Note – 3 days in Barcelona so another big post
Eight hours travelling from Arles landed us in Barcelona at 2pm. Our apartment was just two blocks away from the train station thanks to Monica’s good planning. We met Fredrico and quickly settled into the 3rd floor apartment complete with air conditioning and terrace overlooking the busy (and noisy) street below. Because of the noise and the heat however, we didn’t use the terrace much.
We went right out to spend the afternoon exploring the famous La Rambla street with its shady pedestrian center promenade. Barcelona is a huge city but the subway got us there in just 10 minutes… very easy to get around. We started the top of the street at the picturesque Catalunya Plaza with its lovely fountains and statuary and walked down the street all the way to the shores of the Mediterranean (about 1 kilometer). Lined with souvenir shops, restaurants, hotels, markets, theaters and thousands of people enjoying this beautiful Thursday afternoon, La Rambla is a wonderful place to stroll, people watch and enjoy some tapas and sangria.
Three hours later, we arrived at the bottom of La Rambla to the harbour and the impressive 200 ft high column monument to Christopher Columbus. He reported to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand on his return from discovering the New World in 1492. All around this plaza stand magnificent government and business buildings highlighting the grandeur of Spanish Renaissance architecture.
Later in the evening, we strolled from our apartment 1 km to the Placa Españya at the foot of Mont Juic to see the Magic Fountain show. This is the site of the 1929 International Exibition and is totally mind blowing. Getting there, we walked past a modern sculpture by Joan Miró (we saw his work in Chicago), past the Moorish influenced Torres Arena (built as a bull fighting ring but now a shopping mall), past the ornate central fountain (influenced by Gaudi), through the massive twin Venetian towers, along a corridor of vertical fountain jets toward the Palau Nacional (now a museum) with it’s breathtaking cascading fountain. At the foot of the stairs to the Palau, the Magic Fountain show started precisely at 9:30 to the delight of the huge crowd gathered there, young and old, happily milling and dancing in the mist from the water jets timed to music. It was just like watching fireworks… that oooh and awww sense you get when mesmerized by moving color against a night sky. It was truly spectacular and we are so lucky to catch it as it only runs periodically through the the summer.
The next morning was clearn and bight and promised to be a hot one. So, where is the best place to go when it’s hot? Inside a church and today we saw four remarkable ones plus a city park.
We started by catching the subway to mid-point La Rambla and struck out to explore the streets of Old Barcelona. The buildings are all tall (5 stories at least) and connected end to end with no space between except for streets. The cobblestone streets are very narrow, barely wide enough for a small delivery van, and some only wide enough for pedestrians (4 ft) making this part of the city quite shady (a good thing… temp already 25 at 9am). Most of the buildings date back to medieval times with some as old as the Roman Empire. However, as a result of the closeness of the buildings, you cannot step back anywhere to get a photo unless you are in a small plaza. Such was the case with some of the churches we visited…difficult to get an outside shot.
The first one we came to was Santa Maria del Pi situated just one block off La Rambla in the Gothic Quarter. The name means Saint Mary of the Pine and there has been a pine tree growing in the small courtyard since the 1200’s. The church itself is of Catalunya Gothic design and is, by comparison to other Catholic churches, quite simple and unadorned both inside and out. However, its most notable feature is the remarkable rose window over the main entrance. At 10 meters in diameter, it is one of the largest rose windows in the world and is absolutely breathtaking. Photos cannot capture it’s beauty. To get the whole thing in the shot, you have to zoom out and then you lose the wonderful details. I was very happy to see this.
Moving on through the Gothic Quarter, we came next to the Bacilica of Barcelona also known as the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia and is the seat of the archbishop of Barcelona. Saint Eulalia was a 3rd century virgin who was martyred by the Romans for refusing to recant her Christian beliefs, by being stuffed into a barrel, stuck with knives and rolled down the street. As for adornment both inside and out, the cathedral is at the opposite end of the scale from the previous one. Begun in the 11th century, it took 200 years to complete and therefore displays both got gothic and neo-gothic styles. The entire perimeter of the church inside is sectioned into individual chapels, each dedicated to a specific saint. The statuary is incredibly beautiful…the artists really capturing well the emotions of the biblical stories.
Carrying on, me moved from the Gothic Quarter into the Ribera del Borne Quarter to find the third church, Santa Maria del Mar. Built in the 12th century at the height of Catalonia’s maritime and mercantile preeminence. Hemmed in by narrow streets, it does not have the typical cross (transepts) design of most cathedrals but rather is one long straight building with no architectural divisions from front to back. This gives the church an impression of light and space. The stained glass windows and the statuary are fantastic. There are so many interesting things to see, I felt like I was simply blowing past all the stories and history. Because of time, however, we had to move on.
It was already 11:30 and we were famished and we had 12:15 reservations for the fourth church of the day, La Sagrada Familia, so we had to hustle. Lunch was some quick food at the Picasso Bar right across the street from La Sagrada so we could make the quick dash when we finished.
Begun in 1882 under the engineering leadership of Antoni Gaudi, the cathedral was far from complete at his death in 1926 and is still under construction today. Estimated completion is 2026 (100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death). Consecrated by the pope in 2010 as a minor Bacilica, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The design will have 18 spires in total when complete.. in ascending order of height, they are: the 12 apostles, the Virgin Mary, the four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and the last one, not started yet, will be Jesus. When completed, the pinnacle of the Jesus spire will be 170 mts high making La Familia Sagrada the tallest church in the world.
The facade over the entrance depicts the Holy Family (La Familia Sagrada). All in concrete gray, there is no color to distract from the wonderful expression of the sculptures. The color is reserved for the inside. Oh my goodness…. I don’t know if I have ever seen or felt such wonder in a church (yes, I probably have but in this moment, I was overwhelmed). I have seen many beautiful windows and architectural designs on our travelss… but nothing like this. So brilliant, so different, so, so, so, egahhhhh! I can’t describe it. You really have to see it for yourself. My photos might just give you an idea.
Leaving there, we caught the bus to Parc Guell in the north end of the city. Also designed by Gaudi, is is a fantasy place of sculpted stairs cases, doll house cottages, walking pathways through shady grottos and balconies overlooking the park, some with sweeping views over all Barcelona. Also in the park is Gaudi’s personal residence (now a museum) where he lived for the last 20 years of his life.
We toured it all and then headed home at 5:00, exhausted as much from the heat as the walking. Too tired to go out for dinner, we crashed in our apartment to snack on oranges, yogurt and peanuts while we blogged in the comfort of air conditioning.
Next morning (last day in Barcelona) we decided to revisit the Gothic Quarter of Old Barcelona. The first thing we came to exiting the subway terminal on La Rambla was the fabulous and vibrant St. Joseph Market, commonly called La Boqueria. It is a public market with estimated 200 booths inside selling every food item imaginable… from soup to nuts (see the photos). Impressions include; colorful, aromatic, happy people, fresh everything, bizarre food, wonderful.
From there, we strolled through the streets past some landmarks we had seen yesterday looking specifically for the artist’s market I had read about. And there is was right beside the Cathedral. Delighted, we were. Chose something for our collection, we did.
We carried on through the streets enjoying the architecture. Most of the people were other tourists so it was difficult to find authentic Catelonians. One exception was a funeral procession on its way to the Cathedral. We paused, watching them pass, very solemn, very quiet, quite lovely in its own way.
Then lunch at the #1 burger joint in Barcelona, Bacoa. Excellent burgers! I had the lamb…Mon had chicken. And off we went towards home stopping at Placa Españya for some daytime shots. This is where we went our first night to see the Magic Fountain show. From the upper deck of the Torre Arena, you get a great view in one direction of Placa Espanya, Mont Juic and the 1992 Olympic site and in the opposite direction, Barcelona to the west all the way to the Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus high up on the distant hills to the west.
For our last night of this trip, what a wonderful coincidence when we learned that Monica’s niece, Sandra and her husband Tom, just happened to be in Barcelona as well. We connected through email in the afternoon and made plans to meet for dinner at their hotel not far from Placa Catalunya. We rode the subway there and walked a short distance to the hotel, passing the famous Casa Batilo designed by Gaudi on the way. It was a real treat to seem them and hear of their travels… they had just completed a biking tour through the Pyrenees Mountains. What a wonderful night we had, laughing, sharing family stories, eating excellent food and toasting to our health and happiness.
This concludes our European vacation of 2016. Thanks for reading and hope your enjoyed travelling along with us through my blogsite. Saludos mi amigos.