Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Barcelona - probably the first of several

Gaudi + buildings = Barcelona = Magnificence
As anyone who spent time with us anytime in the three or four months beforehand knew (and was sick of hearing),  we spent Easter 2011 in the almost-impossible-to-over-hype capital of Catalonia, Barcelona.  A great city to visit anytime of the year (I'm guessing), but particularly charming in springtime.

We flew into Barcelona on the afternoon of Good Friday, and took a train into the city passing by fields of artichokes and agricultural pack-houses, and arriving to drizzle and disorientation at La Plaza de Cataluña.  We knew we were just off La Rambla (one of the major pedestrian areas and a tourist mecca), and we knew our hostel/hotel was just off La Rambla.  Unfortunately though, we didn't really know in which direction La Rambla was.

 La Rambla is manic for sure, but the side streets can be eerily quiet

In hindsight, we were staring at La Rambla as we exited the metro station, but that didn't stop us heading off in the opposite direction.  It wasn't our fault, not really, the eclectic mix of grand buildings and architectural styles is enough to dazzle anyone; like arriving at Berlin's massive train station, stepping out into Barcelona is straight-up cool.  Besides, we weren't lost for too long, and we didn't get too wet.  Nonetheless, when we did finally arrive at the somewhat spartan Hostal Campi, it was to a great deal of relief.

Jesus with his cross...
Spain's quite big on religious festivities, and on Good Friday Barcelona hosts a series of processions and we were lucky to claim a prime spot amongst the crowds to see two of them.  The first of the two symbolised Jesus' walk bearing his cross to be crucified, in this case accompanied by bag-pipes.  The second centred on Mary, carried upon a luxurious palanquin.  Both processions were a strange mix of colour and noise, not at all like the dour events I'd imagined they might be, but they still conveyed a sense of dignity and man oh man did a lot of people turn to watch them.  Even sitting above the crowd at the base of a raised concrete tree enclosure (there must be a word for such things, but I've no idea what), we didn't see anywhere near as much as we thought we might.  On the plus side, we met a charming American couple who, since they were flying out the following day, gave us their only half used art gallery passes, score (more on some of the galleries in a later post)!

...and Mary almost as a queen

Not only are the buildings amazing, the decorations are too.
Following the parades we went in search of dinner.  Tapas naturally, accompanied by a delightful house-red in a bar off one of La Rambla's many side-streets.  Despite breaking my rule regarding avoiding places where the food is clearly made off premises, the food was still pretty good, with jambon (dry cured ham), and a marinated raw-fish salad being the highlights of the first night (and the house red was delightful).  Tapas don't really make for the perfect dinner, they're certainly not intended to be, but travelling with an 18-month old comes with the drawback of early nights, especially when she doesn't get an opportunity for much sleep during the day when we're travelling. Barcelona's restaurants (and the cooler looking bars) did not typically open until well past our daughter's bedtime, so it's with much sadness that I must report we missed out on 'em entirely.   No matter though, we slept soundly and satisfied with bellies full of oil and protein mixed with a hint of Rioja, although we did wake up starving!

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