April 18, 2013. Day 2. Barcelona.
See Travel Itinerary for a rationale of this trip, a who’s who of those travelling, and our itinerary..
Day 2 in Barcelona began much as day 1: breakfast at Forns del Pi and a leisurely walk up the Ramblas to the Plaça de Catalunya before boarding a tourist bus. This time, we took the red route which meandered westward before cutting south via the train station (Estació de Sants), the Plaça d’Espanya, Montjuïc (site of the 1992 Olympic Games) and then down to the World Trade Centre on the waterfront. From there it continued past the Columbus statue at the foot of the Ramblas to the Port Vell (Old Port) and the Olympic Port before turning back inland at the picturesque beach, the Platja del Bogatell. From there it wound its way back up through the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) before ending at the Plaça de Catalunya.
As on day 1, our first stop was on the Passeig de Gracia and again it was a Gaudí building that we wanted to see, this time Casa Milà, more popularly known as La Pedrera (the Stone Quarry). The house was built for wealthy developer Pere Milà y Camps between 1906 and 1910.
Unlike Casa Batlló (1904-06) which was a renovation built for one family, Casa Milà was an apartment block started from scratch. Its exterior is probably the most famous in Barcelona: it’s a corner building of soft honey-coloured limestone that curves around the corner in a series of waves. Complementing the waves are balconies made up of strands of metal to look like seaweed entangled with crustacean shells. Every balcony is distinct, reflecting the diversity of nature, which does not repeat itself. The windows are large, letting in plenty of light. Gaudí’s love of curves and avoidance of straight vertical or horizontal lines is evident. This stems not simply from his aesthetic preference, but also from his religious convictions: the imitation of waves with marine-inspired balconies was Gaudí’s way of acknowledging and imitating God’s work in Nature, and God does not do straight lines. Or as he succinctly put it: “Straight lines belong to men; curves to God” (Eaude 96).
Inside, Casa Milà’s continues the undulating motif. Indeed, one of the amusing anecdotes related to the house is that Senyora de Milà, perplexed by the lack of straight walls in her apartment, inquired where she could put her dog kennel. Whereupon, Gaudí is said to have replied, “Buy yourself a snake, Madam!” (Eaude 97).
So what did we think of the interior? Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see it on this trip. When we arrived –early in the day—the queue was already horrendously long, and we had a busy day ahead. If only we had booked on-line! (which you can do by clicking http://www.lapedrera.com/en/buy-your-ticket)
Back on the bus, we enjoyed the views from the upper deck. It was a beautiful day, and we relaxed watching the world go on its busy way. We decided the next stop would be the Olympic Village up on Montjuïc.
Montjuïc — Jewish Mountain, probably alluding to a Jewish cemetery on the site– is a hill edging the southwest of the old city. One time wooded, its only significant building was an 18th-century castle (built on the remains of a 17th-century fortress); in the 1890s parts were cleared for parkland. However, it was in the 1920s that it underwent a substantial transformation when Barcelona hosted the 1929 World Fair.
Numerous buildings were erected: e.g. the Palau (Palace) Nacional, a sports stadium, the Poble espanyol (a “Spanish village” made up of buildings reflecting the different styles of Spanish regional architecture), a Magic Fountain, and pavilions representing the achievements of the countries participating, almost all
European (Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States participated in an unofficial capacity.) Some of the buildings have survived: the Palau Nacional now houses Catalan National Art Museum (Museu Nacional d’art de Catalunya); the Poble espanyol continues to enchant visitors, and the Magic Fountain still casts its …well, magic.
The 1929 sports stadium was completely renovated for the 1992 Olympics. It was here that the opening and closing ceremonies were held and was the venue for the athletics competitions.
Alongside it now, within the officially named Olympic Ring (Anella Olímpica), are a new indoor sporting arena (Palau Sant Jordi), a three-swimming pools complex, a futuristic communications tower by Santiago Calatrava, the National Physical Education Centre, and an Olympic and Sports Museum, named after Joan Antoni Samaranch, the Catalan President of the International Olympic Committee from 1980 to 2001.
It was still fairly early in the day when we got off the bus and the Olympic Ring was silent. Already the sun’s heat was reflected off the open area between the buildings. Although the other buildings making up the Ring are regularly used, the stadium looked rather forlorn, its empty stands dreaming nostalgically of the distant roars of crowds. For a while, it was the home ground of Espanyol, Barcelona’s second major soccer team, but in 2008 Espanyol moved to its own ground and the Olympic stadium has since only staged sporadic matches.
Back on the bus, we headed down hill to the port. Suddenly, the sun disappeared as a mist dropped over us, the temperature fell dramatically, and we feared that there might be a change in the weather. The mist was still hanging around when we got to the Columbus statue at the foot of the Ramblas.
It may seem strange to see Columbus celebrated in Barcelona, but the Monument a Colom (Colón in Castilian) was built for the 1888 World Exhibition and commemorates Christopher Columbus’s return in 1493 from his first voyage to America (Las Indias). Although Columbus had received warm receptions in Lisbon, Seville, Córdoba and Valencia, it was in Barcelona that Columbus enjoyed official royal recognition when he was welcomed by Ferdinand and Isabel, the Catholic Monarchs. Prior to a celebratory ride through the streets of the city, the Monarchs invited Columbus to sit beside them (a rare privilege, although his chair was smaller; propriety had to be maintained!) and recount his adventures. Among the “treasures” he brought back were a group of Indians, the first to be seen in Europe.
An elevator can take you up the 60m (197ft) high column. On top is a statue of Columbus, pointing out to sea. Guides love to say that he is pointing in the wrong direction, away from the continent he discovered, when perhaps nothing more was intended than an indication that the sea was where his fame was won.
On to the next stop, the Port Olímpic (Olympic Port), and the sun had reappeared and it was warm again! From the Port Olímpic we strolled along to the Platja de la Icaria (Icaria Beach), a small, protected, family-friendly beach where Andrew and Alex paddled in the Mediterranean for the first time.
After they had dried their feet, we ambled back to the Port with Frank Gehry’s sculpture “Fish,” commissioned for the 1992 Olympics, rising boldly in front of us. On the way, we took a minor detour: Andrew had seen a Barcelona Football Club shop outlet and couldn’t resist the temptation. About thirty minutes later he emerged with a Barça scarf to add to the cap he had bought the day before at Camp Nou. Barça was playing in the UEFA Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich on the following week, and he wanted to be prepared!
Alex: In Barcelona there is a great place to swim, the Platja de la Icaria (Icaria Beach). I really in joyed being there because I did not feel crowded. Also if you went on the red bus and stopped at Port Vell you could get there pretty fast.
John: Having spent a number of hours on the bus seeing the sights of Barcelona, it was really nice to walk along the boardwalk beside the Mediterranean Sea. I had not expected the beaches to be so clean nor the water to be so clear. There are small ports for the boat enthusiasts, but I just enjoyed the chance to get my shoes and socks off and walk on the sand in the Platja de la Icaria, although the water certainly seemed cold. There were many café/restaurants that we could go to, but I was holding off for dinner at the Taller de Tapas.
Our next bus stop was the Barri Gòtic, and we got off not far from our hotels. This old Gothic Quarter with its labyrinthine streets, hidden squares and unexpected corners is a wanderer’s delight. You might suddenly end up on the Ramblas, or the Plaça Reial (Royal Square), or as we did on this occasion, the cathedral square.
The Cathedral of St Eulalia is a large Gothic structure built between the 14th and 15th centuries, although its flamboyant facade belongs to the 19th. A favourite place to visit is the cloisters with their 13 resident white geese, said to symbolise the purity of the 13-year old saint martyred by the Romans in 303/4 AD (the 13 may also allude to the 13 tortures she is alleged to have suffered.) Her remains are buried in the crypt of the cathedral.
A quick stop at our respective hotels and then it was off to La Boquería, Barcelona’s famous, must-see market for any foodie.
The Boquería is on the Ramblas, towards the Plaça de Catalunya end. As soon as you walk in all the senses are alerted. The eyes feast on an incredible selection of vibrantly coloured foods (fruits, vegetables, fish, meat) arranged with care and artistry, the taste buds begin to salivate, your nose quivers at the array of aromas, and you can’t help touching the delectable displays (you might get frowns from the vendors!). Temptation is everywhere, and you won’t leave without buying something!
John: I have always been a sucker for markets, but even if you are not, the Boquería really is a feast for all of the senses. It opens early for Spain…around 9 am, but by 10 it is in full swing. The vendors take a great deal of pride in their displays matching the colours and textures of their wares. Not only does the food look good, but they had every fresh fruit imaginable and the seafood and meat displays demonstrated the variety of gastronomic choices available throughout the city. This market is a must see for any “foodie.”
Andrew: I loved the Boquería market because of all the different variety of foods and the general business of the place.
After the Boquería, one further thing remained. On our first day, Alex had seen Lladró porcelain figurines in a shop on the Ramblas. Having admired her Mamgu’s (grandmother in Welsh) collection of Lladrós, she was determined to buy a figurine with her own money on her trip to Spain.
She had narrowed her selection to three, and mulled it over while we had dinner at the Taller de Tapas in the Plaça de Sant Josep. Then, quickly, the decision was made and off she went with her dad (between the main course and dessert). Within twenty minutes they were back: mission accomplished, and a proud Alex bearing her own Lladró.
Alex: I bought a Lladró in Barcelona in a shop where there were lots of collectibles. I had always wanted a Lladró and I think the one I bought looks like me.
Day 2 had been a long but rewarding day. There was still so much more to see in Barcelona, but it was time for us to move on. Day 3, pick up our rental vehicle and head south.
Image of Olympic Ring Complex from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anella_Ol%C3%ADmpica
Image of Font màgica from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Font_M%C3%A0gica_del_Montju%C3%AFc.jpg
Two very useful books on Catalonia/Catalunya and Barcelona:
Eaude, Michael Catalonia: A Cultural History Oxford 2008
Hughes, Robert Barcelona New York 1992