Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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Wow - where do I even begin about this bizarrely wonderful place! Manically vibrant, outrageously bohemian, gritty, grungy and exploding with summer action!
Too bad the weather fizzled on me a bit the days I spent sightseeing (as opposed to catching up on the World Cup), but that didn't dampen my spirits.
To get here was a cool eight hours on the bus, through places like Nimes and Montpellier. We crossed into Spain over the Pyrenees mountains, a natural border with France and stomping ground of proud Catalonians even before Julius Caesar came and brought civilisation to the Gauls and Iberians more than 2,000 years ago.
The photos look a bit damp through the smoked grey glass windows of the Eurolines coach, but the scenery reminded me very much of driving through the undulating green corridor just north of Sydney. Maybe with a little more altitude here though. Anyway, we finally made it in the early evening, past the strangely compelling Adbar tower (I'll leave it to the more imaginative of you to form your own descriptions) and into the manic street party that is La Ramblas - the spiritual centre of town.
This wide pedestrian thoroughfare runs north to south from a (slightly) more conventional business district to the waterfront and marina. Arrayed caged birds and convoluted hamster mazes of the pet stalls compete with dozens of lavishly decorated street performers to delight the thronging crowds. Sidewalk cafes line the concourse and adjacent squares (placas) to satisfy people watchers and street artists, legal and otherwise, have taken their trade to new levels in the cavernous alleys that abound. People are everywhere and everything is a fusion of old and new. Maybe it's just that summer has arrived, but it's the most effervescent place I've been to - bar none.
La Ramblas is capped at one end by the Placa de Catalunya - a vast sea of marble and rotating traffic occasionally punctuated by fountains and flowers. Named after the region that Barcelona is capital of, it is ringed with a multitude of bizarre buildings - some straight out of Willy Wonka or Alice in Wonderland, others more at home in a space odyssey. It can take 10 minutes to walk across, so it is big!
At the other end is the Colon of Christopher Columbus. A bit straighter and more attractive than other types of colons, the spectacularly fortunate explorer who founded a new world stands stolidy on his perch, pointing out to the Americas. Anyway, it was good to see the Genovan-born, Spanish-adopted discoverer get a mention here - so much of the grand development in this country is directly related to his exploits more than 500 years ago.
Despite the motorcycle Grand Prix, fashion week and a huge music festival happening that weekend, I turned up on the Saturday evening without accommodation. Have to get more organised in summertime Europe, Rosco. The tourist information board couldn't find anything near La Rambla or for less than 100 Euros a night but the first hostal I tried, near the teeming market, had one room available for 40, which I took without hesitation.
That left me nicely near the market, the ancient alleyways of the older city, an incredible array of medieval and modernist architecture and Placa George Orwell, very apt since I've just finished re-reading 1984. Can't imagine a place further from the grips of Big Brother though, unless it's that reality TV show.
So what did I actually see? Apart from football it was Gaudi, Gaudi and more Gaudi - the man that taught Salvador Dali a thing or two and would have to rate as the most creative architect to have ever lived. However I saw so much of it that the next entry is dedicated to various sites across the city and you will just have to be content with other stuff before we move on.
One excellent museum in Barcelona is their excavations at the Museu D'Historia de la Ciutat. Built over the excavations, you actually catch a lift down 5 metres and step out in the year 12BC, when the city was founded by Augustus as 'Barcino'.
No photography is allowed (in case the flash wears out the stonework I suspect) but it is a fascinating wander along the walls, through the old business district and finally into the religious and residential areas, dating from the 2nd to 6th centuries AD in most cases. As you emerge from the depths the rest of the museum covers more recent times - the Islamic period and the Middle Ages.
Annoyed with paying big euros and still not being allowed to take a few keepsake snaps I decided to skip another museum with a rigid no photo policy - the Picasso Museum. I find his work strangely depressing anyway and the weather wasn't lightening the mood either. Off to somewhere else. What else is here except Gaudi? Well, becoming a bit of a fixture in the region is an Arc de Triomf so that was a quick stop.
There is also a couple of spectacular Catalan gothic cathedrals that are cramped into their surroundings and never seem to be open. There's the oddly shaped waterfront districts that didn't look great in the overcast weather. But really it is just the people and their environment. Old and new, sublime and ridiculous, the hip and establishment. The twisted facades of the buildings, the clothing, the food, the vibe and probably most descriptively - the gabbling-head graffiti - says it all. Maybe not an economic power these days but the Spaniards, if Barcelona is anything to go by, know how to live!
I'll be back here again - absolutely.
Next entry -> Gaudilicious
Words from the Wise #87
"WeŽll meet again, in a place where there is no darkness."
George Orwell, 1984