South by Southeast late 2018 - early 2019 travel blog

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Cuatro Gatos

Cuatro Gatos

We're on our own once again. Everyone in our travel group has flown to the US sometime today. We will miss their companionship and the leadership our guides provided. But it will be nice to move at our own pace and allocate our remaining time here as we see fit. The 96 people we cruised with on the boat were a congenial group, interested in learning, respectful of culture that does not correspond with our own, punctual. They did not complain even when they were seasick and carried on even as an upper respiratory bug made its rounds through the group. It even caught up with our leader who had laryngitis yesterday and literally whispered into her whisper device as she walked us through the El Born neighborhood. Neither of us has gotten it yet, but I have to think it is percolating in my sinuses somewhere.

The other thing we will not miss is walking at a pace half the speed of our normal. This was dictated by the maximum speed of some of the participants. There were even a few occasions when a taxi was summoned to carry the slowest ones to the destination when we had farther to walk. This gave me plenty of time to ruminate on aging, how much our bodies vary at this stage of life. It is very obvious that my sight and hearing are not what they once were. I watch myself like a hawk; every time I make a memory error I wonder, "Is this a sign of something major or just the occasional slip that even young folks make?" In the athletic circles I travel at home, I am usually one of the weaker ones, but if I think back on it, I was never very good athletically. Still, this trip makes me appreciate what I still am capable of doing. In a big city like Barcelona walking from place to place rather than taking a taxi is the most practical and we can still go, go, go all day with an occasional sit for a snack. I fervently hope that this will remain true for many years to come for when we travel, it is the time when I feel most alive and fully engaged.

So, we walked at a brisk pace down the Ramblas, a wide pedestrian zone flanked by car traffic. The Ramblas was in the news not too long ago when someone drove a vehicle down it, killing many tourists. This used to be the area where locals came to buy small pets. Recently this was outlawed by animal lovers and now the kiosks mostly sell tourist gee-gaws and overpriced sangria. At the end of the Ramblas we were back beneath Christoper Columbus who was still pointing toward the New World by way of California. Here we booked a harbor tour, which took us back to the area where we had lunched and wandered a few days ago. The lengthy beach looked lovely from the water, but no one was swimming. It's still great weather for touring, but too cold to take the plunge. The World is in town. On this cruise ship people purchase the cabins and stay on as long as they want. If we had won the recent lottery, that's where we would be.

While we were still at home, we booked an e-bike ride with tapas tour. We had no idea where it would go and not surprisingly we duplicated some of the same sights we have visited the last three days. Even so we learned more and noticed new things. I especially enjoyed the ride to the Olympic Village on the ocean front where the athletes lived in 1992. The guide showed us pictures of how this area used to look when it was full of factories and poor fishing villages. Rich folks built homes with their backs to the sea so they would not have to view all the ugliness. I was surprised to hear that the sand along the lengthy beachfront today was imported from Africa. This area is a delightful mecca of relaxation and recreation. As we rode toward the row of multimillion dollar yachts that are parked in the harbor, we rode through at least a mile of African immigrants who were selling cheap Chinese knock-offs of goods laid out on bed sheets. The contrast between them and the yachts was striking.

Our guide said they used to stop for tapas while they rode bikes, but since the tour included three glasses of wine, they decided to save the eating and drinking for the end. She took us to the Cuatro Gatos, a bar that had been frequented by Picasso in his youth. He was often too poor to pay for his drinks, so he drew portraits of other patrons of the place. Now a zillion dollar collection of his drawings hangs on the wall. The tapas we had were nothing we would have ordered for ourselves, which was the fun of it. I used to think of tapas like appetizers, but they can be simple things like a small plate of scrambled eggs with ham. We were handed a jar of what looked like library paste with a small dark blob in it. The paste was a puree of cod and the blob exploded in my mouth. I never did get exactly what it was, but vermouth was part of the explanation. We had a pate made of pigs feet and smoked peppers and eggplant. Very little of this appealed to Ken who is eating crackers and cheese next to me as I type, but I enjoyed the adventure of it all. This picturesque bistro appealed to Woody Allen so much that he filmed part of Vicky Christina Barcelona here. Although our ride covered flat ground, the e-bikes enabled us to ride faster and cover more ground. A tour I would recommend on your first or last day in Barcelona.

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