Thursday, November 5, 2009

Barcelona Days

So, back to Barcelona. The second we stepped out of the airport shuttle, I could tell we weren't in Italy anymore. Barcelona has an extremely new feel for a European city. Even though there was a Roman town here, its big growth spurt came just after 1900. Also, the Catalan people are a different ethnic group with a different language than most of Spain. They have worked hard to retain an independent identity and have a reputation for embracing the new and different. The city itself also bears a bit of a resemblance to San Francisco, partially due to having similar time frames for growth, but also because it is hilly and by the sea. We arrived in the evening, and so we took a walk in the Eixample area that we chose to stay in. This is where all the Modernista buildings (Barcelona's very individual Art Nouveau) are. Everything seemed new and trendy. We made a point of eating tapas (small servings of lots of things) and had a couple of beers. Unlike Italy, Spain does have a taste for good beer. However, it seems to almost all be lager.

The next morning we got to the Cathedral first thing. It was actually the Mount Taber excavations of an earlier temple that I was looking for, but they were closed for restoration. No matter; we had the biggest must in Barca next, the Picasso Museum. We had already bought our Barcelona Art Ticket cards, which get you in before everyone in line. As a result, we were the first ones in the building. The collection concentrates on his early work. I always understood that he had mastered realism by seventeen, but seeing is truly believing. At fourteen and fifteen he was already far better than most artists hope to be. It's a really humbling experience walking through this small but thorough collection. I guarantee that it will change your understanding of his work, and why it was so important for him to keep finding new ways of working.

In the area was what is reported to be the oldest restaurant in the city, which came heavily recommended by a friend who knows food. As entrees, I had goose with roasted apples and Sarah had a wild boar stew in red wine.

Goose and Apple

Not only was the meal fantastic, but you get much more for your Euro in Spain. Italian dining had been very expensive.


We were so ahead of schedule that we decided to finish the day with Gaudi's Sagrada Familia Church. This was his last project, and the work of completing his vision has been going on ever since (with a huge setback during the Spanish civil war). It's pretty amazing, but it is a huge construction zone. You never know what will or won't be available, and on our day one of the lifts was being worked on. So were the stairs, so there was only one elevator taking folks up into one of his towers. We joined the line immediately, and about fifteen minutes later they closed the line. We just made it! This freed up the next day for us to concentrate solely on Montserrat.

Two days later we set off seeing the rest of Gaudi's work in a one-day, all-you-can-eat Barcelona Modernista buffet.


We started with Gaudi's Casa Mila (above), and then walked for about two hours in the area around the Block of Discord examining the other Modernista designers. During our walk we ran into a huge indoor marketplace, and decided to be experimental. There is nothing better than getting a chance to eat what the locals do. Spain is one of the first places I've gone where I don't readily know the names of all of the foods. Our ordering sounded like,"eso y eso y eso y eso por favor."


We made good use of the Metro to go up the hill to Gaudi's Park Guell while the sun was up. I really expected something different. It was much smaller than we'd expected and far more crowded with tourists and street vendors than any site we had visited so far. Sarah and I ended up a bit disappointed. We regained our enthusiasm for Gaudi's work with a visit to Casa Batllo. The price is a whopping sixteen Euro (about $25) for a visit to two floors out of five and the roof. Totally worth it! You can really see his love for organic forms from nature here, and the designs are extremely harmonious.


After a day trip to Tarragona, Sarah and I woke up to a really tough day of travel. We had to check out and go store our luggage at the train station. We had a reservation for the "Trenhotel" that night at 10pm, and the rest of the day with no real home base. I saved a monster museum, the Catalan Art Museum, for just this occasion. First, it's pretty close to the station we were leaving from. More importantly, it is frigging huge, and it took nearly seven hours to see the collection. As we approached it I noticed graffiti that said, "Catalan is not Spain". This set the mood well for a museum that concentrates on the art of the area.


Besides Art Moderne, Catalan had a huge surge of great art during the Romanesque period. This was by far my favorite part of the museum, with some of the strongest presentation I have ever seen.


As important as the Art, the Catalan Art Museum has a kick ass restaurant with a very reasonable set menu that allows you to choose from menu items at a lower price. I've recently discovered that most major museums have great restaurants, where you get a great deal, and crappy cafes, where you get much less for what is still a lot of money. You can see the rest of the meal on my flickr site.

We finished the day with the Joan (pronounce like Juan) Miro Foundation and caught a Magic Fountains show on the way back to the train station. I enjoyed my time in Barcelona, but was pretty ready to move on. What had seemed casual (like SF) had turned out to be much more of a studied casual (like LA). I had heard that folks really like to take it easy in the South of Spain, and was looking forward to that experience.

Two more pictures and then I'm done:


The Train Hotel is crazy! I'm sorry, but this is as far back as I could get to take this picture. We opted for a double to ourselves with our own bathroom. You can see that that means two bunks and an aisle just wide enough to walk in.


The bathroom had a working shower that would pulse for about fifteen seconds every time you hit a button. It also had a motion-sensitive faucet that went off occasionally like a ghost was using it, and a toilet like on airplanes but without the suction. It was a cool experience, and we saved on a night's hotel expense, but I got off the train feeling like I had been on a boat and could still feel the waves of the ocean. Next time I'll fill you in on whether I ever earned my sea-legs in Sevilla.

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