I’ve already been here more than 24 hours, and the ground is still moving. I don’t know if it’s a side effect of the seasick patches (TransdermScope), the Ibuprofin, or the fact that I just never lost my sea legs, but I still have this sea motion sensation.
Now, what kept me in bed until noon I cannot say, but I’d imagine it was a combination of drugs and drama from the day before. In any event, I missed my appointment with Runnerbean Tours.
But not to worry! Blanc Guest House to the rescue! The hostess says she thinks Runnerbean does another tour at 4:30, and she arranges it by phone for me. Score another one for this place!
By the way, I can’t say the room is quiet…it isn’t. But I DID manage to sleep through the entire breakfast noise happening right outside of my door, probably more a tribute to my meds than this place, but I think I’ll give them some credit also. Yes, this place is great!
That still leaves me early afternoon to do nothing. I decide to grab a chocolate croissant (yummy!) on the way out the door to on of those on/off buses. The one I’m on is called Barcelona Bus Turistico, and at $$34, it isn’t cheap. What you get is a pair of headphones with an English language option at the seat and a pretty extensive network of available tour options that pretty much covers the city, with a chance to jump off at the major parks, monuments, stadiums, and the financial district.
While I like it, there’s really no substitute for being right down in the thick of things on the street. Still, I enjoy riding around high up in the open air second story of the bus, even though I have to move around to find a speaker system that will work. You get a pretty good overview of the city highlights, such as the Gaudi architecture and the major city districts and parks, etc., plus of course you can get on and off where you like.
I decide to exit the bus at La Rambla. This is one of the most famous sidewalks in the world. It is as wide as a 6-lane highway, but is given over almost entirely to pedestrians along its tree-lined expanse. The weather is perfect, with a nice cool breeze just barely rustling the trees and the noontime sun filtering through the leaves in Monetesque water color.
At the north end of this walk where I start, there are as many natives as tourists. People walking dogs and strolling their babies are as plentiful as the tourists. There are plenty of places to buy trinkets in the center kiosks, but on the edges in real buildings there is something for every need.
As you proceed south the walk becomes gradually more touristy until by the time you reach its terminus at the impressive columned monument to Christopher Columbus, there is nothing except “living statue” photo-ops and overpriced sidewalk café’s. In between, you’ll find artists displaying their wares (some with real talent), some great food, a fantastic Mercado area where you can buy everything from rare cheeses to fresh octopus, and plazas off to the side with fountains and ancient churches crisscrossed with enough narrow winding side streets to make you think you’re in Venice.
In fact, the architecture can pass for Venetian once you get into some of the back alleys, and the history of this place just oozes out of the walls like the blood of the kings, priests, and patriots who have died here over the centuries. It all comes to life thanks to Laurie, my Runnerbean tour guide, who I meet along with about 15 other tourists at the Placa de Reail.
Laurie is an expert on the history of Barcelona, and she uses a lot of humor to cut through some of the darker chapters of his city. She starts with the Roman walled city (you can see some columns from the original), and works her way up through Wilford the Hairy (who stood as a bastion against Muslim encroachment into Catalonia-who is doing that now?), through the middle ages and the great Gothic churches built here, into the age of Gaudi and his fantastic creations, and finally through the era of Franco and the bombing of the city’s churches during WWII. She is a fine storyteller and is quick with a joke, just the thing to hold your attention for 3 hours. And she even gives you a little free time for exploration as well. Highly recommended!
Tour highlights are the Santa Maria del Pi cathedral, the magnificent Gothic masterpiece of Barcelona Cathedral, the remnants of the Roman temples, and the tales of intrigue, lust, and human vanity. If you go to Barcelona, you must do this tour!
You can just show up the day of and get into a tour or make reservations online: http://www.runnerbeantours.com/
I am left on La Rambla when the tour is over and use the Hi/ho bus to get back near my hotel.
Tonight I eat at La Tagliatela. I’ve rarely eaten in a restaurant that’s been in business for over 100 years old, so this is a real treat. This place has a bold gold and red color motif wit all kinds of paintings and posters from Italy festooning the walls. In fact, your eye cannot find a square inch of the place not devoted by art or writing to the old country.
The service is fast and in English as I requested, and they serve me 2 glasses of some of the best Chardonnay I’ve had for less than $3 each. I order the pizza de mare with shrimp and prawns, and the prawns are served on the pie complete with their heads attached. I’m not crazy about this, but at least you know it’s fresh, and oh my! Is it good! Yes it is. I like the Spanish tradition of bringing out olives or pickled vegetables as something to munch on before you order, too.
So, my bill for a 12 inch pizza, 2 glasses of wine, a bottled water, great service and a fine atmosphere in a world class city center? About $28. Not bad.
To say I like Barcelona is an understatement. This is one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s big, clean, and affordable. But to me, a great city needs more than that.
It needs great architecture. Well, OK. How about a veritable museum of Gaudi extravagance on display for your viewing pleasure? This genius created designs so beyond even the most avant-garde of his day that his buildings Imo have still never been equaled (and in the case of the Sagrada Familia never finished either). I have never seen designs so natural and organic, so perfectly in tune with the earth itself. They look like the result of a human termite colony, if you will. Built up layer by layer in flows of lava or mud rather than straight floors. In fact, you’ll have a hard time finding a straight line in the building. If you gave me a picture of what I expected the city of the future to be like, this would be it.
Gaudi was a devout Catholic, so it’s appropriate that the magnificent Cathedral he designed bears his trademark organic style. At once dazzling in its awe-inspiring majesty and scale, yet seeming to rise from the very earth itself as if the very rock was melted and stretched to the sky, this must be considered his magnum opus. Where most cathedrals are designed for inspiration from the vast caverns within the worship space, Gaudi has brought the worship of God outside the temple and incorporated it into the very architecture in a way that no Gothic architect ever conceived. Superlative.
But what about history? From leaders like Cesar Augustus, to Wifred the Hairy, to Catherine of Aragon and King Ferdinand and Isabela to Franco, tragedies like the fall to Napolean’s Army, the Black Death, and the assassination of political prisoners, or the cultural heritage of a unique language, this place has it in spades.
The people are nothing like what I thought. Far from being the short darker skinned Spanish speakers in the New World, these Catalans are frequently blonde, and tall. They have a magnificent tradition of art, from Picasso to Dali.
They are home to a world-class soccer team, and they are a center of finance and commerce. And seemingly beautiful weather, not to mention women. Yes, this is all part of what Barcelona is. True, I’ve only scratched the surface in my 2 days here. But what I see, I like. A lot.