Barcelona is a great city! There is so much to see, do and explore. The four days I was there, just wasn’t enough time. Initially, the purpose of the trip was to determine if it might be a better city for my dad to visit than London. London is a great city but my dad is 83 and David and I had concerns for him getting around. We had heard great things about Barcelona from various people we asked and thought that he might enjoy visiting there instead of London. I found an apartment, booked a flight and waited until my departure on November 20. It is an easy 2 hour flight from London and I was in Barcelona by 10:30 in the morning!
Getting around the city is very easy. I caught the airport bus that took me right to Catalunya Square, the center of Barcelona. From there, I caught two subways and walked 10 minutes on Avenida Sarria in the Eixample neighborhood. As I was walking to the apartment, I was a little concerned because Ave Sarria is a very busy street with four lanes. I feared that the apartment might be noisy due to the traffic. However, once at the cute apartment, I discovered that it was located in the back of the building, away from the street!!! So, it was very, very quiet.
After checking in and dropping my bags off, I was out the door to explore. As I walked towards Cataluyna Square, I enjoyed the beautiful architecture of the buildings along the way. There was no lack for sidewalk cafes and sandwich shops. Each corner seemed to comprise of cafes, a little fruit and vegetable shop and a couple of small restaurants. I immediately liked the atmosphere of the city.
I finally made my way to the center of the town, found the Information Booth and got my train ticket to visit the Montserrat Monastery and got a few suggestions of what I should see while in Barcelona. From there, I made my way to the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter). This the heart of Barcelona….it is the original narrow streets built during Roman times, surrounded by a wall to protect the citizens. Today, it is still the maze of compact streets lined with souvenir shops, cafes, antique shops, boutiques and restaurants. Every so often, one of the streets I was following would spit me out into a large plaza. One was Saint Jaume Plaza, with the grand building for the government of Catalana on one side and across from this building, an equally large building which serves as Barcelona’s City Hall. This plaza was the seat of the Roman government that once ruled Spain and has been the center for government for over 2,000 years! This plaza is often the main gathering place for demonstrators whenever they have a grievance with their government.
One thing that caught my eye in the square were the gargoyles on the Catalan government building and the small pedestrian bridge (Carrer del Bisbe Bridge), built above the street, connecting the government building to the president’s house. You can see the row of gargoyles on the left side of the picture.
Continuing through Barri Gotic, you will eventually come to the Cathedral of Barcelona. There has been a temple or church on this spot since the days of the Romans, who built a Temple to Jupiter. In 343 AD, this temple was replaced with a Christian cathedral. A Romanesque style church was built in the 11th century and in the 14th century, it was changed to the Gothic structure, which is there today. It is a very impressive Cathedral and it is easy to see how, for so many years, this used to be the hub of the city.
The nave of the church is surrounded by 28 chapels. In the crypt, is the tomb of Eulalia. At the age of 13, this girl of a prominent Barcelona family was martyred for her faith by the Romans in 304 AD. She was put through 13 tortures before ultimately being crucified on an X-shaped cross. I tell you, the catholic church has a fairly gruesome history with all the martyres and saints that I encounter each time I visit one of these cathedrals. In Prague, I was when I visited Loreta Church, it was one story of torture after another and in this church, they were all about women.
The two coffins hanging on the side of the wall caught my attention. They hold the bodies of the Counts of Barcelona who were the founders of the second Romanesque cathedral in 1058. What caught my attention with these two sepulchers, were how small these people must have been. The coffins were tiny!
To the side is a cloister that surrounds a garden of palm, orange and magnolia trees. I kept forgetting that I was in a tropical climate and tended to be surprised whenever I encountered a palm tree! After a day, I was more used to it. Occasionally, the peacefulness was interrupted by the loud honking of the 13 geese that have been on the premises for the last 500 years. The 13 is in memory of St Eulalia’s 13 years and 13 tortures.
I must make mention of the Sardana dance, which the local gather to perform every Sunday at noon and sometimes on Saturday. It is a symbolic dance representing unity for the Catalan people. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see this event as I wasn’t there on Sunday. I don’t have very much of the Catalan history but from what I have gathered, they have never supported the Spanish government and have seemed to support the loser who might be revolting against the Spanish government. During rule of dictator Franco, the Catalan language was forbidden to be spoken and many people disappeared because of their political stance. I discovered what proud people the Catalans are. Much like Quebec in Canada, there is constant discussion about succession from Spain. The Sardana dance is one subtle way that the people express their patriotism. I hope to see and maybe even dance it as my guidebook said that tourist are welcome!
La Rambla is another popular area of Barcelona. Originally, this now wide, tree-lined pedestrian avenue was the drainage ditch for the medieval wall of Barri Gotic. Rambla means stream in Arabic. Today, you can walk from Cataluyna Plaza to the waterfront….and now beyond that since the construction of the pedestrian bridge into the harbor. They refer to it as “La Rambla de Mar” (La Rambla of the sea). La Rambla is made up of five different sections that take you past a representation of life in Barcelona. As you walk, you pass statues, stores, people sitting on park benches and at one of the many cafes and restaurants that line it, artist, an outdoor bird market and further on, a flower market, the grand opera house and la Boqueria market.
The Boqueria market is a lively place full of stalls of fruits, vegetables, fish, meats and breads. First reference to this market can be found from 1217….I just love how places and buildings have been around forever over here! It is mind boggling! It is still covered with a metal roof that was constructed in 1914! As I was leaving, I spied a Dunkin Donuts!!! I love DD!! Now, I really don’t like to see North American chains anywhere in my travels but regardless, they have arrived! There was a Dunkin Donuts in Santiago, Chile and I can honestly say that the donuts were not as good as what we are used to in the states from DD, nor was the coffee. I didn’t stop at this one. I was hungry but was waiting to pass the Opera Cafe, which I had read about in my guidebook. Still, it was fun to see the orange and pink logo!
The Opera Cafe was worth the wait. It had much more character than Dunkin Donuts! Walking in, I felt like I was on the film set from the 1920s. My white hair, white mustached waiter wore a white shirt, black slacks, topped off with a bow tie at his neck. I sat in a corner at a small round table and ordered a Sangria and tapas (snack) of bread and cheese.
I didn’t get very much time to explore the waterfront but it was a hub of activity all watched over by the 200 ft column statue of Christopher Columbus. It is the spot that he departed from in his quest to explore the world. The part of the harbor I saw was designed more for the tourist coming from the Las Ramblas section but beyond this area is a busy working port that is among Europe’s top 10. The bridge leads to a large shopping mall, The Maremagnum, that houses, of course, the stores, cinemas, restaurants and also, an aquarium.
I was able to visit two parks, La Guell and Montjuic. La Guell was designed by my new favorite architect, Guadi. I wrote extensively about him and his contribution to the park in a later blog. What I didn’t mention in that one about the park was the “Three Cross” area. It is a monument of three ancient looking crosses on a mound of stones. At the top, you get a great view of the city. What is amazing though, is the climb up and once you are at the top. There are no safety railings at all. There is a hand railing to hold onto going up or down but on the outside of the stairs there is nothing to prevent you from falling. The same at the top. There were many people while I was up there and maneuvering was a tad tricky! I just kept thinking that this would never be in the states!
Another thing that I enjoyed about the park were the wild parrots that were flying around and chattering. The palm trees sounded as if they were full of them but you could rarely seem them. They blended in so well with the leaves of the trees. It reminded me of the parrots in the parks in Lima, Peru. I always tried to get a good picture but never was successful. So, I am happy to share this parrot picture with you that I took at Park Guell.
Park Montjuic (Mount of the Jews) is a large park located in the southeast part of Barcelona with part of it bordering the ocean. There you will find a fortress that once protected the city. Other places of interest is a museum of art for Joan Miro, who is from Barcelona. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to visit this museum, the Picasso, the Catalan Art or the Dali museums….I need to go back to Barcelona!
Anyway, the 1992 Olympics were held in this park and there are many of the original buildings from the 1929 international fair. I entered Montjuic from Plaza Espana and saw the impressive building that was used for the exhibition hall for the international fair. Today, it houses the Museum of National Art of Catalana. From here, I walked through the park and took the funicular down to La Rambla.
One night, I went to an concert at the Palau de la Musica. It was an orchestra with guest oboe (!!) performer, Guillermo Sanchis. To be honest, I went more to see the interior of the building than I did for the concert. It was a small and very young appearing group of musicians. Before the program, there was an awards presentation to musicians sponsored by Mitsubishi. So I think that this orchestra might have been from a local music school. The program was Mozart’s Concert in D major for oboe and orchestra and Bohuslav Martinu, Concert for oboe and orchestra.
The concert hall is elaborate! It was designed in the Catalan modernist style by Lluis Domenech i Montaner and was built between 1905-08. I have no words to really describe it and will let my photos do the “talking”. I especially liked the details on the ceiling!