Barcelona was the total dessert to the meal of our trip to Spain. I could really see coming back here to live for a while (maybe a year or so) to explore in depth its many charms. People who know me know I am a bit of a foodie, and I have to say that Barcelona is hands down the easiest city to have a good meal in anywhere in Europe, beating out even Paris. In the six days we have been here, and all the multiple meals and tapas, we have had only one disappointment. In a lot of ways, Barcelona reminds me of my beloved San Francisco, not just in the fantastic food but also in the culture in evidence out in the streets. There is both a free spirit vibe here as well as its sadder cousin the homeless/street hippie vibe. This is a casual city where everyone is casually dressed. Whatever pretension there is doesn’t seem to be so much bound up in consumption and its ostentation. The city has a (perhaps overly) fiercely independent spirit, evidenced in their cultural pride (language, food, institutions) as well as by the many Catalonian flags that hang from so many of the buildings. I know that this strong regionalism rubs many in the rest of Spain the wrong way, but it is part of what gives Barcelona its pride of place and cultural interest, a kind of country within a country. Barcelona manages to be both modern and historic at the same time, never falling into the trap of being a museum city. It is alive and welcoming and makes me want to return soon. Tomorrow we will fly back to Paris for a few days, and then back to New York, which I have to admit I am starting to miss just a little bit.
Yesterday and today I have been wandering a bit alone, leaving Josh and Jose (my former roommate who happens to be in town) to go to Sitges without me. As much as I love traveling with Josh and seeing Jose, it is nice to have a little alone time. Yesterday I saw some cool outer parts of the Barrio Gotico (both sides) while today I went up to the Gracia neighborhood of Barcelona and walked back to my hotel in the Barrio Gotico. It was beautiful out and a lovely walkabout in areas less touristed than the center.
One thing we have been noticing here is the amazing amount of people carrying around a single crutch. Most of them are older, and I wonder if there isn’t some agressive government program to hand out crutches to the elderly. Then again, it is always the way with things you take notice of. After the first time, you become hyper aware of the existence of the thing, and tend to spot it more readily than before. Especially when outside of one’s home environs, one looks for things that are definitive of the other culture or place. Still, there are very many indeed.
I took a little walk to the “other” side of the Ramblas today. (If you think about the Barrio Gotico as roughly heart shaped, and you are standing at the Plaça Catalunya facing towards the water, we are staying in the left ventricle. This other neighborhood is the right.) As I remembered from back when, it was the dirtier, less glamourous, more seedy half of the Barrio Gotico. Things have changed somewhat over the past 20 years as it (like the whole of the city) has undergone a number of upgrades and transformations. That said, it retains an air of other about it vis-a-vis this side, and I spotted some definite economic and ethnic differences in the inhabitants. I also stumbled upon a mini red light district, really just a street with hookers walking up and down it.
– The food here is far and away better than any other place in Spain. No matter where we happen to stop into for a bite, it is always great. While there is great food in other parts of Spain, you need to do your research. Not so Barcelona, almost every place is a gem.
– There is a fairly large hippie vibe here, as we have seen several people walking around barefoot (who does that?!), as well as a large number of embarrassing white people/dreadlock combos.
– There are a lot of tourists in Barcelona, as you would imagine for such a fascinating city. We have been wondering to what degree they interfere with the day to day life of the city and if it would get annoying to live here with their presence.
– These people know chocolate.
– Although slightly better quality than the rest of Spain, they still have a problem with the concept of a napkin. Mostly all that is available is a small piece of wax paper, and given the copious amounts of olive oil in just about everything, this is obviously a problem.
Josh and I took a stroll through Barceloneta and down the beach today. I was amazed at how much the place has changed since I last visited. Mostly due to the Olympics and follow on development, the place is all abuzz with architecture and activity of all sorts. It was a great walk and really impressive the amount of cool public space that Barcelona has. Continuing with the theme, we then decided to go up to the Parc Guell. All the Gaudi details were incredible, the walkways and ceramic benches and buildings — we loved it all. The weather was amazing and the views over the city (especially from the highest point) completely captivating. The only thing that was a little disconcerting is that there is some plant in bloom all over the park that smells distinctly of semen, and made us want to yak more than once.
We have only been in Barcelona a little more than a day, but we already love it. So many things are so much easier here than anywhere else in Spain, and this seems to be Spain’s most cosmopolitain city, quite a bit more so than even its capital, Madrid. Unlike the hit or miss food in other parts of Spain, in Barcelona any old place we happen onto seems to have great food. The city is quite lively, people are out everywhere, and the nightlife is better than anywhere we have been except Madrid. I lived in Barcelona briefly about 21 years ago, and it has been a lot of fun half recognizing some things and seeing how so many others have changed so much. Barcelona seems a much more developed place than back then, yet still retains a lot of its charms. I absolutely love wandering the dense streets of the Barrio Gotico where our hotel is situated. As I said previously, we are just wandering wherever, not trying in any particular way to “do” Barcelona as the other cities, yet since we will have so much more time here, it can reveal itself to us more naturally and at a better pace. I will be posting pics over the next few days, here are a few of the first…
Josh and I arrived in Barcelona this afternoon, after a marathon drive from somewhere south of Murcia (where our by-the-road hotel was). We are happy as clams to be done with the driving part, and settle into the life of this beautiful city for some fun and relaxation lasting about a week. I will of course post pictures at some point, but have sworn off my camera for at least a day. We are already loving our hotel and the food here after only half a day. Stay tuned for the rest.
Josh and I made a (long) day stop in Granada today to see the town and the Alhambra. We got in early in the morning and walked all around this exceptionally beautiful place. I had forgotten what a great city it was, I think my favorite in Andalusia. Then we had some time to kill and I let Josh talk me into a Segway tour around town that was fun if a little humiliating for the bright orange vests we had to wear and all the townspeople gawking at the image of the gaudy Americans we presented. After that, we made our way to the Alhambra, the best example of Moorish Architecture anywhere…and yet…somewhere about half way through our tour a psychological wall came down…Josh and I hit the end of our tourist energy. We were completely spent, and didn’t care to see another god damn carving or detail or garden or what-have-you. We hit the tipping point, after all the towns, all the culture, all the architecture and all the landscapes and sights. We were done. We had touristed the shit out of everything, and we were exhausted. We decided to head to Barcelona as quickly as possible, and just enjoy living in a nice city for a while and slowing down the pace, at least of the tourist crap. So we are on our way there tomorrow, and as a kind of antidote to all that came before, we purposefully picked a hotel that was just off the highway, in a place that had nothing cultural to offer whatsoever, unless you count the bowling alley across the parking lot. I am writing this from our room in this hotel (called Executive Sport), and I have to say, it is the nicest roadside hotel we have ever seen. It has a spa and a gym and it very very nicely designed. It also is the cheapest of any place we have stayed so far. We are in hog heaven.
Today Josh and I spent a second leisurely day wandering the timeless streets of Cordoba. We visited what remains of a 14th century synagogue, toured the local Alcazar, visited the archeological museum, and ended the day with a couple of relaxing hours at the local hammam. Tomorrow we will head off to Granada and the Alhambra, followed by some random hotel on the side of the road tomorrow night. Btw, among the many things we saw today was the sign below in front of the Alcazar. Read it closely, there is a line there that absolutely cracks me up. It says the building was used for important things like planning “the discovery of America”. Click on the pic or link below to see the entire album of day two in Cordoba.
A long time ago, I took a trip through Andalusia, stopping dutifully at Sevilla, Cordoba, and Granada. But that was 20 years ago or so, and I have to admit to my memory being somewhat vague. As such, Josh and I nearly decided to give Cordoba a miss, and wow am I glad I came back. I had forgotten how lovely the old town is and how breathtaking the Cathedral. In addition, there is a fascinating Jewish history in evidence, making Cordoba an apt symbol of harmonious co-existence, even if it failed to live up to this image at many points in its history. We are even staying in the Maimonides Hotel (and how apt that we are at the start of the Jewish new year, no less :)). We will stay another day and wander the narrow winding streets, then head off to Granada.