The big reason for trip was to celebrate my daughter's graduation from college. She wanted to go somewhere sunny, so we decided on Valencia, a city on the Mediterranean coast with a reputation for lots of sunshine in the winter.
Later in the trip, I'll visit Madrid for a few days before returning to the USA, but as the trip began, we were there only long enough to catch the train to Valencia. The most striking thing that we saw on that very, very short visit was the beautiful atrium in the Madrid train station.
Madrid and Barcelona are the two biggest cities in Spain, and the most popular tourist destinations. But Valencia, the third largest city, turned out to have everything a tourist could want: Plazas and old buildings, including a beautiful cathedral, great shopping, cloudless blue skies with warm days and cool nights, great restaurants, nifty neighborhood bars, and friendly people.
And then there's "Agua de Valencia", a very tasty local drink made from freshly squeezed orange juice and -- well, other good stuff, whatever it is.
After several lovely days in Valencia, we walked back to the Valencia train station to catch an early train to Barcelona.
After we arrived in Barcelona, we rode the Metro to our hotel just off Las Ramblas. When we emerged from the Metro station, I thought for a moment that we took a wrong train and accidentally ended up in Boston.
We couldn't think of a logical reason why the difference between northern cities in the US and southern cities in the US should apply to cities in Spain as well. But nevertheless, Valencia made us think of Savannah, Charleston, and even New Orleans, while Barcelona seemed more cosmopolitan, like Boston or New York. As we wandered through the streets of Valencia, we only heard Spanish, but in Barcelona, we heard English (both US and English varieties), French, German, Spanish, and languages that we didn't recognize.
This human statue street performer, and many others, fit in perfectly on Las Ramblas, but we didn't see a single one in Valencia.
Barcelona thrived for many centuries before Antoni Gaudi's birth in 1852. But the renowned architect left his mark so strongly on the city that his work is most likely the first thing a prospective tourist learns about the city before a visit.
The awesome Sagrada Familia, the final chapter of Gaudi's life, is still under construction 120 years after it began. Work is funded solely by donations, including the admission charges for visitors.
There's also a connection between this cathedral and women's basketball. In the movie Love and Basketball, the Fourth Quarter begins when Monica is playing in Barcelona. As she's on her way to the arena, you can catch a quick glimpse of the Sagrada Familia in the background.
The movie also shows Monica going into the Palau Blaugrana, the basketball arena that is part of Camp Nou, the multisport complex of the world-famous futbol club, UC Barcelona. The complex also includes an ice-skating rink, a hall of fame, administrative offices, and most importantly, their soccer stadium, with a seating capacity of nearly 100,000.
The woman's basketball team of UC Barcelona is one of the perennial powerhouses of the Liga Feminina, the top division of women's basketball in Spain. On the day we arrived, UC Barcelona was hosting EBE PDV, the professional team from Santa Eularia, Ibiza. Former Vanderbilt star Jenni Benningfield is playing this season for PDV, so of course we went to the game.
We quickly learned that officiating isn't quite the same in Spain as in the US! We learned later that the distinction of home white unis and dark-colored road unis doesn't apply in Spain. Apparently, there isn't any rhyme or reason to it. On this particular night, PDV was the visiting team and wore white uniforms, but it was the first time this season that they had worn them. In every previous game, they had worn red.
Each team in the league can have a maximum of two Americans on the team. For PDV, the two Americans are JB and Sancho Lyttle, former star at the University of Houston and now with the Houston Comets in the WNBA.
Last summer another former Vanderbilt star, Chantelle Anderson, had signed to play with UC Barcelona this season. However, after she broke her kneecap in July during the WNBA season, those plans fell through. As a replacement, UCB signed Kelly Schumacher (shown in this photo), former star at Uconn and most recently with the New York Liberty of the WNBA.
UCB's other American is Kendra Wecker (#7), whom Vanderbilt fans last saw as she ended her career at Kansas State when the Dores upset the Wildcats in Seattle in the NCAA tournament in 2005. She is currently one of Chantelle Anderson's teammates on the San Antonio Silver Stars.
Besides the American stars, there are also Spanish stars, like #6 Silvia Morales,who has starred for PDV for five years. After PDV upset the home team 76-68, thanks in part to a double-double (23 points, 10 rebounds) from JB and a near double double from Silvia (17 points, 9 assists), there were plenty of reasons to smile.
On the last day in Barcelona, we visited the Parc Guell, another one of Gaudi's amazing creations. Inside the entrance to the part is a mosaic lizard, and just outside is another street performer dressed as, what else, a mosaic lizard who poses with tourists for euros.
After Barcelona, my daughter returned to the US, and I continued the tour of the Spanish Mediterranean by heading to Ibiza.
Ibiza is one of the Ballearic Islands, a string of islands off the eastern coast of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea. Mallorca is the biggest and best known, followed by Minorca, then Ibiza and tiny Formentera.
Approaching the island by air, the cliffs, the beaches, the blue-green water give a hint of what you'll see when you arrive.
The biggest town on the island is Eivissa, sometimes called Ibiza Town. It has the reputation as the party capital of Europe, with world-famous nightclubs with capacity for thousands of revelers.
The town of Santa Eulalia, about ten miles away, has the reputation of being more of a family town. All over the island, the tourist season ends on October 31. On a late afternoon in January, the boardwalk along the Santa Eulalia city beach was almost deserted, despite the mild temperatures.
Santa Eulalia is the home of EBE PDV (the "EBE" is short for "EBE Promociones", the team's primary sponsor), so it's also home for JB until the basketball season ends this spring.
Photos copyright 2007 by Whitney D for VandyMania.com.