April 1 - 5, Barcelona

After rural Catalonia's small, nearly empty towns and villages, the city of Barcelona was a new Spain. No historical anachronism, no cloistered retreat, no resort, no bucolic estate, Barcelona is contemporary, urban and alive. Once home to the likes of Picasso, Miro, Tapies, and Gaudi, nursery to modern design and art, commercial center, bustling port, and centre for art and fashion it lives and breathes. Here are the missing teenagers, the young families, the seniors, the business men, the rich and the poor. High fashion walks the street, workers repair or build new, delivery trucks scurry, merchants lay out their wares, people shop, and scattered panhandlers hope to supplement their existence. We took the hour long bus ride from our campsite in Sitges to the Plaça Catalunya in Barcelona. Our first top was the temporary tourist office followed by coffee, pan au chocolate, and a stunning view at the cafeteria atop El Corte Inglés department store.  After coffee, we strolled towards the harbour. Large Plane trees were just leafing out along the wide central promenade, or Rambla. Individuals, then small groups of people coalesced, moving and growing into streams flowing around and between the kiosks and restaurant seating. For a while they appear intent and purposeful but then seep away, leaving isolated couples or small groups. They stroll arm in arm, or gossip with a news vendor or flower seller, or just sit and read, and they are oblivious to, but part of the ebb and flow. Just off the Rambla, in the city market (the Boqueria, Mercat de Sant Josep) hawkers, gawkers, and buyers offer and are tempted by a stunning array of foods from fresh fruits and vegetables, to cured meats (jamom Iberico at $225 per kilo), to sausage and cheeses, to tapas, to seafood, to juice bars. Fed by the Rambla and side streets, it creates its own currents, patterns, and eddies, but they slow and stop around Pinotxo's tapas bar at meal time. Those not lucky enough to find a seat end up standing or sitting on the ground, balancing a paper plate of food purchased at a stall or sitting at one of the over priced under delivered street side restaurants in the back eddies around the market. At ours, the calçots (tempura fried scallions) were good but the wine and chorizo (raw) were under- whelming. Still, we were entertained by Spanish guitar and accordion playing buskers. Rowdy Barcelona football fans struck up the team song but faded when no one else joined. The flow of people going about their daily lives would have been entertainment enough. Further south along the Rambla and approaching the old port are the living statues. Buskers, costumed and painted like statues or models of horror movie characters, they titillate and thrill the passers-by (make a small donation and have your picture taken being ravished by a monster). And next the harbour, a real statue to Columbus towers over the modernistic new harbour. Around its base people relax, dozing, or reading in the afternoon sun. It is siesta time and walking back north to the east of the Rambla takes us through the Gothic Quarter’s quiet streets. Many of the old buildings have been gutted and re-purposed, the original façades retained but cleaned up and behind the façade, new modern construction houses offices, shops, restaurants, boutiques, and residences. Despite its narrow streets, antique exteriors and modern interiors, it is a modern living neighbourhood, albeit sometimes appearing dressed for a historically themed movie set. We spent the next day, mastering the subway system and trying, without success, to develop a taste for Barcelona's favourite son, Antoni Gaudi. Despite long walks to three of the architect's main works, the Park Guel, the Sagrada Familia, and the Casa Batlló, and viewing their exterior manifestations, we were uninspired and unable to bring ourselves to stand in the long admission queues or to pay the admission fees. Still the day had many pleasures, We discovered some of everyday Barcelona, walking through a variety of non-tourist neighbourhoods, low end commercial, residential, and high end boutique and fashion. Outside the tourist zone we stopped at a small bar/cafe for lunch. The potato tortilla (a quiche/soufflé/omelet) was inexpensive and excellent (1/3rd the price of lunch the previous day). After the bustle and crowds of the Rambla and market, the gothic architecture of the old city, and the higher end shops and restaurants, the streets of everyday Barcelona were refreshing. Children played, women shopped, and the people were just going about their business. The next day we took time to appreciate two more of Spain’s favourite sons so it was back on the bus and into Barcelona to visit the Picasso and Miro museums. The Musee de Picasso emphasizes his early works and has few of his more well known works but it was fascinating to see his evolution as an artist. The power and emotion of some of his simple graphics are quite mind bending, their originality and creativity stunning, while others of his works leave me wondering if they were failed experiments or perhaps jokes. It is impossible to escape Miro in Barcelona. His starfish logo for la Caixa Banking is ubiquitous, you walk across his mural on the Rambla, and you see his work on t-shirts in the tourist shops.  A long walk through shopping and residential districts took us from the Picasso Museum to the Fundacio de Miro atop the promontory Montjuïc, site of many Olympic venues. I had read the cognizanti’s rationale for his importance to the art world, but I was disappointed, not with Miro’s work per se, but with my inability to see the images in the intellectual context of their importance. Some of the work had undeniable power and graphic appeal, much of it did not speak to me at all. The narrative material presented at the museum made reference to his personal symbolic language but gave no explanation of the symbolism to help interpret his work. At least Dali explained his own personal symbolism and while I may not like the aesthetic of some of his work, I could understand it. Miro left me confused both as to his intent and to his critical acclaim. Returning from Miro was the highlight of day. Our route took us through el Raval, once a Chinatown and red light district it has changed. More than half the population are immigrants; African, Arabs, Indonesians, Pakistanis, South Americans, and Romanians, the streets and alleys contained apartments, bodegas, appliance and motorcycle repair shops, halal butchers and bakers, small restaurants and takeaways. Women and children walked and shopped, men gossiped, delivery vans off-loaded, workmen repaired walls and renovated interiors. Much of the clothing would not have looked out of place in a small North African or Indonesian village, much else would not look out of place on any blue collar street corner. The streets were crowded but clean. It was not a shopping district, not a tourist area, not theme park, it was a living, breathing neighbourhood. Come evening, Barcelona awakens from its siesta. The streets, though never empty, begin to fill again. A massive public pillow fight breaks out in Plaça Catalonia and bits of foam from exploded pillows blow across the plaça, shops closed in the afternoon begin to open, the restaurants and tapas bars fill, streets become crowded, not so much with people about their business but with evening strollers and shoppers. It develops a festive air. Outside the cathedral, a band plays while groups, large and small form circles, hands joined, to dance the sardana (Catalonia's national dance) while singers, acrobats, musicians, and dancers busk. Later still, as the shops begin to close, and with the diners still at table and the bar patrons in their cups, the streets back at el Ravel begin to empty. Sometimes deserted, sometimes with a mother and children returning home, sometimes with a couple of teenagers just hanging out, the streets and alleys in the immigrant quarter are immaculately clean, well lighted, and peaceful.
A Sense of Place:  Travel, Photography, and Photo-art
by David E. Moon
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
Slideshow Route Map Route Map
After the quiet, near deserted streets of the small towns and resorts, Barcelona was a treat. The Plaša Catalunya from the El Corte InglÚs department store cafeteria. Strolling along the Rambla towards the old port. Lunch at the Boqueria Relaxing  below the towering statue of Columbus near the harbour. Catching during siesta in the Gothic quarter. Miro's logo on a la Caixa bank machine Discourse in el Raval, a neighbourhood of recent immigrants El Ravel of an evening.

April 1 - 5, Barcelona

After rural Catalonia's small, nearly empty towns and villages, the city of Barcelona was a new Spain. No historical anachronism, no cloistered retreat, no resort, no bucolic estate, Barcelona is contemporary, urban and alive. Once home to the likes of Picasso, Miro, Tapies, and Gaudi, nursery to modern design and art, commercial center, bustling port, and centre for art and fashion it lives and breathes. Here are the missing teenagers, the young families, the seniors, the business men, the rich and the poor. High fashion walks the street, workers repair or build new, delivery trucks scurry, merchants lay out their wares, people shop, and scattered panhandlers hope to supplement their existence. We took the hour long bus ride from our campsite in Sitges to the Plaça Catalunya in Barcelona. Our first top was the temporary tourist office followed by coffee, pan au chocolate, and a stunning view at the cafeteria atop El Corte Inglés department store.  After coffee, we strolled towards the harbour. Large Plane trees were just leafing out along the wide central promenade, or Rambla. Individuals, then small groups of people coalesced, moving and growing into streams flowing around and between the kiosks and restaurant seating. For a while they appear intent and purposeful but then seep away, leaving isolated couples or small groups. They stroll arm in arm, or gossip with a news vendor or flower seller, or just sit and read, and they are oblivious to, but part of the ebb and flow. Just off the Rambla, in the city market (the Boqueria, Mercat de Sant Josep) hawkers, gawkers, and buyers offer and are tempted by a stunning array of foods from fresh fruits and vegetables, to cured meats (jamom Iberico at $225 per kilo), to sausage and cheeses, to tapas, to seafood, to juice bars. Fed by the Rambla and side streets, it creates its own currents, patterns, and eddies, but they slow and stop around Pinotxo's tapas bar at meal time. Those not lucky enough to find a seat end up standing or sitting on the ground, balancing a paper plate of food purchased at a stall or sitting at one of the over priced under delivered street side restaurants in the back eddies around the market. At ours, the calçots (tempura fried scallions) were good but the wine and chorizo (raw) were under-whelming. Still, we were entertained by Spanish guitar and accordion playing buskers. Rowdy Barcelona football fans struck up the team song but faded when no one else joined. The flow of people going about their daily lives would have been entertainment enough. Further south along the Rambla and approaching the old port are the living statues. Buskers, costumed and painted like statues or models of horror movie characters, they titillate and thrill the passers-by (make a small donation and have your picture taken being ravished by a monster). And next the harbour, a real statue to Columbus towers over the modernistic new harbour. Around its base people relax, dozing, or reading in the afternoon sun. It is siesta time and walking back north to the east of the Rambla takes us through the Gothic Quarter’s quiet streets. Many of the old buildings have been gutted and re- purposed, the original façades retained but cleaned up and behind the façade, new modern construction houses offices, shops, restaurants, boutiques, and residences. Despite its narrow streets, antique exteriors and modern interiors, it is a modern living neighbourhood, albeit sometimes appearing dressed for a historically themed movie set. We spent the next day, mastering the subway system and trying, without success, to develop a taste for Barcelona's favourite son, Antoni Gaudi. Despite long walks to three of the architect's main works, the Park Guel, the Sagrada Familia, and the Casa Batlló, and viewing their exterior manifestations, we were uninspired and unable to bring ourselves to stand in the long admission queues or to pay the admission fees. Still the day had many pleasures, We discovered some of everyday Barcelona, walking through a variety of non-tourist neighbourhoods, low end commercial, residential, and high end boutique and fashion. Outside the tourist zone we stopped at a small bar/cafe for lunch. The potato tortilla (a quiche/soufflé/omelet) was inexpensive and excellent (1/3rd the price of lunch the previous day). After the bustle and crowds of the Rambla and market, the gothic architecture of the old city, and the higher end shops and restaurants, the streets of everyday Barcelona were refreshing. Children played, women shopped, and the people were just going about their business. The next day we took time to appreciate two more of Spain’s favourite sons so it was back on the bus and into Barcelona to visit the Picasso and Miro museums. The Musee de Picasso emphasizes his early works and has few of his more well known works but it was fascinating to see his evolution as an artist. The power and emotion of some of his simple graphics are quite mind bending, their originality and creativity stunning, while others of his works leave me wondering if they were failed experiments or perhaps jokes. It is impossible to escape Miro in Barcelona. His starfish logo for la Caixa Banking is ubiquitous, you walk across his mural on the Rambla, and you see his work on t-shirts in the tourist shops.  A long walk through shopping and residential districts took us from the Picasso Museum to the Fundacio de Miro atop the promontory Montjuïc, site of many Olympic venues. I had read the cognizanti’s rationale for his importance to the art world, but I was disappointed, not with Miro’s work per se, but with my inability to see the images in the intellectual context of their importance. Some of the work had undeniable power and graphic appeal, much of it did not speak to me at all. The narrative material presented at the museum made reference to his personal symbolic language but gave no explanation of the symbolism to help interpret his work. At least Dali explained his own personal symbolism and while I may not like the aesthetic of some of his work, I could understand it. Miro left me confused both as to his intent and to his critical acclaim. Returning from Miro was the highlight of day. Our route took us through el Raval, once a Chinatown and red light district it has changed. More than half the population are immigrants; African, Arabs, Indonesians, Pakistanis, South Americans, and Romanians, the streets and alleys contained apartments, bodegas, appliance and motorcycle repair shops, halal butchers and bakers, small restaurants and takeaways. Women and children walked and shopped, men gossiped, delivery vans off-loaded, workmen repaired walls and renovated interiors. Much of the clothing would not have looked out of place in a small North African or Indonesian village, much else would not look out of place on any blue collar street corner. The streets were crowded but clean. It was not a shopping district, not a tourist area, not theme park, it was a living, breathing neighbourhood. Come evening, Barcelona awakens from its siesta. The streets, though never empty, begin to fill again. A massive public pillow fight breaks out in Plaça Catalonia and bits of foam from exploded pillows blow across the plaça, shops closed in the afternoon begin to open, the restaurants and tapas bars fill, streets become crowded, not so much with people about their business but with evening strollers and shoppers. It develops a festive air. Outside the cathedral, a band plays while groups, large and small form circles, hands joined, to dance the sardana (Catalonia's national dance) while singers, acrobats, musicians, and dancers busk. Later still, as the shops begin to close, and with the diners still at table and the bar patrons in their cups, the streets back at el Ravel begin to empty. Sometimes deserted, sometimes with a mother and children returning home, sometimes with a couple of teenagers just hanging out, the streets and alleys in the immigrant quarter are immaculately clean, well lighted, and peaceful.
A Sense of Place:  Travel, Photography, and Photo-art
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
Slideshow Slideshow Route Map Route Map
After the quiet, near deserted streets of the small towns and resorts, Barcelona was a treat. The Plaša Catalunya from the El Corte InglÚs department store cafeteria. Strolling along the Rambla towards the old port. Lunch at the Boqueria Relaxing  below the towering statue of Columbus near the harbour. Catching during siesta in the Gothic quarter. Miro's logo on a la Caixa bank machine Discourse in el Raval, a neighbourhood of recent immigrants El Ravel of an evening.