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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Bouncing About Barcelona - Page 2

Written by Eric D. Goodman
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A Little Night Triomf

      We had planned to take in a concert for our first evening in Barcelona, but our mountain climbing and voyage across the city has tired us, and the little bit of paella we’ve eaten around lunch time has run out.  We enjoy some tapas and wine instead of music.

      However, we do manage to fit in a tour of the Palau de la Musica Catalonia, or Palace of Music during our days in Barcelona and I’m glad we do.  It truly is as much a palace as a concert hall. The stunning stained glass, detailed ceramic tile work and sculptures are a sight to behold.  It also happens to be the only concert hall in Europe lit by natural light.

      The tour costs nearly as much as a concert in the cheap seats, so I would go for a concert if we had more time. To sit and take in the beautiful sights while listening to good music would likely cast the surroundings in a new perspective. But concert or not, this is a sight not to be missed.

      On the way from the palace, we pass by another sight on our list: Arc Del Triomf. Perhaps not as impressive as the French grandfather, this gateway to the Universal Exhibition of 1888 has a pink-tinted brick façade that gives it a very different (and Spanish) look.

      “It’s a triomf,” I declare. Nataliya groans.


New Day, Old Town

      After a simple B&B breakfast of pastries and coffee, we begin our second day in Barcelona with a visit to the Gothic Quarter of the Old Town, or Barri Gotic. Considered the heart of not only Old Town, but of Barcelona itself, this is the oldest part of the city and can be dated back to Roman times, around 27 B.C.

      We enter the quarter near Casa de l’Ardicia, decorated with a letterbox made out of marble and carved with a tortoise and swallows. This house has a charming ceramic tile courtyard and fountain, and is home to the historical archives of Barcelona. Casa de l’Ardicia is built on the old Roman city wall. If Casa de l’Ardicia is the oldest site in Old Town, the next thing we see must be the most impressive.

      When you think of a gothic, European cathedral, Barcelona Cathedral fits the picture. The cathedral was begun in 1298 and finished late in the 19th century. The inside is majestic, and there are twenty eight side chapels set between the columns. These columns support the unvaulted ceiling that shoots up an impressive eighty five feet. Beneath the altar is a crypt with the sarcophagus of St. Eulalia.

      A somewhat unique addition to the cathedral is the Cloisters. These outdoor gardens attached to the cathedral and enclosed by walls but with no roof, are decorated with fountains and statues. 

      Other sights to see in the Gothic Quarter include the Museu d’Historia, the Centre Excursionsta de Catalunya (with subterranean Roman ruins), and Palau Reial, with a 14th century altarpiece.

      Deeper into the Gothic Quarter is a busy plaza: Placa de Sant Jaume. There, the Palau de la Generalitat (the seat of Catalonia’s governor) faces Ajuntament (Barcelona’s Town Hall).  Having seen photographs, we’ve been looking forward to a visit inside City Hall’s Salo de Cent, or council chamber.  Unfortunately, it is closed due to a function. 

      “Can we go in?” I ask the guard. He says something in Spanish, but the shaking of his head is all the translation we need. 

      However, we are able to peek over the uniformed guard’s shoulder to get a glimpse of the stone chamber, wide arcs, and giant chandeliers before being ushered away. Such a quick visit gives us more time to enjoy some tapas and beer before siesta.


Are You Ready to Ramblas?

      The place to go if you want to see the hustle-bustle of Barcelona is Las Ramblas—the pedestrian street lined with cafes and vendors and filled with locals and tourists.  Unfortunately, it’s also the place to go if you want to get robbed—both figuratively and literally.  Prices tend to be higher on Las Ramblas because it’s the place all the tourists go. Be prepared to be taken to the cleaners for the luxury of sitting in one of the street side cafes. It’s also the one place in Barcelona that everyone has warned us about—pickpockets are plentiful. 

      “Eric, watch out,” Nataliya says, pointing to my other side. I turn to find myself face to leathery face with a toothless, whiskered man. He smiles, shrugs, and does an about face, shadowing another man going in the opposite direction.

      Twice while strolling along Las Ramblas, men shadow me, only an inch or two from my side, and I turn to stand face to face with an innocent smile turning away to find another victim. I may have been a victim myself had I not kept my wallet zipped in an inside jacket pocket and double zipped inside the jacket.


Beep be de beep bip beep!

      The next most annoying thing about the crowded street is the number of hucksters. I’m sure what they’re selling varies with the season and what they’re able to get a huge shipment of for dirt cheap. While we are here, foreign venders blow annoying whistles constantly and shoot lighted rubber-band toys into the air. Not two minutes pass during an hour walk along Las Rambles without a vendor whistling and shooting, walking right up to us to offer his wares. 

      Although it is most prominent along Las Ramblas, it is not unique to the location. The vendors with the same two products were at Park Guell, in the plazas, squares, and even in the busy areas of Madrid.

      The fact that they don’t speak English or Spanish does not matter as their only language seems to be the irritating series of quick squeaks and beeps coming from the whistles in their mouths.  A raised eyebrow and a “Beep de be beep” is their sales pitch. It is an offer we can (and do) refuse hundreds of times during our days in Spain.


From Font to Columbus

      But Las Ramblas has much more going for it than just vendors and thieves. The tree-lined “dry river” begins at the Font de Canaletes, a beautiful lamppost and fountain, and the people flow from there down to the monument at the other end of the pedestrian street: a column topped by Columbus pointing the way to America. 

      Along the way, there are impressive sights to see. The ones that we find most interesting are the Placa de la Boqueria (a square with mosaic pavement designed by the artist Miro in 1976); an art deco dragon over an old umbrella shop and an opera house burned and restored twice, in 1861 and 1994. 


One Real Plaza!

      The busiest and liveliest plaza in Barcelona must be Placa Reial: a large square surrounded by historic buildings and filled with palm trees and lampposts designed by Gaudi. A number of restaurants and cafes line the plaza. We go to one for a late lunch. I don’t remember the name of the place and it doesn’t really matter.  The view and atmosphere at the outdoor café render the average food worthwhile. Being in the restaurant area also shields us from whistling venders and their shooting toys.

(Page 2 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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