You are not in Spain:
After our one night stay at our temporary, emergency, unplanned hotel in Aix we hopped aboard the shuttle bus to the TGV station for our early train to Barcelona. (We have this drill down.). It was an AVE (Spanish) train even though it originated in Marseille. And it was a killer train – plush “leather” seats, quiet, smooth and uncrowded. We arrived at Barcelona Saints station a little more than five hours later, quickly caught a cab and arrived at our hotel right on La Rambla, Barcelona’s famous Main Street, by 14:00. Shortly afterwards, we set out for a walk through the nearby Gothic Quarter which dates to the Roman days. Along the way we had paella in Placa Reial.
La Rambla runs from Placa de Catalunya, at the top, to the Christopher Columbus Monument at the harbor. It means “The River” which it once was when it drained the old city whose wall was at the placa. Actually, it was a sewer. But it’s nice now. Really. There are cafes and shops, of course, but also every sort of hawker and street performer. There are also pickpockets. Lots of warnings to keep track of your purse and backpacks – lots of cops, too. Most of them are gangs of kids run by an adult. In Spain, kids under 18 can not be prosecuted (or at least it is not worth the effort because the penalty is so light). Anyway, when the cops catch them they confiscate the goods and let them go. When the perps turn 18 they graduate and start their own gang. There is lots of petty crime but not nearly as much violent crime as we have in the states.
Placa Catalunya is the heart of the city. Anything of importance is celebrated or protested here. Monday was Columbus Day so the city was out in force to celebrate and to advocate for Catalonian independence. Apparently, the separatist party recently gained a majority in the regional parliment elections and, in defiance of the national government, held an unofficial referendum to gauge the level of support for independence. Evidently, 80% supported it.
Now, the separatists are pushing for an official vote in November. That, apparently, is what today’s activity was all about. I don’t quite understand it all but it was certainly energetic and seemed peaceful. There is a long history to the separatist movement that I will get into a little later.
Barcelona was founded by Phoenicians and Carthaginians. The original name of the city was Barcino, probably named after the Carthaginian ruler Hamilcar Barca. The Romans arrived in the 1st century BCE. Remains from this period can still be found especially in the Plaza del Rei and in the Gothic quarter.
After the Romans, the Visigoths occupied the city and changed its name to Barcinona in the 5th century A.D. Later on, during the 8th century, Barcinona was occupied by the Moors and reminded under their control for another 100 years until the Franks reconquered the city .
During this period, the region was divided into counties, the most important of which was the County of Barcelona. The Count of Barcelona, Wilfred the Hairy, founded the Catalan nation and began a hereditary system of succession. In the year 988, Count Borrell II achieved independence from the Carolingian empire for the County of Barcelona. The territory of the region expanded forming that which would later become known as Catalonia.
Catalonia became a part of the Crown of Aragon, but with the union of the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile, Barcelona began to loose its importance and power. During the following years, conflicts arose between Barcelona and Madrid. In the 17th century, Catalonia went to war with Spain, declaring its independence with the support of France. In this war Spain lost parts of Catalonia, a situation that would happen again when it was invaded by the French troops of Napoleon in the early 19th century. This time the territories were returned to Spain following the fall of the French Empire.
Now back to exploring the modern city. On Monday, we hopped on the hop-on, hop-off bus to get the overall scope of the city. We stopped to get tickets for Park Guell, one of Gaudi’s monumental projects.
This is a great city, especially for architecture. There are at least four events that transformed the city. In 1850 the old city walls were torn down which allowed for a planned expansion. And with expansion came opportunities to create an “industrial” city. In the 19th century, “industrial” had a more positive connotation than today – more forward looking, less drudgery, more possibilities. The 1888 World’s Fair of Barcelona accelerated this desire to become a “modern” city –
just when Modernisme, (Catalonian Moderism) and Antoni Gaudi were coming into their prime. Gaudi, the son of a coppersmith, was born and educated here and was considered a prodigy early on. His “organic” style became a major influence on the architecture of the region and the world. Seven of his works have become UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Another international exposition in 1929 gave Barcelona a further architectural boost. Then the 1992 Olympics came to town. Its legacy, along with the sports complexes, is the removal of the dilapidated industrial area along the harbor and its restructuring into a string of glittering beaches replete with yacht harbors, fine shopping and dining.
Park Guell: If you Build It, They Will Not Come – Right away.
Tuesday, we returned to Park Guell, this time via the metro. This public park is so popular that you must purchase a timed ticket for entry. It is located at the top of a hill once called Muntanya Pelada (Bare Mountain). There are some escalators but it is still a steep hike. Having planned for this we arrived well before our 13:00 entry time and had a small lunch at a nearby bistro.
The park was conceived by Gaudi’s close friend Eiusbel Guell (rhymes with “well”). The idea was for an exclusive development for the 1% in the high healthy air, far from the industrial grit of the city. Construction began in 1900. There were 60 triangular lots, strictly regulated, connected by winding paths and gardens and surrounded by open spaces which all now constitute the majority of the park. Here is where the locals bring their families for a stroll and a picnic. Central to the home sites is a Monumental Area comprised of a grand entry and common spaces. This is the area for which a ticket is required. Under it all is a complex infrastructure of water systems. The style is
quintessential Guadi. It really can not be described. But, the highly restrictive and complex lease-hold sale requirements, lack of transportation infrastructure, and its exclusive nature made it a financial failure. Only two houses were ever built – Guell lived in one until his death and Gaudi lived in the other, but neither were designed by Gaudi. Construction was halted in 1914 and the city purchased the property from Guell’s estate after his death in 1918. It became a public park in 1928 and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
Wednesday, we explored the Gothic Quarter more, wandered down to the harbor and then back up the Ramblas. We arranged for tickets to the Picasso Museum and for a tour of Gaudi’s masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia Bascilica.
To Paint as a Child
Thursday, we wandered through the Gothic Quarter on our way to our 13:00 appointment at the Muse Picasso, stopping for coffee along the way. Picasso was not born in Barcelona but he did spend his teenage years here and it is here in Barcelona that he received much of his early art education. We’re talking 1900, or so. His father was an art teacher and young Pablo received an excellent, classical art education from some of the best. His early portrait and landscape works, to the untrained eye like mine, can easily be mistaken for the work of the earlier masters. As we all know, his work evolved over time to something radically different. Throughout his life Picasso was much influenced by the work of others but he then carried those concepts to new heights. While Gaudi was older, they were contemporaries in the same city so it seems likely that Picasso must have been influenced by him, too, but no one seems to know for sure. Picasso is supposed to have said, “As a child I was forced to paint as an adult. As an adult I was free to paint as a child.” That just about sums it up.
La Sagrada Familia
Later on Thursday, we hopped the metro for our 16:30 appointment at Gaudi’s crowning achievement, La Sagrada Familia.
The inspiration for a Bascilica for Barcelona came from a bookseller named Josep Maria Bocabella after his visit to the Vatican. He began a foundation to raise funds and construction of a standard gothic revival church, designed by Francisco Villar, began in 1882. Soon after the foundation stone was laid, Gaudi was named the principal architect when he was only 31 years old. He radically changed the original design concept using mostly models rather than detailed drawings. A devout
Catholic, he expected it to take hundreds of years to complete, like other great churches throughout history. When asked about the schedule he said, “My client is not in a hurry.” Gaudi, who never married, became increasingly pious, giving himself himself entirely to the bascillica after 1910. In 1926, Gaudi was hit by a tram while on his daily walk to mass. He died three days later at age 74. He is the only person buried in the crypt of the church.
The Bascilica was then 15-25% complete. Work slowed during the Spanish Civil War and WWII but still continued. Modern construction techniques such as self-jacking cranes and CAC stone cutting have now accelerated construction. It passed the half way point in 2010 and they are shooting for completion in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.
The various aspects of the church are based on differing architectural styles taken to new levels. One facade, the oldest, is nearly gothic while the opposite is almost cubist. The architectural details are deeply symbolic. There will be 18 spires, the final and tallest has just begun construction. When it is completed it will become the world’s tallest church. The interior is the most spectacular space I have ever seen. Gaudi’s use of light was carefully planned using, for the time, complex geometric concepts. I can’t begin to describe it.
Friday, we caught an early train for the 5.5 hour trip to Seville. A short cab ride brought us to Calle Viejos 1, our VRBO home for the next month. It is an apartment in what was once the home of a wealthy 17th century family. It is €1000 for the month – about $40 a night.
We are just getting settled in and will have more observations about Seville later but for now–
Seville Food and Drink Report from Rolynn
- New Phrases: “Puedo tener dos cafes con leche muy caliente, por favor?” and “Puedo tener una gran cerveza de barril y un vaso de vino blanco, seco, por favor?”
- Count your toothpicks at the Tapa Bar. Tapa Bars proliferate throughout Seville, just right for those of us who hate to choose one thing…we have multiple baby entrees to make up a meal. One type, pinchos, are delicacies perched on top of a slice of French bread, lightly toasted and pinned together with a toothpick. Some options: two Spanish versions of potato salad or a slice of tuna or chicken or ham paired with camembert, Swiss, blue cheese; a wedge of quiche; herring and cheese; a ham or chicken croquette. These can be served warm, too, along with meatballs, cannelloni and a range of other choices. When you’ve finished eating, the cashier counts how many toothpicks you have on your plate…€2 a tapa. My meal cost me €10; Steve’s €20. A beer for Steve; Basque white wine for me.
- Pigs thighs (of the cured kind) are hanging in all the Mercats (open markets), their black hooves heralding the best of the best sliced ham. Acorn fed is the top of the line and can cost €155/KG ($80/lb). Whereas in France every part of a sheep was displayed in the butchery, here, it’s all about the Piggy. Ears, feet, brains…you name it. No part of the pig is wasted.
- Rabbits, Run! I was shocked to find dead rabbits lined up in the butchers’ display cases. Yup, with their fur, cute little faces and ears, all freshly killed (is the point they’re making, I guess). Spaniards love rabbit, that’s clear.
- We’re seeing fewer bakeries; more fish, and ham, and rabbits here in Seville.
- Try a flamenquines. This food recalls Kevin Bacon’s fight with the big worm in the movie, “Tremors”. This ‘worm’ is two inches in diameter and about a foot long. It’s cold cheese over which chicken and ham are rolled. The whole thing is breaded and deep-fried, coming out like a giant croquette-with the cheese melted. Very filling.
- Wine report: Good wine is so cheap I can’t believe my eyes. I know to buy wine from the Rioja or Rueda regions, but even at that, a bottle of wine costs about $3; a great one costs $13 at the most! A little slice of wine heaven, here.
- Sangria-making. To a bottle of red wine, you want to add a half cup each of brandy and fresh-squeezed orange juice. 1/8th cup of superfine sugar. Some also add ¼ cup of Cointreau or the like, as well. Best to let all this chill overnight with or without the topping of bits of orange, apple, lemon. When you’re ready to drink-add the topping if you haven’t yet-and depending on whether or not you’re driving, add a cup of club soda or ginger ale (obviously the ginger ale sweetens with fizz and the club soda just adds a pleasant fizz).
- Tartare, tartare everywhere. Whether it’s fish or beef, we’re seeing non-cooked meat is all the rage. Yes, there are sushi bars/restaurants here, and some restaurants maintain a sushi bar, but every Tapa Bar liberally serves raw meat. I saw a man eat a half a pound of uncooked ground beef, with a raw egg on top. No kidding! In fact, next door to us is a Tapa Bar called ‘NO KITCHEN.’ Nothing is cooked in the place…everything is served cold. Amazing!
- I’m pleased to report we have fewer smokers with us in the outside restaurant patios than we did in France. I do not see men and women walking around the town smoking, either. Evidently the Spaniards have studied the information about smoking’s effects on one’s health. Or maybe the taxes are just higher.
- I have yet to find a churro, those deep fried pastries with sugar and cinnamon all over them. I saw a kid eating one, but didn’t have the vocabulary to ask him where he got it.