Catalonia, congeres, cafe con lache
02.12.2016 - 06.12.2016 17 °C
Barcelona, the Capitol of Catalonia Spain, is located on the north east coast of the Iberian Penninsula facing the Mediterranean Sea.
Our seats on KLM flight 0678 are near several families and one child or another cried continuously from Calgary until we changed planes in Amsterdam (8 hours). I watched three movies and hardly slept.
Tip: stick with the regular meal service. I ordered kosher just to see if it was better. I was served twenty minutes before my companions, the dinner roll and cake were still frozen and the main course was mashed potatoes. I ate it all starting with the cake. This is what makes me a good traveller, I am not a picky eater.
We arrived at Barcelona El Prat Airport on December 2. It was a gorgeous sunny day, about 17 C. The blue sky melted into the Mediterranean, dazzling.
The grass was green, flowers still bloomed, a bit humid.
The first thing that struck me in the airport was the garbage. The floor was littered with paper, garbage cans were overflowing.
Who are these litterbugs? I was disgusted and kept stopping to take pictures, it was fascinating and shocking. Millions of travelers pass through this airport.
We later learned the airport cleaners had been on strike for a few days.
The second thing that struck me about Barcelona was graffiti. If you close your garage door someone will tag it. Oh, it turns out to be street art, and Barcelona is famous for it!! World class graffiti artists!!
We are staying at the Ayre Hotel on Gran Via. The airport bus (5 Euros ninety, you pay at the bus) stops at Placa Espanya, less than a block away. The old bullring now a shopping centre is a landmark. Barcelona does not have bullfights any more. We are staying in the Sants-Montjuic district because our room is under one hundred dollars a night and TripAdvisor gave it an excellent review. It is only three subway stops from La Rambla and the subway station is five minutes from our hotel.
Hotel rooms in Barcelona are expensive and we have scored a good deal.
A four star hotel with an inauspicious lobby, our executive room is on the fifth floor and faces Gran Via. The window opens to allow fresh air and traffic noise, but once closed our room is quiet. Such a lovely day, we slept.
The hop on and off bus stops at Placa Espanya, We purchased two day tickets for 35 Euros.
We had a light breakfast at the hotel but the lukewarm coffee con evaporated milk was a disappointment.
We got off at 92 Passieg del Gracia. La Pedrara: sculpted building by Barcelona's favourite son. Antoni Gaudi. It is another lovely blue sky day.
Casa Milla of the undulating curves and wrought iron balconies twisted like seaweed was controversial back in 1908 but was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986. Nicknamed la pedrera, stone quarry, it is a moderniste masterpiece.
Passieg de Gracia streetlamps have curved stonework benches in a Gaudi-esque style - I may try to copy this look with cob. They were designed by Pere Falqués I Urpi in 1906 and are inlaid with broken tile. Now I wonder about who inspired who - both architects were modernists, art nouveau.
Since it is December the streets and store windows were decorated for Christmas. We found the Hermes window with snowmen and ladybugs amusing:
We watched for street signs on the sides of buildings and were soon walking along the most famous pedestrian promenade in Barcelona.
La Rambla was fairly quiet at 10 am Saturday December 3. We enjoyed a proper cup of cafe con lache and bought cookies before hopping on the green line at Catalunya Square.
Palm trees line the boulevards and the parakeets are squawking vigourously. I never saw one though they make their nests in the palm trees. Originally from South America, brought in as pets, they are now a wild population of 10,000 in Barcelona. In 1975 the wild population was estimated at 50!!
The harbour area was sun drenched, people walked, jogged and cycled near the beach.
I like the Old Customs House situated near Port Vell:
Barcelona has an Arc de Triumph. It was built as the entrance of the 1888 World's Fair to welcome the nations.
Casa Batlló is another Gaudi work in central Barcelona on Passieg de Gracia. It is actually a renovation/remodel of an existing apartment building. We can be assured it looks nothing like the original!!
The Torre Agbar skyscraper (33 stories above ground, completed in 2005) is the third tallest building in Barcelona and has a number of nicknames. Here it represents high tech architecture in Barcelona.
I liked the metal sculpture that resembles the Olympic Rings but is meant to depict waves. The Onades (waves) stainless steel sculpture on the seafront is elegantly simple. Designed by Andrew Alfaro the lovely arches grace Placo del Carbo at the breakwater, greeting visitors who arrive by sea.
The Sagrada Familia, the church of the sacred family, designed by Gaudi, is a massive construction site. It has been under construction for 133 years and is a cacaphony of turrets, elaborate chimneys and sculptures rising high above the nearby park where senior men play a ball tossing game.
The little park is shady and peaceful just across the road from the hullabaloo around the massive building site where tourists flock to see what the fuss is about.
I will tell my kids to come when it is finished, maybe in 20 years. It is good to travel in late middle age, things take on a different perspective. Lifelong learning and all of that, walking around, finding your way in a strange city has to be mind expanding. See new things with new old eyes. An enigma.
The Roman Catholic Basilica, Sagrada Familia, could be finished in eleven years. It is the most visited monument in Spain.
When complete it will be the world's largest and most ornate church.
Below is a picture of a picture - the finished product:
Enormous, elaborate, eccentric, extraordinary. Evocative. Gaudi's obsession - he worked on it from 1883 to 1926 when he was hit by a tram and died.
He was dressed in shabby clothing as was his habit in his later years and did not receive the best medical care. Twenty-four hours later when his identity became known it was too late. He had been living in his office at the Sagrada Famillia and is buried in a crypt there.
The Picasso Museum is free all day Sunday so we take the hop on bus there. You must line up to get a free ticket and then signs point the way through the exhibits. Picasso was born in Malaga but spent his youth in Barcelona. The art of these early years is displayed. His interpretation of Velázquez’s masterpiece Las Meninas is here. Works by other artists and acquaintances include Diego Rivera and Matisse.
We roamed around the narrow streets, stopping for tortilla (egg and potato dish) and a wee glass of wine.
There was a Christmas market near the Gothic church and lady beggars with long black skirts lined the stairs leading to Barcelona Cathedral (The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia)
We sat in a side chapel for a bit, then looked around, the mass was shown on tv screens here and there.
Instead of lighting a candle now you put money in a slot and a battery operated candle in a glass enclosure flickers on. I guess the centuries old tradition of actually lighting a candle was a fire hazard, but this new operation has lost all charm.
Barcelona Cathedral is a striking example of Gothic Catalan architecture. Construction began in 1298. On this site had previously been a Roman temple and a Moorish mosque.
There was a Christmas Market set up near the Cathedral. Most items were decorative Christmas tree ornaments or nativity scene figures.
The famous Catalan pooping log was everywhere. The Caga Tió is put to work by Barcelona children on December 8 - it is suppose to be covered with a blanket and beaten with a stick until it poops out presents, often candies.
They also sell pooping figures, caganeres. There are pooping figures made especially for nativity scenes and then, I think, just pooping figures in general because people find it amusing and it has been a tradition in Catalonia for 200 years.
We took the orange line hop on bus, then the green line and finished after dark. We got our money's worth from our two day hop on and off tour. Sunday was cloudy with occasional rain so the open air top of the bus was chilly. We vied for seats on the main floor and I had a sleep.
The earphones with the English commentator left a lot to be desired, I either could not understand or hear half of what was said and most of the time was unsure of what we were seeing. The streets were pretty after dark with the colourful Christmas lights:
We had a light supper in the hotel bar, Rhea had a ham sandwich and I had a beer. We learned the difference between processed ham and Spanish ham. Get the Spanish ham, it is good. Jamon. York ham is like soft processed ham, icky. Spanish or Iberian ham is dry, salty and chewy, and can be sliced paper thin.
Monday. I slept in, we are going to the opera tonight. A city bus that goes to Placa Catalunya stops outside our hotel, two euros fifteen each. We sat on a bench on la Rambla and watched the people.
Another lovely blue sky day.
I admire the interesting bark on the trees that resemble sycamores, the London Plane tree. Such a common street tree in Europe fascinates me with its peeling camouflage bark.
What do you see in the bark? Perhaps it is like reading tea leaves - I see a two horses, a rabbit and a ladybug.
We want to make sure we arrive to the Palau de Musica on time so check out the neighbourhood, find the venue, and look through the neighbourhood shops. The Palau is distinctive on the exterior, a moderniste design by Muntaneer, completed in just three years.
Across the street I found the perfect gift for my oldest son, a replica Salvador Dali melting clock. There were also nice souvenirs at the Gaudi shop beside the Cathedral.
The opera, La Traviata, starts at 8 pm, we booked tickets online for 27 Euros each (roughly 41 dollars). A guided tour of the concert hall is 18 Euros so the opera tickets are a bargain.
From the cheap seats on the third balcony we can see two thirds of the stage and the entire orchestra.
Our surroundings are opulent. Stained glass, intricate mosaic, elaborate light fixtures, sculptures, wrought iron, the huge and dazzling skylight with an inverted central dome, a ceiling scattered with plaster roses - wow.
The Palau de Musica, built in 1908 in the Modernista style, is the only concert hall in the world to be declared a UNESCO world heritage site.
We stopped by a Supermarcat to get juice for tomorrow.
The taxi back to Hotel Ayre was eight euros.
We leave for Antequera by train tomorrow at 830 am! We will walk to Sants Station.