Kowie’s Paradigm, again
Last winter, we had to make a perverse choice: of staying 3 days EITHER in Madrid OR Barcelona. Both cities are irresistibly charming — only an idiot’s travel plan would create such a terrible dilemma: we were the idiots! Ultimately, (after a big swig of antacids) we chose Barcelona. On our first day, our kind friend Pablo drove us around scenic rural Catalonia (Please see: One day in the Catalonian Countryside). On the second morning, we made a pilgrimage to the Montserrat Monastery (Please see: A Pilgrimage to Montserrat). That left just 1 ½ days to absorb the spirit of Barcelona. This was insane —like emptying the ocean with a wine glass. Even that mad Spaniard, Don Quixote, would have ridiculed us. Yet I must tell our tale!
A haven in Tetuan
We stayed as paying guests of Jordi & Guillermina at Tetuan (a central locality). This was an incredibly brave thing to do, because we both are paranoid about sharing a bathroom with others! Apparently, fortune favours the brave. Guillermina is a photographer and an interior designer: so, the apartment was tastefully sparse and yet comfortable. Our bedroom faced a large school playground and we were woken up to sounds of chirping birds, church bells and joyful children.
Jordi is a music teacher, a performing flamenco guitarist and a collector of comic books. One long night, he patiently demonstrated many styles of flamenco guitar—- he said there were over 50 styles! We got a free lesson in Spanish culture that the best Barcelona auditorium could not have offered!
Our landlords were busy, so they hardly stayed at home. For most part, we had free reign of the apartment — and complete control of the bathroom! Sometimes we bought groceries and cooked simple meals, and sometimes we ate in some nearby restaurant (Tetuan’s eateries had every conceivable cuisine, from Vietnamese to Punjabi.).
Close by was the Placa de Tetuan Park: it celebrates the victory of a Catalan General in the battle of Tetuan, in Morocco. It is an idyllic place with frolicking children and pets and senior citizens playing petanque. At its centre, is a beautifully carved monument for a Catalan nationalist, Dr.Robert. From there one can see the lovely Arc de Triomf —built in Moorish Revival style for the Barcelona International Book Fair of 1888.
Soaked in history
Some say the Greek Hero Hercules established Barcelona, while others say it was named after Hamilcar Barca, the Carthaginian General who harassed Rome. Neither story has been proved. We know however, that it was a great Roman city in the 1st century BC (Latin: Barchenona) and became a powerful county when it merged with Aragon around the 15th century. It was the centre of the Catalan Renaissance in the 19th century (remember Dali, Gaudi, & Albeniz?). Today, it is the capital of the autonomous State of Catalonia and the 12th most popular tourist destination in the world. There was plenty to see.
Barcelona has an amazing Public Transport System and very tourist friendly transport options. At Placa Catalunya, there are open-top buses taking off every few minutes in clockwise and anti-clockwise circuits of the city. (Placa Catalunya is a happening place: there is a park with fountains and statues of sensuous men & women. The open square has street performers — we saw a puppeteer — and roadside cafes where you can have Spanish food with Sangria.) We took a one-day ticket which entitled us to hop on and off any Barcelona tour bus.
In any port city, the sea-front is a great place; Barcelona’s beaches are brilliant too — all 7 of them: yachts jostling for space on the Mediterranean quays, palm-lined avenues, the Columbus monument, the lovely buildings on the feeder roads….Wow!
Barcelona is a city of architectural wonders, from diverse periods. When you gaze at them from a moving bus, the options are: feast your eyes on them for as long as possible, OR whip out your camera and get trigger-happy? I tried both and failed miserably.
The church in Placa Bonanova…
The Sant Pau Hospital no longer treats patients. The original hospital was founded in the 15th century. This building belongs to the 20th century but has been converted into a museum in the last few years; it is a UNESCO heritage building.
When Barcelona hosted the International Exposition in 1929, many beautiful buildings were built. One such was the National Museum of Art, a lovely Neo-Baroque style building (Palau Nacional) at the foot of the Montjuic hills. It is said to have the finest collection of Roman frescoes. We only admired it from the outside.
The Venetian Towers were built as an entrance to the 1929 Exposition, but remained there ever after. It is so called because the architect drew inspiration from the towers of St. Marks Basilica in Venice.
Next to the Venetian Towers is the Placa D’Espanya. In the olden times this was a gruesome place for public hanging of criminals. Things changed by the 18th century, and after the 1929 Exposition it became bustling public place.
At the Placa D’Espanya is the Fira de Barcelona, where expositions are held even now. When we passed by, they were hosting the Salon del Manga de Barcelona, which is one of the largest annual Anime conventions outside Spain.
Opposite the Fira de Barcelona is the Las Arenas which was built as a bull-fighting arena around 1900. Catalonia was never a great fan of bull-fighting, unlike the rest of Spain. By 1977 bull-fighting was banned and the beautiful Neo- Mudejar (moorish revival style) building was in danger of being abandoned forever. Then, a British architect converted this into a mall in 2011 without disturbing the heritage exterior. Today it hosts over 100 shops, and many cinema halls and restaurants. What a restoration!
Another bull-fighting arena in the Neo-Mudejar style is the La Monumental. This too has been beautifully transformed — into an auditorium for sporting and musical events!
Barcelona is on mountainous terrain and there are 2 landmarks on top of a hill. One is the Tibidabo Church. The Sagrat Cor church was built in 1806. The other landmark is the Fabra Observatory, which is one of the oldest in the world (1904). Situated about 400Mtrs above MSL it is used mainly to study asteroids & comets
In all this there is a joker of the pack, the Torre Glories. This modern tower is said to have been inspired by the Montserrat Mountain. I found absolutely no resemblance at all, and my first reaction was, “Gosh, what a huge phallic symbol!” I felt embarrassed by my own thought, until I found that the natives called it “el supositori” (the suppository) and other scatological names!
No travelogue of Barcelona is complete without Gaudi; but he was such a heavy-weight architect that I will talk about him in a different post.
Pilgrimage to Camp Nou
Barcelona is home to one of the greatest football teams in the world: Barca FC. A trip to Barcelona is incomplete without seeing Barca’s own stadium at Camp Nou. When we visited, it was a rest-day and we walked in freely (we couldn’t have afforded a match ticket). There’s a huge Boutique inside which sells club merchandise/ souvenirs. The stuff was obscenely expensive, though I confess we did yield to temptation.
On one corner of Placa Catalunya is La Rambla. This is a Kilometre long avenue where tourists can buy trinkets, souvenirs, flowers etc and eat in wayside eateries — something like the Janpath market of Delhi. Depending on your street-smartness, you can pick a bargain or a lemon. You can pick up girls too, and in all probability, get your pocket picked. You can find Indian/Pakistani vendors operating unauthorised pavement shops. These guys spread their wares on a bed-sheet; and the moment a cop is spotted they quickly bundle up the entire merchandise with the sheet and run away! (see photo below). Truly, an exciting place!
La Rambla was the last stop in our quixotic journey. Adios, Vaya con Dios!
NOTES & ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
1. Petanque = A Game played with steel balls, in parks or lawns. Also known as Petanca in Spanish.
2. Sangria = Spanish cocktail comprising red wine, fruit juice and chopped fruits. Some say the name comes from the Spanish ‘sangre’ (meaning blood) because of its red colour. Others say it comes from the Sanskrit ‘sakkari’ meaning sugared wine!
3. All pictures in this post are by the author and his wife, except that of Jordi Guerrero. This has been taken from his FB site which we gratefully acknowledge.