Thursday, August 18, 2011

Barcelona - July 2011

Silly me - I thought everyone in Spain spoke Spanish.  I had no idea that there are two regions in northern Spain where the languages of Catalan and Basque are spoken.  Be warned - you'll think I wrote this blogpost in multiple languages since it's so long.  Lazy blogger at work who stubbornly refused to break it into two separate posts.

I was all excited that my oldest daughter, who just finished her third year of Spanish, would be able to get some practice with the locals when we toured Barcelona for several days before our Mediterranean cruise departed.  Although there were many people in Barcelona who spoke Spanish, we also heard a lot of Catalan.  To my uneducated ear, it sounded like a Labradoodle or Puggle sort of language, a mongrel that isn't pure French or Spanish but rather a melodious mix of the two.  

After a two hour flight from Heathrow to Barcelona, we landed at the airport where all of the signs were in three languages.  The largest type was in Catalan, followed by Spanish in a bit smaller font beneath that.  English was last and in the smallest font, but at least they included it.  Take a hint, Paris.

Since we would be boarding a cruise ship out of Barcelona, we decided to rent an apartment so we could wash up everything the night before and start the next leg of our travels with clean undies.  Our 3/2 apartment was located right across from the Placa Catalunya, which is pictured below.  You can't swing a dead gat/gato/cat without it landing in some European fountain.

I definitely give Barcelona two thumbs up.  It had a great vibe, relaxed yet bustling and vibrant at the same time.  The weather was very pleasant, though it did rain intermittently one day.  We noticed that it was a lot more crowded the day before our cruise departed, but it didn't lessen our enthusiasm for this gem of a city.

Here are Annie and her Texas friend Claire atop the cathedral in the old town.  See the Med off in the distance?  I also included a shot of the cathedral's exterior with the requisite scaffolding.  Everything is so old in Europe that some part of it is always in need of a facelift. 

In my opinion, Barcelona is all about Gaudi.  Antoni Gaudi was an integral part of the modernist movement in Barcelona and his architecture is quite distinctive.  We took a Gaudi tour and saw the following examples of his work.

The four pictures above were taken at Parc Guell.  The picture below is the entrance gate for the Guell Pavilions.  Eusebi Guell was a Catalan industrialist who became Gaudi's patron and good friend.

The two pictures above were taken at Casa Batilo.  You would be challenged to find one straight line in this house.  Check out the doorways in my picture - lots of mushroomy looking ovals that serve as dormers to allow light to pass from one room to the next.  And is it just me or do I look like I just returned from Middle-earth with my elvish ears?  I just love it when my child does these sneaky pics, usually getting a hideous shot with my eyes half-closed so I look like a total middle-aged stoner.  

Here is a blurb I found on the internet, the same spiel I heard when we were taking our tour of Casa Batilo.  

Much of the façade is decorated with a mosaic made of broken ceramic tiles (trencadís) that starts in shades of golden orange moving into greenish blues. The roof is arched and was likened to the back of a dragon or dinosaur. A common theory about the building is that the rounded feature to the left of centre, terminating at the top in a turret and cross, represents the lance of Saint George (patron saint of Catalonia, Gaudi's home), which has been plunged into the back of the dragon.

I've included a couple more pics nicked off the net since they're worlds better than what I have to offer from my little Nikon.  The second one should look familiar because it's the rooftop terrace of the house where I took Annie and Claire's picture seen above.  The first shot is of the front facade.  It was quite the unique structure and it makes you wonder about the mind of Mr. Gaudi.

Based on the pic below, you would have thought we were in Italy.  Virtually every block in Barcelona had a gelato shop.  Some of it was excellent, while some of it was only fit for the nearest garbage can.  Annie is showing us how the ladies fashioned her chocolate gelato into a flower.  Presh!

Barcelona is famous for La Rambla, a street leading from Placa Catalunya to the Med with a pedestrian mall running down the center.  Our guidebooks warned us that it was pickpocket central, so we were all sporting Vera B crossbody purses.  I just love the VB pattern in the pic below because it goes with everything.  Imagine that - another pic of me where I'm totally unawares, though at least I'm not looking like a total freak.

At the top of La Rambla is a public drinking fountain.  It seems Barcelona has their own little myth a la the Trevi Fountain in Rome.  The story goes that if you drink from this fountain, then you will one day return to Barcelona.  Heaven forbid that we go thumbing our noses at the travel gods by not taking a sip, so the girls partook of the water.  Which, by the way, tasted really icky according to their well-developed teenage palates.  And did you see the VB hipster Annie is wearing in yet another cool pattern?  I so need to contact their PR folks and get on the payroll for my efforts to expose the whole European continent to their line of goods.

About halfway down La Rambla, you hit La Boqueria.  This is a large public market that originated several centuries ago.  Here is my eldest, looking all gangsta or maybe mafiaesque in her hat and shades.  I admit it - I'm just jealous because she can wear leggings and look cute while my thighs would resemble overstuffed sausage casings.  I have a firm belief that if you need to purchase leggings in any size involving double digits, then you should probably just stick with jeans.

But I digress.  The now-permanent stalls of La Boqueria were filled with vendors hawking fruits, veggies, cheeses, olives, meats, spices and freshly prepared meals.  It was a great place to grab a quick bite to eat as long as you didn't mind consuming it on your feet.  They had a zillion different fresh fruit juice concoctions that looked like a rainbow all lined up in ice.  

The most impressive thing I saw in Barcelona was Gaudi's magnum opus, the Sagrada Familia.  It has been under construction since before Gaudi died in 1926.  Churches are kinda like bellybuttons - every city, town, hamlet or wide spot in the road has one.  However, this church was quite distinctive, particularly the interior.  All of the columns were leaning and it reminded me of a cave.

We enjoyed our time in Barcelona, eating tapas and doing a bit of shoe shopping along the way.  It can't always be about historically significant things, especially when it's a group of ladies without their menfolk.  My significant other would have had a fit when we spent a good chunk of time nosing through that scarf store.  Or the cool leather place with purses and these darling ballerina flats in every color of the rainbow.  That was all they sold - handmade Spanish leather flats.  He would have needed a straight jacket when we hit that third shoe store, or was it a fourth one, admiring the rows and rows of strappy sandals and chunky wedges.

The girls seemed to really enjoy themselves.  I ran across the following pics when I was looking for some to include in this blogpost.

What's with the foot/shoe pics?  My daughter takes pics of her feet while she captures shots of my funky ears or wide load butt for posterity?  

Yes, folks that would be cava (sparkling wine produced in northern Spain), which is totally legal for 16-yr-olds to sip in Europe.  So Menja be, caga fort i no gintuis por a la mort!  This is a traditional Catalan toast that loosely translates into English as eat well, poop strongly and do not be afraid of death.  How about we just stick with Cheers to our fabulous stay in Barcelona.

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