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Barcelona

A few months ago when the weather was really rainy and damp, we thought it would be a good time to plan a trip to Spain where itís usually sunny and warm. We picked Barcelona on the recommendation of friends who have been there and love it. As our mid-January departure date approached, I checked out the weather. They predicted temperatures in the low to mid 50s and sunny for the four days we would be there. Outstanding!

They were wrong. The first day was as advertised: cloudless blue sky and almost warm. By noon the next day the clouds rolled in, the temperature plummeted, and it rained incessantly for the rest of our time there. Europeans, though, are not weather wimps. Lynn and I have taken our queue from that, at least while traveling, and we keep on going. We get wet, but so what. Clothes dry eventually and the sneezing and coughing subside.

Barcelona is in the far northeastern part of Spain on the Mediterranean Sea, just south of the Pyrenees Mountains and the southwestern part of France. This part of the country is called Catalonia, Catalunya to Spaniards. They even speak Catalonian, which is very similar to Spanish but different enough so that Catalonians are compelled to point out the difference. The area is different from what a tourist expects of Spain. For instance, no bullfights. Thatís to be found in Madrid and Seville but not here. Catalonians are fiercely independent and rebelled under the rule of dictator Francisco Franco to the point that he made life miserable for them for a long time. That situation has long since (officially) cleared up, but thereís no love lost between people here and in other parts of the country. Those other folks are sort of tolerated, kind of like fans of the Jersey Giants or the Irving Cowboys.

One of the travel books we used described Barcelona as being similar to Los Angeles in that itís built on the sea in front of the mountains. Much of the center of the city is flat but some of the more suburban areas climb up the hills and the view can be spectacular. We know because we saw pictures of what it looked like without the fog.

Thereís a part of town up on a hill next to the sea called Montjuic, Mount of the Jews. Near the top of the hill is the Catalan Art Museum. We didnít go in because it was a day to stay outdoors; on that day the sun was out and the view across the valley to the mountains in the background was breathtaking. Scroll to the bottom and click on the thumbnails, especially the wide angle shot at the end. Also on this hill are the Olympic stadium and swimming pool, and the diving pool farther down the road. The Olympic stadium was built in 1927. This was not incredible foresight on the part of the city planners; it was originally made for the 1929 Worldís Fair and, they hoped, would be used for the 1936 Olympics which turned out to be the Jesse Owens Show in Berlin. You can see the stadium at  I took all these same pictures but these are better.

Barcelona is pretty old. We stayed in an area called the Barri Gotic, or Gothic Quarter, where the book said things were packed between "hard-to-be-thrilled-about 14th- and 15th-century buildings." Packed they were, but the older I get, the more impressed I am with old. Some of these buildings are almost 700 years old and they work! Whatís not to be thrilled about? You can see some of these old buildings at . As in many old European cities, there was once a wall around it for protection from enemies. The wall came down and the city expanded. There is no physical evidence of the wall anymore but itís apparent where it was from looking at a map. The area in Barri Gotic where these old buildings are contain streets that run crookedly in all directions and many are very narrow, maybe only 20 or 25 feet wide. Beyond the site of the old wall, the city is more like a grid.

Nearby is the La Rambla. La Rambla is a lively pedestrian street that runs for about three quarters of a mile from the top of the hill to the waterfront. The top of the hill is PlaÁa Catalunya, a ritzy part of town with high end stores. The bottom of the hill is not. In warm weather and with lots of tourists, this is a mecca for pickpockets, shell game artists, ladies of the evening (and even the afternoon), and other evildoers. In between itís a world of fun with open air markets everywhere selling food, handicrafts, and even birds. Just off the east side of La Rambla is PlaÁa Reial. Donít let the palm trees fool you. It was not even close to warm when we had dinner there!

Before we left for this trip, I wrote to my cousin Jule and told her we were going. She wrote back that Barcelona "is pretty nice but Gaudy." I wondered why she said that because wandering around the first afternoon, there seemed nothing gaudy at all. Then we started to notice that Barcelona, while far from gaudy, is plenty Gaudi, as in Antoni Gaudi. Antoni Gaudi was an architect who was born in 1852. His influence in Barcelona is everywhere. He did something called Casa BatllÚ  which is on a street called the "Block of Discord" because also in the block are Casa Amatller  right next door, and Casa Lleů Morera at the end of the block, all of which are desperately trying to outdo the others . Just a block or so north is another Gaudi creation, Casa Milŗ, also called La Pedrera (the quarry).

Gaudiís greatest work has to be Sagrada Familia, Church of the Holy Family. This church aims to be the tallest church in the world upon its completion. Gaudi took the responsibility as lead architect in 1883 and worked on it until his death in 1926, the last 15 years full time. There are estimates that it should be finished around 2055. Or so. For those of you who work on timed projects, imagine putting that puppy on a PERT chart! "Sorry, boss, but weíre gonna be delayed another 15 years." "No sweat. Let me know if you need any more resources." Think of the dedication of people working on a project that most will not live to see finished. The building will eventually have 12 steeples but only eight are there now. Walking inside is going through a construction site with building materials everywhere and walls yet to be built. The ornamentation on the outside, however, is exquisite. I canít begin to describe it but some of these pictures will give you an idea. Also here.

So we got a little wet. Barcelona is a place worth getting a little wet for. But when we go back, the sun better damn well shine. Then I can show my own pictures better than the ones that are here.

 

© 2008 Rick Wexler   last updated February 21, 2008