Sunday, April 12, 2015

Barcelona - Partly Sunny, Partly Gaudi

Arrived in Barcelona at 9am from our overnight flight.  Took a taxi to the apartment we had rented from UP Suites BCN - nice place, a bed for everyone, big kitchen (which we didn’t use much) a patio deck, and three bathrooms!  It was not check in time yet, so we wandered over to La Rambla, the wide avenue, that somewhat like Fifth Avenue has many big stores & many tourists walking up and down.  We walked by Casa Batlló, the first of many structures we would see designed by modernista architect, Antonio Gaudi.   Then we wandered further down to the famous Boqueria market, which was closed for Good Friday.   We had some tapas for a light lunch and spent some time in the Richard Meier designed Contemporary Art Museum (MACBA), which was crowded outside with young Barcelona men and boys on skateboards.  So far, Barcelona was giving off a bit of a San Francisco vibe, which would continue, due to the windy streets in the older neighborhoods and the hills around the city.   We went back to the apartment for a long nap, and stayed in the neighborhood for a lovely dinner at Restaurant Toto.

Day 2
Matt and I woke up earlier than the kids and took a walk over to Miro Park and Plaça D’Espanya, where an old bullfighting ring has been turned into a fairly boring, but attractive shopping center.  We gathered up the kids and took the metro (subway) up to Park Güell, also designed by Gaudi, at the request of Güell to be a neighborhood of luxury homes overlooking the city, with a marketplace and surrounded by parks and gardens. 

Unfortunately for Güell, investors didn’t buy in, but luckily for the public, the city took over and it is now mostly public space.  We were glad that we got out of the train at a place above the park, instead of taking a cab to the main entrance.  It was really pretty walking down to the space from above, and we didn’t feel the need to buy tickets for the preserved area, just for the privilege of sitting on the mosaic benches.  We did grab a taxi outside the main entrance to head back to the center of Barcelona, and decided, based on my National Geographic book, to have some Chinese food for lunch, which was pretty good!

We spent the late afternoon walking around the neighborhood a bit more, as we had tour reservations for Gaudi’s Casa Milà (La Pedrera).  We checked out El Corte Ingles, Spain’s big department store, and had some tapas at Cervecería Catalana.  (Excellent Spanish Omelette Sandwich!) 
  La Pedrera was really cool - Gaudi designed this building at the request of a very wealthy couple, but it is an apartment building for many families, and some people still live in the apartments today.  It has several round interior courtyards, and beautiful windows with iron balcony railings inspired by seaweed.  You can visit a sample apartment, which demonstrates how the haute bourgeoisie lived at the start of the 20th century.  The coolest part is the roof, on which Gaudi disguised the normal mechanical necessities for the building with sculptural elements that look like guard statues standing on duty.  Some of these are covered in mosaic tile or even broken champagne bottles!   We were up there around 8pm, when the sun was just starting to set, so the light over the city was beautiful.  

Once it was dark, we made our way to the Palau Nacional, where a large avenue leads up a hill to the palace that serves as the National Museum. In front of the museum is the Magic Fountain, a giant water show with lights, colors, and music. . like Las Vegas came to Spain.  It was fun to watch, and we walked around all sides of the spectacle to get some different views and practice our photography skills.  

Day 3
It was a very sunny morning, so it was a good day to head to Barceloneta, the beach and harbor neighborhood, which has a bit of a Santa Monica / Venice Beach vibe in some places.  We had lunch at a great "beach shack" which is actually operated by a cool Barcelona chef / restaurant owner - Carles Abellan.  At one end of Barceloneta is the 1992 Olympic Village, which now has some modern apartments, office buildings and an area filled with trendy clubs and restaurants.  At the other end, there was more of family scene with Barcelona’s large aquarium.  We visited the aquarium, which had a great variety of fish and ocean life from all over the world --and some cute Penguinas! 

Then we decided to head up another hill to the Castle of Monjuïc.  Two ways to get there, cable car from Barceloneta, or metro to a funicular (a little train that goes up the center of the hill itself).  We thought getting to the funicular would involve less walking, but were led astray after putting in the wrong destination in Google maps, so we probably doubled our walking distance  -- 22,000 steps that day!  We finally realized the funicular entrance was INSIDE the metro station, and eventually figured it out.  After a short ride (with a really drunk Scottish couple), we got the payoff of our next lovely view of the city at dusk.
We were on a roll with the view-thing.  For dinner, we picked a more traditional Spanish restaurant back at the bottom of the hill, and we had some nice paella and good wine.

Day 4
Easter Monday, we were out of luck again with a different food market being closed - the Mercat de Santa Caterina this time.  But it was a sunny morning to walk around El Born, another part of the older Barcelona, that is filled with little cafes and independent boutiques.   We got some great Italian lunch snacks (El Gusto) and took some sandwiches, fruit, and chips for the road.   Then we took the metro again to Tibidabo, which is way up on a hill, and went to our highest spot yet, via ANOTHER funicular up to the Tibidabo Amusement Park and the gorgeous church Temple de Sagrat Cor.  

Yamini went on a ride that took her even higher than the top of the church on the top of the hill, and the rest of us soaked up some sun, as it was pretty breezy up there.   We metro’ed it back to our last Gaudi edifice, the still under construction La Sagrada Familia.  Rather than booking the tour here, so we sadly missed the inside, we admired all the fancy work on all sounds around the outside.  Dinner back in the fancy Passeig de Gràcia (L’EGGS by Paco Perez) and back to the apartment to get some sleep for an earlier wake up the next day.

Day 5

Up earlier than usual for all to visit the Picasso Museum with advance tickets booked on line.  Not as much of the master works we are accustomed to seeing in pictures (more of those in Madrid, NY, or Paris), but an amazing collection of his work from the youngest age.  He did portraits at age 14 that would be the best work of some artists today!   The museum also featured all his work on a series called “Las Meninas” after the most famous painting by Velasquez. 
As a bonus, the museum had a show celebrating the artistic friendship and inspiration shared by Picasso and Salvador Dali, and there were great works by each artist that we had never seen.    Since it was back to work for Barcelona on a Tuesday, the Mercat de Sant Caterina was open, and we got to imagine what it would be like to shop in that glorious temple of food on a regular basis.  We just grabbed some coffee and snacks before picking up our bags at the apartment and heading to the train station for the trip to Madrid.  It seems just as we got really proficient at getting around Barcelona, it was time to leave.  We will have to return!

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