Erp! A week has blown by without a chance to update the blog. I blame late nights in Barcelona, along with wifi glitches in our unit, so here goes.
We left Paris reluctantly last Monday, but it was raining buckets, so that made leaving a bit easier. Fortunately, Stephan, our Paris landlord gave us a ride to the train station so we didn't get drenched. The rain started to ease as we left the city, and the train trip ended up being a beautiful way to see the French countryside. My first glimpses of the Mediterranean were beautiful!
We got settled in to our Barcelona apartment by 10pm. It is just a few quirky steps off shabby, but we're right in the thick of local life in the old-city El Born area. We're above a Tarot card reading shop, several shoe stores and two bars that are about the size of a single car garage. All open onto the street, so there's never a dull moment outside, except for maybe between 8-10 am.
Tuesday we spent getting oriented, which was no small task, as this area is literally a maze of narrow alleyways. It was overcast, so we had no feel for what diredction we were heading, but eventually stumbled on some interesting places, found maps, and had our first tapas lunch. We bought an artpass to 7 galleries (Are there 7 art museums in Sydney?). We went to one contemporary one to activate the pass - there was only an exhibition on Pier Paolo Passolini, not in English, and we probably wouldn't have been too interested if we did understand it. Still, we got our feet wet on the gallery scene.
We walked the main pedestrian (read: tourist) drag called Las Ramblas all the way to the harbour. We were exhausted after stomping around for most of the day, so we went home to revive, and ended up going out for dinner at 11:30pm - how local of us! It's been like that most nights, and there's no such thing as an early start here - or even a morning start. We've ususally made it out the door by almost noon.
Wednesday was a public holiday in Barcelona - a Catalan nationnal day. Literally every local was draped in the Catalunya (state) flag. A very different sort of 9/11! We ended up following a parade of folks demanding independance from Spain by 2014. It was peacefull enough, and we learned about a massacre of Catalunya patriots in 1714 that they're still mad about. Another late tapas lunch - best tapas dish is the potatoes, methinks.
We had a quick tour of the Barcelona Cathedral - many, many beautiful Catholic altars. My favourite piece was a huge marble baptismal fount from 1233.
Wednesday's highlight was attending an evening concert at the extremely Modernista concert hall Palau de la Musica Catalana. I've got pictures of the outside - all broken tile mosaics, glass balustrades and stained glass windows - so cool. Better still was the amazing Flamenca guitarist we heard, Pedro Javier Gonzalez. He was so talented and is apparently a bit of a celebrity here, as it was all Bravos, standing ovations and clammering for autographs after the show.
Thursday we ate breakfast at the local market stalls - its fun to pick up fresh fruit and see all the meat, fish and produce. Another late start as we had to wait for the manager to get our wifi rebooted, but no big deal. We had to really seach to find the Picasso museum - it's only a block or two from where we're staying, but not that easy to find. We spent an hour or so there, but it's not as impressive as the touring Picasso exhibition that came to Sydney last year. Picasso spent his early years here, but did not return to Spain while Franco was in power.
Drinks after the museum and then a long walk through the rest of the El Born area and a beautiful park and finally down to Barcelonetta by the beach. We had our first paella at a restaurant called Cheriff, which was recommended by the apt manager. It was very good, but we were both stuffed and exhausted by the time we tromped all the way home.
Friday we headed for the hills - an area called Montjuic. We had to take a funicular (tram) up the mount and then our first stop was the Joan Miro museum. I liked it very much - between Miro, Picasso, Dali, and Gaudi, the Catalans were so instrumental in ushering in contemporary art and architecture. Really, this city itself is one big gallery.
After Miro, we walked across the hill past the 1992 Barcelona Olypmic facilities. Hadn't set out to go there, but it was kinda nice to see anyway. The end destination was the Museum of Catalunya Art. It was 6pm, so we didn't go in, but it's steps and gardens are a brilliant place to watch the sun go down over the city below. So pretty. We walked down the hill to have dinner, then went back to watch the evening's Magic Fountains show. I took lots of photos, but it was a lovely evening watching the water and light show all the way back up the hill - all choreographed to music. Another late night, by the time we got home!
Saturday, we walked through the old city - Barri Gotic. It dates back to the Roman settlement here. We had lunch outside (paella and sangria again) and strolled through all the small shops and laneways.
Today's final assault was on a couple Gaudi buildings - the Cassa Battlo and Sagrada Familia. Peter really enjoyed this, as the building and craftmanship that goes into his architecture is amazing. Gauldi is responsible for much of Barcelona's Modernista look - curved windows, flowing lines, broken tile mosaics and much more. The Sagrada Familia Basillcia is yet to be finished - they are hoping to complete it before 2026, the centenary of Gaudi's death. It looks pretty gaudy from the outside - but the interior is truly breathtaking. I have joked that nobody spends centuries building churches anymore, but they have for this one and it is going profoundly majestic (without gold leaf). It's been the highlight of the trip for Peter and we both want to come back when it's fully finished.
This afternoon we also saw folks dancing a local traditional sardana dance in the Cathedral square. Fun to see all the oldies joining in - handbags and walking sticks plonked in the middle of their circles.
We also had lunch in a restaurant called El Quarto Gats (4 Cats). It opened in 1897, is so pretty inside, but is mostly famous for Picasso designing the menu cover and holding his first exhibition there when he was nineteen. It was raining when we finished, so we didn't feel too bad about coming home for a siesta after all the wine and food! Did I mention we've slipped into the Spanish lifestyle with ease?