The Sun Setting over a House of Bones

Trip Start Sep 07, 2010
Trip End Aug 21, 2011

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Flag of Spain  , Catalonia,
Saturday, November 13, 2010

After overdosing on Spanish television the night before, we made our way back to downtown Barcelona. First stop: Barrio Gótico, or the Gothic Quarter. This is officially the "old part" of Barcelona, and many of the buildings in this district remain from Medieval times.  The streets here are especially narrow and winding, unlike “new” Barcelona is the very nicely grided (like a proper American city), something you will never find in England.  The pedestrain only area contains many unique sights of architecture.

One of the most striking buildings in the Barrio Gótico is the Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia (or, The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia) built in the 14th century. It is a massive church with numerous memorials to various saints.  It also has a cloister, that contains even more memorials and a fountain in the center which was full of geese.  We meandered through much of the Barrio Gótico, enjoying its archetecture before setting off for lunch.  We stopped for “tapas” for lunch, which is basically just appetizers, but you can order 3 or 4 in a special combo type deal and make a meal of itself.

From there, we made our way back to the coastline across Port Vell (or, Old Port in English) to La Barceloneta.  La Barceloneta is a beachfront neighborhood along the Mediterrean, but Barceloneta also refers to the beach itself.  The neighborhood was formerly a very poor area of town (which I find hard to believe, being beach-front and all), but it's starting to improve.  The beach itself is famed for its sand (seeing as how England is simply rocks, I liked it as well), and it was voted World’s Best Beach according to the Discovery Channel.  The sands also are home to a few notable works of art including the weirdo apartment windows on the beach by Rebecca Horn, and the bronze tail of a whale can be seen in the distance by Frank Gehry.  There were many people out making impressive sand sculptures as well, though I’m pretty sure they were mixing the sand with some type of glue…

We walked along the beach until we stumbled upon the Parc de la Ciutadella which houses the Parlament de Catalunya which is the local government for the region of Catalonia.  The park is also home to structure known as the Cascada (or, waterfall in English).  It’s an impressive found that people are able to walk up on and around.  The fountain is ornimented with lions, crabs, and a statue of Venus at the top.  Originally, fountain was completely without these sculptures, and residents compalined about the eyesore taking up space in their local park.  It didn’t take long before the statues were commissioned to make the fountain significantly more attractive and in 1888 (just in time for the 1888 Universal Exhibition, precusor to the World Expo) it appeared as it does now.

On our way down the fountain, these gypsies were huddled around with clipboards and asking people to sign to help blind people.  Of course, I don’t give anyone the time of day so I just shook my head and kept going (not to mention that I didn’t know what they were asking me anyway).  They also asked my friend Alberto, who had seen a program on the news detailing about how when you are holding the clipboard and signing, they are stealing your wallet, so he definitely said no.  These little gypsies didn’t appreciate being told no and the two of them exchanged, uh, some “words” in Spanish briefly (let’s be honest, the gypsies had it coming).  Let’s just say that they were loud, rude, and idiodic than most people who care about blind people.  It wasn’t long after our exchange that we passed an information desk that featured a warning sign, in English, that said “While you sign…” and then had a picture of you wallet being stolen.  Be wary, thieves are a plenty in Barcelona, especially if you don’t “look” Spanish (like the 6’2’’ blonde boy walking around with a map, i.e. me).

Upon leaving the park, we passed under the Arc de Triomf.  It, too, was built for the 1888

Universal Exhibition.  The arch doesn’t seem to reprisent anything in particular except to welcome internationals to the Universal Exhibition, but it is quite large and impressive.  It’s covered form head to toe in detail.  There are reliefs on people, sculptures of bats, flowers, and angels.

Our trip wouldn’t have been complete without viewing some of the other famous buildings by Antoni Gaudí.  The first one we visited is known as Casa Batlló (or locally the Casa dels Ossos, House of Bones) due to its appearance.  The building was built in 1877, but it was remodeled by Gaudí in 1905.  The building’s colorful mosaic facade is contrasted by the vertebae-esque balconies betneath the windows.  The most interesting feature is the roof.  The roof is arched and the roof tiles apppear as colorful scales.  The roofs turrent rises above the rest and features a cross at the top.  One theory behind this design is that the roof reprisents the back of a dragon, and the turrent represents the sword of Saint George (the patron saint of Catalonia) driven into the back of the dragon.  Unfortunately for me, to enter the house, it costs €17 which I thought was a little steep, and, apparently, the inside isn’t as wonderful as the outside so I don’t think I missed out. 

Up the street from Casa Batlló lies another Gaudí creation, Casa Milá (locals refer to this one as Le Pedrera, The Quarry).  This edifice was completed in 1912 as an apartment complex.  Interesting, Gaudí wanted the people who lived in the apartments (“flats”) to communicate with each other so there are only elevators on every second floor so you’d have to get off the elevator and walk to the next one.  It is during this time that you might encounter one of your neighbors and have a chat.  The roof is the most famous part of the building and has very unique, colorful, spiral chimneys, but for €12, I will look at it from the ground.  Though it’s quite a large building, apparently only one or two of the apartments are inhabited nowadays, and the first floor is part of a museum now.  I don’t know what happens on all the unused floors, but the entrance fee gets you to the museum, one apartment that is a replica of how one of the former wealthy tenets would have had it, and access to the roof.

We paid a visit to Barcelona’s most famous bullfighting arena as well, Plaza de Toros La Monumental.  Though bullfighting will come to an end in Catalonia in 2012, the arena was quite nice. Something that will also end soon, in the new year of 2011, is smoking indoors.  As most of us know, smoking indoors (at restaurants, bars, etc.) has virtually been eliminated in the U.S. and in the U.K., but in Barcelona, it is still allowed which was certainly an unwanted accompaniment to any meal.  However, that will all change in a few weeks, thankfully.

Near this building though, is the more famous Torre Agbar which is the most recognizable of Barcelona’s skyscrapers (one of the few skyscrapers, in general).  Opened in 2005, the tower is red and blue by day, but extremely colorful at night.  The outer panels light up and change colors rapidly, though I wasn’t able to see it light up at night.  The building has become center stage for Barcelona’s New Years countdown (click here: Torre Agbar).

Barcelona’s metropolitan transportation network including a teleferic (what we would call a cable car or aerial tram in English).  We were twarted on our first day out by the wind which shut down the teleferic.  This time we were twarted by an hour lunch break late in the afternoon that kept us and every other tourist standing around for awhile.  The teleferic system connects downtown Barcelona with Monjuïc, the mountain to the west.  The teleferic was built for the Universal Exhibition of 1888, and they definitely show their age.  Once at the top of the teleferic tower, the rickety cable car arrives and the operators pack as many people as possible into the little car.  Slowly the car takes off and tangles very precariously above the Mediterranean, but it does offer some fantastic views of downtown Barcelona.

Once at Montjuïc, we wandered around and visited the Estadi Olimpic (Olympic Stadium) built for the 1992 Summer Olympics which was hosted by Barcelona. The mountain is also home to Torre Telefónica, an attractive communications tower designed by famous architect Santiago Calatrava.  The tower also functions as an enormous sundial.  We also paid a visit to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (or the National Art Museum of Catalonia) which was built for the 1929 World’s Fair then restored for the 1992 Summer Olympics.

After a fantastic vacation (or “holiday” as these British folk would say), I was ready to return to the English speaking world (even if they do mispronounce most words).  Barcelona is a beautiful, colorful city with a distinct culture that I hope to revisit one day when I am extremely wealthy so I can dock my yacht at Port Vell with all the others.  In the mean time, I’ll settle for a simple vacation there.

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