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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Plaza Real

Barcelona Day 3

Barcelona is so big and there is so much to see that I am completely overwhelmed thus far. 11 days won’t be enough to do and see everything that I want to do here. I will have to come back, probably to live. Forever?

One thing at a time and at the moment I have a bit of tourism to accomplish, something that always seems to come at the expense of my feet. I went on another extended walking tour of the city yesterday until I almost dropped from fatigue. Yesterday’s walking tour from hell started from the metro stop in Plaza de España. I wanted to see as much of the Monjuïc section of Barcelona as I could after being completely overwhelmed by the beautiful National Museum of Art of Catalonia from the night previous. Montjuïc occupies a mountaintop on the southern flank of the city and is loaded with parks, gardens, museums, theaters, as well as the Olympic Stadium.

You can take the day off from the stairmaster when you do this city walk. To get from the Plaza de España and the Exposition Towers at street level to the National Museum, you’ll need to climb a few hundred stairs. There are escalators for anyone who isn’t out to double the size of their thigh muscles, at least for some of the climb. You can read about this area in any guide book and they may actually have the facts straight—something I would never bother with.

I did get out with a local resident last night and saw a bit of my neighborhood here in the Gracia district. There are wonderful areas here that you would easily miss if you didn’t know what to look for. The Carrer de Verdi is a narrow little passage that would be easy to pass by during the day, and I did walk right through it without taking much notice on my first day here. At night this area is full of people going in and out of a few dozen nice little restaurants and bars. This area is probably in the guide books but if it isn’t, it should be.

Just another block from Carrer de Verdi is the Plaza de la Virreina (vice queen?) with the Cathedral of Sant Joan (that’s John, not Joan). This modest little plaza in this quiet little neighborhood exemplifies everything that is wonderful about Spanish life. It is shaded and filled with benches, my favorite are the little individual chairs that you see all over Barcelona. The perimeter is lined with cafes. It is a place to hang out both night and day. During the morning and early afternoon people on their way to work or shopping can sit down for a coffee and a bite to eat. For the kids of the area it’s a football field, a skating rink, and a playground.

As the day wears on the square changes character a bit and becomes more of a destination than a way station. By nightfall everything is in full swing and the cafes are completely full. The main attraction, other than conversation, seems to be the pack of dogs running wild in the center of the plaza. The weather at this time of year is perfect for hanging out and no one seems in any hurry to go anywhere else. Later at night the square takes on the aspects of a night club as it fills to the brim with young people. Immigrants looking to make a few extra euros sell cold beer out of plastic bags which adds to the party atmosphere. This was on a Sunday night so I would imagine that weekends and holidays are even livelier.

This is just one small corner of Barcelona that happens to be two blocks from where I am staying. I wonder how many other great little neighborhoods there are in the city?

The Barrio Gótico, or Gothic Quarter, is frightfully mobbed with tourists at this point in the season, although I’m sure that visitors here don’t ebb much in the winter months. I have taken a few walks through here already and plan on it again today. I would know this like the back of my hand if I had a bicycle. Most of the streets are way too narrow even for bike access unless you go early in the morning before everyone else is out. I’ll just manage on foot today like the rest of the chumps.

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