Travels in Spain before Covid: Barcelona Day 14


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Europe » Spain » Catalonia » Barcelona » Barcelona
November 12th 2020
Published: November 16th 2020
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NOVEMBER, 2, 2019

Sadly, we came to our last full day in Barcelona. We were no longer living in the charming neighborhood of Barri Gotic and since there was nothing of interest to keep us where we were, we had breakfast at the hotel (of far less quality than anywhere else in Spain) and quickly left to begin our day. We walked down to the Metro stop to find the Red Route Tour Bus for the Hop On Hop Off City Tour run by the Barcelona Transport Company - TMB. Not an easy task. We were approached by a few other confused tourists looking for the same bus and since we had scoped it out the night before, we were able to help.

We wanted to cover more ground in Barcelona before we left, and since the Hop On Hop Off Bus was included in our upcoming cruise we thought this would be a great way to begin. The Red Route covers the city center, more or less. Both the Red and Green Lines intersect at Catalunya Plaza but there are no convenient loops to catch if you want to get off at the far end of the Green Line. We chose the Red Route Bus at Estacio de Sants (near that huge metro station we had found last night) heading to Catalunya Plaza where we picked up the Green Route Bus to take us down to Port Vell. Sitting on the top of a double decker bus gave us a different perspective of the areas we had seen before.

The bus left for Avenue Diagonal, at once familiar territory. We passed the Casa Mila, Casa Battlo and upscale shops and the wonderful architecture along this famous street. The bus stopped at Catalunya Plaza but looking at the map we decided to stay on the Red Line taking us past the Arc de Triumph and El Born to get off at Columbus Plaza in Port Vell, areas we hadn’t covered on foot.

We got off at the foot of the statue of Columbus “pointing the way” erected in 1888 for the Universal Exposition. I had a good laugh when I heard he was pointing not towards the Americas as was intended, but instead towards Mallorca. I later found out that for 6 Euros we could have gone up to the top of the statue for a better view of the port and the city, just one more thing to do when I return.

The beautiful harbor was inviting so we took a short walk around Port Vell to get a better look at some of the famous statues like the colorful mosaic 90 ton El Cap by Roy Lichtenstein, surely an homage to Gaudi and Picasso, and the architecture dating back to the 13th century here at this port. At the water’s edge we saw the controversial modern W Hotel, shaped like a large sail, it provides a sharp contrasts to the medieval buildings in the port. These contrasts got me thinking again of the fictional characters Fermin and Daniel cautiously coming to this port at night, the ship builders working at the Royal Shipyards, or the fishermen in the middle ages trying to eke out a living here, it was quite a comparison to what we are seeing here today. Barceloneta wharf would be unrecognizable to people only 40-50 years ago, as it was to me since my last visit in 1970.

The Maritime Museum of Barcelona faced Port Vell and the statue of Columbus and we were eager to explore the exhibits. The museum is dedicated to providing information about shipbuilding between the 13th and 18th centuries and is located inside the Barcelona Royal Shipyard, the Drassanes Redials de Barcelona, or royal arsenal of Barcelona which is over 700 years old. Constructed in the 13th century it was a place to build and maintain the galleys and vessels of war for King of Aragon Pere “the Great”. This also served to encourage the important expansion of the Catalan shipping industry.

The construction of the royal shipyard started between 1280 and 1300. Originally, the shipyards consisted of a walled area without a roof. The complex resembled a fortress, there was a watchtower on each corner, two of which are still preserved today. The shipyard halls with roof were completed in 1381. After the first completion the Gothic shipyard consisted of a total of eight halls, in each of which a ship could be built. In 1571, the La Real was built in the Drassanes. The shipyard halls were gradually expanded and at the end of the 16th century, the Drassanes already consisted of 16 halls, which then were expanded in 1618 by three halls.

Interestingly sections of the exterior of this building are part of the city’s old medieval wall and surviving tower, including the gate known as the Portal de Santa Madrona, a gate used to enter Barcelona during the Middle Ages.

The exhibitions inside this building show examples of traditional maritime professions, construction techniques and the life of a sailor aboard ship. Audio narrators told seven stories from seven people of their lives aboard ships, from experiences of discovering new lands, piracy and buccaneers, to life on board a luxury transatlantic liner, it presented a “voyage through history of modern and contemporary sailing”.

The figureheads were always supposed to make sure that the sailing ships sail safely through the sea. The main part of this collection comes from Catalan sailing ships of the 19th Century.

Dave was fascinated by the replica of the medieval Rowing Galley, the faithful reproduction of a galley from the 16th Century. The 60-metres-long royal galley Admirals of Juan de Austria was involved in the Battle of Lepanto on 7 October 1571, in which the Turkish Armada was defeated. Two hundred thirty six people at fifty nine oars used to row on this galley. What really made me horrified was the depiction of the life of the rowing slaves that was vividly presented through ghost like apparitions describing their experiences on these ships.

There was so much more to see: a Roman graveyard discovered in 2012 during excavations for the museum, gardens to see, and across in the harbor, not far from the museum buildings, the three-mast schooner Santa Eulàlia, a typical merchant ship of that time. It would have been fun to see all of this as well as all the other exhibits inside (real enthusiasts could easily spend a day here) but Dave was getting hungry.

We headed up La Rambla, Barcelona’s main tourist pedestrian thoroughfare, and found it crowded with tourists and locals filling restaurants, sitting at tables in outdoor cafes having what Vera calls a Spanish Sobremeso (locals sit, relax, order liquor and watch the world go by). Sounded good to us but it was busy and I had a destination in mind.

I had first read about Els Quatre Gats in The Shadow of the Wind, as Fermin’s favorite restaurant. I later read Els Quatre Gats (4 Gats) was a hot spot for young modernists including a young Picasso and Gaudi. With only a name and no address, we rambled up La Rambla asking people every few minutes where we could find this restaurant. If we got a response at all it was confusing at best or unintelligible at worst. In a word, we were lost and Dave was ready for fast food. I, on the other hand, put the pedal to the metal and eventually turned onto Avinguda del Portal de l’Angel at Career de Montisio 3 and found this coveted restaurant, and more luck, there was a table for us!

As we sat down in the front area of the restaurant, Dave began to peruse the menu while I sat back to absorb the atmosphere and learn a little more about this remarkable place. Pere Romeu and painters Santiago Rusinol, Ramon Casas and Miguel Utrillo, opened 4 Gats in 1897 during the height of the modernist movement. The restaurant is on the ground floor of the Casa Marti and, according to their legend, had a strong resemblance to the Le Chat Noir cabaret of Paris.

As soon as the restaurant opened it became “a meeting point for the artistic, ideological and cultural vanguard of the city”, but as Rusinol pressed that “it was not all reflection and thought, the most important thing in life is to feed the spirit”. So Pere Romeu prepared the food then sat down with his clients to spark discussions on ‘how to save the world’.

A young 17 year old Pablo Picasso had recently moved to Barcelona. It was in this restaurant in 1899, that he had his first solo exhibition. He then created the image for the 4 Gats menu, still used today. The 4 Gats was given this moniker as the restaurant was beginning to open. Asking friends and acquaintances what to name it, one said why name it, “it’ll just be you and 4 stray cats!” And it stuck.

The restaurant is cozy with a narrow row of tables from the front door to the bar, then in a larger rear portion of the restaurant opens to a dining room with a ‘Bohemian air for relaxed lunches and dinners’. By now Dave was more than ready to order and I was struggling with what to sample. I ended up with anchovies, Dave had cod and we split a Croqueto de Pernil. In retrospect we should have made this our main meal but we had no idea what was yet to come.

We walked back to Catalunya Plaza to catch the Green Route Bus to see a different area of the city. The first bus of both red and green lines leaves Plaza Catalunya between 9 and 9:30am “depending on the season”. We needed to stand in the plaza to catch a departing bus that “arrives between 5 and 25 minutes all day until 7pm”. This meant that if we were riding on the Green Line we needed to be back to Catalunya Plaza before 7pm to catch the last bus back to our hotel. We thought we would be able to see things we hadn’t seen, get a better feel for the other side of the city but as it grew darker, and colder and began to rain, we knew we’d made a big mistake. Stuck in the dark on the bus, not having any idea where we were or wanted to go we huddled together in the cold seats waiting to get to a destination that was safe and where we could find some dinner out of the cold.

Thankfully a kind man on our bus helped us get our bearings, and told us about Vivo off Diagonal Avenue and we are forever grateful. By now it was dark and pouring rain and with no umbrella we were hoping we could make a mad dash into the restaurant from the bus. The Green Line we were on finally came very close to the Red Line on the busy and well lit Diagonal Avenue, a sharp contrast from the dark areas we’d just passed, and near enough to our restaurant destination. We hopped off the bus, ran across the street into the warm, brightly lit Vivo Tapas, a ‘hot spot’ for dining in Barcelona. What a great find. We were rewarded with a nice quiet table, with warm cozy seating and excellent food and wine. We are not big eaters so we were happy with the smaller portions. We had Copa Cantabria, Canellone de Ricotta, Spinacas y Tomate, Canellone de Carne and were very pleased!

It was well past 7pm when we left Vivo, so we grabbed a cab back to our hotel to pack for our departure the next morning. We tried to call it a night, but sadly our room was cold and the noise from adjacent rooms and the hallway kept us up so we got very little sleep. Despite not wanting to leave Barcelona, we eagerly looked forward to sleeping aboard a ship the next night.


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