters arrived came to spend four days with us and it started with a little excitement. They’d flown from Germany to Gerona, Spain, taken a bus from Gerona (about 1:15 up the coast from Barcelona) to here and transferred to the Metro to get to our piso. I guess we should have gone down there to meet them but these stations are so big and so busy we didn’t know how to determine where we could meet them and they felt like they could make it okay anyway. Some guy there offered to help them get on the right Metro line but led them around for a while and ultimately picked John’s wallet from his pocket – obviously the work of an experienced pick-pocket. It was about 10:00 when they arrived at the Metro station near our piso so we told them which way to walk and hurried down to meet them. Once we got settled in our piso we used Skype for nearly two hours to call three credit card companies to cancel the cards and make arrangements for them to still have a credit card they could use for the remaining three weeks of their trip (12-day Holy Land cruise and more time in Germany). We’re hoping things work out okay and two card companies were helpful in making arrangements to keep their cards active – they got some cash with one so that’s still alive. If you come to Barcelona, be very careful with any money and valuables.
In the last month we’ve cleaned and made repairs in pisos from Gerona in the north end of our mission to Vilajoyosa in the south and quite a few places in between. We have three pisos we’ve not done yet because two are planning to move and the third is vacant. We haven’t been to the Baleares for cleaning but Pte Hinckley says not to worry about those – I’m not worried about the pisos, I’d just enjoy a trip to the Islands! This past week, the Lunds (another of the mission couples) went with us to the Valencia area to help clean some pisos and take a little break to see sights in Valencia. It was a whirlwind trip and we were exhausted at the end of each day but we had a lot of fun and saw interesting things. We saw/toured a couple of the gate towers for the old city wall, visited the basilica/cathedral complex and climbed the bell tower to overlook the entire city – it’s a beautiful and interesting place. Saturday morning we had a tour of the Lladró factory there – what an interesting and amazing place!
We’ve been involved in zone conferences, training conferences and were able to see most sessions of General Conference on that weekend. The transportation workers staged a one-day strike of the Metro and bus systems here – that inconvenienced a lot of people and made traffic on the streets much lighter (I guess everyone just stayed home for the day) but I don’t know if it’ll have a political impact. We’ve been lost – both in the car and on foot – several times but each time we’ve found our way to where we wanted to go and been able to get back to our piso at night so things sure aren’t bad.
The days are getting shorter and the weather has cooled significantly in the last month – we’re wondering how to get the heater in our piso turned on. We love and appreciate each of you – keep those notes and letters coming and we’ll be home before we all know it (out fly-home date is January 12th). Love, E&H Belnap