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Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Barcelona



2 Beers from Sagrada Familia
I think that all great trips should begin with a bike ride. We only had to pedal about six blocks on the Valencia bike-share bikes to get to Valencia’s beautiful Estació del Nord but it was as invigorating as the morning’s first cup of coffee. We had the morning’s second cup of coffee at a station café where we bought a sandwich of tortilla de patatas for a snack for the three and a half hour ride to Barcelona.  There wasn’t even a baggage scan for this train and they simply scanned our tickets and we found our seats. Right on schedule, words that would become our motto on a short excursion that couldn’t have had less of a schedule if the entire idea of schedules had never been invented. If I had ever thought myself to be flexible and amenable to change I had more than met my match with this match who I attached myself to for the length of the trip.

A bit of gazing out the window along this coast of Spain, a good sandwich, a very cold beer from the cafeteria car, and a short nap later we arrived at Barcelona Sants Station, a charmless, utilitarian construction which looks more like a modern, soulless airport than the grand railroad stations of the past (there’s a metaphor or lesson or something in there about trains and planes). Of course Sants is integrated into the city’s wonderful metro system and for 9.90€ I bought a card in a machine good for 10 rides.  We found our train to take us to the Liceu stop in the heart of Las Ramblas. I know Barcelona fairly well but getting around is extremely easy and intuitive for even the first-time visitor. The metro is beautiful and there are trains every couple of minutes. We had excellent luck with buses and trains and had to run a bit to catch many of them with the longest wait being less than four minutes. The metro cars are usually crowded and at this time of year there is nothing but tourists. After a few short minutes we surfaced directly on Las Ramblas into a tidal wave of people.

If you’ve never been to Barcelona and have never heard of Las Ramblas it is one of the main tourist thoroughfares in the city. It’s a gorgeous boulevard lined with plane trees (kind of like a sycamore) that meanders down to the port area at the Plaza de Colón where a towering Christopher Columbus points towards the new world. The street is packed with cafés and shops and because of the huge crowds it looks something like a rugby scrum from sunrise until the early hours of the morning. The Liceu metro stop was only about 50 meters from our hotel and it also serves Barcelona’s Boqueria market.

Àngel Guimerà, Top Chrysler-Plymouth Salesman
You could spend an entire vacation and be completely satisfied without leaving a three block radius of our hotel. We quickly adopted the Plaza San Josep as our own as well as the Plaza Real, both only a few steps from the door of the hotel. There is a statue of Angel Guimera in the Plaza San Josep, a figure also revered in Valencia as they have a big Metro stop with his name. I had taken a picture of this statue before. I always look up the name of the person being honored by the bronze depictions but I drew a blank as to why Angel Guimera was a public figure. Sue me, I have a crap memory.  I improvised when asked what he was famous for back in the day and said he was the top salesman for Barcelona Chrysler-Plymouth three years in a row, a feat never achieved before and never since repeated.  I looked online later to discover that he was a Catalan playwright and poet (6 May 1845 – 18 July 1924).

Leo Messi wasn’t in her vocabulary upon arriving in Barcelona but I quickly filled her in on this cultural icon in Barcelona and all over the world. The FC Barcelona #10 Messi jersey can probably be seen in every village in Africa, South America, and the Far East.  Not knowing who he is would be like asking about Mohammed in a Muslim countries or John Wayne in America. I wouldn’t venture to compare the men but Messi sells more T-shirts.

The essence of our stay was walks around the city punctuated by stops in cafés, each one more beautiful and quaint than the last, with just the right view. We had uncanny luck finding just the right thing to eat at just the right time of day in just the right spot…or maybe we were just very easy to please because everything else in our lives was so perfect? When you’re with someone you are crazy about you tend to see absolutely everything in a more favorable light and even the most miserable of souls must find it difficult to bitch about Barcelona in the summer.

We had too many café pit stops to list them all but a few of the standouts would be the Plaza de la Virreina in the super-charming Gracia district where I had stayed on a previous visit.  It’s not a spectacular square as far as Barcelona goes but to me it represents the essence of what makes up a great neighborhood. It offers a few shaded benches, a statue, a fountain, a place for the kids to kick a ball or learn to ride a bike, and a few cafés between home and everything else in your life.  From here we moved on to a cold beer and a slice of tortilla de patatas (I created a fan of this iconic Spanish dish) in front of Sagrada Familia on Avinguda de Gaudi. I think that we were both more interested in the quiet, comfortable public spaces in the city more than the iconic landmarks.

We shared everything except coffee and the individual bottles of beer.  We rarely ordered more than one serving of anything in any one place, preferring instead to split something small and then move on to the next café. Trying to choose a favorite out of all of the great places we visited would be difficult but if pressed I’d have to say the lovely inner courtyard café at the Museo Frederic Marès. I had never been in there before and we came upon it by accident. I simply wanted to get out of the sun and poked my head in the doorway and saw the very inviting courtyard fountain and the café behind it. We sat at a table that looked down from the fortress wall to the quiet street below and had a view of the rest of the inner area of the building.  I couldn’t imagine a more perfect place to be with the perfect woman.

How perfect? Perfect enough to let me have the last anchovy on the great pizza we split at the Brasería Rossini restaurant in the Plaza Real.  This is one of those places that is full of tourists and in many cases would be dreadful but the food was quite good and the service was actually charming (possibly the result of the company I was keeping).  We had equally good luck with a lunch at Les Quinze Nuits on the other side of the same square (on another trip with my brother we had horrible luck with another restaurant in the Plaza Real).  Once again seated on the terrace we split a bottle of wine and braised lamb with potatoes. The food and wine were good and reasonably priced and the location was absolutely impeccable.

If you suffer from agoraphobia you should definitely steer clear of Barcelona in August as there are legions of tourists. Everywhere you walked it was as if a sports stadium were emptying out, and at all times of the day and night. Because of the crowds the city has an incredible energy. In some of the major thoroughfares the pedestrian traffic rolls along like a tsunami but it’s easy to find refuge in a quiet shop or the terrace of a café. It’s fun for me to try to count as many different languages as I can identify being spoken around me which isn’t too many. Among those which I can positively identify are English, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Catalan, Arabic, Hebrew, German, Chinese, Japanese, and maybe Russian but I could probably be fooled. There are dozens more being spoken on every corner of this very cosmopolitan city that are a complete mystery to me.

4 comments:

  1. I couldn't have recounted it better myself. Okay maybe I could have I'm too damn lazy today. My favorite part of the video was the shuffling of your flip flops- a sound that completely brought me back, since it was the underlying soundtrack to a trip where we must have walked 50 miles (I have no idea how many kilometers that is because I live in America).

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  2. Do you think we could make out in this comments box? There's almost never anyone in here. Unless you're chicken.

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  3. I'm not chicken. I'm the girl who initiated a kiss in an ancient Spanish cathedral to the chagrin of a disapproving nun. Since when did Catholicism outlaw fun? ...Oh yeah, nevermind.

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