Friday, March 11, 2011

Barcelona Day 2 - Montjuïc

Saturday, March 5

I had originally planned to explore Montjuïc on Sunday.  But, a French guy named Emanuel at my hostel warned me that Montjuïc would be closed on Sunday due to the Barcelona Marathon.  He was a runner, as were many people I met at the hostel.  I am grateful for the information; without it my third day in Barcelona would have been ruined.  I switched my Saturday and Sunday itineraries and headed to Montjuïc.

Overlooking the city, Montjuïc ("Mount Jew") is the park that hosted the 1929 international exhibition and the 1992 Summer Olympics.  You enter through the the "Venetian Towers" of the Plaça d'Espanya and start climbing.  The first point of interest is the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC) or simply, the Catalan Art Museum.  I was tempted to stop here, but I knew that starting at the top of the mountain would be easier.  At this point I had missed the bus going up the mountain, so I had no choice but to hike.  It was a beautiful day, so I did not mind.  When I look at pictures of the mountain now, I cannot believe I climbed to the top.  For those who refuse to hike, there are cable cars that whisk people up to the ultimate destination: the Castle of Montjuïc.

The view from the castle justified the hike.  Again, I was fortunate to have a clear and sunny day.  I admired the entire city by the Mediterranean.  I experimented with my camera by taking six consecutive pictures to capture the panoramic view (see web album, starting at photo #20).  There were also great views of Barcelona's port, a chunk of Spain's economy.  The Catalans have always thought of themselves as self-sufficient due to Barcelona's port.  They feel like they are carrying Spain's economy at times. 

After many photos at the castle, I started my way down.  I ran into a famous statue depicting the famous Catalan dance, "Sardana."  It consists of people holding hands high in a circle while they perform the basic steps.  For Spaniards that like to make fun of Catalans, this dance is an easy target.  I settled in a park nearby for a picnic lunch that I had bought at the supermarket.  It consisted of a wedge of brie cheese, a huge baguette, and jam I had found at the hostel.  The total price was about 1.30 euros:  cheap, filling, and delicious, exactly what I wanted.  I cannot believe how low the prices are for good bread and good cheese here. 

My next stop would be the highlight of the day: Fundació Joan Miró (the Miró Art Museum).  Like the Picasso Museum the day before, I learned about the life and artistic evolution of a modern art master.  I ended up wandering the endless collection for two and a half hours, enjoying every work.  Born outside of Barcelona, Miró is a symbol of Catalunya. Like Picasso, Miró spent his early years copying the masters before developing his unique style.  At one point, his paintings resembled impressionism, all of which I loved (see "Ermita de Sant Joan d'Horta" below).  Miró joined the surrealist movement in Paris, but never fully embraced the dogma.  What I enjoyed the most was noting the differences in Miró's styles with relation to Spain's modern history.  His works during the 30's reflect the turmoil of the Spanish Civil War.  After Franco's reign began, Miró turned to escapism with the "Constellations" series.  Many of the typical Miró works have the same elements: black and white lines and primary colors often in the context of the stars and human figures. One of my favorite works was "Estrella Matinal," a classic example of his style; with some effort you can make out the creatures on the left and the woman on the right.  

 Joan Miró - "Ermita de Sant Joan d'Horta" 
Joan Miró - "Estrella Matinal"

After leaving the fantastic museum, I snacked in the gardens outside and made my way further downhill to the Olympic Stadium.  I was happy that I was open; I snapped a quick photo of track and torch knowing Laura would appreciate it.  I then returned to the MNAC (Catalan Art Museum) to take a quick swing through the Gothic and Modern art collections on display.  The visit was a bit uninspired given the energy I had spent at the Picasso and Miró sites.  What would be more memorable about the MNAC was the event outside following the visit.  I walked out the door to discover a big crowd at sunset.  They were waiting for the "Magic Fountain" light show (like Fourth of July).  Hundreds of tourists and Spaniards alike gathered for the event.  Given the spectacular view from MNAC, I could not help but enjoy it too.

I returned to my hostel weak from a day of hiking.  In the hostel's kitchen I met Ferran, a Spaniard from Pamplona (northern Spain) who had come to Barcelona to run in the Marathon the next day.  He started babbling at me in Spanish thinking I would not understand him.  But, once he realized my level of proficiency, he was delighted to strike up a conversation.  Not many hostelers could speak Spanish.  Wanting my company, I invited me to a carbo-feast of spaghetti.  We chatted for a long time about cultural differences between the United States and Spain.  This is why I love hostels now; they allow me to meet and interact with interesting people.  

For pictures of this day see "Barcelona Day 2 (3-5) - Montjuïc" at

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