Thursday, March 27, 2014

Barcelona - Day 1

Wall fountain in the Bari Gotic

Philadelphia - New York - Barcelona

This was the least prepared I've ever been for a vacation.  I bought a guidebook only a few days before, leafed through it, decided to read it on the plane.


The flights went well.  Philly to NY left a few minutes late; we got into JFK with just enough time to trot to our gate.  We were the last two people to board.

Graffiti behind bars

A change of route and strong tail winds got us into Barcelona almost an hour early.  We had time for coffee at the airport, then found the Aerobus and got off 30 minutes later at Placa Catalunya -- where apparently every city bus, tour bus, regional and metro train lets off.  It was busy, even early in the morning, and as we soon found out, Barcelona doesn't really "do" mornings very well.

We made our way down La Rambla, a wide pedestrian avenue with outdoor restaurants, souvenir and flower vendors on both sides.  Made a note to come back and look at the bulbs and seeds before we went home; I always like to return with something for the garden.

This was our first time staying in an apartment, which we located through Airbnb.  The host met us in front of the building and led us up three twisty flights of stairs.  He didn't have much English, but between Mario's high school Spanish and a lot of good will all around, we managed to sort things out okay.

Barcelona's cathedral
The apartment was cute, not much bigger than our bedroom at home, but well thought out:  a double bed near the window with a glass block wall separating it from the kitchen/living room area, and a T-shaped bathroom with a tiny square shower, a sink and a toilet tucked into a narrow tunnel a little less than 2 feet wide.  The things you have to do to make an old building work!

After a brief nap, we went in search of lunch.  We were staying in the Bari Gotic (the Gothic Quarter), the oldest section of the city, and there are tons of winding, alley-like streets, all seemingly crammed with interesting places to eat and drink.  We found an interesting paella place but lost it and finally ended at a tapas restaurant.  Afterward, we easily found the paella restaurant.

Post lunch and much refreshed, we wandered around our neighborhood, saw the Cathedral (from the outside; it was too nice to go indoors so soon), found our way back to La Rambla and walked down to the port.  On the way down, we saw a couple of living statues -- the copper cowboy was my favorite -- and ran into a small antique/flea market near the Columbus monument.  We walked the area, admiring all the boats and the gorgeous blue sky (stunning after this endless gray winter) and determined how to get over to the beach.  Decided to save it for later, but at least the geography was straight in our heads.

It really is that blue!
One of the interesting things about Barcelona is the graffiti.  At home, the assumption would be that a place covered in graffiti is dirty or dangerous, but that's not the case here.  The shutters on every business are covered in art; so are most flat surfaces, it seems.  It's not random tagging like at home, though, and the total lack of trash on the streets makes the graffiti seem like part of the scenery.  Which it is.

I took photos of my favorites, some of which will appear here.

Living statue on La Rambla
As we were crossing a street, Mario spotted an archway between two buildings and said it looked like a market.  It was!  We'd found La Boqueria, totally by accident, and I shot some wonderful food porn photos while we gathered a few odds and ends to take back with us.

It's a wonderful thing having a stove and a fridge when there are markets like this around.  It's one thing I've always missed when we've gone to Paris, and the food market in Florence was absolute torture without a kitchen.

Now armed with cheese, ham and a kilo of heavenly strawberries, we headed back to base.  On the way, we picked up a couple of bottles of local wine, just so that it really felt like home.  (Our thoughtful host had included a corkscrew with the kitchen equipment).

Another short nap, and we were ready for another meal.  We ventured out at 8, realizing it was a bit early for locals to be eating, but our stomachs weren't yet on Barcelona time.  The lovely arcaded Placa Reial was only a few blocks away, so we walked there and toured the selection at all the outdoor restaurants before choosnig another tapas menu.

Restaurants - Placa Reial
We sat outside in the dusk, with the umbrella heaters whooshing all around, listening to a woman play piano in the middle of the square, drinking wine and feeling very far from home.

It wasn't a bad way to feel.


Annie said...

Great post, it has taken me right back there, looking forward to more like this. There is such a lot to see, it's interesting looking through your eyes.

I really hope this comment appears this time,I like to be responsive when a post touches me as yours has. I've not worked out the problem, v frustrating.

edj3 said...

So glad you are posting about Barcelona -- we were there last October for our 10th anniversary. I'm very interested in how the apartment worked for you. We stayed in a hotel but I think what you've described would be fantastic.

Vicki said...

Oh, you make me want to go there…….right now! Sounds wonderful

Anonymous said...

A friend who lives in spain tells me that every few weeks there's some kind of religious parade--Mary or a Saint's Day or whatever, complete with days off for everyone. I think he works 5 minutes/year.