If you’re wondering about the 2 euro wine, we didn’t finish it (an incredibly rare event). So don’t worry, we won’t be bringing any back to share, making you pretend it's delicious high-brow Spanish wine and you are just too uncultured to appreciate it.
Since I never got my guidebook, we pretty much just followed my friend’s trail and advice (they left a few days ago). So today we decided to climb the other mountain; there are two main ones that sandwich the city between them; we went to Montjuic on the luxurious gondola as you may recall. Today we went full-on opposite, hiking overland. Not by design but because after exiting the Metro we walked up the wrong road (besides no guidebook, also no decent map…. makes life more adventurous, hey?). Though our error was becoming apparent, we’d seen a sign with fork and spoon for several hundred meters ahead, and driven on by hunger as it was noon and we hadn’t yet eaten, we walked to the café. During breakfast we figured out where we were, i.e. quite some distance from our destination, over on another hill. But Erik thought he’d seen somebody walking a path overland toward the other hill. So we headed up some stairs which petered out in a dirt path and came to a fabulous city overlook. And sure enough a narrow, rocky dirt path headed up and over the direction we wanted.
So eventually we made it to where we wanted to be – the top of Mount Tibidabo at a modern cathedral and, oddly, an amusement park directly beneath it. We wanted to ride the roller coaster but it was closed except to a group of school kids. We tried to convince the lady we were students, but it didn’t fly. What lucky kids, riding roller coasters on a school day!
Walked through the cathedral, more great city views. Intended to take a funicular down to the bottom of the hill but were annoyed that there was no one-way ticket price; they don’t seem to figure on people arriving at the top by foot and wishing to leave by funicular. So decided to hoof it to the bottom. The road was very twisty and circuitous but there were many shortcuts through the woods across the hairpin curves. So we walked down one of these, eventually stumbling upon an old, crumbling and overgrown stone stairway which had once led up the hill. And here is where we encountered the Dog Fortress. We had heard a huge group of los perros barking for quite some time. I had been desperately hoping they’re weren’t some band of stray feral dogs who would be our demise. We continued downhill and even more dogs joined the barking fray. We came to an old stone wall and were captivated by a small, spry cat lurking about its perimeter. We tried to beckon it forward but it looked at us wide-eyed then scampered off into the forest. Then I looked up and realized the dogs were all behind the wall. We had almost blown the Spy Cat’s cover, as he was obviously attempting to infiltrate the Dog Fortress. Probably he’d been hired to discover a way to keep them quiet. Truly, the decibel level was quite stupendous. Eventually when we got down to the street we could look back up and see it was a large kennel, but it was kind of spooky hearing all those dogs through the forest. Spy Cat was only the second cat we’d seen all week.
Our next goal was to walk back to Park Guell, which our crude map showed as nearby. After following sign after sign literally in circles I was becoming convinced the park no longer existed. We had been following road signs for cars to follow, not pedestrians, and the road to the parking lot wound around the park before finally coming to rest. So it was later in the day and I was far more exhausted than I had imagined I would be when we arrived. But our goal was to write another ditty at the park for our travel guide idea. This required walking throughout the park despite my tired, tired feet. But after a short rest on a beautiful tiled bench, I rallied and we discovered some places we hadn’t been to previously with our friends. Also this had been where my G9 camera broke, so I had the opportunity to take some photos. More Gaudi!
We made it back to our hostel and flopped down onto the bed for a nap. We were supposed to hook up with some other folks who were to arrive in Barcelona today but an unfortunate miscommunication prevented this. But once again, we followed our friends’ advice and found a café they’d recommended, the Gran Café, in the Gothic quarter and had a delicious dinner. And that’s it! Home the next morning.
I’d certainly recommend Barcelona to anyone! A week was too short. One thing I noticed, and have to admit appreciated, was that, contrary to Prague and some other Central European cities, the people are not at all put out by speaking English. They are friendly, helpful, and don’t bat an eye at speaking in English, actually almost to a fault. It would be difficult, in fact, to practice up on your Catalan or Spanish in the tourist areas because people immediately reverted to English when they heard our American accent speaking Spanish. When we got a little further from the beaten path (for example stopping for refreshment while circling ad infinitum Park Guell) we had to use more Spanish, but the people were always completely patient and good-natured with us. Catalonia (the Spanish district of which Barcelona is capital) has its own ending on domain names -- so a website doesn't end in ".es" as in Spain but ".cat" for Catalonia. We've decided to register a domain name for our beloved kitty.... "http://mister.cat"
Three things about visiting European cities. (1) I truly love them. (2) Love to visit; would never want to live in one. Need to live as a quiet mountain hermit. (3) Love to visit Europe and its many architectural photo opportunities, but always realize when I do that my heart still belongs in the 2nd and 3rd World, where one can have many more wacky adventures of culture, language, terrain, etc. Where shall I go next?
Piece of cake taking the train to see Dali in the nearby town of Figueres. Silly me, my favorite travel sweater I didn’t fasten very well to my little purse when I was in the train station and just before boarding the train realized it was gone. So very sad, I decided to trace my steps backward as far as I could before the train came. The first place I went was the little café where we bought a pastry for breakfast. And serious joy when the lady produced the sweater from behind her counter. Some nice soul had turned it in. This is the second time I’ve lost it and had it returned. Perhaps that means it’s really ugly and no one would want to keep it if they found it. Ha. Fine by me. My sweet little sweater back in my possession. Perhaps I should keep Erik’s wallet in its pocket, then it would always get returned when it goes missing.
So anyway, the Dali museum. Lovely. Lots and lots of small paintings, drawings and jewelry. Yeah, I had no idea about the jewelry. He said that what he wanted to do was buck the idea that jewelry-making should have consideration for the cost of materials and the nature of its use (i.e. wearability). There were definitely some interesting pieces, including a beating heart of rubies. Here is some Dali jewelry. The eye is perhaps the most famous, and the only souvenirs I brought home from Barcelona were a t-shirt with that image on it and a funky Gaudi-designed tea cup.
Valentine's Day jewelry, no? Nothing says romance like a brooch of skulls.
Below are a couple of my favorite paintings.
And here we have a ceiling fresco in the Palace of the Wind ... kind of like a Dali Sistine Chapel, ha. Maybe not such a benevolent heaven here ... we are about to be stomped on! But in a joyous manner, claims Dali. The feet in blue are his (notice his moustache at the top), and the feet in red his wife, Gala's.
And a fun stairway in the museum. Very Dali-esque when you understand his flamboyant personality and tireless self-promotion, his indulgent belief in his own genius.
This is the main courtyard as you enter the museum. You could put a coin in a slot on the automobile and music would play from the front grill. There were several displays throughout the museum in which you could contribute a coin to watch it move or play music or something. Erik naturally couldn't resist, and only he and a British kid were (a) observant of the coin slots and (b) curious enough to slip in the coins.
Dali had a thing for eggs. The top of the Figueres museum is festooned with them, and we would see them a few years later sprinkled around his home in Port Lligat.
We are now sitting back in our hotel room drinking the array of liquor we just bought and Erik is trying to convince me that the absinthe is complementing the Moritz beer. I’m not willing to see if I agree. I went to an absinthe tasting at a conference in San Francisco (travel writing/photography/food) just for the novelty of it, and the maker had won awards for basically the best in the world. Other than that, I’m not a fan. Shortly, we will delve into our 2-euro bottle of red wine…. “la mancha.”
But back to Dali. The museum building is very interesting also in and of itself. There weren’t really any of his super famous originals, but I thought it was nice to see so many other things (better collection than the one in Barcelona we saw the other day). And we’ve seen a number of originals in other museums in the U.S.
So we took the train back to Barcelona and went to another Gaudi museum, the Batllo, a private residence he designed. (I don’t have a guidebook, so if I misspell places, forgive…. I gave up collecting brochures a few years ago and now it’s just habit not to pick them up.) This was probably the most expensive admission fee, but it is supported primarily by this fee as a private institution, and is totally worth the price of admission. When we first entered there were a lot of other people and it was hard to take any worthy photos without hordes of humans. But by the time we finished walking through the whole place, it had cleared out a lot so we went back through the whole place again with much more serenity. Yep, it’s worth going through twice. At least in our opinions. Also interesting in the audio guide (automatically included) were many quotes from Dali about Gaudi. More Gaudi photos out of my collection of roughly a gazillion.
Gaudi considered rooftop landscapes to be a very important feature in his architecture. They are quite, quite magical. La Pedrera was unique for its smooth wooden sculptures on the roof ... these tile mosaic ones at the Batllo are more iconic of Gaudi's style.
Meandered home. Found a nice out-of-the-way place to have a reasonably-priced beer (impossible on the Ramblas) and yummy crepes. Mine was mint-marinated chicken with carrots and mint yogurt. Mmm. So now here we are back in our room. Erik’s just gone down to reception to ask if they by some odd chance have a cork screw so we can sample our 2-euro wine and see if it’s worth bringing some home.
Hard to believe tomorrow is our last day already. Erik has returned with a corkscrew. “It seems drinkable,” he says. “You can see the legs on the plastic. That’s the sign of a good wine.” We are drinking from the tiny opaque plastic cups provided in the bathroom of our super budget hotel.
And I did indeed sleep late. Began the day watching policemen arrest a shirtless drunken man on the steps of the Metro. Much to my relief, despite a spirited birthday celebration, I did not end up in a similar situation at the end of my night. Spent pretty much the entire afternoon wandering around the Gothic Quarter trying to get back to the 1st century BC Roman pillars we stumbled across the previous day, and charting out paths for our sightseeing book idea. We started to get a little frustrated when we just could not for the life of us find the pillars. We found every other place we’d been to and either taken photos or stopped for a beer or whatever. But somehow couldn’t find the last turn. But finally we did with a great sense of accomplishment. (When we turned around without going inside to the pillars, a French couple standing outside started exclaiming at us, “You should go inside! Go inside!” We explained we’d already been inside the day before. They were quite concerned for the welfare of our historic knowledge of the city.) A couple shots from the Temple d'Augustus ...
It was Sunday, a great day to explore this part of the city because many of the shops were closed. Might sound like a bad thing, but this enables you to see all of the street art. Many of the garage doors that pull down over the store fronts are painted. There are some great paintings. (If you know anything about underground street artists, you might be interested to know we found a “calling card” from Space Invader. That was fun.) I would definitely recommend exploring this area at a time when many shops are closed.
We made it to the Picasso museum and by pure chance it happened to be free admission. I guess Sundays after 5pm (until 7) admission is free. We were initially daunted by the line to get in but it moved fairly quickly. The museum didn’t have any of his famous pieces but it was a good exhibit and very interesting with many of his drawings and paintings from his youth, and a great little film showing something like 48 permutations of the same painting ... he was “copying” a painting by someone else -- a common activity of course for aspiring painters to try to emulate the masters by copying some of their pieces as precisely as possible. Picasso, though, “copied” the painting using his late characteristic cubist style. The film overlays Picasso’s copies one at a time on the original painting (Les Meninas) (or something close to that). He also had an early propensity toward scenes with people attending the dying in their beds. (I don’t know what that’s about.)
Then it was time to get ready and head back my friend’s flat for happy hour drinks around 9, then we went out to dinner for my birthday at a restaurant near their place. Good times. A little champagne to celebrate.
Then Erik and I decided (or at least I did and Erik went along) to act significantly younger than my age and go find a club or two. We found a somewhat quaint and small club to hang out in. Until about 4:30am. It got just a wee bit ugly at the end when I kept running into the people I was trying to dance with. There was a little group of us pounding the floor until closing time. It had been quite crowded earlier and made for good people watching. (young folks are always especially interesting/often unfathomable to watch)
Next day was a bust (for several reasons). Seems like we usually have at least one of these in a trip, but too bad we had one during such a short trip. So now only two days left with much yet to do. We’ll see how far we get. But I certainly wouldn’t mind stopping over here again some day to see some more. There is a prodigious amount of sightseeing available to do here. We did rally in the late evening and strolled down to the waterfront. The sea water is the most beautiful blue. The exact same color as the post-sunset dark-blue sky. Gentle waves hitting the shore. A nice boardwalk follows the beach for a long way. A few catastrophes have hit us in the last few days. For one, my beloved G9 camera quit working. Fortunately I brought my SLR also, though I almost didn’t. It’s not as convenient to carry around but at least I’m not cameraless. Tomorrow we will try to get to the Dali museum by train.
Wow, it's actually before midnight today when I finish writing and misc business. But I'm quite exhausted, so probably you've had to wade through many typos and bizarre wordings... However I'm more interested in sleeping and dreaming than going back to read and fix them.
I’ve been in enough medieval cities or the remnants thereof throughout Europe to love these old, labyrinthine parts of town and to feel a sense of nostalgia for them, so whenever I get back to one it’s like reuniting with an old friend. Barcelona has a lovely quarter, known as the Gothic Quarter (or Barri Gotic), of narrow, curvy alleys and courtyards of varying sizes. Today is Saturday so it was packed with people except for the alleys that were utterly void of people ... just like everywhere as a tourist, there is the beaten and the unbeaten track, and it always amazes me the proximity of one to the other. But thank goodness for the latter. Always so refreshing. The Barri Gotic is a big enough quarter that having not paid a wit of attention when we entered and then wandered utterly without aim, when it came time to head for home we were a tad lost. Yay. I love being lost. Except when I’m really hungry or I really have to pee. Here are some scenes from the quarter. The giant bubble guy was pretty fun to watch with the children all trying to catch the bubbles.
Parts of the walls are very interesting and you can see the centuries of continual building over and on top of previous structures. The oldest parts of the city are several columns dating from 1st century BC. They are preserved in a glass shelter and by now are far below the general street level. Here is a photo that somewhat shows this stratification and hodge-podge, as the pigeons are perching in an area with several different layers of building materials from different time periods.
Oh, and we’ve moved digs. We spent the morning and afternoon with our most agreeable friends/hosts of the opulent flat and have now left them to a couple quiet days to themselves. We’ll see them again tomorrow for dinner. So after checking into our new budget hotel (yes, it’s quite a drastic change) we went out for our meander. Along the way we also stopped in a Dali museum. Quite a nice one; we’ve been to several around the world. It was fun to see some photographs of Dali standing at some of the Gaudi places we’ve been to. So, my brilliant theory that Dali was influenced by Gaudi was proved correct. I’m sure no one else has ever had the insight to put the two together before, and I can assuredly claim and publish this mind-blowing theory as my very own. ;-) On the right, an interesting Dali creation of a 3-D scene of wooden figurines.
I guess I’m narrating backward. Now I will tell you about our morning still spent with our friends (the 5th party member flew back home this morning), so was just 4 of us. We took the subway to a flea market and walked through briefly, then walked through a very pleasant part of town with lots of open park space and an arboretum. Erik was extremely pleased with himself when he managed to jump up high enough to pluck an orange from the laden trees in the park. His pleasure turned sour, literally, after tasting it and puckering up. Thems not eatin’ oranges.
There was a beautiful arc de triumph, like ones you’ll see everywhere ancient conquerors patted themselves on the back for a successful (or at least perceived successful) military campaign. This one was made of red brick, however. And again more beautiful scenes of the city. (I ran out of camera battery.) I think my friend has broken a Guinness record for number of stitch photos taken in a single location or a single week, stitching together numerous panorama shots. I will have to steal some from him and post them to you.
Somehow night has descended again with surprising rapidity and it’s after midnight already. Have to rest up for my birthday tomorrow. So off to bed I shall go and probably sleep late.
I think the best thing about today was our dinner. We had the gall to sit down for dinner on a Friday at the early bird hour of 9:40pm. The cook arrived about 5 minutes after we sat down. The restaurant was picked by one of our party who had read of it in a guidebook as a restaurant with authentic Basque cuisine. Seemed a necessary outing. Turned out to be a bit of a fiscal indulgence, but I’m sticking with the “necessary” clause in the interest of fiscal justification. The proprietor was great. We were the only people in the joint for the better part of 2 hours. The wine was nice, the appetizers were scrumptious, the main course delicious and the dessert decadent. And the apperatif shot floral and yummy. (and I don’t know how to spell apperatif correctly) The main course was codfish cooked in frothy olive oil. One might swear it was really 8 pounds of butter, but the proprietor insisted it was olive oil. And browned garlic. Mmmm. The dessert was pears soaked in red wine, and I think one must assume some sugar. Fantastic. It was a lovely evening.
But that certainly is not to imply the day was not similarly so. We toured another Gaudi, La Pedrera, first thing in the morning. It was very cool, because as you now know, I love Gaudi! It’s tempting to describe some of his architectural elements and landscapes as Seussian, but that would imply just a little too much random whimsicality. Gaudi is about producing “organic” qualities in his forms, but this often comes very close to Seuss’s fictional forms. Close, but it wouldn’t be accurate to formally make a comparison. At any rate, good fun stuff.
Probably a little too un-PC for today ... a lot of old advertisements and photos line the hallways.
Then we walked about with our friends, went to the Olympic park where the Barcelona summer Olympics were held. This was far more interesting and beautiful than I would have guessed. Then we rode a gondola to the top of a hill where perches a fortress with some incredibly formidable cannons pointing out to sea. The gondola ride was the epitome of loveliness, and afterward we ate an overpriced lunch at a restaurant with a priceless view, overlooking both ocean and city.
K, well off to try to sleep and dream... though for once my vivid dreamscapes may be nothing special compared to the sights I'm seeing here in my waking hours!