Thursday, March 10, 2011

Barcelona Day 1 - El Barri Gòtic

Friday, March 4, 2010

My decision to go to Barcelona was spur of the moment.  I got a great price on Ryanair and took advantage.  I wanted to visit so many sites that going alone would be the best.  This was my first plane experience from Sevilla since my arrival; and my first Ryanair experience.  Ryanair is the budget airline of Europe that has ridiculous rules you have to follow because you paid such a low price for the ticket.  Your bag must fit within the airline's box; otherwise you do not get on the plane.  I carried my backpack and had no problem.  I ran into some Americans getting on the same flight:  the only problem, one forget her passport.  Ryanair said she could not enter.  Thus, all four students missed their flight.  No wonder I travel alone.  I chatted with a Mexican girl studying in Sevilla.  I was amused by her distinctly Mexican expression: "Que padre."

When I arrived in Barcelona (here pronounced Bahr-THA-lona) an hour and a half later, I hit the ground running.  I would have three days to see the city's three main districts.   My first day would be full of the old city called the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter in Catalan).  After arriving in the city center, I introduced myself to  Barcelona by walking "Las Ramblas" (meaning "streams"), one of the busiest and craziest promenades in Europe.  This is the pickpocket's dream.  More passports are stolen on this street than any other place in Europe.  The walkway is full of street performers that distract tourists while pickpockets work their magic.  I was told never to stand still on "Las Ramblas" (street signs say "La Rambla") and followed the advice.

The real reason I was on the Ramblas was to visit the Boquería, one of Europe's greatest food markets.  I arrived at peak hour right before lunch (and nap time).  The amount of product matched the number of people.  I admired each section: fish, meat, vegetables, fruits, sweets, olives, spices, mushrooms.  I have never seen so much abundance of such quality.  Among the stands are also tapas bars, full of people snacking over the finest flavors of Spain.  I discovered an Organic Market, an idea that is still a bit new in Spain given the high quality that already exists even in conventional markets.  As much as I wanted to stop, I had to continue my itinerary and settle for snacks along the way.

My next stop was the Catedral of Barcelona (every city has one).  Typical of everything in Catalunya, this church was bit different.  Within the courtyard, there were thirteen geese.  The number commemorates the patron saint of Catalunya, Eulàlia, who at age thirteen was tortured thirteen times by the Romans.  I visited the roof and gawked at the towers and the view.  Inside I enjoyed the incredible tomb of the patron saint and the ornamental choir.  

After admiring the ancient/Roman aspects of this neighborhood, I visited a second church: Santa Maria del Mar.  This church was built by sailors and represents pure Catalan Gothic.  It was a Franco stronghold during the Spanish Civil War, so the working class burned the structure, leaving a blackened ceiling inside.  Catalunya was against Franco during the Civil War, and a political alignment with the left in the region continues to this day.  Despite the business class that thrives here, Catalans associate the "right" with Franco and the region's oppression.  Outside the church is a monument to Catalan patriots killed by a Bourbon king of Spain.  This church was a wonderful visit for no charge.  And it had added benefit for later in the trip:  The forest-like columns inspired Gaudi's Sagrada Familia.  Because I saw the columns in this church, I could legitimately skip entering the Gaudi site.  (Although, of course, I enjoyed the exterior).

The main event was still to come: the Picasso Museum.  Prior to entering, I was not thrilled with the idea of strolling through a museum.  But, this visit exceeded all expectations, and possibly could be the thing I most enjoyed the whole weekend.  Picasso was born in Málaga (Costa del Sol, Spain).  But, his formative years occurred in Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris.  What I loved about this museum was witnessing the evolution of Picasso and learning the story behind the artist and his paintings.  Each description, of course, had to be in Catalan, Spanish, and English.  I enjoyed reading each in Spanish.  

Picasso "El Diván" (Copy of Lautrec)

When Picasso won an art competition, he got the chance to study in Madrid.  But, finding art school too conservative, he spent his days copying Diego Velázquez in the Prado museum.  Picasso's works in this period are like realism and impressionism, really fantastic.  Picasso went to Barcelona and adopted the avant-garde scene at a cafe called "Els Quatre Gats" (Catalan: the four cats).  Here and in Paris, Picasso copied his favorite artists: Matisse, Cézanne, Monet and most of all, Toulouse Lautrec.  I loved the Lautrec copies (see Picasso's "El Divan" above).  The museum proceeds to take you through Picasso's blue and rose periods (during which all paintings have blue and red hues, respectively).  Then, the evolution culminates in Cubism.  The final room is unique in that it houses all 50 renditions of Picasso's favorite painting
Velázquez's "Las Meninas" (see below).  I feel like I finally understand the significance of Picasso now.  

Diego Velázquez - Las Meninas

Picasso - Las Meninas

I was spent.  I headed back to the hostel to meet a great mix of students.  I would be staying in a room of nine bunk beds for three nights.  My favorite acquaintances were two girls from Amsterdam.  They could speak English and Spanish (in addition to Dutch).  They had studied in Salamanca (northern Spain) for four months.  Thinking they were fluent, they decided to land a job in Southern Spain.  When they arrived, they could not understand anything of the thick Andalusian accent.  Now I feel a little better. 

For pictures of this day, see "Barcelona Day 1 (3-4) - El Barri Gòtic" at

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