Getting to know a city by getting lost and just going with the flow is one of our favourite things to do. One might start off with a destination in mind, but soon, something ahead or around a corner grabs your attention and away you go!
Thursday, September 22nd. At the beginning of our stay we had gone up to Montjuic, but did not go to the very top due to time constraints. So today, our destination was the Castell de Montjuic. Metro, Funicular and finally a cable car to get there. Although not much inside the castle, this visit was worthwhile due to the great views of the city from the ramparts.
The castle was built in the 18th century. Until the late 20th century, this place functioned more to repress the people of Barcelona than to defend them. Being ‘ taken to Montjuic’ probably meant you were never to be seen again…the end of the line! During Franco’s reign, many people were executed here. The Castle is now under control of the City of Barcelona.
We make our way back to the Metro and head to the Mercat de Sant Antoni which is in the El Raval district which used to be an area of disrepute with drug dealers and prostitution. It has transformed and is said to be a magnet for the young, trendy and foodie crowd……guess that doesn’t exactly define us, but hey…we are allowed! Our property Manager, Toni, had told us that this area is the one he and his friends go to for tapas, so we might come back for that on another day. This market was renovated and is quite new inside, more a locals market. The original metal structure dates back to 1882.
We find a nice fish restaurant in the market. The waiter brings a few free starters….some fried sardines and some bread with tomato sauce. Robin opts for an iberian ham omelet and I order some scallops and prawns in a garlic sauce and we share some ham croquettes. The waiter offers us desert, but honestly, just a lot of food and we have had sufficient. We walk around the market and pick up a few items for dinners; some prepared food and some to cook.
We had a discussion with our guide Giuilo the other day and told him that in Canada, Robin and I normally eat our dinner around 7 pm, but that most people eat around 6 pm. He could not believe how early that was. It was around 6 pm the other day when we were in Figueres and it was lovely to see all the families and friends out around this time having coffee/drinks. As is their custom, they normally don’t eat till much later in the evening. So nice to see the families out with the children playing in the streets and not watching their electronic devices….just saying!
Robin and I have mainly been taking the metro and it is always nice that young people offer their seats to us. Respect for older people still seems to be in place here….not sure the same would happen back home. We don’t always take them up on their offers if we don’t have far to go. Pays to be a senior….even getting senior’s rates getting into museums and other venues.
Friday morning and we have tickets to go to Park Guell (pronouced Gway). Timed entry is required as the Park was becoming overrun by tourists. Gaudi intended that this 30 acre garden was to be a high-end community with 60 upscale residences for the rich of Barcelona. The project began in 1900, but came to an end in 1914 at the start of World War 1. Nothing more was done to the park after that. This is one location where we took a taxi. We have been using an « app » called Free Now, which is similar to Uber, but for taxis. It is very efficient. Lots of people here today. Some of the major sights within the park are: the Three Viaducts, the Monumental Staircase, Hypostyle Hall and the Greek Theatre or Nature Square. The staff only allow a certain amount of people into the Greek Theatre at any one time as it is elevated and held up by columns below; so I think it is a safety issue. We also walked up to the Hill of the Three Crosses and then back down to the main entrance where we saw the Dragon Stairway, and La Casa del Guarda (the souvenir shop).
Our guide book describes the park as « playful architecture, inviting spaces, and a one of a kind terrace offering sweeping views over the rooftops of the city ». The buildings at the main entrance are definitely quirky . From there one can go up the twin staircases known as the Dragon Stairway…a smiling dragon made of colourful tiles sits in the centre of the stairway.
The Hypostyle Room was designed to house a produce market for the inhabitant’s of the new houses, which were never built. There are eighty six doric columns. Shards of ceramics cover the bases and some wonderful giant mosaic decorations in the ceiling. In further reading, I did find out that these columns do indeed hold up the viewing terrace above.
It is said that Gaudi drew some of his inspiration from nature and this is reflected in the Pathway of Columns. These walkways were to remind visitors of the various pilgrim routes that are all over Spain.
The View Terrace also known as the Nature Square is the area where they limit the number of people at any one time. Believe this is a safety issues as this area is the one that is held up by the columns of the Hypostyle Room below. Colourful mosaic decorated benches surround the area and one has wonderful views of the city from the edge of the terrace.
A great visit to Park Guell and once again amazed by Gaudi’s talent and imagination.
Took a taxi to Placa Catalunya to find somewhere to have lunch. Stopped by small modern restaurant. Food was mainly pizza and pasta and was good….but two amazing things about this restaurant. First of all was ‘MEOW’ who brought us our meals. She is a robot who brings the food to your table, then the waiter serves it. She is called Meow and has the picture of a cat on the display once she has completed her task.
Second best thing, but even better than the first was the churros served with a cup of thick chocolate for dipping the churros……yum! Didn’t think I wanted desert but Robin and I shared when we saw this on the menu.
Walked around and then headed back to our apartment. Went for our first dinner out and went to a Paella restaurant that was recommended by one of our guides. Very good. We ate outside in a covered area. Some light rain while we were there but nothing substantial. We are supposed to have cooler weather this weekend and some rain.
Saturday morning and we have planned to take in some of the activities of La Merce festival. This festival lasts for around 5 days and is a held in honour of Mare de Deu de la Mercè, the Patron Saint of Barcelona. The festival, which officially first took place in 1902, bids goodbye to the summer and welcomes the cooler months of autumn. What fun and what a lot of people. Hard to get to some of the points of interest. The first thing we took in was « Gigantes » (the Parade of Giants). The giants represent Kings, Queens and Noblemen. This was held in Placa de Sant Jaume, the main square in front of the city hall. Robin and I commented that it is such a small square considering the amount of people who want to see these activities. Lots of families about.
Just so many people we decide to keep moving down some of the side alleys/streets. Stop for coffee/tea and are amazed at the amount of people everywhere. I guess it is a weekend so lots of families about and lots of tourists from all over when you hear the languages being spoken.
One of the other traditions of this celebrations are Castellers (Human Towers). We head down a side street and luckily we come across various groups of Castellers who are practicing and proceeding towards Placa de Sant Jaume for their final performances. The various groups all wear white pants but each group has a distinctive coloured shirt which identifies them as part of a particular group. These groups are made up of a variety of ages including the old and the very young. We know we won’t be able to get the Placa so we decide to stay and enjoy what we were experiencing. This is one of the Catalan traditions and has been around since the end of the 18th century. The castells represent a human collaboration. The youngest is usually the one on the top of the castell (makes sense) and they are now mandated to wear helmets to protect them. They are accompanied by small groups playing various instruments and they all sing….what a great experience to have been able to see this.
We continue walking the streets and alleyways of the Old City and all of a sudden I hear Robin say….’I know you….Lorne, Maria’. Well, they always say it’s a small world….indeed it is. These are neighbours from Calgary who live a few blocks from us. Who could believe that this would happen in a small alleyway half way across the world. Visit with them for a while then on our way once again for more discoveries.
The other day when we were leaving the apartment, we ran into Toni our property manager. He is so delightful and he wanted to know where we had been and what we had seen. When we told him that we had gone to Montserrat he told us that one of his great great great ancestors what an abbot and had been a part of the safekeeping of the Black Madonna. Apparently, he and his family are welcomed to the monastery whenever they want and are also allowed to all parts of the church and monastery. Wow!
The couple of times that we have taken taxis, we comment on the amount of traffic and know that we would not want to drive in this city. One of our guides told us that he will not get a car and walks to his destination whenever possible or takes his motorcycle. Parking is very expensive in the City. Robin and I can attest to the cost of parking. When we were here some nine years ago, I remember the cost of parking being prohibitive. Lots of motorcycles here; but also lots of electric scooters, the kind you stand on. The City of Barcelona banned rental scooters as they became a menace and eyesores as they were left all over the sidewalks. It is amazing how many people own scooters to get around and it really makes sense. They are quite safe with the number of separate bike/scooter lanes exist.
A little history of this part of the world. Barcelona, although part of Spain, maintains a separate identity through its Catalan roots. They pride themselves on their different language and traditions. It is said that the Catalans have an optimistic spirit and are earthy but creative. Spanish and Catalan are the two official languages of Catalunya, with Catalan being the main preferred language. My research tells me that Catalan is not a Spanish dialect, but an independent language. The Catalans have been suppressed over many centuries and their language and customs at times have been banned, with the Franco regime being the most recent. Always talk of a separation by the Catalan state, but of late this movement is not quite as active. In speaking to our guides, they say that the younger generation is quite satisfied with things the way they are. A couple of referendums have been held and in each case a large majority voted to separate; these referendums were proclaimed invalid by the Spanish government.
Sunday the 25th. In deciding what to do today, we opted to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCO) which is a few doors down from the Picasso Museum and is located in a beautiful historic building. We visited the Picasso Museum nine years ago when we were here, so have opted to give it a pass. The MOCA is in the El Raval district which is made up of narrow alleyways which are all so interesting. As all Contemporary art museums, one must have an open mind when viewing the art. It is quite a small art museum, and we found it very interesting.
Walked along Passeig del Born and reached the El Born Cultural and Memory Center which is located in a huge iron and glass building which once served as this neighbourhood’s produce market until 1971. Lots of displays for young children inside due to La Merce holiday. Some roman ruins here as well.
Continue on our walk through the El Ravel district and came by some artisans selling their jewellery, pottery, leather goods, etc. This was near the Church of Santa Maria del Mar a gothic structure (did not enter as church services on a Sunday) which dominates the square.
Next to the church is the Monument of Catalan Independence which sits atop a mass grave of revolutionary Catalans who fought in the 1714 war.
Then onto Port Vell (Old Port) where we see the Barcelona Head sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein and the Lobster. This area was completely redeveloped for the 1992 Olympics. A busy highway was even rerouted underground during the refurbishment of this port area. Lots of artisans here on the Rambla del Mar and bars/restaurants abound.
And….to top off the day