This post is part of an ongoing series about a trip we took to Spain to ride roller coasters. Here are the previous installments:
Our tour had a relatively late start on the next morning, but we wanted to take advantage of our free time to do some final Barcelona tourism. Our plans were to meet with Philip by 8, doing what extra tourism we could before the coaches left at 11. Because of our limited time we couldn't dawdle, but I felt a bit of freedom that we didn't have a strict schedule to adhere to at that very moment. I even went down for breakfast a bit early, though I only ate lightly. The one unusual item I had that day was some mushrooms, which I found a bit saltier than expected, but still pleasant.
Our preparations to get an early start were a bit dampened by Chris T being a bit late. Unlike Philip, he was joining us, I think more for the companionship than a genuine interest in the tourism. I think Janna and Philip were beginning to feel a bit anxious about our getting a move on, but I still was feeling equanimity at that point.
Our main goal was to see the Sagrada Familia, the famous Gaudi cathedral. However, Philip also wanted to see another building, the Palau de la Musica Catalana. It was only a little out of the way of our route to the Metro station, so we let him lead the way. We went along several side streets to get there, and saw several fancy buildings along the way.
The music building was on a corner of two narrow streets, with a very elaborate frontage. We got a chance to look a little at the interior, but couldn't see too far in. Unfortunately its location was inconvenient for photography and filming, as one could not step back far enough to get a good perspective on it. However it was very attractive to look at, and we probably lingered for about 5 to 10 minutes. Eventually we had to continue on since Sagrada Familia was a higher priority. We walked up a street and saw what looked almost like a building encased in glass. It also appeared to be associated with music; I couldn't tell if it was part of the same complex or something separate.
We continued from there to the Metro, for a one-transfer trip to Sagrada Familia. We walked right up to the church at first, but had trouble getting good photographs from so close, so since it wasn't yet open anyway we crossed the street to get a better view. I had imperfectly realized until that point that the cathedral was a work in progress, begun more than 100 years ago and with decades yet to go even at an accelerated pace. To me the eight existing tall, thin towers already made a very attractive architecture that looked complete on its own, but there were many more towers to go, including several that would overshadow the existing ones. We could see the construction in progress, including many cranes amongst the spires.
We were not the only members of our tour there. I noticed that some were wearing shorts. I had specifically worn pants (though a pair that could be converted to shorts by unzipping the legs) for that day because I had heard shorts were frowned upon, particularly in churches. Nobody seemed to mind as far as I could tell. We had to wait a few minutes before we were let in. The ticket windows were similar to what you might find at any tourist attraction; it seemed a bit odd for a cathedral.
On the side of the cathedral we began at was the so-called Passion Façade, one of three façades with different themes and very distinctive styles. As befit its subject matter, it was quite grim-looking. The columns in front of the entrance tilted inward as they rose, and gave me a sort of impression of the maw of some alien creature. There were a lot of human figures, the central one being Christ on the cross. All were rendered angularly, and exhibited sorrowful faces.
The façade was a contrast with the four towers above, thin and stretching toward heaven. On at least one I saw the word "Sanctus" repeated many times in different colors. To the right were some archways with circular windows in a kind of honeycomb pattern (though strictly speaking it was more like a "bowling pin" arrangement). Across from this, outside a fence, was a house that was apparently also designed by Gaudi (and may have served as his studio). It had eaves over the windows that had a peculiar three dimensional effect, almost a bit Escher-like in the way the perspective worked out.
Inside, there was still a lot of scaffolding around, including a thick cluster of it in the center of the church. It interfered with the soaring impression I'm sure I'd have otherwise gotten. There were some stained glass windows, but the cramped nature of the interior didn't give a very good view of them. However one could look at the impressively detailed stonework around the edges. I liked the way some of the columns branched out near the top like trees. Where the "branches" met there were sunburst-like carved pieces of stone that also made me think of shells. I later saw a reference to Gaudi's inspiration from nature. I didn't really entirely get it at the time even with the impression of shells and branches I got, but in retrospect it makes much more sense.
The center of the church was so clogged that we had to walk around the side to get to the back of the building. There was a stone spiral staircase at the far end of the wing. The underside was curved elegantly. We could see the construction workers going about their tasks. Somebody dropped a big board, whether inadvertently or not I couldn't tell, from a scaffold above.
Eventually we exited the opposite side of the cathedral from where we'd come in. The façade on this side was themed to the Nativity. It was in a very different style, much less stark. The stone had a lot of random-looking projections. They did look vaguely organic, or something like clay dried into curvy shapes. Somebody noticed that the pillars on this side were "held up" by turtles at their bases.
Eventually we went back inside. Down a set of stairs were some displays about the church and the history of its construction. I got my first sense of just how incomplete the church was at this point, as there were several diagrams of the ultimate design. I got the sense the end product would be quite unlike what we were seeing at that point, because the most prominent existing towers would be so completely overshadowed by taller, wider ones. I wasn't sure if I would care for the change. The groups of four slender towers on either side of the church at that point seemed so iconic already that I was reluctant to see them be relegated to a background role. However it made sense from a symbolic standpoint. They represented eight of the twelve apostles (I wondered if Judas was being counted). Eventually the four evangelists, Mary, and Jesus would all have their more prominent towers.
The architecture of the church included a strong element of numerology. I'd noticed a square of numbers on the front façade and had immediately thought it must be a mathematical magic square, but had thought otherwise because I noticed some numbers were repeated. A sign in this exhibit explained that it was indeed a magic square (with many different configurations leading to the same sum, not just rows and columns). The numbers 10 and 14 were repeated (while 12 and 16 were missing) but I didn't properly catch the reason.
We found our way back to the front of the cathedral. There was a lift to take us up to the towers, which we intended upon taking, but found a long line waiting for it. I regretted not doing it first thing, until we found that there was another lift for the towers on the other side that had no line. The trip up cost 2.5 Euros apiece. We were told that we could not take the elevator back down but would have to walk down by another route.
We had to take a spiral staircase further up first. It led to a bridge between towers, offering some breathtaking views (though the camera decided to start complaining about a low battery so we had to be a bit sparing with picture-taking). Views within the towers were a bit more restrictive due to the small windows, and often what we saw was of construction. There were some details that were hard to see from the ground, such as that some minor towers were topped with figures of fruit.
The path was narrow, and it soon became clear why we were told that the elevator trip was one-way--our way down was via another stairway. However, as we began to take the stairs down, we ran into some people coming back up. They told us that the gate at the bottom was closed. We all tried to retrace our steps to the elevator, having to fight our way against people still coming out.
The elevator operator was rather confused when we tried to get on. Several people tried to tell her what the problem was, but she seemed not to believe us. She eventually called somebody downstairs and seemed to relent, but then appeared as if she was not going to let anybody on as she took the elevator down. Chris T actually yelled "Closed!" at her, as if this would convince her that the gate was closed. This got a response of "Tranquilo!" from her. We were all worried that we would get back to the hotel too late for our bus, and in no mood to try to walk down again. Eventually some people were able to get on the elevator, and we just managed to squeeze all of our group in. It was an uncomfortable ride down!
I found Sagrada Familia remarkable for many reasons. It is truly a unique piece of architecture, already iconic though only half-completed. And I was truly surprised by the scope of the project. Gaudi undertook it in full realization that he'd never live to see it completed, as did generations of workers that followed. I can't imagine anything similar happening in the United States. It brings to mind a vision of a civic society that we simply don't have in this country, and I wonder what we lose by it (the glorious museum row in Valencia that we didn't get more than a glance of inspires similar feelings, though it is a different type of situation).
Returning to the neighborhood of our hotel Janna went to a nearby shop to get a large bottle of water, which she later told me cost only .60 Euros (though of course this has to be inflated for the exchange rate). She also got some Cokes for our upcoming coach trip. I went back to the hotel room to use the bathroom myself. I also detached my pant legs so I was wearing shorts for the rest of the day.
As with the day before, we waited outside the hotel until they told us to walk over to the coaches. We boarded on the square, a rather awkward operation. We had a long drive ahead of us, northward inland to a park called Parque Atracciones de Zaragoza. We passed by the harbor on the way out, spotting a statue of Christopher Columbus along the way. We also saw a different cable car than the one we'd taken up to Montjuic. We'd have ridden it too if we'd had more time. It had an iron tower as one station, reminding me of the tower at Blackpool. As we headed inland the country got browner again after the relative greenery of the coastal area. Eventually I found the countryside to resemble Arizona.
Since it was a long drive, we had to take a rest stop, at a plaza labeled "Lleida". It had distinctive green metal car shades over the parking lot. It seemed to be operated by a company called "Ars", which had a butterfly logo that we'd see at least once more on the trip. The stop was on a bridge over the road. We took an escalator up to get to it, and could have exited on the other side if we'd wanted to. Along the long hallway I tried to keep my eyes open for an ATM, since I was running out of cash. Philip needed to get some cash as well, but neither of us was able to find a machine, something I'd have expected to be prominently visible at a rest stop.
I eventually went into the convenience store to look for a snack. I got some olive oil chips, which I'd been intrigued by, and a Coke. Janna looked at a box of lemon cookies but I don't think she bought them. With my purchase I was given a plastic object that looked something like a banana. It turned out to be an inflatable beach ball. We blew it up in the coach, where Janna thought she might use it half-inflated as a footrest, but this didn't work. Other shoppers got a paddle ball game.
We arrived at the park at about 4, disembarking from the bus in a drive-up area. There was a monument on the other side of the road from the entrance, that somebody later reported was Fascist-inspired in some way. It did have a military look to it. Once out of the bus, nobody was quite sure what to do. After a while a park representative came out of the office and asked for the president of ACE, and after that point everything was settled. We didn't go through the usual gate; instead we went through the office, where we were handed wristbands.
The park was just opening up, and so apart from us it was empty. It felt odd for it to be just opening at that time of day, but apparently they stayed closed during the afternoon heat. By the time our group got to the main coaster we were offered rides on, it already had a line of other enthusiasts, so we headed further toward the back of the park, where a couple of other rides were also running. One, called El Quetzal, had been on Janna's "to ride" list since she did some pre-trip research on it. Unlike the coaster it had no line, so we decided to ride it right away. We had to wait a while to get dispatched, sitting on a very hot black seat that had been in the direct sun.
The ride was worth it, though. There were a lot of tubs arranged in a circle around the center of the ride. It first began to spin, then the cars jumped up and down in a variety of patterns, sometimes like waves, other times with the cars alternating. For some reason Chris T and Philip's car didn't jump up at first, and then didn't quite synchronize with the rest. The forces were quite strong. The bouncing had an oddly organic feel to it, similar to another European ride known as a Tagada. After a pretty long-seeming ride, the circle spun in reverse. The sequence of jumping patterns was also reversed.
Further along was a log flume, which at the time I thought was called Rio Nile, but later looked up and found was called La Gran Tikal. It was a somewhat generic flume ride, perhaps even a portable rather than permanent installation. We were able to get a ride pretty quickly. Though short, the ride had two lifts; I recall one of them making a slightly disconcerting squeaking sound as we climbed. The boats splashed most of their water to the side. The splashdown troughs were parallel to each other but the lifts seemed timed so one boat never got splashed by another.
The other ride that was open for us (besides a river rapids ride that I never saw anybody even line up for) was Ramses. It was a coaster of sorts, but very unusual. Its track (actually dual parallel tracks, though only one was operating that day) was shaped like a big V. The train was lifted up one side of the V backwards, then released to shuttle back and forth for a long time before settling down. I had seen other versions of this concept in Europe (as far as I know nothing like it exists in the United States) on a much smaller scale. Ramses, besides being larger, had some elaborate theming, including a big wall that I think was meant to look like the side of a pyramid, and a Pharaoh's head. The trains were made to look like reed boats, which I thought was a clever touch.
I knew Ramses wouldn't be very thrilling, but it looked interesting. Moreover I knew it would have low capacity, so an early spot in line, before the rest of the enthusiasts had finished with the other coaster, would be worth a lot of time. The operator who was supposed to be running it was late. I think a park manager eventually started to run it himself, though only operating the one side.
The three-across seating was rather odd. Usually it's best to have even numbers of seats per row since more riders line up in pairs than groups of three. The seats were also rather narrow, so people didn't necessarily want to fill all seats anyway, to avoid a tight squeeze. We rode in the second seat facing forward for the first drop. There didn't seem to be any braking mechanism, so the ride only settled back down rather slowly. Chris M counted 17 drops before we finally stopped.
We walked back up the midway to see about riding the coaster we'd missed before, but found that it was now closed. Perhaps the operator had had to leave to run Ramses. It meant that we would have to wait until the park fully opened to ride it. Other ACE members, in anticipation of the park opening, were already lining up for the final coaster, La Mina, which had not been run for us specially beforehand. There was no operator there either. In fact we could see general public entering the park, but the rides didn't seem yet to be staffed! However, there were not too many people in the park in any case; we saw more at a pool next door.
We didn't want to wait for an unknown time for either ride, so we just wandered through the park for a while. It was during this time I got my strongest impressions of it. It seemed small and the ride selection was a bit carnival-ish (the worst offender might have been the horribly garish kiddie carousel), but the foliage was lusher than one would expect at a carnival. Overall Parque Zaragoza gave me a somewhat peaceful impression, perhaps aided by the limited number of patrons we saw.
Eventually we wound up back by Moncayo, the larger coaster we had yet to ride. They had started it back up, but as soon as we got in line the operator left to get a water bottle. However he did finally return. I felt some sympathy for him, as he was the only one running the ride, and he had to continuously walk back and forth between the unload and load platforms. The ride took a long time to get to the lift, and the lift itself was slow too. Otherwise it was pretty unmemorable, just a generic steel coaster as might be found at a small amusement park.
We finished out by riding the kiddie coaster, La Mina. It was distinguished from most kiddie coasters by being more than just a bunch of undecorated metal. The station looked a bit like a mine shack, and there were a few bits of scattered theming within the turns of the ride itself. It still had a big line from all the enthusiasts wanting to ride, but other nearby attractions were drawing lines too so we decided to get it over with, though Philip opted to skip it entirely.
We went to a nearby tilted house attraction called "Casa Magnetica". There was only one room, but it was sufficiently disorienting, harder to climb around in than we anticipated. We also went quickly through an attraction with a mirror room and maze (Laberinto-Espejo). I had no trouble with it and was the first one out.
Finally we got in line for the dark ride, named Cueva Del Horror. We had to wait through about one queue maze. The decorations were the usual sort of airbrushed paint job common on European rides, but somewhat amusing to look at. Several creatures had rays coming out of their eyes to make them look as though they were glowing brightly, which tickled our fancy for some reason. There was also a somewhat charming depiction of a romance between two skeletons. There was a figure that looked like "The Mask", which I imagined was probably not authorized.
As usual for such rides my recollections are hazy. Among the scattered notes I made I recorded sparks coming from the bottom of the car, a "disco light lift tunnel", and some electric candle effects. Some stunt must have affected Janna since she screamed once for no reason I could tell. I also made note of a mirror effect as we descended. I think this may have been where we saw what looked like another car approaching us. I recall this being what people called the "one good effect" on the ride.
We walked back toward the rear of the park again to catch one more ride, a kind of scenic boat ride called Río Mysterioso, which I'd been intrigued by since I first saw it. There was a small line, but the log boats moved rather slowly, so the capacity was not that great. The ride was pretty primitive; for instance there was nothing to stop the boat as it came in to the unloading area besides the operator's foot.
The ride had both indoor and outdoor parts. The tunnels inside had very low roofs, which I think some of the taller riders had to duck under. (In fact, the ride may not really have been designed for adults at all.) There was a tunnel with graffiti and handprints painted on the beams. Then came a room lit in red with a disco ball and a strange kind of computerized beeping. Around this point I noticed a place where the boat seemed to hesitate, then surge ahead. I wondered if this was where the ride was propelled. There certainly was no lift hill like on most flume rides.
The outdoor area, not visible from the loading platform, wasn't very elaborately decorated. In fact I don't remember any of the theming there at all; all I recall is passing very close to some sparrows that happened to be in the field we were meandering through.
When we re-entered the interior portion, there were doors that opened for us, except for one, which required us to duck. The final tunnel room had some lights above that emitted an annoying buzz. All in all it seemed like a very homemade ride, but was kind of fun.
It was about time for our arranged dinner. In fact, we may have been just a bit late. It was served in a building on the left side of the park, with a low peaked roof. There was one large empty room we passed through, but then we came to a rather elaborate dining room. The tables were set formally, with white tablecloths, dishes with the park logo on them, and even bottles of red wine set out on the table (I recorded the brand as Montsierra). The waiters, who were formally dressed, even brought out some more wine after we had finished our first bottles (which we had no trouble doing!).
The meal was as elaborate as the table settings. Unfortunately I don't remember all the dishes clearly. There was some jamón (ubiquitous with any meal) and bread with a kind of French dressing, something I wrote down as "meat puffs", and a salmon and prawn salad. The main dish was a kind of shank with potatoes. I liked it a lot; the fat was a guilty pleasure. Tim wound up having two portions!
After the main course we were served yet more alcohol, this time some cava (the Spanish version of Champagne. This came along with some dessert-a kind of cheesecake with streaks of syrup drizzled on it. They were going to bring us some coffee, but it was getting rather late, so we were breaking up by the time they did so.
All in all I'd liked the park, but it was relatively forgettable compared to most of the other places we visited on that trip. On the other hand, the meal they served us was spectacular, while the greenery and the elaborate theming of rides like Ramses countered the carnival impression somewhat.
Our next stop was Pamplona, a trip of a little under 2 hours. People on the bus seemed rather loosened by the alcohol, and things were loud for a while (though not out of hand). Perhaps people got sleepy later on, as it did start getting quieter later on.
We made it to Pamplona by about 10:30. We weren't staying particularly near the center of the city. In fact, the area our hotel was in really resembled a sparse American suburban area. I didn't like it very much. Because the area was somewhat spread out there wasn't much question of going out, though some people did make it to center city to try to find the route of the Running of the Bulls. As for us, we just went up to our room to sleep and look forward to the next day.