Wednesday, October 7, 2009 - Barcelona

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October 9th 2009
Published: October 10th 2009
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The beginning of two days touring in Barcelona, a city we greatly enjoyed.

Barcelona is the capital of Catalunya, one of the autonomous districts of Spain. I am totally unsure of how this "autonomous district" thing works. I perceive it as being analogous to states in the USA, but I am not sure it is the same thing, or even similar. Barcelona used the vehicle of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games as a means of city enhancement and renewal. It is a warm, vibrant city with broad avenues and boulevards, interspersed with rabbit warrens of narrow streets and alleys, and punctuated with squares large and small. Several large thoroughfares are totally or partially closed to vehicular traffic. It is an easy city to see and to love. Catalan is the official language along with Spanish, but English is widely (although not universally) spoken and/or understood. For our first day, we chose to proceed mostly on foot.

Leaving the hotel on the Gran Via, we proceeded past the University of Barcelona and then angled down to Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is actually a series of five streets that have relatively narrow streetways going each direction, with a much wider pedestrian mall in between. The mall is filled with vendors, tending to be bunched together by the variety of wares they display. For instance, one area is filled on both sides with sellers of birds - tropical birds, chickens, you name it. In another area there are florists. Also seen throughout the mall are buskers and posers of many types. Statues in silver paint, fairies in phantasmagorical wings and outfits, dragons with large black wings, and our own favorite, a young man in a baby crib who interacted with passers-by. The Ramblas ends at the waterfront where there is a large pillar topped with a statue of Christopher Columbus.

Proceeding to the area of the Cathedral in the Barri Gotic (the old area of town), we got enmeshed in a labor union demonstration. As a veteran of demonstrations, I made sure we got out of there promptly. The Cathedral was only about two blocks away. When I was last there in 1972 with shipmates from the USS Stribling, the square in front of the Cathedral was filled with people doing traditional Catalan dances. This time, the perimeter of the square was a staging area for police vans preparing for the labor demonstration. As far as I know, it went peacefully. Our visit to the Cathedral was relatively brief. The Cathedral is officially known as Cathedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulalia, but more commonly called Le Seu. There has been a basilica there since 343 CE, but the present gothic edifice was begun in 1269, an incorporates only a small portion of an earlier romanesque church built in about 1050. As European cathedrals go, it is neither especially large nor especially beautiful, but is worth a visit. It contains the crypt of St. Eulalia, patron saint of Barcelona and of sailors. (One of these days I am going to have to research the ways in which saints become associated with one group for whom they are the patron, and what that means.) Eulalia's story is somewhat conflated with that of another Eulalia (of Merida), also martyred at age thirteen during the Diocletian persecutions. One can only assume that she was a serious thron in the side of the Romans, since she was treated to 13 different tortures, including being rolled down a street in a barrel into which knives or pieces of glass had been thrust (by tradition this took place on the street now call Baixada de Saint Eulalia, or "St.Eulalia's descent"), having her breasts cut off, crucifixion on an X-shaped cross, and finally decapitation. At the time of her decapitation a dove reportedly flew out of her neck. Thirteen geese now reside at all times in the courtyard of the cloister adjoining the Cathedral, remembering her age at martyrdom.

Our peregrinations then took us down the street a couple of blocks to the Mercat de Santa Caterina, with its wavy roof and an interior filled with vendors of every type of meat, fish, and produce imaginable. One entire shop sold nothing but eggs, including ostrich eggs, Fish, shellfish, and cephalopods of every description stared out at you, including some things that were not readily identifiable. A shop sold nothing but what the Romans would call "fifth quarter" goods, what is left over after the four quarters of a beef or other animal are cut up. This included tripe, testicles, tongues, hearts, and other parts neither identifiable nor enticing. None of the testicles were small, so I can only surmise that here the bulls never win. There was the requisite olive oil shop with at least 300 varieties, and shops for wines, spices, and other necessities.

It was only a short walk to the Picasso Museum, except when you are confused on the map, in which case it can be somewhat longer and take you inadvertently by the Jardines de la Ciudadela (who could have known that signs pointing to Pg. Picasso denoted a street not the museum?). I was frankly surprised by the museum. Everyone is at least somewhat familiar with the cubist works of Picasso, and maybe the blue period works, but his early works including quite good portraiture and large paintings of extraordinary detail. Those were a style with which I was quite unfamiliar. For those of us with little artistic talent or education, it is easy to see a cubist piece and think that it is a cover-up for lack of ability to paint representationally, but that is certainly not true in Picasso's case.

After a lunch at a small outdoor cafe in the Place de Palau, we headed toward the waterfront. During the Olympics, this was extensively re-worked, with a Parc Olimpic immediately adjacent to a beach area. Our first introduction to the area was a view of the Roy Lichtenstein polychrome structure at Ronda del Litoral. The marina was filled with large yachts, including one I was able to identify as one of the 100 largest in the world. There was a sailing yacht with masts well over 100 feet tall. Eventually we found our way to the high tower which serves as the starting point for the Transbordardor Aeri del Pot, a cable car that goes across the entire port to Montjuic ("Jewish Mountain") which dominates the city on the southwest. Along the way, there are stunning views of the entire city. Not for the claustrophobic or those afraid of heights, but a spectacular ride for all others. Once at Montjuic, we had to search for a way down, but eventually found a path that was not blocked and descended to the Columbus status at the foot of the Ramblas, and caught a taxi back to the hotel for a cerveza fria.

Our evening culminated in dinner at Passadis del Pep, a highly acclaimed seafood restaurant near where we had lunch. Although people rave about it, and the food was good, we found it overpriced, and the food was no better than that we had in Cambados for a small fraction of the cost.

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14th October 2009

Great story!
I write similar stories about Barcelona on Visit us!

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