Thursday, April 28, 2016

Barcelona...Vibrant and Beautiful

There was something surprisingly refreshing to walk out on a tiny balcony with a container of profusely blooming red geraniums and place for only a tiny table in a foreign city, with the morning’s first cup of coffee and look down on the red tomatoes, the orange oranges and tangerines, the green lettuces and celery and yellow apples in the small tienda de productos frescos, fresh produce store, across the narrow Carrer de Vallhonrat.  It instantly brightened what already looked like a perfect spring morning in Barcelona, Spain.


Carrer de Vallhonrat. El Poble-Sec, Barcelona
After coffee I ventured out into the narrow streets in search of freshly baked croissants for breakfast. M was sleeping in; recuperating from an allergy attack due to a sandwich that must have contained red peppers on the Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Barcelona. It was just after eight in the morning and the neighborhood streets of El Poble-Sec was still mostly quiet except for building contractors that were clearing rubble from an old building being remodeled. On the corner of the street a butcher shop was already opened, the butcher preparing meatballs, and across from the butcher on Carrer de l’Olivera a fishmonger was placing fresh fish on ice. Further down the street a small supermarket was still closed and across from it the fleca, a bakery, had no croissants in their display window yet so I continued my wandering down the street, found an open bar and through its windows I saw that it had croissants on the counter but decided against it, the freshness possibly questionable. On the next corner I found a small convenient-cum-produce store, the attendant behind the counter totally absorbed in his smartphone and did not look up when I entered. I bought some bottled water for coffee in the apartment. I retraced my steps back to the bakery, still no fresh croissants visible, but I nevertheless went inside, ask for four croissants, which they went to fetch from the kitchen in the back, still hot and smelling buttery and toasty and headed back to the apartment.
Barcelonan delicacies.  
After breakfast we took a metro train to Liceu station and emerged from underground into bright sunshine on the famous Las Ramblas, a tree-lined street that cuts through the center of the city and where they sell anything from flowers, tourist knickknacks, fridge magnets, and artwork, to books and off course food. Barcelona’s outside-in Champs-Elysees due to the pedestrian area in the middle of the street and cars driving on the outside of the pedestrian walkway. We slowly followed the human river, tourists and locals alike, westwards, passed the Erotic Museum where a faked Marilyn Monroe look-alike, dressed all in white with black sunglasses, paraded on a balcony, a human advertisement and every now and then M stopped and browsed a vendor stall, sometimes purchasing a small souvenir for someone back home, until the pedestrian lane poured into the Plaça de Catalunya, a large square which is considered to be the center of the city and together with Las Ramblas a popular destination for some Barça football fans to celebrate championship wins or for Barcelonans to gather in protest.  

 Wandering through the Gothic Quarter, the Barri Gotic

On the square we snapped some photos, rested under a shady tree, crossed the Passeig de Gracia, rumored to be Spain’s most expensive street, and then allowed ourselves to get totally lost in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, the Barri Gotic. For the rest of the day until long after dark we ambled along narrow medieval streets, some that rarely feel sunshine on their cobbled surfaces. We were modern pilgrims, memory-moment hunters with light backpacks and digital cameras who ended up on large squares in front of gigantic Gothic churches with hundreds of tourists or tiny plazas mostly devoid of people except for old locals seeking a sunny spot. We came across quaint and leafy courtyards with soothing water fountains and walked underneath intricately decorated archways that link ancient buildings and along very old walls with statuesque windows and doors from a time when builders were patient artisans and architects cared to build beautiful buildings.

 Inside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia

For a while we dawdled on the square in front of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, drank in the atmosphere and grandeur of the 13th Century buildings, then went inside and later onto the roof for beautiful views of the city.  After an excellent lunch and superior table service at Taverna de Bisbe on the square next to the Cathedral we went under ground in the Plaza del Rei where we walked through the very modern glass reception hall of the city’s History Museum (Museu d'Història de Barcelona, the MUHBA) and stepped back nearly 2,000 years in time to explore buried Roman origins of Barcino as Barcelona was known then. It was fascinating to see the remnants of old Roman streets, a laundry where they washed and dyed clothes, the round vats for winemaking still in the earth and many more interesting excavated artifacts.

Street scenes in and around the Barri Gotic

When we emerged from the museum the day’s last golden sunlight was still lingering around and we went in search of the remaining pieces of the old Roman walls that once surrounded the city. We found a huge corner of the wall on a quaint little plaza where restaurant waiters were arranging tables and chairs for the cocktail hour crowds. As twilight descended glowing pools of light from tapas bars and general shops lightened the darkening alleys, giving it the appearance of dappled sunlight in a jungle. Our wandering continued until we found a cozy plaza with several restaurants and we decided to rest our weary feet and had a tapas dinner al fresco under large umbrellas at El Paraigua’s while the sound of a live band playing Dave Brubeck style jazz spilled out from one of the restaurants and filled the square 

Ticks of the bucket list: Gazpacho and Spanish omelet. M's foie gras was just as delicious.

A splendid end to a thoroughly entertaining day in the Gothic Quarter of the city. Barcelona, vibrant and beautiful, ancient and modern has become one of my new favorite cities. 
Dinner on Plaça de Sant Miquel 

Late night heading to the metro station on Las Ramblas 
A city of statues
On Barcelona's Cathedral Square

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