Travels in Spain before Covid: Barcelona Day 10

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November 5th 2020
Published: November 7th 2020
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OCTOBER 29, 2019

Our Gate 1 tour was over and we needed to check out of our the NH Collection Constanza hotel to get to our new digs by 9am. Before we left for our trip to Spain, I had made reservations for us to stay in a charming 3 bedroom apartment through Bcngotic on 6 Carrer de l’Argenteria, Ciutat Vella (Old City) in historic Barri Gotic. We had a quick breakfast at our hotel, said our goodbyes to Vera and our new friends then grabbed a cab to the other side of the city to check into our apartment. We quickly got our key, settled our bags, then ran to make our 11am tour of the Palau de la Musica (about 10 a minute walk from our apartment). We were panting but grateful we had made our appointments on time. (Get Your Guide)

The Palace of Music or Palau de la Musica was located below the more expensive Catalonia square so the singers and musicians could afford to live near the the palace where they worked. We found the entrance to, what seemed to me to be an unassuming red brick and glass Modernist exterior, tucked away from the main Via Laietana. As we approached we were greeted by the statue of St George, the patron saint of Catalonia and Barcelona but once we stepped inside I knew we had stumbled upon something very special.

The music palace, called an architectural jewel, is the only concert hall listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, holding approximately 600 concerts each year. It was designed by architect Lluis Domenech i Montaner, for the Orfeo Catala, a choral society founded in 1891 that became an important part of the Catalan cultural movement known as the Renaixenca. The project was financed primarily by the society. There was something ‘Gaudiesque’ in the design with so many elements of nature, natural light and airiness inside. Our guide told us that he was Gaudi’s teacher for awhile, which made sense to me.

From the foyer to the stairs up to the beautiful Lluis Millet Hall where we began our tour, I began to notice roses carved in detail along railings, as ceiling elements, balustrades and even in the numerous tiles on the walls, floors, ceilings and in stained glass windows. I soon found out there are more than 2,000 roses throughout the palace, a tribute to the legend of St. George. On St. George Day, it is tradition for the Catalan people to exchange roses and books. Our guide added that Shakespeare, important to the Catalan people, died on that day.
There is an impressive chandelier hanging from the ceiling in this hall but what impressed me more was the balcony with its colorful and ornately tiled columns.

From the Lluis Millet Hall we heard strains of choral music coming from the concert hall, and as we entered the hall I was delighted to listen to a choir rehearsal practicing for an upcoming event! What a treat to listen to the sounds of the choir in this concert hall designed specifically for choral singers. Once inside we quietly took our seats to enjoy this little bonus.

There are few straight lines in the palace, intentionally designed for music acoustics. “The Palace is surrounded primarily with glass and ceramics, generally not considered good for acoustics but curves help”, said our guide, however it is renowned world wide and accepted as having unsurpassed acoustics. The design, called a ‘box of light’ was intended for more light to come inside flooding the interior with color streaming in from the stained glass ‘sun’ on the ceiling as well as the beautiful glass windows surrounding the theater, creating a magical, even etherial space. This intention challenged the structural integrity of the building making the success of the final design even more impressive.

The Rise of the ‘Catalonia ceiling’ over the 'eternal garden' is flanked by Pegasus horses, statues referring to glory and success. To the left of the stage is a large bust of Josep Anselm Clave, an important force in the world of Catalan choral music; on the right, a smaller bust of Beethoven represents classical music, with Vagner’s Ride of the Valkyries looming over his head. The larger sculpture of Clave is intended to demonstrate that Catalan music trumps any foreign creation.

Eighteen female muses project from the wall behind the stage, each carrying an historic musical instrument representing the different styles from around the world. The collection of sculptures is brought together with a colorful blending of mosaic tiles by Eusebi Arnau and Louis Bru. Above the muses hangs an enormous, recently restored, organ from Germany with 3,700 powerful pipes. We were treated to a sampling of Handel that easily filled the enormous 2,146 seat concert hall wit sound. I found it interesting to learn that music is sent by wifi from the stage for recording. All in all I found it an overwhelming, mystical musical experience and look forward to our concert here tonight!

By the time our tour of the Music Palace was over Dave’s memory of his last coffee and pastry was wearing thin so we headed back toward our apartment and found the Taller de Tapas restaurant on Argenteria. Dave was so glad we did. It was lunch time and we were lucky to find a seat inside. I discovered this is a chain restaurant which I try to avoid in my travels, but thankfully this one did not disappoint. There was outside seating but Dave headed straight for the inside table and I respectfully followed. The menu clearly catered to American tastes, which, after being away for what seemed like a month, sounded good to my husband. He ordered a hamburger with caramelized onions, bacon, lettuce and goat cheese (I have to say it was delicious). I had a crab tapas which was quite good and appropriately sized for me, but probably would have been too small for Dave. I was surprised to see, for the first time on this trip, in bold letters at the bottom of the bill: SERVICE NOT INCLUDED.

I would have been content to explore El Born and Barri Gotic with my camera but our apartment at the BCNGotic was close by and Dave needed a nap after his big lunch, so we walked back to unpack, explore our many rooms and rest. Staying here felt like we were part of the local community. Booking was so easy online, although I was a little nervous booking an unknown apartment in a foreign country, but this place had been recommended by close friends so I dove in head first and am so glad I did. We took a (tiny) elevator to the 2nd floor where our apartment faced the narrow but lively Argenteria street, and with the windows closed for a nap, we barely heard a thing. I had chosen the three bedroom apartment with a spacious dining/living room area (turns out we didn’t need that much space but one can’t really tell from online photos) and a small kitchen with a washing machine, dishwasher and refrigerator which gave me time to catch up on our laundry, store some food, extra luggage and purchases. We had plenty of space to call our own, and it was conveniently located to the metro, shopping and restaurants. Win, win!

After our rest we began to explore the historic area and were pleasantly surprised to find the Santa Maria del Mar or Cathedral of the Sea right down the street from our apartment (we are discovering much of what we wanted to see is close by). I had printed a copy of the map and guidelines in the Barri Gotic area from the wonderful book The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The multilayered story takes place in Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War and to my mind, is a must read if you plan to visit Barcelona. From this outline, and our memory of the book, we were able to tick off some of the locations starting with the Santa Maria Del Mar Basilica also known as the Cathedral of the Sea at the del Mar Plaza. With characters like Fermin and Daniel in our minds, plus the story of the construction of this medieval ‘Church of the Fishermen’, we went inside to discover its impressive interior during the daylight hours.

The heaviness of the great stone church seemed more daunting an achievement when, with a bit of daylight streaming through the high windows in the vaulted ceiling, I could better see the large stones in the vaulted structure, and have an emotional connection to its construction, knowing that these devout fishermen carried the enormous stones on their backs from the Montjuic quarry miles away. The novel The Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones is another good book to read that brings to life the stories of the people who lived here in medieval times. The book has been made into an 8 part series found on Netflix.

And once again, it was time for dinner, and in this tiny area there were so many options it was difficult to choose but we ended up at Sagardi Cuiners Bascos for a dinner of some of the best tapas I have ever had. When you enter, if you’re lucky, you grab a seat at a small table or at the bar. A waiter will ask for your drink order and because we didn’t know the tapas, we went to the bar and pointed for what looked good. There are no food descriptions but the staff at the bar were very pleasant and helpful, often suggesting their favorites. The options represented some of the most amazing food from the Basque cuisine, and if I could have, I would have tried them all. Vera had said that the Catalonia region had the best food and if this is any indication, I agree! We chose anchovy fillets, prawns, red tuna, pates, ham croquettes fresh from the oven, and waiters continuously made the rounds with more hot plates straight from the kitchen. If I could choose to go back to just one place to eat, it would be here.

We lingered and ate as long as we dared drinking up the colloquial geniality before setting off for our short walk along the narrow and darkened streets to our evening concert at The Palau de la Musica Catalana. We already had our tickets (purchased again, from home before we left) so we decided to relax with a coffee in the Music Palace’s Foyer Cafeteria, and sip on our drinks in the elegant atmosphere in anticipation of the evening ahead.

The concert was titled Barcelona Guitar Trio & Dance, an homage to Paco de Lucía. The three internationally renowned guitarists, the maestros Manuel González, Xavier Coll and Luis Robisco played a selection of the works of Isaac Albéniz, Federico García Lorca, Chick Corea and Manuel de Falla. Sitting on the stage with these guitarists was “one of the most exciting pairs of flamenco dancers in the country” (yes more flamenco!). This combination of artists delivered an unforgettable tribute to Paco de Lucía fusing both the exciting flamenco dance with these Spanish guitarists. These artists, playing in the renowned music hall, created a total environment that made us feel the passionate music of Barcelona and its Spanish heritage.

Our seats were perfectly centered in the balcony to give us the best view of the Flamenco dancers as well as listening to the guitarists. Sitting in the upper reaches of the concert hall also gave me opportunity to better see the dazzlingly illuminated lights from the stained glass ceiling. I only wish they did not use mics because the acoustics in this hall were sufficient to clearly hear the natural staccato of the guitars but the mics were turned on too loud somewhat distorting the sounds we wanted to hear. Still, it was an amazing evening that I highly recommend to anyone wanting to get fully absorbed in the culture of this remarkable heritage. To get a taste of these talented artists you can go to YouTube: Barcelona Guitar Trio - Entre dos Aguas (Homenaje a Paco de Lucía). Enjoy!

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