Friday, 28 June 2013

The day I became a Barceloni

Over the past few days AGA and I have been having a short holiday in Barcelona.
The holiday was the grand finale of my fiftieth birthday 'celebrations' and I was really looking forward to going, because while AGA has been there a few times, this was to be my first visit.

Modern Barcelona consists not only of the old town of Barcelona, but various nearby villages as well.  All the spaces in between these various communities were filled in (in the 19th Century) with a street system laid out in a grid pattern, for which we have to thank the great urban planner Ildefons Cerda i Sunyer.  This is similar to Melbourne (albeit on a smaller scale) which was laid out by the equally far-sighted urban planner Robert Hoddle.

I liked this aerial photograph of Barcelona because the orderly grid is smudged by older areas with their narrower, twisting streets and lanes.  The smudge near to the harbour is the old town of Barcelona.
That diagonal road on the left is the 'Diagonale'.  It is a wide boulevard, which in common with a few other streets in the city has, for much of its length, a tree-lined, pedestrian 'walkway' down the middle, which is very convenient for strolling about with no fixed intent.  

The first thing that struck me about Barcelona was how exotic it looked; with its palm trees, heat, and raucous parrots...  In small ways it reminded us of Melbourne.

Another thing that I noticed was that Barcelona is a bilingual city.  All signs and notices are in Catalan and in Spanish (often termed 'Castilian').  This is similar to the Welsh and English usage in Wales.  In Barcelona many many people speak English too.
Catalan sounds like a cross between Spanish and French - or at least it did to my ears - and I found that I understood more than I thought I would.  

Our hotel was just off the Diagonale and it was nice to sit on the balcony, in the cool of the evening, after a long day of tourist-like activities!

When I spoke with work colleagues about going to Barcelona, words such as 'Sagrada Familia', 'Gaudi', and the 'Modernista Movement' were mentioned.  These are things of which the city is justly proud, however there is much more as I soon discovered!

Having never been to Barcelona before I wanted to get an overview of the city and so, having arrived at our hotel, we bought two two day passes to travel on the 'Bus Turistic'.  This is a 'hop on, hop off' bus service, travelling three different routes throughout the city.  I think that it was well worth the money.
There are three routes and we went on all three over the two days allotted.  
Having been on the two main routes though, I was ready to explore.   
(The third route goes by the beach and we left that to the afternoon of the second day)

AGA told me that as this was my birthday trip we would do whatever I wanted. So grab your hats and sunglasses and come with me on my own tour of Barcelona...

From our hotel, we could walk into the centre of the city by way of:
La Rambla is the main promenade from the Diagonale to the Plaça del Rei, overlooking the Marina.  La Rambla is filled with beautiful buildings, cafés, fabulous shops, and lots of people:

When you have walked the entire length you come to the Plaça del Rei, crowned with a statue of Christopher Columbus:

The figure on top of the column looks like this:
He is pointing towards America...

The old town is an enchanting maze of winding streets and little courts.

La Rambla cuts through the old town, and so we decided to turn to our left and plough straight in.  Known as the 'Gothic Quarter' it is where one finds the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia:

It is a casket of many treasures!  For me an important one is this:
Set up on the wall; it is the tomb of my adventurous and scandalous ancestress Almodis de la Marche.  I will tell you about her one day.  Nearby is the tomb of her third husband, Ramon Berenguer I, Comte de Barcelona.
In the crypt sits the tomb of the Roman Martyr Saint Eulalia.  She is the patron of Barcelona:

Attached to the Cathedral are the original cloisters.  Here are kept the thirteen cathedral geese.  They are thirteen in number to represent the age St. Eulalia was when martyred:

Fresh water comes from the well of St George.  If you cup your hands you can get a cool drink from it.

If you are brave enough to go up to the roof, there are some wonderful views of the city to be had.  In the interests of this blog I made the ascent even though I do not care for heights.  I felt like an intrepid reporter!

Next to the Cathedral is the old Royal Palace.  In this chamber sat the infamous Inquisition.  It was said that the walls themselves would move if someone told a lie.  It was also in this room that Ferdinand and Isabella greeted Christopher Columbus after his returned from the 'New World':

The Courtyard of the Palace reminded both AGA and myself of Siena:

And beneath the Palace, the Courtyard, and part of the Cathedral, are to be found the largest subterranean Roman ruins in the world.  The ancient city of Barcin:
The ruins stretch for quite a way and while it was rather warm down there, I found it to be very interesting.  They have even discovered a piece of marble engraved with the town name:
I read that Barcelona was originally settled by the Carthaginians...

Did someone mention hats?  This is the place to go:
I bought two very nice Panama hats here.  AGA bought one.  I justified buying two as I need a larger brimmed one for the summer and a trilby for Spring and Autumn when the sun is still out but not quite as hot...
There are so many things to see in Barcelona . . .

At this time of year one can find flowers and fruit all over the place:
The fallen acacia blossom looked like scattered gold:

Everywhere one looked there were beautiful buildings:

There were more Roman remains:
(That archway is the remaining piece of the Roman town aqueduct.)

There were little reminders that once Barcelona had a thriving Jewish population:

Reminders that the city was once the headquarters of a powerful family of Counts: 

And reminders that in the not too distant past, this city was the scene of bloodshed and turmoil:

This is the church of St Philip Neri.  It was to this church that Antoni Gaudi was travelling for Daily Mass when he was knocked down by a tram and received injuries from which he later died.  Some say that marks on the walls here were made by bullets as people were executed during the Civil War and others say that no executions took place here but the pockmarks relate solely to the incident when a bomb was dropped onto the square, killing both adults and children sheltering within the church.  It is has been left unrepaired as a monument to those killed.

This chapel in the Cathedral has been set aside in memory of the many priests, monks and nuns killed during the Civil War:

There is of course the famous Sagrada Familia.  Very much 'under construction':

Then there is the wonderful ceiling of the atrium at the National Museum of Art of Catalunya:

Inside is the largest collection of Romanesque Artwork in (I believe) the World:

Much of it has been rescued from Civil War damaged Churches and Monasteries.  They have made what looked to be fibreglass molds of church buildings, into which the rescued frescoes and paintings are set: 

It was very impressive.  As was the exterior of the building and its surrounds:

And from the main entrance there is a wonderful view to be had across the Plaça Espanya and the distant hills:

There are many beautiful buildings from the Modernista period.
This is the famous Casa Battlo:

There are buildings on a monumental scale:

And there were 20th and 21st Century buildings too:

Everywhere there are wonderful balconies:

Beautiful examples of carving in stone:

Interesting door decoration. . .:

. . . I could go on and on but I fear I have already written far too much.  So I shall end with one small recommendation.  It involves cakes.  I love cakes and pastries and this café was a highlight of my visit to Barcelona.  It is called 'Caelum'. and can be found at de la Palla 8.  I would definitely recommend it

While AGA had a cappucino with a lot of froth on top, and an almond and egg yolk cake, I shall always remember that it was here that I had my first taste of the heavenly Tarta de Santiago. . .


  1. Kirk,
    so many impressions!
    I've been there a few times but did not see much of what you've seen
    I liked the view of the city from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Nice balconies, Gaudi's houses!
    When I was in the Güell garden and also took pictures of the city from there.

    1. Dear Nadezda,
      I think that Barcelona is a very nice city. I have come back and now I want to go again!
      I didn't go to the Guell garden but I shall next time.

  2. Hello Kirk

    You describe so beautifully and together with your images have provided a wonderful taste of Barcelona. I have been scrolling back and forth and the balconies are superb. Thanks for sharing. Now I have a taste for cappucino and cake

    Have a wonderful weekend


    1. Dear Helen,
      Thank you for your kind comments. Barcelona is now one of my favourite places.I hope that I get to go there again.
      I hope that you have a lovely weekend too!

  3. Hello Kirk, That was really neat about the old Roman ruins underneath the palace, but it's creepy that the palace itself is the site of the Inquisition. I always find it strange and hard to reconcile that the Inquisition and Columbus' voyage were simultaneous events.

    1. Dear Jim,
      I am a big fan of Roman social history and if we are visiting a place that has any Roman ruins in it then AGA knows I will be dragging him off to take a look at it.

  4. Your photo's of Barcelona look beautiful! It's one of those cities I hope to visit in future. If only for the architecture. Hope you and Aga have a good time in England! Have fun on your porcelain hunt.

    Madelief x

    1. Dear Madelief,
      I think you should make your next holiday a trip to this interesting city. As you say, the architecture alone is wonderful and I think it is interesting because it is so different to that which we see about us every day.
      Bye for now


    I love dad was born in Mexico, but was of Spanish heritage (Northern Spain) and the traditions of the old world here were prominent in my upbringing. I studied Flamenco dancing and heard his stories of our connections with King Pelayo.....

    The architecture is glorious, the languages....OMG, so thrilling, and the Jewish and Catholic and MOORISH influences are a historian's and a linguist's delight.

    Good to see you and your photos my dear. ENJOY! Anita

    1. Thank you Anita,
      Your Mexican and Spanish heritage sounds very exciting and exotic. And you studied Flamenco too? I studied Scottish Country Dancing - but it was a long long time ago. I wasn't very good at it and was told I danced like an elephant!
      I had such a nice time in Barcelona. Next on my list is Granada - if I an lucky.
      Bye for now

  6. Dear Kirk,
    Thank you for this post-- every word and picture is wonderful! I envy your visit to Barcelona-- it's been too many years since I've been... Isn't it fascinating how some cities have the power to call to you, and convince you that perhaps you were an inhabitant in another life?!?! Maybe it's something in the pastries...
    Enjoy your holiday--thank you for bringing us along!!
    Warm regards,

    1. Dear Erika,
      Thank you for your very kind comments! I agree with you sometimes we will visit a place and either AGA or I will say that we feel as if we belong there. It must be something that you see that resonates with your deepest thoughts. For me it was the cosmopolitan atmosphere and the mediterranean feel that made me think of Melbourne and I felt that I could easily live in Barcelona (although of course I am viewing things as a tourist and not an actual inhabitant) On the other hand it could indeed be the pastries ;-)
      I hope you are enjoying your weekend!
      Bye for now

      I am glad that you are back with us again. I missed your wonderful and very interesting posts.

  7. What a fabulous way to celebrate your 50th!! Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in Europe. I remember the high energy and excitement on La Rambla at night. And the best paella there, too! Your photos are fabulous. Especially the one with the fallen acacia blossoms, Kirk. Amazing light and shadows!!
    Take care,

    1. Thank you Loi,
      I think it is a fabulous way too! AGA celebrated his on the shores of Lake Como. I wonder what we will do for our sixtieths. . .
      Thankyou for your kind comments on my photos. I took a few photographs of the acacia blossoms - in the sunlight they really did look like pools of gold.
      I hope you are enjoying a restful weekend!

  8. Oh wow, Kirk. What a gorgeous city. Thank you so much for sharing your trip with us. I have a close friend who has been to Barcelona twice, but since she doesn't take many pictures, I really haven't seen much of what she saw.

    I do like seeing that the statue of Columbus is pointing towards America. A nice touch.

    Your pictures almost make me feel as I'm travelling there as well. That's what the best travel photos should do, I think. Oh and Happy Fiftieth Birthday, Kirk. Fifty is a great age. I wouldn't mind going back there myself. :)

    1. Thankyou Yvette for your kind comments. I think that Barcelona is a wonderful place to visit. Maybe I will get to go again one day!

      AGA just told me that 70 is the new 55 according to American Vogue. I have twenty more years to go. When I turned 50 my Mum (who is seventy-one and so, according to the new definition, only 56) told me that she read that 50 is the new 35. Frankly I think that this all depends on the weather, and how I feel when I wake up. Some work mornings 50 feels like the new 90!

      Bye for now


  9. Dear Kirk,

    Thank you for this grand tour of Barcelona! I have had reports from several friends that it is a fascinating city, filled with beautiful people of both gender. I also understand that it is a city that honors the artists that have contributed to its public spaces, a most civilized place. Your posting whets my appetite for a future visit there!

    When I turned 60, my nephew laughed and said that 60 was the new 59! I wish you a happy birthday and a happy coming year!


    1. Dear Mark,
      You really should go and visit this city. It is a wonderful place although I expect it gets rather hot in the high summer as I still have my sunburn marks now in September!


  10. What beautiful history! I just love it. The US is just so "young" but then again, in so many places in our country there is little respect for what we do have that's old. You've made me want to take a trip, someday anyway, to Barcelona. You've teased so much beauty that I'm hooked. Hope you both enjoy your fabulous trip!!

    1. Dear 1st Man,
      the US is young and Australia is even younger but I think that beauty can be found in a baby's dimpled smile as well as an old person's wrinkles.
      I hope you do get to Barca one day!

  11. As if I was there... Thank you, Kirk!

    1. Thank you CR for dropping by - you are welcome any time!