Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Junk Thief Five Days in Barcelona Rough Guide

So, a lot has changed since 1974, no? Though my departure tune of Never Been to Spain was not quite accurate, and I don't think there is a Never Been to Catalonia out there, nearly three and a half decades is like going to a city for the first time. Though the hazy wisps of memory made it even more enticing.

So before I post more detailed recollections, slides shows (from 850+ still images plus video) and reflections, I thought I'd start with the barest of details for my week's itinerary, knowing that I've left of many of the shorter stops from the various days.

DAY 1 - Arriving around 7:30 p.m. or 19:30 allowed me plenty of time to get rest before even thinking about the evening meal. My home for the week, Hotel Dante on Mallorca, was located in the near left side, or L'Esquerra, of L'Eixample. Everyone seems to have a comparison for Barcelona, especially L'Eixample. Its east or right, rather Dreta, is considered more fashionable not unlike the Upper East Side. The main boulevard, Passeig de Gracia gets compared to everything from Champs-Elysées, Michigan Avenue and Park and Fifth avenues. None, of course, can claim two significant Gaudi buildings on their resume. I can't remember much about the restaurant where I had my first meal, and my main criteria was being able to have a table outside to enjoy the crisp autumn Mediterranean air. The broken Catalan/Spanish of the Asian waiter improved my confidence that I would be able to communicate for the week. The most striking image from my evening's stroll (besides the countless striking catalaniste men) was the number of elderly people on both sides of L'Eixample and their incredible grace and sense of style. No grannies in tennis shoes and sweats in this city, and most of them were out walking fussy, pampered little designer dogs.
DAY 2 - I decided to get a couple of the most annoyingly touristy spots out of the way as soon as possible. The queue outside of La Pedrera/Casa Mila was not as annoying long as I'd dreaded, and it was only five blocks away from the Dante. Seeing the panoramic view of the city, the hills, the Mediterranean at 9 a.m. on your first full day is a breathtaking way to start a tour of the city. Sagrada Familia, the Gaudi (or alternately gaudy) cathedral under construction for a century came next which may have been a mistake since the queue was even longer, the panhandlers aggressive and the sun bordering on a bit intense. My time there was fairly brief.
I spent the rest of the day doing a Modernisme tour of less austentatious works of Gaudi in the Dreta. And, as with trips to Chicago and quick burn out on Wright (whom I've always considered a pretender in the shadow of Sullivan), I was soon falling for the charms of Puig, Domenech and other lesser known architects. More importantly, I enjoyed just taking in daily life in the Dreta, following elderly couples would home with a loaf of pa, watching a wealthy dowager descend the marble steps of her building to get into her Citroen being dusted artfully by her driver.

As evening arrived, I spent a limited time on La Rambla (as if I needed Pier 39 style touristas on my own holiday) and enjoying the sort of Columbus Circle feel of Placa de Catalunya.

DAY 3 - Since I'd made reservations for Set Portes, I planned to spend most of the day in that art of the city, though I ended up being along the waterfront and Barri Gotic and saved the Born for later in the week.
There are certainly parallels to the waterfront and San Francisco, and by this point the phalanx of tourists was getting to me. Set Portes was memorable, and I can now say that I've eaten in at least two restaurants where Catherine Deneuve (the other being Cafe 49 in Hanoi) has also dined, but I was disappointed that I could not track down the evidence of a visit by Che Guevara mentioned on their website.
I also took in Casa Battlo, which amazingly was not nearly as jam packed at La Pedrera.

DAY 4 - Though I did virtually all the rest of the visit on foot, wanting to get as much of the details of the city that way, I did take the 24 bus to Parc Guell, after a fairly late start since I'd had my first full night of sleep after having more jet lag than usual. Parc Guell is an inevitable part of any Barcelona journey but not necessarily relaxing until you get fairly far up the hill. I opted not to take the bus back and strolled through parts of the blandly suburban Gracia which was fascinating to watch for glimpsing Cataliste middle class life.

I later checked out a bit of el ambiente ( the atmosphere, as the gay scene is called in most Spanish meccas), since my hotel was in the heart of it. Called Gaixample (which, depending on one's Catalan or Spanish sort of sounds like Gay Shamble), it had some of the usual shops and rainbow flags and knowing glances of men I passed on the street but also had a comforting sense of irrelevance, none of the annoying self importance of the Castro, and I saw a lot more male couples holding hands on Passeig de Garcia than in this much more subdued neighborhood. I did have a couple of drinks at a bar called La Chapelle on Casanova that greatly reminded me of a couple of Upper West Side bars of the late 1980s to early 1990s, though much less intense and desperate, more brightly lit and with a much more welcoming neighborhood feel. An British woman sat drinking a coke while her eight-year-0ld son sat on her lap intently watching Some Like It Hot that was playing on a monitor with the volume down and English subtitles.

DAY 5 - I wanted to experience the Born by walking down Passeig Saint Joan, passing through the Arc de Triomf and into Parc Ciutadella which proved to proved the quiet, urban refuge not afforded in Parc Guell.
It was too early to visit the zoo, and I really don't enjoy seeing animals caged, so I spent most of the morning in the Born just before businesses were opening up and enjoying watching the neighborhood wake up before going to the Picasso museum.
Since my time was so brief this trip and my sense of geography was a bit off, I thought I was not going to have time for Montjuic and was sorely disappointed but decided to head over just to say I'd at least glanced at it and was pleasantly surprised to realized just how close it was and that I had enough time to see the bulk of Museu Nacional Art d'Catalonya.
The Romanesque collection lived up to its reputation, but I tend to agree with those who believe that it should not be there but back in the Pyrenees. What excited me more were a wealth of 19th century and early 20th century Catalan painters I'd never heard of, Claudio Lorenzale and Roman Ribera being two absolute favorites.
As a finale, I had my last meal at Casa Calvert, a wonderfully subdued Gaudi building that restored my respect in him and, to me, ranked a notch or to above Set Portes.

DAY 6 - Not a day really, but departure at a civilized 9 a.m., but leaving me at once sad to leave but inspired to return.

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At 6:50 PM, Blogger kimy said...

loved it....since e and I were just in barcelona I found I was filled with the sounds, smells and sights of this this beautiful city. I do believe my favorite thing was just wandering the streets, passing the people and soaking it all in. we got to sagrada familia when it had just opened and the 'tourists' had yet arrived - I think had we gotten there later, I too would have made short shift of it - as it was we explored and the only contact we had for the first part was with the guys doing construction.

I have to pull out my map to see exactly where you were based out of. we stayed on the side of town near parc ciutadella - on a fairly main drag (the name of which I can't remember) but could see the sagrada familia to the north if we looked out of the balcony of the apartment.

I really have been enjoying the vicarious trip. gràcies!

At 7:59 PM, Blogger Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Kimy - You were probably on Carrer de Saint Joan which is a little less touristy than La Rambla. I was at Hotel Dante at the intersection of Mallorca and Muntaner. I groaned at first since it's affiliated with Best Western, but that title was totally deceptive and nothing like the US counterparts. It was more a classic European boutique hotel with wonderful staff, sleek and immaculate interior, quiet in general except one night when the bed in the next room had squeaking springs. Oh, well, it was a Saturday night...

At 6:42 AM, Blogger Dave said...

Now I have travel envy. By the way, two other great Spain songs are "I'm Going To Spain" by The Fall, and "Boots Of Spanish Leather" by Bob Dylan, which mentions Barcelona and makes me cry.

You sound so cosmopolitan and knowledgeable in your descriptions of the city. It's hard to believe this is the same person who once posted a video tribute to Mothra.

At 6:57 AM, Blogger kimy said...

got out my map of barcelona. we stayed on carrer de marina (near intersection with carrer de ramon turro - was wonderfully located for strolls along the platja. this was found on a B&B search through the internet. wasn't a b&b, but an apartment that someone owned and rented out. it was a 2 bedroom apartment - in the other bedroom was an academic on holiday from germany (I think or maybe it was switzerland)

anyway lovely space and well situated for our needs.

At 7:50 AM, Blogger Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Dave - The Ladron is very cosmopolitan but tries to avoid getting too snooty about it. Huh, what, you're saying Mothra is not cosmopolitan.

Kimy - That sounds like a great set up. A couple of friends do something similar in Buenos Aires and have been begging me to go with them. I've not been there in about six years. Another favorite city.

At 7:53 AM, Blogger Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Dave - PS, I had forgotten about "I'm Going to Spain" and should download it. "Boots of Spanish Leather" is possibly my favorite Dylan song. One of the few motivations for me to come back was the release of "I'm Not There" on the 21st.

At 9:59 AM, Blogger Dave said...

I knew you'd be down with the Fall and Dylan. Oh, and pa'que sepas, I just got a brand spanking new iBook, and it seems to be loading your page with no trouble--widgets, doodads and all. So I guess the problem was me all along.

At 10:04 AM, Blogger Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Dave - A new iBook? And you're calling me cosmopolitan? Oh, I'm glad you're able to keep visiting since I just love it when you play with my doodads and tickle widget.

At 2:42 PM, Blogger jason said...


At 9:48 PM, Blogger Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Jason - Gracias.

At 12:50 AM, Blogger WAT said...

Spain looks hideous.

I can't wait to go!

At 7:08 AM, Blogger Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

WAT - Por favor -- es Cataluña no España.

At 1:21 PM, Blogger WAT said...

Como quieras llamarle.


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