June 25 - 28
Hip, fashionable, Catalunya, art-full, busy, colorful, ocean breezes, Gaudi….these are just a few of the words that come to mind when thinking about Barcelona. The food is good, too!
Once we checked into our hotel, we hit the streets. Well, we hit Las Ramblas, Spain’s most famous pedestrian boulevard. Our hotel was a short walk away, so we were staying near the action but not in it! Las Ramblas is about ¾ of a mile long and lined with leafy trees, beautiful old architecture, cafes, restaurants, and lots of those small souvenir stands that many tourists love. It is a veritable sea of people. We didn’t spend much time on Las Ramblas, but it was fun to see. The vibe is quite energetic! Barri Gotic, (no ‘h’), a medieval neighborhood of charming, labyrinthine streets that connect to a myriad of small plazas, drew us repeatedly, and not just for the gelato. One afternoon, we happened upon a woman in the Barcelona Cathedral courtyard singing famous opera arias. Beautiful. Another time, we listened to a young man playing excellent flamenco guitar in the same courtyard. The acoustics are good there. Yet another stroll through this quarter brought us to the front steps of the cathedral. There, a Catalan orchestra provided music for people old and young to dance La Sardana, the Catalan National Dance. This involves a circle of dancers holding hands, with arms raised, while performing intricate dance steps. These folks danced nearly non-stop for over an hour. I was impressed by the senior citizens, some of them quite advanced in years, keeping in perfect step and holding their arms mostly up for that long!
The Picasso Museum was wonderful, once we found it. It is buried among those labyrinthine streets mentioned above. Our tickets were for 9:20 a.m. and it was a pleasure to walk along Las Ramblas at that time of day, without the hustle and bustle of people and vendors. We enjoyed seeing some of Picasso’s early work, done when he was a child, well before his Cubist and Surrealist evolutions. Holy Pablo! He was a gifted little guy! In addition to these early works, we saw the collection of Picasso’s recreations of the Diego Velazquez masterpiece, Las Meninas, painted in 1656. Picasso did these re-interpretations almost sixty years after seeing the Velazquez masterpiece for the first time, at age 14. There are 47 of them and they are fascinating to view and to think about. What was it like inside Picasso’s mind, we wondered.
The day before returning to Madrid, we visited La Sagrada Familia, the worldwide symbol of Barcelona. For me, it was a one-of-a-kind experience….astonishing, breathtaking, moving, spectacularly unique. It is a cathedral like no other on earth, inside and out. The architect Antoni Gaudi began this basilica in 1882 and continued to direct the construction until his death in 1926. The work has continued, with some delays (like war), and is scheduled to be completed by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. For those who want to find out more, tune into You Tube: “God’s Architect: Antoni Gaudi”, on 60 Minutes (CBS).
I became an instant fan of Antoni Gaudi. Fortunately, Mike scheduled us to visit two other Gaudi architectural wonders. On our last day in Barcelona, we visited Park Guell and La Pedrera (also called Casa Mila). Gaudi’s style is beautifully colorful, organic and distinctive….oh my, how understated! Seven of Gaudi’s works in Barcelona have the auspicious UNESCO World Heritage Sites designation. How fortunate I feel to have seen three of them.
We took the 7:30 p.m. train back to Madrid. Miles walked in Barcelona: 28.4. It was nice to return to the apartment, our home-away-from-home while here. As of today, we are ⅓ of the way through our time in Spain!
*Correction from an earlier entry: The Pyrenees Mountains do not divide Portugal and Spain. They separate the Iberian Peninsula, which is comprised of Spain, Portugal and the Principality of Andorra.