Odds and Ends

Another quiet day as we approach the end of our time in Barcelona. We didn’t do much of anything today – just walked, nowhere in particular. As always, we were amazed at the layers of beauty the city has to offer. First, a decorative detail on the top of one of the famous buildings on the Block of Discord. We’ve seen the building countless times in the past week, and yet I’d never noticed this impressive detail. The more you look, the more you see.

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Next, in Pl. Catalunya, a bed of roses. At the end of November.

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And then, there was this … thing. Some sort of fern, or perhaps a palm? It looked more like the alien in a B-grade Sci-Fi movie. But as long as you didn’t get too close, it was very impressive.

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An image of a dragon in the details of another building.

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And finally, the Hospital de Saint Pau.

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Something Different

Today we took it easy – even by our standards. Our guide book includes a number of self-guided walking tours, so we decided to check out the walk through the area where we are staying. I’ve already covered many of the more famous buildings on previous posts, so instead I’ll talk about the more unusual things.

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First stop was a courtyard / park built beside a water tower. You enter through a nondescript covered alley. Without the guide book, you would never know there was anything there. But once inside, you will find a small park with trees, benches, a wading pool and a sand beach, with fresh sand brought in every summer. The original late nineteenth century plan for this area included features like this to make the neighbourhood more livable, and because the beach was, you know, so far away.

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Another pleasant feature of this apartment is that every quarter hour (only during the day, fortunately) a local church bell rings. Today we found the bell.

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The church had originally been in the old city, but when this district was being built in the 1880’s they wanted to give it a little character, so the old church was dismantled, stone by stone, and moved to the new location.

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In a bit of artistic license, or fancy, the bell tower came from a completely different church.

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To end the day, something completely different. I have a weaknesses for interesting beer, which often means micro breweries. This is not something I expected to find in Barcelona, but I discovered one has recently opened here. The brewery is open for tastings on Friday evenings but it doesn’t have a liquor license, so it has to operate like a private club. You register for the “event” online, and then show up at the door of a seedy looking warehouse where your name is checked against the “guest list” before being admitted. But once inside, it looks very familiar.

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A sampling of the local favorites was a great way to end the week.

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Park Guell

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Some people approach travel like a to-do list, working hard to cross as many locations as possible off their list.

We take a different approach. It’s fun to pretend, however briefly, that we live in a city. Try to experience daily life and maybe get a flavour of a neighbourhood. Of course we see many well known sights along the way, but it isn’t the only objective. I realize this is actually a luxury. We aren’t trying to see everything Barcelona has to offer because we are confident we will return.

Today we visited another famous Gaudi work – Park Guell. We started with a ride on the #24 bus, which turned out to be an adventure in itself. The bus was packed and our newly purchased T-10 pass wouldn’t work. We can get by in French but not in Spanish. Fortunately, thanks to the friendly locals and helpful bus driver, we had a replacement card within minutes and we were on our way. I love Barcelona.

Park Guell is another site that you cannot possibly do justice to with pictures – but I’ll try anyway. We approached from the side gate, and the first thing we saw was the aqueduct. It was clearly reminiscent of classical structures, but the rough stone work gave it a very different feel.

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Another example of the contrasting styles was the pillars set on an angle, and with the stones creating an upward spiral.

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Gaudi’s influence is apparent everywhere, but at the front entrance it is unmistakable.

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The detail on the roofs is amazing.

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The brightly decorated benches around the nature square offer the opportunity to relax and take in the scene.

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We struck up conversations with a few of our fellow travelers, something that we don’t often do. Perhaps it has something to do with the strange times in which we live.

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And of course, the location was originally chosen in part for the wonderful views of Barcelona. This is one of the more striking modern buildings visible from the site.

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And finally, a hibiscus flower in the gardens. The first snow storm of the season hit at home this past week, dropping nearly a foot of snow. I much prefer the weather in Barcelona.

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Sagrada Familia

When Gaudi began work on the Sagrada Familia 1883, he knew he would never live to see its completion. Even today, there is still a decade of work to finish construction.

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The cathedral offers an imposing view, even though it is still under construction. When the central spire is completed the cathedral will stand nearly twice as tall as it does today. And yet, somehow, the pictures cannot capture the majesty. You almost get a better sense of just how inspiring it is from the faces of the people looking up in awe.

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But just to give you a flavour of what awaits you, here is a brief sampling.

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It doesn’t matter how many cathedrals you have visited, you have never seen anything like this. I highly recommend it.

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A Rainy Monday in Barcelona

We woke late to discover that a light drizzle had settled in. After Sunday’s wonderful weather we really couldn’t complain. Besides, the jet lag was pretty much at its worst today (please dear God, let this be as bad as it gets) so truth be told, we didn’t want to get up at all. A bright sunny day would have only made it worse. But we finally managed to drag ourselves out of bed and have a leisurely breakfast with lots of coffee while we researched options for the day. By the time we left the apartment it was a little after 1:00. Fortunately by then the rain had tapered off.

First order of business for the day was … lunch. Carrer D’Enric Granados had been recommended as a street packed with restaurants, so we headed in that direction. Along the way we scoped out a restaurant that had been on our short list for last night. We didn’t have the energy to walk there yesterday, but today we opted for the daily fixed price meal. The price included four courses – wine, appetizer, entree, and coffee. Very civilized. The clientele appeared to be mostly local. When we sat down a little after 2:00 it was empty; by the time we left at 3:00 it was packed.

After lunch we walked down la Rambla to the port, enjoying the architecture along the way.

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The street featured many iconic Barcelona buildings such as this one by Gaudi.

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Of course there are a range of styles, including those that are relatively modern.

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At times the styles almost clash, and yet they somehow all work.

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The end of La Ramble features a Monument a Colom – or Columbus Monument.  A statue of Columbus is at the top of the column, but some of the detail work near the base seemed equally interesting.

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Yesterday we thought the park was fairly busy, but La Rambla, even on a rainy Monday in the off season, was far busier. And I’m sure it gets worse. It is lined with outdoor cafes, though today most of them were closed, and the ones that were open were only half full. In the summer I suspect everything is packed – cafes, sidewalks, and the street. Wall to wall people, no doubt. I much prefer it now.

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Sunday in the Park

Perhaps I should provide a bit more context than I did in my last post. Canadian Thanksgiving is in early October. Where I live, late November is known for only one thing – the arrival of winter. But I work for an American company, and I’ve discovered that Thanksgiving week (American Thanksgiving week that is) tends to be quiet. Very quiet. The few months leading up to Thanksgiving, on the other hand, seem to be the busiest time of the year, so about now, I’m ready to relax. Last year we headed to Mexico for a week on the beach. This year we opted for Barcelona. It isn’t quite as slow as a week reading a book in the sun, but it’s close – at least the way we do it. We plan to spend our time just wandering around the city with no particular objective other than to soak up the local ambience. A Thanksgiving get-away isn’t quite a tradition (yet) but it’s well on its way to becoming one.

And before you say anything, I rather enjoy posting these musings while enjoying a glass of wine at the end of the day, or a cup of coffee at the start. This is an important part of relaxing for me.

All of which brings us to today. It was a sunny Sunday, and we went for a walk. Along with many local families enjoying a warm November afternoon.

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Blowing bubbles seems to be a big thing in the parks. The children clearly love it.

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I have to admit I was pretty fascinated by it myself.

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The adults have their own entertainment, with a number of people dancing the swing.

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The Arc De Triomf anchors one end of the park. It was busy enough to be interesting, but  not to the point of being crowded. Just about perfect.

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Our major activity for the day was a self-guided walk through the Gothic district. It includes remnants of the city wall dating back to Roman times and columns from a temple to Augustus. And of course, the cathedral.

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I took many more pictures of the cathedral from the main square, but they all tend to look like run of the mill pictures of yet another impressive cathedral with a bunch of people standing around taking pictures of yet another impressive cathedral. What I find far more interesting are pictures of the ordinary and the unusual – often combined in the same picture. Like the plant growing at the feet of the gargoyle (technically a “grotesque” in this case, I believe), half way up the cathedral wall.

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It was a warm sunny day, so we ate lunch outside on an elevated patio overlooking a street in the Gothic district. Interesting architectural details are almost everywhere, like this picture taken from our table.

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Or these ornate doors, spotted while traffic waited for a garbage truck to finish collecting.

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A very elaborate and ornate bell and weather vane. This was near the cathedral, but it wasn’t clear if it is the main bell. I suspect not.

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And finally, two pictures taken at the beginning and the end of the day. First, an interesting architectural detail on an apartment building built in 1892. I like the plastic pink  flamingo on the balcony, second from the left.  Don’t you find yourself wondering what they were thinking…?

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And finally this apartment building with colourful detail on the roof.

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Barcelona

We decided to stay in an apartment rather than a hotel. The idea was to have room to relax while still being close to all the major sites. We were not disappointed.

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While planning this trip, whenever we mentioned we were going to Barcelona everyone raved about it being such a beautiful city. After an overnight flight, the idea of sight seeing on our first day held little appeal. We just wanted to settle in and get our bearings. And yet, we couldn’t help but be impressed. Within 20 minutes of arriving in the city center, I took these pictures.

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This was all on the walk to our apartment. It was not a long walk.

The apartment was comfortable, well equipped, and clean. Perfect for ten days relaxing and getting to know the area. As I write this, I’m overlooking the courtyard – it definitely has a wonderful local feel.

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We checked in, unpacked, and found a place for lunch, followed by a little exploring. You know – the important stuff, like scouting for a nearby grocery store and wine shop. Fortunately, they are one and the same. Along the way we found more interesting things to see. Everything from an ornate church (though not nearly important enough to make it into any of the tourist guides)…

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… to a simple tile roof on the neighbourhood market.

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Jet lag was catching up with us, so we really didn’t have the energy to go out for dinner. We decided to get some cheese, baguette, olives stuffed with fines herbes (truly a wonderful discovery) and of course a little Rioja for a quiet dinner in.

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