We were supposed to spend the month of February 2022 in Barcelona, but cancelled as Covid cases had substantially increased and we felt more comfortable staying in Canada. So having missed that opportunity, we made the decision, this summer, to come and spend a couple of weeks here. A little concerned at first with travel, as the day we were to depart, we got a text early in the morning to say our flight had been delayed by about one hour and we only had a 2 hour transfer time in Amsterdam. No issue, the time was made up during the flight and we landed in Schiphol airport in The Netherlands on time. Long line ups at passport control, but this also ran smoothly and we had plenty of time for our flight to Barcelona. Arrived in Barcelona around 1 pm on Thursday, September 15th, 2022.
We have rented an apartment in the Eixample (pronounced eye-SHAM-plah). This area is the heart of the Modernista movement, a carefully planned “new town” just beyond the Old City with wide sidewalks, shade trees, with the major road having side lanes for taxis a separate lane for scooters, and large intersections. At the edge of this area is Gaudi’s “yet to be finished” Sagrada Familia. We visited in a previous trip in 2013 when we spent 3 days here so will not be going back…..why….it still hasn’t been finished! I read an update and it says that they hope to finish two of towers by the end of 2022, but more yet to be done. They started building this church 140 years ago….glad they aren’t our contractors! Can you imagine the cost overruns! It is now estimated that the church will be completed in 2026 which is the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. The Block of Discord (three apartments) and La Pedrera are also in the area, but again, we won’t be visiting these as we have already seen. Just to give those who have visited Barcelona an idea of where our apartment is located. One of the Metro lines is just a few steps away and very easy to get around to see the major sites.
A little history – One may choose to ignore this paragraph! Barcelona was an original Roman town from the time of Christ and was contained within Roman walls. The Cathedral was the centre of the city. Churches were built outside the original walls which drew more people to the city. In the 14th century, the Mediterranean was the center of trade and Barcelona thrived and a lot of Gothic buildings were erected during that period. When new sea routes opened up, its fortunes declined. In the 19th century, Barcelona bounced back due to the Industrial Revolution. The outer wall was torn down and replaced by circular boulevards. This was the period of the Modernista architecture movement. The summer Olympics were held her in 1992 and brought more focus to the city of Barcelona. As with many other port cities, Barcelona is struggling under the pressure of cruise ship visitors. The mayor of Barcelona has recently announced that the City will look at cutting the number of cruise ships in half and this would limit the amount of visitors to 10,000 per day. Still a very large number on a daily basis. Today, the population of the city of Barcelona is 1.6 million, but up to 4.8 million including the urban areas. The native language in the province of Catalunya is Catalan. Today many Catalans are striving for increased autonomy and some even want independence from the rest of Spain. All the signs are first in Catalan, then Spanish and finally English.
On our first afternoon here, we got settled in our apartment, did some grocery shopping (handy as a small grocery just a few steps away). Jet lag is very powerful; to bed very early and then up very early. On day two we headed out towards Placa d’Espanya with our destination being the Las Arenas Mall where we could get a Spanish SIM card for our phone – mission accomplished. I still can’t get over the cost of our cell phone service in Canada as compared to the rest of the World. So affordable here in Europe. Las Arenas was originally a bullfighting arena. Bullfights were banned here in Catalunya in 2010 so the arena was transformed into a modern shopping mall; what a great re-purpose of a building.
This area is known as Montjuic and was the location of the 1929 World Expo. Today the buildings are used as a convention centre, the Fira de Barcelona. The Monumental Fountain was the entrance into the World Expo site and the architect was an associate of Gaudi. One also sees ‘ The Four Columns’. These columns signify the four pillars of the Catalan movement and had been demolished in 1928, just prior to the Expo. In 2010 after pressure from the Catalan movement and independent political parties, four similar columns were commissioned and installed near there original location. At the base of Montjuic are the two large columns, a Mies van der Rohe Pavilion and the Magic Fountains. At the top of the hill is the Catalan Art Museum which is housed in the Palau National (National Palace).
We then took the metro to the Santa Caterina Market located in the El Born district of the City. A smaller market that was built on the ruins of an old Dominican Monastery. Our guide book indicates that the construction of the market was delayed (seems to be a recurring theme here in Barcelona!) and was known as the ‘ The Hole of Shame’. In 2006 the hall was renovated and a Gaudi-inspired roof was added. We bought a few food items in the hall, then stopped at one of the restaurants for our first taste of Tapas. We chose ham croquettes, fried calamari and potatoes bravas….yummy. Of course a glass of beer and a cold glass of white wine had to accompany our meal. Although the market wasn’t that busy, the few restaurants there were bustling. Back to the apartment after a first full day of seeing this wonderful City.
Saturday and I am still suffering from jet lag, Robin seems to be doing better than me. Late get away today. Took the Metro to Placa de Catalunya, the major square of Barcelona,which covers 12 acres. The square is surrounded by four major thoroughfares, the Ramblas ( a favourite tourist promenade and also pickpockets love it here), Passeig de Gracia (Barcelona’s Champs Elysees), the Rambla de Catalunya and Avinguda del Portal de l’Angel (traffic free) which leads to the area of Barri Gotic where the Cathedral is located. We decide to stroll down the Ramblas and we are amazed at the number of people. Although it is a Saturday, it is the middle of September; would not like to be here in the height of the summer. Our property Manager, Toni, told us we had to go this market as it is the most central and the most crowded. Very good people watching I must say. We find a table at one of the many bars/restaurants located on the edge of the market. Tapas once again; this time we try garlic shrimp, calamari (I love calamari) and tortilla de patatas. Again, all very good. All these restaurants are extremely busy and I find it amazing how quickly they get the food out to you and they appreciate if you don’t lounge around, they turn the tables over very quickly. We walk around the market and once again pick up a few items which we cannot do without, such as pastries and chocolate! Weather very pleasant.
The metro here is very clean and as mentioned before a stop is located just steps from our apartment. When we decide where we are going, I chart out the route on the ‘ Metro App’ and it is so precise. Tells you which line to take, how many stops to your next transfer, where to transfer to another line and which exit to take to get to your destination and how far you need to walk to get to your destination. Must say, it certainly makes things very easy. We have also downloaded the ‘Free Now’ app which is used to get a taxi. Proliferation of official taxis here. Uber is not widely used or popular in Barcelona. They just returned about a year ago after a two year absence due to protests by the taxi industry and the City imposing very strict regulations on ride sharing companies.
This morning, Sunday, we decide to head off to Fundacion Joan Miro, which is said to have the world’s best collection of this Catalan modern artist. Both Robin and I have enjoyed seeing his work in galleries around the world . The gallery is located half way up on Montjuic. To get there we took two separate metro lines and a funicular.
The building which houses his works, was built in 1975 by Josep Lluis Sert, a friend of Miro and a student of Le Corbusier. I always get a kick out of some of the remarks in guide books. Regarding Miro’s work, our guide book says ‘ Some tips to enjoy Miro’s work – First, meditate on it, then read the title , then meditate on it again. Repeat the process until you have an epiphany.’ It goes on to say ‘Devotees of Miro say they fly with him and don’t even need drugs. Psychoanalysts liken the free for all canvases to Rorschach tests – is that a cigar in that star’s mouth?’ Although the guide book comments are interesting, we have always enjoyed Miro’s art work.
I think we will simply admire his work and the many mediums he worked with. The history of his works progresses as one proceeds through the many rooms in the gallery. I especially like the 400 square foot Tapestry of the Foundation which was designed for the space in 1979. Miro died in 1983 at 90 years of age.
Not too busy today, but quite a number of families with young children. Just as an aside, the guide book did say that ‘ Children probably understand Miro’s art the best’. Looking at one of his pieces, Robin commented that Hazel, our young 7 year old neighbour, could do better…probably even our great niece, Maeve, who is only 3 years old!
Above is just a small sampling of Miro’s work and the variety of mediums that he worked with…..all amazing! Following is a Calder sculpture – Mercury Fountain – which was in the lobby of the gallery. This piece was created in 1937 for an exhibition at which Picasso premiered his well known work – Guernica. Both of these works were created to honour victims of the Spanish Civil War. Note the picture above the statue showing the Guernica in the background.
This afternoon, we attended a concert at the Palau de la Musica Catalana. The concert hall only took 3 years to build and was completed in 1908. Guess they had better contractors than those that are building the Sagrada and those that built the market! Its’ location, on a very narrow street, is very interesting and the interior, which is in the Modernista style, is said to be one of the finest in the city. First time using the « Free Now » taxi cab application and it worked like a charm….very similar to Uber.
This concert was to honour the Catalan pianist and composer Leonora Mila who just celebrated her 80th birthday. She was a child prodigy composing her first work at the age of six and started her international career at the age of twelve. It was very special as she was in attendance. The symphony played a good number of her compositions and we thoroughly enjoyed the concert. The interior of the concert hall is one of the most beautiful we have seen and is very intimate.
I am always amazed at the talent of those who can play an instrument. I was especially taken by the percussionist. Had I pursued my kindergarten instrument….the triangle….yes folks, I could have been playing in this orchestra. Mind you, I would also have had to learn to play the tambourine and wooden blocks.
As we were leaving the concert hall, I asked a young man if he would take our picture. I do not do selfies…..arms too short! He asked if we spoke English and then went on to say that he was from California and would be in Spain and Portugal for a couple of months. He had just arrived in Barcelona a few days ago and already had fallen for a scam and had all his valuables, including his passport stolen. Luckily he already had his passport replaced as there is a U.S. embassy here. Guess this young man has not read guide books advising those to safeguard their valuables and not to fall prey to these scams. He was pretty positive considering what had just happened to him.