Camino de Santiago de Compostela - Side trip to Barcelona

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September 26th 2015
Published: September 27th 2015
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Karen’s Barcelona

La Merce - 2015. Barcelona

Due to Mike and Marta Hurwitz's enthusiasm we have taken a week off the camino and flown to Barcelona to participate in La Merce-a giant, city-wide festival in the fall. It is everything they have said and we had a wonderful time with a nice blend of festival activities and the normal sight seeing venues.

Background - exciting times, for the first time there is an official referendum to determine if Catalonia will separate from Spain. The election will occur two days after we return to Leon and we will thankfully be on the trail again. Everyone has strong opinions from our landlady who thinks the world will come to an end if the separatists win, to the young couple in one of the main squares, who as we are departing, say, "Tell your government to support our cause!" One day I am sitting on a bench, in front of the main cathedral, next to an elderly man who is waiting for his wife. Now, I do not know one word of Catalan but it came through, loud and clear, that he thought separation would spell disaster for Catalonia! It will be interesting. Basque separatists have also wanted to depart from Spain but they have not had a recognized referendum.

Where we stay - we stay with Kim, an interesting lady, from Hillsboro, Oregon who has lived in Spain for 25 years. First she lived in Madrid and found it not to her liking - too many aggressive people connected to the central government, pushy people and bad climate. So, to Barcelona she came and fell in love with the city and its people. She is a writer, particularly for art publications. She lives in a 5th floor apt. with a NYC "tar beach" rooftop. She has lived there fifteen years and is afraid her lease will not be renewed this fall. From the rooftop are tremendous views. We learn from her the woes of being an independent writer. But we are happy to have a nice place for the next week.

As you discern, Karen has written part of this and I another part and we have different ideas on how to go about it. So you will get a little of both.

So, we are doing this a little differently, forgetting about when we did what but just trying to remember the 'what!' This was to be a break from El Camino but we have easily put on seventy miles in the seven days we have been here. We are a short downhill tromp to the metro and the ten ride ticket is very reasonable. It is a walking city and we did two nice tours following Rick Steve's Barcelona chapter in his Spain book. Otherwise, here are the highlights---

Karen's summary: Food - delicious, delicious!! The salads are so wonderful and I could not live here because I would quickly put on twenty pounds from the chocolate croissants - yum. Harlan occasionally makes his very healthy breakfast and then we stop at the little cafe on the corner for fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee con leche. On the first day when we entered the proprietor was singing away and welcomed us with a warm flourish.

It is easy to pick up good, fresh food for the pantry as there are at least two little markets on each block. Each of the city's districts has one, if not two, huge markets. We skip the famed, touristy Boqueria Market and visit the more locally patronized Santa Caterina Market and have an excellent lunch.

The other day the main meal was at a little hole in the wall Mexican restaurant that had the greatest guacamole I have ever had. One day was at La Habana where we ordered three different salads and munched away. This morning we decided to try a little up-scale bakery just down the street that Kim had suggested. My croissant oozed chocolate from a large cavity and I just let it drip into my coffee con leche. Since we are always behind in the latest food trend we tried a cronut for the first time-good, but no match for that chocolate croissant! What really makes this shop special is that they do their own baking on premises and I am sure they supply pan to many establishments. Mounds of different bread, all minus GMO flour! It was wonderful to see them roll the baguettes in flour, score them in different patterns and pop them into the oven.

Architecture-one utters the word, "Barcelona" and Antoni Gaudi in one breath. We toured his famous unfinished work, Familia Sagrada, the Monumental Zone that features his work in Park Guell, and La Pedrera that is known for its roof. As a young man I was talking with last night said, "I really don't care for the style that he is associated with, but I so admire his genius and use of nature for his architectural concepts. We left Gaudi and became enamored with one of his contemporaries that belonged to the same art movement as Gaudi but is not as well known internationally- . I had seen that a private home and office complex that he had done opened for public tours last year and after I saw the stained glass work in some pictures I really wanted to see it. Then, shortly thereafter, we literally ran into one of his greater in scale works,-------------. Meanwhile, Kim kept saying we really should see this massive public hospital that was constructed a little over 100 years ago and was quite ahead of its time in various concepts. Well, who was the main architect---none other than Domenech I Montaner who traveled throughout Europe to determine the latest trends in medicine and how structures might enhance the total hospital experience. His plan was a 'city-garden' with forty-eight planned pavilions, eighteen which were built. The tile work, stained glass, sculpture and every other artistic as well as functional item used in the plan was, and still is, exceptional. The huge administrative building and several of the pavilions have now been restored and they are brilliant. Gardens separate the structures and the whole environment is so positive. So, now we are on the hunt for his work, even down to a beautiful little mail slot for an ecclesiastical structure next to the Cathedral.

We follow two Rick Steve's walking tours, that of La Rambla and one of Bari Gotic, that is the oldest area of the city with his higgley-piggley little paths that connect great centers of worship with little courtyards and squares. The famed La Rambla pedestrian avenue is a disappointment--I probably had visions of it as it was fifty years ago!! It is very commercialized now and the same stores that one sees so many other places have popped up, displacing the unique little shops of yore. Still, we press on and manage to find some of Steve's little hole-in-the-wall establishments. And one can take away the image of beautiful plane trees glowing with that famed light through their turning leaves.

Weather - perfect 😊 around 75 degrees in day with light sea breeze

La Merce - refers to a saint, a basilica, a square and a festival in Barcelona. The event is very unusual this year as it has been moved up three days because of the election on the 27th. Here are some of the activities we see:

morning stick dancing and procession

Castellers (Human Tower) Festival with guest groups. These are incredible feats whereby human towers are made, higher and higher and at the pinnacle a very small child nimbly crawls up the backs of the human tower to the peak to triumphantly wave. There are different designs that can be made and it is very competitive among the various colles or groups.

Sardana dancing which is a very elegant and precise placing of the feet. Men and women will spontaneously join into a circle throwing their bags and purses into the center of the circle. You will see old, young, and in-between doing the dance. Sometimes they are wearing beautiful costumes and it is more formal but I like to see them when someone in the viewers will feel moved to join in and do so. Actually it is probably pretty good exercise as the movements are quite paced but steady.

Little Devil's Correfoc (Fire-Run) well being real chickens we attended the run for the children before the adult run later in the evening. There is no way to explain this parade unless you have seen it. Little kids, dressed in fire retardant clothing and fire goggles go down the street with big Red Devil fire crackers that, as it spins, gives off sparks into the spectators. A vehicle goes up and down the parade route before the event telling spectators that if they do not have suitable clothing and eye protection to leave and go away. Families arrive and sit down on the curb and pull out hoodies and scarves for their kids. It is very noisy and all have a great time. You stand there dodging sparks and thinking how sparklers are outlawed in some parts of our country! Parents do a good job of supervision. As I said, you just have to be there to understand it is a very traditional cultural event 😊

Giants Parade is great fun. Harlan counted over sixty-five tall, perhaps ten to twelve feet, characters that parade and dance down the street. We had very good viewing spots for this event as we asked five different people the route and got five different answers. Published programs might give you the starting point but that is it and you are left to try and figure out where you might head to get a good viewing spot. In this case a young police woman very succinctly told us the route, start to finish and she was right on! Some "Big Heads" have their own little music group that plays as they dance along. Some of the instruments I have never seen before. Some little bands are all wind instruments and others are brass bands. Families are often involved and we saw a little girl drummer barely older than Madeline grinning and banging away as she marched in front of 'her' giant. Babies of Big Head members will be carried along down the parade route.

We also enjoy a Roumanian folk dance group that participates in the International Folklore Days that is now part of the festival. Their intricate dancing was fabulous as were their musicians. And, their beautiful embroidered costumes were exquisite. They never missed a beat as the music increased in tempo-and volume!

And, after a note from Marta we made it to the farewell event-the La Merce Pyromusical which takes place in this huge long plaza that is lined with lights and fountains leading up to the Museu Nacional D'Art de Catalunya---which is a huge, onumentql Building at the head of all the fountains. I was not enthused at the thought of being with thousands of other people but we got there about two hours before they started and found a spot near one of the lower fountains. So, I had my IPad to do some typing. It people watching proved to be too engaging. After a while groups would arrive with their bags and plop themselves on the middle line of the drive leading up to the museum--the best in sight lines. I asked Harlan if he wanted to be out there but he liked having a seat on the fountain. Also, we had started talking with a young couple from northern England. She observed me rubbing Harlan's sore shoulder and said before becoming a nurse she had practiced reflexology. Soon we had my shoe and sock off and she was showing me how to rub my foot and relieve the tension and pain in different parts of my body's well, that all quickly passed the time and before we knew it the music and fireworks started. Leading up to the fireworks there had been a program of lights changing with the fountain activity. It was nice but we are spoiled with the music and dancing waters of the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas. But, I will have to tell you I have never seen fireworks like these and it was an enthusiastic crowd. One song, that must have special meaning for the people here, prompted most revelers to pull out their own personal sparklers and wave them---it was special, very special.

My concern of being in such a crowd was unfounded. We decided to walk a ways to escape trying to deal with the congestion at the subway. So, we walked about 35 minutes and caught our 'green line' subway home. It was fun to walk through such a beautiful city late at evening as people are just thinking of having their dinner. We had had ours six hours earlier!

So, I write this in Leon. We got up this morning and took two teleferic rides, one over the harbor, and another up Monjuic, a hill with an old castle on top that guards the seafront. We per ambulated the path around the castle and then came down the hill by funicular. Then it was a concentrated effort to get our backpacks, say goodby to our excellent host, Kim, and head down to the main square to catch the airbus to the airport. We boarded a plane that belongs to a line connected with Iberia, Air Nostrum. It is a small, little white plane with no lettering on the outside, which is a little disconcerting. Our backpacks even have to go into the hold as there is so little space in the cabin. But, this little line has the most comfortable seats we have ever experienced!

And so, a day's rest and we are on the trail again! Buen Camino!


13th October 2015

I've just finished reading all your blogs up to this point...
and am left hanging! It's 12 October 2015, two weeks since you've resumed the Camino and no blogs. I hope you start writing soon. I will be walking the Camino next year at this time...from 4 Sep to 8 Oct, so am very interested in your experiences.
24th October 2015

Late Blog entries
Hi, yes it is much more time consuming to write, edit, attach photos than expected. Cell phone to cloud to chromebook to blog is tedious. But we think you will see a few more days now.

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