Barcelona took its time to let me into the land, but what a mad welcome I got. You know energy when you feel it and turning on impulse into any street, made the unusual sometimes ginormous. It totally seemed like a delicious treat, after the ‘will I make it there’ beginning. WHY? Because two nights before I was to leave on my copiously detailed trip, I get a ting at almost sleep hours. “Your Lufthansa flight is canceled,” says a matter of fact SMS. Giving me just a teeny hint, before I realize Frankfurt airport is closed all of that day. Oh Barcelona! Were you cross with me?!!! A zillion thoughts/min later I plough in big moolah to fly there, almost with a sense of defiance in every strand. Well Barcelona simply took over once I hit the streets.
PULSATING & HOW! BARCELONA IS VIVACIOUS
I am writing this post a few weeks after some unpleasant events rocked the city. I felt I needed to share my unforgettable experiences, so that travelers and curious souls never stop visiting Barcelona. In fact my trip to Spain is from many months ago, but my memories and appetite to visit it soon once again hasn’t diminished. So I will zip in and out of events and corners, with little words and a few more pictures. I hope they simply wake you up to the quirks of this city.
§ BELIEVE & BE HEARD
What it really means is, “Have voice, will speak and ensure you see/hear it too”. I figured this sometime around noon, after exploring the Jewish Quarter filled with tales of despair during the Spanish Inquisition. What simply fascinated me though, was the calm that prevailed when I met these tiny & large groups.
People with beliefs as I’d like to call them, appeared in different corners to make a point about thoughts that intensely bothered them. And even if they weren’t on the street looking somber or asserting their views, you could hear them if you struck a conversation. It seemed to me like they all felt deeply about something or the other. I’d say just chat up if you are sitting at a restaurant or meet a friendly local. Tickle them with a question and hear some strong opinions. It opens up some rusty quarters of our mind too.
STREET: Mostly the ones leading to the City Hall
This believer below was against animal exploitation. I am all for that. More power to you.
Not to forget, I was bang in the middle of the refugee crises. So the city had welcome signs.
§ STAY WIDE EYED AT THE CIUTAT VELLA (OLD CITY)
When you are in the very hip Barcelona it may come as a nice surprise, that there are streets filled with ancient tales too. That’s of course for you to unearth. When I started the walkabout I went through a range of emotions. Walls do speak and tell tale signs will show many years of conflict, beauty and inspiration too.
There is really a lot in this neighborhood with the Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia (Barcelona Cathedral), Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (Contemporary Art Museum), Basilica of Santa Maria by the Sea, Museu Picasso, the trendy El Born district & well the Modernisme of the Palau de la Música Catalana (Palace of Catalan Music). The last one was the only departure from the overtly Gothic style that dots most of the landscape here .
The Jewish Quarter (El Call) was of particular interest to me, as the expulsion of Jews in the 15th Century by the King & Queen of Spain Ferdinand and Isabella, was motivated by religion. Not very different from what many today are facing world over.
HOW DO YOU SOAK IT IN: Pick up a book that explains the old city and take a walk. Chatting up with the older folks who run art shops & cafes is a big bonus. Catalonia has forever attracted some amazing people. Intellectuals, artists, lovers of history, Michelin star kitchens & the eclectic mix only keeps growing.
STREET: Many as you walk in and out of Barri Gòtic, El Born
My discovery though of the city started even earlier, with the Romans.
(In Plaça Nova just in front of the old Roman wall is the sculpture of the ancient name of the city, BARCINO. Created by artist Joan Brossa in the 1990s, it stood out against the arches, aqueduct ruins and elegantly represents its Roman heritage. Incidentally this area is where Roman meets Gothic meets Picasso)
Walking further down from Plaça Nova I reached Plaça da Seu, where the Barcelona Cathedral stood with its spires and history staring down at me. While the main façade and tower were made in the 19th century the Neo Gothic style mirrors its older Gothic cousin from the 1400s. It is decorated with images of angels, saints, mermaids and dragons too. What I missed though was stepping inside to see the beautiful cloister, which is adorned with palm trees, a fountain and a flock of geese. Yes, it’s almost like an oasis I read somewhere. Sigh!
You are now looking at the outer wall of the Casa de l’Ardiaca, opposite the church to the right of the street. Once upon a time it was the Archdeacon’s house but now it hosts the historic archives of the city. What I found most interesting was this slot for mail.
Commissioned in 1902 by the Colegio de Abogados (the bar association) the mailbox is symbolic I heard. I was told the swallows represent the ideal speed of justice, ivy leaves the bureaucratic obstacles & well the reality is the turtle which conveys slow movement of justice. Aah! I heard other stories too. History truly makes you an investigator
(Walking down into the quieter side you reach the Plaça Sant Felip Neri. It brings alive a painful memory from the Spanish Civil war. One with shrapnel scars in the Baroque church wall, linked to the story of several children dying when fascist planes dropped bombs in 1938)
This square is where the Jewish Qtr begins and today all you hear are the dulcet tones of water as it hits the bowl of the fountain. A calming feel to a turbulent history
On my walk in the Jewish Quarter a little ahead I saw La Granja. There are many but this one from 1872 gave me my daily dose of hot chocolate. Significantly so, inside the café are remnants of the Roman walls that you can go see. Amazing how the Romans got everywhere. And enterprising folks built their stories around them in modern times. Granjas are known for their preparations with milk and when there don’t miss the famous churros with choco. This one is on a street called Banys Nous.
I realized the one cool thing I did was pick a hip hotel, but also in a location close to some of the places I may have missed otherwise. Palau de la Música Catalana in El Born, grabbed my attention from the exteriors itself. Created by a Gaudi follower Lluis Domenech i Montaner, it is now over 100 years old.
The stage and the dramatic look on entry with stained glass, patterned floor tiles, mosaics, symbols of nature with flowers & trees wow you. I was there on the very first night I docked in the city and made it my dinner date. Part the jet lag and part the operatic voices made my dreams whale size.
I have to admit there is something so inspiring about the slices of Spain I visited….Barcelona, Seville, Cordoba, Granada. Every where I went, there was an openness to blending the past (especially with vestiges of another religion/culture) with the modern present. I saw the lavish expressions of it often in Southern Spain, where Mudejar art & architecture that is a fusion of Christian & Islamic styles flourished. I felt there was a sort of comfortable co-existence with the reality, that the Moors from North Africa ruled the land for a few hundred years. Seen even more so when you visit the city of Sevilla.
But the biggest draw that made me wish I’d stayed on in the city, was a crazily talented superstar.
§ FEEL THE SOUL OF BARCELONA IN ANTONI GAUDI
Known by countless names but best known as the Architect of the Gods, Antoni Gaudi gives Barcelona the character that I will remember it by. The quaintness & colors made up most of the visual bubbles in my head en route to Barcelona and I can’t help but admit that I was in a daze even before I got there. I have written my ode to the incomplete, gorgeous masterpiece, Sagrada Familia in an earlier post. You will notice how easy it is to be awed once you see the pictures.
Of course Gaudi’s work doesn’t stop there. In fact his most visible work is seen in the every day life creations, like residences and parks. The Passeig de Gràcia that stretches from Plaça Catalunya to Carrer Gran de Gràcia, is where some of the finest boutiques and stores flaunt their wares. Not just that some exquisite architectural creations of Gaudi i.e. Casa Milà/La Pedrera and Casa Battló can be seen too.
(Casa Battlló is a remodel of an earlier house using Gaudi’s signature Art Nouveau style. What is interesting is the roof, which is said looks like a dragon’s back. You have to cross the road to try and see that. For me personally it was most beautiful when lit up in the evening/night)
(Casa Milà is most famous for its chimneys and the rooftop was then called the Garden of Warriors. This was apparently the last private home that he turned around. Apparently its unusual design had at one time evoked much satire)
I was told that there were many signature homes on this street as the wealthiest of the Catalan bourgeoisie lived here. So the residences simply live up to all the hype.
§ FOOD BINGING FOR THE DIE-HARD VEGETARIAN
After all the visual satiation, clearly it’s time for some hunger busters. I have an entire post dedicated to this so I am going to direct you to Si Si. Vegetarian & loving the taste of Spain. But before you get there I must scream out loud that in my umpteenth Europe sojourn, I finally got to eat local veggie food in abundance. And lest I miss it, I also had a ‘many course’ meal, in my 1st ever delicious Michelin star experience.
§ LASTLY, THE BUSIEST MOST TOURISTY STREETS OF LAS RAMBLAS (LA RAMBLA)
In plural these streets branch off from the main and come back to the lead avenue La Rambla which carries all the action, noise and crowd. It is a street fractured by some recent events, but I’d like to play back all that made it fun on my final day in Barcelona.
Here is Mercat de La Boqueria the oldest marketplace in the city from the 19th century. It’s a great place to buy fresh produce if you are staying in a home and cooking up like a resident. Tons of exotic fruits, even spices basis kind of cooking/meat, jamón (ham) & yummy desserts can be found here. A tour of the local market is just great sometimes to see what feeds the land and its people, especially if you’ve enjoyed the local food and wine.
Not just the main avenue but sometimes the corner streets too branch into tiny tales that stoke your curiosity and intrigue you. Shop windows, street art and more made Barcelona an unexpected treat.
Got back to La Rambla and I realized I was staring. There was Marilyn Monroe herself…well just the invitation by the Erotic Museum to check it out. I heard from a friend that that once inside some things could make you blush.
And now here is my ‘most unusual pick’ from the city. To be honest I was looking out for this, Casa Bruno Cuadros. I had seen pictures of it before I left and while I noticed lizards and dragons too in some of Gaudi’s creations, this one looked utterly Chinese. So I hunted for it on La Rambla and finally saw the building that also had a beautiful façade.
One upon a time, it was an umbrella shop and called by the locals as Casa dels Paraigües (House of Umbrellas). Architect Joseph Vilaseca in the late 1800s created a strange but beautiful mix of Oriental & Egyptian symbolism on the walls here. Look for it when you get to Barcelona.
Oh! Barcelona. You surprised me and left me pining for you. I felt a terrible sense of separation when I left the city the next morning for Sevilla. To be honest there was a certain rebellious streak I found in much of what I saw and experienced. A sense of discontinuity yet order. Let’s say it felt at home here. I know I will be back soon.
I hope you saw Barcelona like I did. Have you been to any land that has surprised you with its quirks? Would love to hear about it.
In my Spain travels I got stories from landscapes, streets, architecture, gastronomic treats & what not. Join my Instagram page if you trip on pictures. Go on. Show some love.