Sunday, June 30: Finally, I get off the bus for the last time at Casa Milà, popularly known as La Pedrera, meaning “the quarry.” This unusual building was constructed between 1906 and 1912 by architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926) and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Today it is the headquarters of Fundació Catalunya-La Pedrera and houses a cultural center used for various activities and exhibitions. (La Pedrera)
It was a controversial design at the time with its undulating stone facade and wrought iron, organic-looking, balconies and windows, designed largely by Josep Maria Jujol, who also created some of the plaster ceilings (Wikipedia: Casa Milà) .
By the time I finish at La Pedrera, it’s about 7:30 and I’ve been on the go all day, seeing all of the major Gaudi attractions, starting with Casa Batllo in the morning, La Sagrada Familia at 1:00, Park Guell at around 3:30, and La Pedrera at 6:00. My legs are killing me and I’m exhausted. All I really want is to be “in search of a thousand cafes,” so I can find the perfect one and have a glass of wine and some dinner. I happen upon Tenorio Braseria, which entices me because of its purple seats and its great location on leafy Gracia. There is some great people-watching to be done here.
I order Risotto Mantecato with prawns, thyme and lime. Every bite is delectable. If I lived in Barcelona I would get in serious trouble at this place! Can you tell from the picture that I took a bite, and then remembered I forgot to take a picture? I tried to fill in the gap where I took the bite by moving the food around a bit. 🙂
I don’t normally have dessert with dinner, but as I want to linger here as long as possible, I order “Fine apple pie with calvados liquor and its cinnamon ice cream.” Yum. 🙂
As I take a leisurely stroll back to my hotel, I see this lovely balcony with a whole garden on it. I love it!
I am so utterly exhausted after this day, that I return to my hotel and put my feet up. I brought so many good books about Spain along on my Kindle, but I’ve hardly had any energy to read them. On this trip, at night, I look through all my photos for the day, then I get obsessed with editing them, then I start puttering on my blog, and the next thing I know, I’m sound asleep. Maybe trying to blog along the way isn’t such a great idea.
Normally I never even take a computer with me when I travel, and in the past I’ve never blogged as I’ve gone along. I’m getting further and further behind, but I must remember I’m on vacation and RELAX!! Whatever I don’t get to, I’ll do when I get home! 🙂
Sunday, June 30: After leaving Sagrada Familia, I hop back on the Barcelona Bus Turista. I simply intend to take the two-hour route without getting off. However, I see along the way that we pass Park Güell, and since I have quite a long time before my 6:00 time slot at La Perdrera, I decide to make a stop. I’m really happy I did, as this turns out to be one of my favorite Gaudí creations.
Park Güell is a garden complex with architectural elements situated on the hill of El Carmel in the Gracia district of Barcelona. It was designed by Gaudí and built in the years 1900 to 1914. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Works of Antoni Gaudí.” (Wikipedia: Park Güell)
The park was originally part of a commercially unsuccessful housing site. The site was a rocky hill with little vegetation and few trees, called Muntanya Pelada (Bare Mountain). (Wikipedia: Park Güell)
It has since been converted into a municipal garden. Park Güell is skillfully designed to bring peace and calm. The buildings flanking the entrance, though very original and remarkable with fantastically shaped roofs with unusual pinnacles, fit in well with the use of the park as pleasure gardens and seem relatively inconspicuous in the landscape when one considers the flamboyance of other buildings designed by Gaudí. (Wikipedia: Park Güell)
The intention was to exploit the fresh air (well away from smoky factories) and beautiful views by building luxury houses on sixty triangular lots. Count Eusebi Güell added to the prestige of the development by moving in 1906 to live in Larrard House. Ultimately, only two houses were built, neither designed by Gaudí. One was intended to be a show house, but on being completed in 1904 was put up for sale, and as no buyers came forward, Gaudí, at Güell’s suggestion, bought it with his savings and moved in with his family and his father in 1906. This house, where Gaudí lived from 1906 to 1926, was built by Francesc Berenguer in 1904. It contains original works by Gaudí and several of his collaborators. It is now the Gaudi House Museum (Casa Museu Gaudí) since 1963. In 1969 it was declared a historical artistic monument of national interest. (Wikipedia: Park Güell)
Roadways around the park to service the intended houses were designed by Gaudí as structures jutting out from the steep hillside or running on viaducts, with separate footpaths in arcades formed under these structures. This minimized the intrusion of the roads, and Gaudí designed them using local stone in a way that integrates them closely into the landscape. His structures echo natural forms, with columns like tree trunks supporting branching vaulting under the roadway. (Wikipedia: Park Güell)
Below is the only other house built in the park.
The focal point of the park is the main terrace, surrounded by a long bench in the form of a sea serpent. The curves of the serpent bench form a number of enclaves, creating a convivial atmosphere. Gaudí incorporated many motifs of Catalan nationalism, and elements from religious mysticism and ancient poetry, into the Park. (Wikipedia: Park Güell)
After walking all over this park and still only making a small dent its immensity, I traipse back down the hill and catch the Barcelona Bus Turista and sit enjoying the views for nearly another hour, until I get off at La Pedrera. Below is one of the cool houses we pass along the way. I love the architecture found throughout Barcelona, even if it wasn’t designed by Antoni Gaudí.
Sunday, June 30: I have a 1:00 advanced-purchase admission ticket to La Sagrada Familia, so I head there directly from Casa Batllo. I’m so happy I bought the ticket online, as the line to buy tickets reaches around the block. Since I get there a little before my appointed time slot, I have a Spanish ham pizza in the park across from the church.
According to Wikipedia, La Sagrada Família was begun on 19 March 1882 as a project by the diocesan architect Francisco de Paula del Villar (1828-1901). At the end of 1883 Gaudí was commissioned to carry on the works, a task which he did not abandon until his death in 1926. Since then different architects have continued the work after his original idea, combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms.
Gaudí’s original design calls for a total of eighteen spires, representing in ascending order of height the Twelve Apostles, the four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary, and, tallest of all, Jesus Christ. Eight spires were built as of 2010, corresponding to four apostles at the Nativity façade and four apostles at the Passion façade.
The Evangelists’ spires will be surmounted by sculptures of their traditional symbols: a bull (Saint Luke), a winged man (Saint Matthew, an eagle (Saint John), and a lion (Saint Mark). The central spire of Jesus Christ is to be surmounted by a giant cross; the spire’s total height (170 meters (560 ft)) will be one meter less than that of Montjuic hill in Barcelona as Gaudí believed that his creation should not surpass God’s. The lower spires are surmounted by communion hosts with sheaves of wheat and chalices with bunches of grapes, representing the Eucharist.
On the street across from Sagrada Familia are a number of artists displaying colorful paintings. Some of them seem to be absorbed in an intense game of chess.
The building is in the center of Barcelona, and over the years it has become one of the most universal signs of identity of the city and the country. It has always been an expiatory church, which means that since the outset, 131 years ago now, it has been built from donations. Gaudí himself said: “The expiatory church of La Sagrada Família is made by the people and is mirrored in them. It is a work that is in the hands of God and the will of the people.” The building is still going on and could be finished some time in the first third of the 21st century (La Sagrada Familia).
In contrast to the highly decorated Nativity Façade, the Passion Façade is austere, plain and simple, with ample bare stone, and is carved with harsh straight lines to resemble a skeleton if it were reduced to only bone. Dedicated to the Passion of Christ, the suffering of Jesus during his crucifixion, the façade was intended to portray the sins of man. Construction began in 1954, following the drawings and instructions left by Gaudí for future architects and sculptors. The towers were completed in 1976, and in 1987 a team of sculptors, headed by Josep Maria Subirachs, began work sculpting the various scenes and details of the façade. They aimed to give a rigid, angular form to provoke a dramatic effect. Gaudí intended for this façade to strike fear into the onlooker. He wanted to “break” arcs and “cut” columns, and to use the effect of chiaroscuro (dark angular shadows contrasted by harsh rigid light) to further show the severity and brutality of Christ’s sacrifice(Wikipedia: Sagrada Família).
The Passion Facade is my favorite, as I find the Nativity Facade on the other side of the church too closely resembles Gothic, not my favorite architectural style. The Passion Facade, though too linear and harsh to be Romanesque, resembles that style in its simplicity.
Inside, the church plan is that of a Latin cross with five aisles. The central nave vaults reach forty-five metres (150 ft) while the side nave vaults reach thirty metres (100 ft). Gaudí intended that a visitor standing at the main entrance be able to see the vaults of the nave, crossing, and apse; thus the graduated increase in vault loft (Wikipedia: Sagrada Família) .
Walking into this church, I find I am awestruck by the immensity and by the height, which represents to me man’s immense efforts to reach God. It literally brings tears to my eyes.
Although incomplete, the church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in November 2010 was consecrated and proclaimed a minor basilica by Pope Benedict XVI. As it is not the seat of a bishop, it is incorrect to refer to it as a cathedral.
Constructed between 1894 and 1930, the Nativity Façade was the first façade to be completed. Dedicated to the birth of Jesus, it is decorated with scenes reminiscent of elements of life. Characteristic of Gaudí’s naturalistic style, the sculptures are ornately arranged and decorated with scenes and images from nature.
The façade faces the rising sun to the northeast, a symbol for the birth of Christ. It is divided into three porticos, each of which represents a theological virtue (Hope, Faith and Charity). The Tree of Life rises above the door of Jesus in the portico of Charity. Four towers complete the façade and are each dedicated to a Saint (Wikipedia: Sagrada Família).
Gaudí devoted his last years to the project, and at the time of his death at age 73 in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete. Sagrada Família’s construction progressed slowly, as it relied on private donations and was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War—only to resume intermittent progress in the 1950s. Construction passed the midpoint in 2010 with some of the project’s greatest challenges remaining. It is anticipated it will be completed in 2026—the centennial of Gaudí’s death. The basílica has a long history of dividing the citizens of Barcelona—over the initial possibility it might compete with Barcelona’s cathedral, over Gaudí’s design itself, over the possibility that work after Gaudí’s death disregarded his design, and the recent possibility that an underground tunnel of Spain’s high-speed rail link to France could disturb its stability. (Wikipedia: La Sagrada Familia)
This is an immense and amazing church and a great monument to God.
When objections were raised as to the extended completion date of the Sagrada Familia, Gaudí said: “Don´t worry, my client isn´t in a hurry.” (Sagrada Familia: Gaudi Quotes)
Sunday, June 30: This morning, I get a late start. I sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast on the patio (including sliced bananas drizzled with chocolate and a potato quiche) and work on my blog and check emails. I’m going out today to take the blue line on Barcelona Bus Turista, which encompasses all the Gaudí attractions on the north side of the city. Before I go, I’ve heard it’s best to get tickets online to avoid waiting in lines. As I start to buy all the tickets online, I realize my debit card from the USA, the one that holds most of the money for my trip, expires today, June 30!!
Now, I used to be a banker for 12 years, and I know how to deal with money issues. I took every precaution before coming here, including calling my banks, for both credit and debit cards, to inform them of my travel plans. I made photocopies of all my cards with phone numbers to call in case a card is stolen. I keep my Bank Muscat card in one place, by BB&T cards in another place, and my Barclay Card in yet another place. I wear a money belt under my clothes with one card and most of my cash; my wallet contains only cash I need for the day and one card. So you see I’m a very thorough person when it comes to money issues while traveling.
So how on earth did I overlook this expiration date on my card??
Lucky for me, I also have a debit card for Mike’s and my joint account, which I never use as we have been separated for so long. I can luckily transfer money from my account to this joint account. But now I have one less payment method if I lose a card. Duh. What a dunce.
Anyway, I use my card to buy tickets for Sagrada de Familia, Casa Batllo, and La Perdrera, all quite expensive! Then I determine that I will get as much cash out of my account as I can today, while my card is still good. As of tomorrow, it will be useless.
It isn’t until 11:00 that I finally make it out of the hotel. I leave my neighborhood, L’Eixample,Barcelona’s 19th century answer to overcrowding in the medieval city (Lonely Planet Spain). L’Eixample was inhabited from the start by the city’s middle classes and that remains broadly the case. It’s home to many Modernista creations.
I head to Gracia, north of L’Eixample. It has a Catalan feel with its narrow streets, small plazas and multitudes of bars and restaurants. Casa Batlló, one of Gaudi’s masterpieces, is in Gracia. Luckily it’s not far from my hotel, just about 5 blocks, so I walk rather than take the bus.
Casa Batlló’s Modernist façade is sprinkled with bits of blue, mauve and green tiles, and graced with wave-shaped window frames and balconies. It rises to an uneven blue-tiled roof with a solitary tower. Inside the main salon, everything swirls; the ceiling is twisted like a snail around a sun-like lamp. The doors and windows are waves of wood and colorful glass. (Lonely Planet Spain).
The patio of the house has some interesting mosaics.
I love the oval mosaic samples and the round photos of Gaudí’s work that make up the wall decor.
The central well of the house welcomes light into the interior.
The roof is covered with mosaic-covered chimney pots.
According to Casa Batlló’s website, the building is a key feature in modernist Barcelona’s architecture. It was built by Antoni Gaudí between 1904 and 1906, having been commissioned by the textile industrialist Josep Batlló. The “Manzana de la Discordia”, or Block of Discord, is a series of buildings in Passeig de Gràcia. Casa Batlló is only one in this collection of buildings by renowned architects.
The house that is today known as Casa Batlló was built between 1875 and 1877 by Emilio Salas Cortés, who, incidentally, was one of Gaudí’s teachers. It was a sober and classical building with a basement, a ground floor, four upper floors and a garden behind the house.
The building was bought by the textile businessman Josep Batlló and his wife in 1900. The original house was of no particular architectural interest; however, its location in the middle of Passeig de Gràcia, which was a very fashionable and prestigious area, made it a desirable dwelling. Being a distinguished family, they wanted to stand out from the crowd, and to do this they wished to build a spectacular house.
In order to realize this ambitious project, Josep Batlló decided to contact an architect who was different, who was an innovator. The one he selected was Antonio Gaudí. His initial orders were to knock down the original building and to build a new one from scratch. Gaudí, however, managed to convince Josep Batlló that this was not necessary, and that renovation would be sufficient. In November 1904, when Gaudí was 52 years old and at the height of his professional maturity, the planning application was submitted.
The building works were completed in 1906. Gaudí carried out a full refurbishment of the building using innovative techniques and with total creative freedom. Gaudí modified the main facade and added the balconies and the main gallery. In the interior of the house, he transformed the main apartment, which was the Batlló family’s residence, expanded the central well to supply the entire building with light, and added new floors. He also crowned the house with what appears to be the spine of an animal. The roof represents Sant Jordi (St. George) and the dragon.
In the same year the Barcelona City Council selected the house as a candidate for the 1906 award for the best building. In the end this prize went to another architect, probably because the same prize had recently been awarded to Gaudí for another house, Casa Calvet.
In 1934, Josep Batlló died. In 1940, his wife, Amalia Godó, died. Following the death of the two parents, Casa Batlló passed to their children.
In 1970, the first refurbishment of Casa Batlló took place. In 2002, as part of the International Year of Gaudí, Casa Batlló began a new line of business: cultural visits to the Noble Floor, the former dwelling of the Batlló family. For the first time, Casa Batlló opened its doors to the public, and the initiative was met with a wholly unanticipated success. (Casa Batllo)
Later this afternoon, when the sun is brightly shining, I take another picture of Casa Batlló. I adore this house!
Saturday, June 29: I get off the Barcelona Bus Turista back in the heart of the city to explore a bit of La Ribera, cut off from the Gothic Quarter, Barri Gòtic , by Via Laietana, which was constructed in 1908. La Ribera was once the commercial center of medieval Barcelona. I’m headed for the Esglesia de Santa Maria del Mar, which opens onto Passeig del Born, a plaza that once was home to medieval jousting tournaments. The Gothic church was built in the 14th century. It was always a simple church, lacking the ornate decoration of most Gothic churches, and when the anarchists gutted it in 1909 and 1936, it was simplified further. I love its lofty open spaces, fine proportions and simple interior design.
I love labyrinthine streets like these in any European city. I enjoy looking up at the wrought iron balconies, hung with laundry, brimming with plants, or occupied by elderly ladies in flowered house dresses holding fluffy dogs. I always like to imagine myself living in one of these flats. 🙂
I stop for una cerveza in a colorful little cafe reminiscent of Gaudi.
While seated at the cafe, I look out at the little square and I see some extra-large people proceeding down the street with no fanfare at all.
And of course, more intriguing balconies. I wonder what life is like in those flats with their romantic balconies?
When I return to bcn fashion house, I find Matt ensconced on the patio working away at his computer. He says he spent all day here because his paper about the conference he attended is due when he returns to work on Monday. He apologizes for not showing up for breakfast; he tells me he went back out after we came back and ended up getting lost and unable to find the hotel for 1 ½ hours. Then he slept in this morning. Oh dear. There’s that bit of wild streak I talked about earlier. Anyway, he gives me his card and I promise to put Adam in touch with him regarding his institute and his work as a food scientist.
I relax for a bit in my room, drinking an Estrella beer and looking through my pictures. Then I put on a clean skirt and top and head out to Casa Alfonso, a couple of blocks away, for a glass of wine and a light dinner. While I wait for my dinner, the waiter brings me fresh bread with some kind of red sauce drizzled on top. I ask the waiter what it is, and he tells me it is tomato juice mixed with olive oil. It’s delicious. I also order a light appetizer of jacket potatoes with green asparagus and Romesco sauce. I delve right into the food, destroying the artistic presentation, before I remember that I should have taken a picture. Ah! Food is so ephemeral for a foodie such as myself. I need to remember to pause and enjoy the art of it all before I start stuffing it into my mouth.
Saturday, June 29: I get off next at the Fundació Joan Miró, the museum dedicated to the work of Spanish painter, sculptor and ceramicist Joan Miró i Ferrà (April 20, 1893 – December 25, 1983), established in the artist’s native city in 1975.
His work has been interpreted as Surrealism, a sandbox for the subconscious mind, a re-creation of the childlike, and a source of Catalan pride. In numerous interviews dating from the 1930s onwards, Miró expressed contempt for conventional painting methods as a way of supporting bourgeois society, and famously declared an “assassination of painting” in favor of upsetting the visual elements of established painting. (Wikipedia: Joan Miró)
I can’t help but think as I look at Miró’s paintings and sculptures that they seem very childlike. I am not at all artistic myself, but I feel I could produce paintings similar to his. I daresay no one would call such work by me “art.” I don’t really have much interest in Miró’s work, but I make the stop to see the museum because it’s on the route and is a place of importance in Catalan culture. I’m also disappointed that no photographs are allowed inside the museum. I can understand the prohibition against flash photography as light can damage art, but I’m always baffled by rules against photography in museums.
After the museum, I take a short walk through the Jardins de Laribal, where I find this sculpture.
And then a parting shot of the museum.
My next stop on the Barcelona Bus Turista is Castell de Montjuïc. In order to get to the castle, you can either walk up a long steep incline or you can take the Teleferic de Montjuïc for 10.30 euros round-trip. I think the fee is exorbitant, but I’m exhausted after my journey through the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, so I pay the hefty price. The views of Barcelona are amazing from the Teleferic; I can see Sagrada de Familia poking its spires well above the rest of the city. Barcelona doesn’t seem to be a city of skyscrapers; there are only a few on the horizon. I like that about the city, along with its red rooftops and its location by the Mediterranean Sea.
Montjuïc Castle was first built in 1640 and then rebuilt over the centuries numerous times. It was used as a prison and execution site by various governments, including the Republicans during the Civil War and Franco thereafter (Lonely Planet Spain).
In the 1890s, the workers involved in the wave of anarchist violence were locked up here. In 1919, more than 3,000 workers were jailed because of the Canadenca conflict. It was filled with right-wing prisoners in 1936, and between 1936 and 1938, in addition to continuing as a prison, 173 people were executed by firing squad. Also executed was the President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, Lluís Companys, on 15 October 1940.
The castle remained a military prison till 1960, when it was ceded to the city under the direction and administration of the army. After three year’s work to refurbish the complex as a military museum, on 24 June 1963, Francisco Franco presided over the inauguration. (Castell de Montjuic)
From the top of the castle, Barcelona Port spreads out beneath us. Apparently, Barcelona is now the busiest port for cruise ship traffic in Europe.
Saturday, June 29: Last night Matt asked if I wanted to meet him for breakfast at 8:30. When morning comes, I don’t really feel like getting up, but I go out to the patio for breakfast only to remember it isn’t served until 9:00. I return at 9 to still find no sign of him. As a matter of fact, I eat my entire breakfast and leave for the day without ever seeing him. It’s okay; he’s young and I figure he probably slept in. Anyway, I want to do my thing today and I don’t know if he might invite himself along; it would be nice to have his company, but I find it hard to really absorb what I’m seeing when someone else is along.
I decide to take the Barcelona Bus Turistic at a cost of 28 euros for 2 days. Today I’ll go to the south of the city to see Montjuïc on the red line. Tomorrow I’ll do the north side on the blue line. It’s like many city bus tours, where you can hop off anywhere along the line that you want, and then hop back on whenever you’re ready. I love these kinds of tours when I first arrive in a city because it gives me the lay of the land. Also, it takes care of a lot of logistics and is informative as well.
Montjuïc means Jewish Mountain. The name indicates there was one a Jewish cemetery, and possibly settlement, here.
The Parc de Montjuïc occupies a hill overlooking the port, offering a plethora of green areas and gardens, museums and cultural attractions, sports facilities and Olympic sites.
Montjuïc Hill has borne witness to, and been the focus of key events that have shaped its personality. The first such event was the 1929 International Exhibition held in Barcelona which fostered the zone’s development. More recently, the 1992 Olympic Games brought about major renewal.
Montjuïc is also home to museums, such as the Fundació Miró, the Museu d’Arqueologia, the Museu Etnològic and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya-MNAC. The latter, which is housed in the Palau Nacional, the centerpiece of the 1929 exhibition, holds 1,000 years of Catalan art.
The Olympic Ring, the main site of the Olympic Games, features the stadium and a the telecommunications tower designed by Santiago Calatrava, among other things. I don’t really care about the Olympic sites, but intend mainly to see Fundació Miró and Montjuïc Castle, where many people were imprisoned and killed during and after the Spanish Civil War (Barcelona Turisme: Parc de Montjuic).
When the bus stops at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya-MNAC , housed in the stunning Palau Nacional, I hop off the bus because the guide says that there are amazing views of Barcelona from here. On the steps, a Spanish guitarist is playing passionately away. The views are stupendous. I can see the whole of the city, the Mediterranean, Sagrada de Familia and the surrounding hills. I had no intention of going into the museum, but now that I’m here, I think it’s a waste not to check it out. I doubt I’ll be coming back to Montjuïc during my stay in Barcelona. So I pay the hefty fee and go inside. It’s huge and has collections of art from Catalonia through the centuries, ranging from Medieval / Romanesque Art, to Gothic Art, to Renaissance and Baroque, to Modern and Contemporary.
The star collection is the Romanesque Art. I don’t know why, but I adore the amazing mural paintings, most of which came from Romanesque churches in the Pyrenees. The collection is made up of works from the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries and includes richly painted panels, wood carvings (especially frontal altars), metalwork and stone sculpture. This is my favorite collection by far in the museum. I feel incredibly moved by these kinds of murals, because of their simplicity and rich colors, much more so than the paintings from the Gothic period, which I pass quickly by.
The extensive Gothic Art section contains interesting material such as works by Catalan painters Bernat Martorell and Jaume Huguet.
There is also a famous Fortuny painting called “The Battle of Tetuan.” Despite the artist’s inability to finish the painting, it has become an icon of Catalan culture. According to Wikipedia, the Battle of Tetuan was fought near Tetuan, Morocco between a Spanish army sent to North Africa and the tribal levies comprising the Moroccan Army in 1860. The battle was part of the Spanish-Moroccan war of 1859-1860 (Wikipedia: Battle of Tétouan).
Works by Picasso, Ramon Casas, Joaquim Mir, Santiago Rusinol, and other Spanish Modernista artists are included in the Modern collection. (Lonely Planet)
After lingering in the Romanesque and Modern collections, and rushing through Gothic and Renaissance, and enjoying the views of Barcelona from the museum’s grounds, I hop back on the bus and head to the Fundació Miró. On the way, I can see the museum I just left, standing proudly above the tree tops.
On our way we also pass by the Olympic Stadium (yawn!) and the telecommunications tower (yawn again!).
Friday, June 28: My flight arrives in Barcelona at 3 p.m. It still looks pretty cloudy as we start our descent. We go through some shaky moments as we drop into some huge cloud banks. However, by the time we actually touch down at the airport, the sun is shining and we’re told by the captain that it’s about 25 degrees (75 F) and a beautiful day in Barcelona. Yay!
During the flight I sit next to an Argentinian guy named Matteo, who lives in Chicago and works for Deloitte in “transfer pricing.” I don’t know exactly what that is, despite the fact that I used to be a banker and a stockbroker. He asks where I’m staying in the city and I tell him. After he looks at the address, he says, “That’s a great location. It’s right in the center of everything. You should take the shuttle bus with me!” I have been so worried about Barcelona’s reputation as the pickpocket capital of the world that I had intended to take a taxi directly to the door of the hotel. People had warned me that people hauling their suitcases are often targeted. But Matteo assures me it’s a very busy part of town, lots of people everywhere, and if I wait for him, he’ll show me how to do it. It will cost around 6 euros as opposed to 25-30 for a taxi. I decide I’ll be brave and heed his advice. He’s so nice to take me under his wing. Sadly, after all the luggage has arrived, his is conspicuously absent. I wait for him to register his missing bag with Lost Luggage. They track it down and tell him it will arrive on the next flight, whenever that is. 🙂
He says he’s getting off the shuttle one stop before the final stop, Plaza de Catalunya, but he instructs me to get off there and walk five minutes. It turns out to be almost as easy as he says, other than the fact the sign on BCN Fashion House is the size of a a paperback book on a very nondescript door and I walk past it several times wondering where the heck it is.
It turns out BCNFashion Houseis an elegant bed and breakfast in a modernist house that dates from the early 1900s. Matteo is right that it’s in the center of everything, in the heart of the charming L’Eixample neighborhood, close to Paseo de Gracia, Plaza Cataluña, Las Ramblas and the Barri Gotic.
BCN Fashion House started after a trip to India with the name of Casa Ganesh Guest House. The owners have incorporated the oriental spirit into the house, with several Buddha and Ganesh statues, lush greenery on the patio, and other items the owners have collected on their travels.
My room is spacious, bright and comfortable, with hand-carved ceilings 4.5 meters high, equipped with heating and air conditioning, and furnished in the same style of the whole house. All the rooms of Fashion House B&B have either a balcony, veranda or terrace. I have a balcony, which I love.
The common areas of the bed and breakfast are intimate and comfortable: a spacious living room with an ancient marble fireplace, comfy sofas and armchairs and a large gardened terrace equipped with tables, chairs, hammocks, umbrellas and plants (BCN Fashion House: Spirit).
After I pay my bill, settle in for my 5-night stay, and take a shower, I go out to the patio and say a hello to a young man who is sitting there drinking a can of Estrella beer that he bought from a vending machine in the common area. I first assume he is a friend of Francesco, who runs reception at the hotel. But we start a little conversation and it turns out he is here alone, having attended a conference earlier in the day. His flight back to Germany was cancelled because of a strike at his airline, so he now will be staying until Sunday morning.
As he lived in Connecticut for a year, while getting his Master’s degree at Yale, his English is excellent. He’s also quite a brilliant young man, at 31, as he did a 3-year apprenticeship with a chef, and then got his Master’s degree at Yale in food science. Later, he got a Ph.D. from a school in Germany in a similar field. He now works as a food scientist at the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology in the Department of Environmental and Food Analysis. It all sounds quite impressive to me. He’s very passionate about his work. He introduces himself as Matthias, but since all the Americans he knows are unable to pronounce his name, he tells me to call him Matt.
He asks if he can come out with me tonight in whatever I’m doing. I say sure, that would be great. He’s very charming, companionable, and easy to talk to, about any subject. He tells me all about his work and how he feels quite proud that he isolated a particular protein while at Yale, even though he downplays its importance as there are tens of thousands of proteins and he only isolated one. Of course, I’m not at all scientific so I don’t have a clue what he’s talking about! He has a girlfriend, Iris, of 12 years; they have been living together for 6 months in the middle of nowhere near Cologne, Germany. He loved the camaraderie he developed with his colleagues at Yale during his year in Connecticut; he says no one ever shares their ideas in Germany.
We decide we will just walk until we feel like stopping for a drink. Instead of heading south on La Rambla, we head north on Gracia. We pass by Gaudi’s Casa Batllo and La Perdera. These masterpiece buildings of Gaudi’s just sit along the street like any other house; I guess I was expecting them to be set aside somehow. I think the organic looking balconies on La Perdera really work, even though they seem a little dark and scary. Matt thinks they look like some of the proteins he works with. I don’t take any pictures at this point, as I can’t concentrate on photography when engaged in conversation with someone. Neither do I feel like disrupting our talk to take pictures. I know I have four full days here, so I’ll have plenty of time for pictures when I actually visit these places.
As we’re walking, we see something happening inside the gated garden of a fancy building. We poke our head in and find people sitting on chairs around a stage. There’s music playing and we can’t see over the heads of the people standing at the periphery, so we first think it’s a musical performance. Then we see that it’s a fashion show. The first models are men. The clothes are futuristic; the first model is wearing what looks like a Peter Pan outfit with a piece of Kraft Singles cheese tied around his waist. The second one is wearing what looks like a woven two-sided bib and rose-colored pants. We watch for a bit and then decide to move on. Just as we start to leave, a girl comes out wearing a navy blue dress that is totally slit down the side, showing a side glimpse of her naked body underneath. Matt says, “Now that’s what I like to see!” He wants to stay a bit longer after that glimpse of breast, but as the other girls come out, each one is increasingly covered. Matt’s ready to leave when one girl walks out wearing about 10 layers as if it’s the middle of winter.
We stop at a sidewalk café and Matt orders dos cervezas, por favor. We talk and talk, and suddenly it dawns on me that my son Adam, who is quite mathematically and scientifically brilliant, and who loves issues of organic food and sustainable development, might be interested in exploring Matt’s line of work. I tell Matt all about Adam and Matt says to put Adam in touch with him; he is often able to invite students to his Institute to do study or research projects. I’m very excited about this possibility and so determine to get Matt’s contact information when we return to the hotel. I tell Matt I think sometimes fate throws two people together for a reason and maybe that’s why I’ve met him, to eventually be able to connect my son with him.
After a while we finish our beers and walk back in the opposite direction, south, toward La Rambla, a broad pedestrian boulevard lined with restaurants and cafes. It caters mostly to tourists, but it looks to me like there are plenty of locals there. La Rambla gets its name from a seasonal stream (raml in Arabic) that once ran here (Lonely Planet Spain).
We take a different street back. I love the pedestrianized streets of this area of Barcelona. All of these were apparently created during the 1992 Summer Olympics, which were hosted by the city. The city went through a great transformation in those years leading up to the Olympics.
I start to get hungry after a while, so we stop at another sidewalk café in La Rambla where I order a trio of hot and cold tapas and a glass of red wine. Matt doesn’t eat but has another cerveza. I enjoy smoked salmon wrapped in goat cheese, cheese croquettes and something else I’ve already forgotten; all are delicious! Matt ate a big lunch at his conference today, so he doesn’t feel like eating. The atmosphere is lovely. I’m surprised when I look at my watch and find that it’s 9:30 and it’s still light! No wonder Europeans can enjoy the café culture so much; they have many more hours in the day to do it!
We continue our conversation; Matt shows me pictures of Iris and talks about how beautiful she is and how much he loves her. He says they’re very passionate about each other. They haven’t made any plans for marriage because they’re both focused on their work now. Iris is a middle school teacher. I tell him there’s no rush, they’re young. We also talk about the difficulties of marriage and about my two that have both failed.
Matt smokes thin cigars and I ask him if he smokes while at home in Germany and he says never. I get the feeling that he has a bit of a wild streak in him that maybe only comes out when he’s away from home. After we return to the hotel close to 11:00, we go our separate ways; I find out later that he went back out again by himself and was out for hours.
I love it when I travel and I meet up randomly with someone who’s so much fun. What a lucky thing for me! Though I didn’t have much time today in Barcelona, it was a great first evening.
Thursday, June 27: I meet Abudullah from the University of Nizwa at Immigration so he can take my Omani residence card and cancel my visa. He’s very nice about it; it’s simply something that must be done by order of the Royal Omani Police. Workers must be escorted out of the country once their contracts are finished.
In the terminal, I have a long conversation with Sarah, a 29-year-old teacher at one of the other colleges in Nizwa. Their recruiter wasn’t able to commit to renewing anyone’s contracts, so she applied at the Sultan’s new Military College and got a job. So she’s off to a month in Victoria, Canada and another month in England and Scotland before she returns to work there. She’s completed her first year in Oman, and spent the preceding 5 years teaching in Japan. We talk about how difficult it is to return home after being an expat. We’ve both experienced reverse culture shock, where we try to assimilate back into our own culture and find difficulties (six months of reverse culture shock). She says, and I agree, that when we try to tell people back home about our experiences, we always have to give cultural context, and often no one really cares to listen. They can’t relate and we find we can’t relate to them. We are both a little nervous about being home again.
When I settle into my aisle seat on British Airways, I pull the blanket around me like a cocoon and start drifting off. I don’t know what it is about first getting on an airplane, maybe the soft spray of mist into the cabin, the sound of the plane’s engines at a lull, the knowledge that I’m in for the long haul, but whenever I get on an airplane I start getting sleepy.
Friday, June 28: It doesn’t take long before we’re in the air, on schedule at 12:01 a.m. It seems I hear some mention about refreshments and I see, as if in a dream, an air hostess carrying a small tray with plastic cups of juice and water. For some reason she passes me by. I thought I heard word about a snack, but I’m never offered any. I just drift, in and out and in and out. I’m so exhausted from: getting up at the crack of dawn; packing up the rest of my stuff in my flat; dropping off my key by noon at the university; mailing a final 8 kg box from the Central Post Office at the exorbitant rate of 57 rials ($150); sitting in a coffee shop and waiting till my 4:00 pedicure and eyebrow threading (during which I also drift off); stopping at City Center to look in vain for a strapless bra and then buying a larger (and purple!) suitcase at Carrefour. I feel sweaty and disheveled and wiped out. It also didn’t help that I had to make a stop again at the quiet parking lot of the Central Post Office to put my new suitcase on the asphalt beside my smaller old bulging one and transfer all my belongings from the old to the new in the 45 C heat and humidity of Muscat. Then I tossed my old red suitcase in an Oman Arab Bank dumpster. I don’t know what is with me and my luggage dilemmas while traveling. 🙂
We fly to Abu Dhabi where me make an hour stop but don’t get off the plane. The plane is nearly empty from Muscat to Abu Dhabi, but it becomes a full house once we make our stop. Then we’re off for a 7 hour flight to London Heathrow, during which I luckily sleep a somewhat restless sleep for about 4 hours.
When I wake up I look for a movie I might watch and I find Argo with Ben Affleck. The story line, directly from IMDb: Argo (2012): In 1979, the American embassy in Iran was invaded by Iranian revolutionaries and several Americans were taken hostage. However, six managed to escape to the official residence of the Canadian Ambassador and the CIA was eventually ordered to get them out of the country. With few options, exfiltration expert Tony Mendez devised a daring plan: to create a phony Canadian film project looking to shoot in Iran and smuggle the Americans out as its production crew. With the help of some trusted Hollywood contacts, Mendez created the ruse and proceeded to Iran as its associate producer. However, time was running out with the Iranian security forces closing in on the truth while both his charges and the White House had grave doubts about the operation themselves.
I LOVE this movie! It’s so exciting. At the end, the Iranians are slowly piecing together that these six “Canadian filmmakers” are really the Americans who escaped from the embassy; at the same time the Americans are trying to clear immigration and get on the plane. They get on the plane, the plane is cleared for take-off, and the Iranian authorities are crashing through gates to get on that runway and stop that plane. Finally, the plane lifts into the air, Iranian police cars at full chase but left behind on the ground. It’s only once the plane clears Iranian airspace that finally the six can rejoice that they escaped.
Now I know that my experience of leaving Oman is nothing like this, because Oman is a lovely country really, even though it’s not my cup of tea. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but feel a small connection with these escaping Americans as they got on that plane and took off to the safety of their own world. I felt: “YES!! GO!!! YES!! They made it!!” And I have to admit I felt a little relief myself when my plane took off from the Gulf, bringing me back to my Western roots.
We arrive at 6:15 a.m. at Heathrow. It’s rainy and cloudy in London, which, now that I think about it, is the only way I’ve ever seen London. Ahead of me, I have a 5 hour layover.
So what to do for 5 hours in terminal 5? Drink coffee? And drink more coffee? If it were 6 p.m. instead of 6 a.m. I’d be having a glass of wine, but I think the early morning is a tad bit early to start drinking. It’s a pain to walk around carrying my new purple Samsonite duffel bag stuffed with my Apple MacBook Pro, its heavy power cord, a Kindle, other electronic hookups, a change of clothes, shoes, pajamas and underwear. Sadly, I failed in my earlier attempt to find a carry-on with wheels that fits on top of my larger bag, so now I have to bear the weight. It’s freaking heavy!! I sit in a waiting area to use the 45 minutes of free internet that Heathrow allows, but I find my computer battery is almost dead, so I walk around (lugging that damn bag) to find somewhere to charge the computer. I use my internet to check emails and post my whereabouts on Facebook, as if anyone but me really cares (!), then my internet expires so I go to Starbucks to drink a caramel macchiato and watch the planes taxiing about on the tarmac.
I see a “noodle bar” and a bunch of giraffes on the level above me, so I set out to explore, lugging that unwieldy burden of a bag.
I love giraffes so much that I once told my husband I would love to open a restaurant called “Giraffio’s.” 🙂
After checking out the Giraffe cafe, and still having hours ahead of me (the flight is now delayed from 11:15 to 11:45!), I see a store that says “Rolling luggage.” Rolling luggage? 🙂 Do I dare to look since I just bought this Samsonite bag, thinking it was the answer to my dilemma, last weekend in Muscat for $150? It can’t hurt to check it out, right? I ask the saleslady, and lo and behold, they have just the thing I was envisioning from the start but couldn’t find. Oh dear. I tell her I don’t know if all my stuff will fit in it, but if it does, it would be so perfect. She says, “Let’s try!” She starts helping me move everything into this new miracle bag. It fits! Ouch. Now if I don’t buy it, I have to move the stuff all back again into the other bag. If I do buy it, then what do I do with this other Samsonite duffel bag that I just bought? And the cost…. $312!! But. It’s so nice! And so light! See what happens when I have too much time on my hands and too many stores around? I walk away with it and determine I’ll stuff the Samsonite bag into my suitcase when I pick it up in Barcelona! I know, I know: what a lunatic I am. What can I say in defense of myself? Absolutely nothing.
Finally at about 12:30 p.m., we’re on the plane and taking off, through the rain and the clouds and, alas, we break through to blue skies. The flight captain talks about the dreary weather in London but promises fair weather is ahead in Barcelona. 🙂
Tuesday, June 11: I’ve planned my time in Spain, but, so far, I haven’t even begun to think of Portugal. I know I better start thinking about it soon because I have to fly out of Lisbon on July 25.
Here’s my itinerary so far.
June 28-July 3: Barcelona, Spain, including Montserrat. I’m staying at BCN Fashion House: (bcn fashion house)
I decided to skip Madrid altogether.
July 3-6: Toledo, Spain. I’ll be staying at La Posada de Manolo. Last summer when I was traveling in Greece, I met an inspiring South African lady, Marie-Claire. She had come to Greece after traveling all over Europe, but especially in Spain and Portugal. She highly recommended I stay more than one day in Toledo. Since I have a small group tour lined up in Andalucia from July 6-12, I booked 3 days/4 nights in Toledo.
Meet at Malaga Airport and subject to arrival time, spend a few hours in Mijas, a lovely mountain village overlooking the Mediterranean, then travel and check in to the Villa.
Breakfast and travel to Seville. Visit the Santa Maria Park to see the amazing Plaza Espana, the site of the American Exhibition of 1929. Walk from the park past some of Seville’s most historic buildings to the Barrio Santa Cruz. Wander through the narrow lanes of the Barrio and take a delicious tapas lunch ‘Seville style’ in one of the lovely small Plazas. In the afternoon visit the largest Cathedral in the world followed by the fabulous Alcazar, one of the oldest Royal Palaces in Europe. An elegant City, Seville was once one of the wealthiest in Europe.
Breakfast and travel to Ronda. One the way, we stop at the historic site of Teba Castle, scene of a famous battle with the Moors. In Ronda we walk you into the town and leave you by the magnificent bridge over the gorge to explore and sightsee on your own. Maybe take a ride around the old town in horse-drawn carriages and wonder at the sheer magnificence of the town perched along the cliff top of the Tajo gorge. Wander through the elegant narrow streets of the old town and visit some of the magnificent houses and the museum of Ronda. Visit the famous Ronda bullring home of the Matador and the oldest in Spain, now a museum.
Breakfast and travel to Malaga. On the way we visit the spectacular El Torcal National Park. Set high in the mountains there is a 45 minute walk through the amazing limestone formations. Arriving in Malaga at lunch hour we go to one of the great value seafood Chiringuitos by the sea. Sample fantastic sardines barbequed on an olive wood fire next to the Mediterranean. We take you into the centre of Malaga near the Cathedral and leave you to explore the town, maybe visiting the magnificent Cathedral, the large Moorish Alcazaba and Roman Theatre. And don’t forget the Picasso Museum since Picasso was born locally and his parents’ house is now the Picasso Foundation and open for visits.
Breakfast and travel to Cordoba. We walk through the old City Walls and into the pretty Barrio San Basilio and see one of the typical patios that Cordoba is famous for. The Royal Stables shows us some of the famous Andalucian horses in a lovely set of buildings. Onto the Christian Alcazar, nowhere near as grand as Seville, but designed in the Mudajar style, a fusion of Moorish and Christian Gothic and the scene of famous historic events including the planning of the voyage of Columbus. The 1,000 year old Arab baths built for the Caliphs remind us of a society long gone and we wander through the Juderia visiting the old Jewish Market & the Synagogue. A great tapas lunch in the Bodega Mesquita followed by the highlight of the day, the spectacular Mesquita, the greatest Mosque in the Western World and the only one with a Cathedral right in the centre of it. The famous Puente Romano bridge awaits demonstrating why Cordoba was the capital of the Roman empire in the Iberian Peninsula.
Breakfast and travel to Granada. Normally the highlight of our tour, we walk into the Bib Rambla, part of the old Silk Market and now the Flower Market of Granada. Here we suggest you sample some of the best Chocolate and Churros in Andalucia. Walking through the square we pass the Bishops Palace and walk into the Alcaiceria, the well-preserved old silk market. The Royal Chapel, commissioned as the burial site for the famous ‘Catholic Monarchs’ Ferdinand and Isabella, is now a museum and worth a visit. The beautiful Cathedral is one of the lightest inside that you will see. Have a light lunch and then we drive up to the Alhambra to spend a few hours wandering the gardens and buildings before entering the amazing Nasrid Palaces. After the visit we drive around the City and up to the top of the atmospheric Albaycin where we have dinner at Jardines de Zoraya who host an excellent Flamenco performance with local talented young musicians and dancers. A five-minute ‘after dinner’ walk takes us to the viewing point at San Nichols where we see the beauty of the Alhambra lit up at night set against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Breakfast and, subject to departure flight times, we visit the historic City of Antequera, home of the impressive 5,000 year old Dolmens and the first Alcazaba to fall in the reconquest of the kingdom of Granada. Return to Malaga Airport.
July 12-14: After my tour, I’ve been invited to spend two nights with Marianne, and her husband, of East of Málaga …. and more!. She lives in the countryside (el campo), in a beautiful area east of Málaga, known as La Axarquía. I’m really excited to meet a fellow blogger who now makes her home in the south of Spain.
July 14-25: Heading to Portugal. I think I will try to rent a car in Malaga and just take off toward Portugal, ending up my last four nights around Lisbon. While in Lisbon, I want to go to Obidos and Sintra, both highly recommended by my friend and fellow traveler, Marie-Claire. I also want to explore the Alfama in Lisbon. No specific plans for Portugal yet, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something before I leave Oman. 🙂