Sunday, January 16, 2022

Barcelona- Part I

Provisions abound at the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria on La Ramla in Barcelona. Photo by Vickie Kelber

Provisions abound at the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria on La Ramla in Barcelona. Photo by Vickie Kelber

Located on the Mediterranean Sea in the northeast corner of Spain, Barcelona is a culturally diverse, artistically rich city; contemporary, yet rife with medieval sights. It is the capital of Catalonia, an autonomous region of Spain. The Catalans like to think of themselves as somewhat independent of Spain; it is not uncommon to see graffiti that teases, “Spaniards go home”. Residents prefer to speak Catalan, but all of them also speak and understand Castilian Spanish and many also speak English. Locations are often known by both Catalan and Spanish names.

Barcelona has been the home to Miro, Picasso, and a man who left his stamp all over the city, Antoni Gaudí. Gaudí was an architect whose imagination stretched the limits of the Art Nouveau period in which he worked.

Many people visit Barcelona as a port of call or the beginning or end point of a cruise. The city is worth an extended stay to appreciate its vibrancy and all it has to offer. A week in Barcelona, with our apartment’s balcony overlooking the Arc del Triomf, left us wishing for more time here.

There is much to see in Barcelona. A good way to explore the city is by neighborhoods. The Barri Gótic in the Ciutat Vella (Old Town) is the city’s original Gothic quarter. Its narrow alleys are home to the dramatic spires of the Catedral de la Seu, Plaça Sant Jaume, the location of the Catalan Parliament, Plaça del Rei with its Royal Palace, and El Call, the Jewish quarter with what is claimed to be the oldest synagogue in Europe.

La Rambla (Las Ramblas in Spanish) is not a neighborhood, but rather a mile-long promenade bordering the Barri Gótic and extending to the waterfront. It is a major tourist draw. At the head of La Rambla is Plaça de Catalunya, a large square that joins the old city with the new. It is a busy transport hub and home of the large department store, El Corte Inglés. Stroll along La Rambla with its street performers, flower and bird stalls, and artists. Stop at La Boqueria Mercat de Sant Josep, a bustling market and home to some tapas bars. All types of foodstuffs for old world and modern cooking are available…even calves’ heads if one so desires! La Boqueria is a good place to try the wide variety of Spanish olives, nuts, and candy. Buy saffron, paprika, olive oil or flavored vinegar to take home.

El Raval neighborhood, often described as “edgy”, is on the other side of La Rambla and is home to two of Barcelona’s major museums; the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) and Centre de Cultura Contemporánia de Barcelona (CCCB). MACBA focuses on modern and contemporary art by both Catalan and international artists. CCCB hosts temporary exhibitions often reflecting a social theme, as well as concerts and festivals. It is in El Raval where you may visit one of the first of Gaudí’s many creations, the Palau Güell.

La Ribera, historic and fashionable, boasts Barcelona’s most popular museum, the Museu Picasso. The Palau de la Música Catalana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its lavish exterior and ornate interior is best seen by attending a concert. Tours are also available, but tickets sell out quickly. The Mercat Santa Caterina, not as busy as La Boqueria, is the oldest market in the city. It contains Roman ruins and a popular restaurant and tapas bar. The back wall of the restaurant has herbs growing on it; workers daily cut what is needed for the chef’s creations. Parc de la Ciutadella, on the outer part of La Ribera, is a quiet, shady park with a small zoo. Locals gather here on the weekends for recreation and relaxation. The Universal Exhibition of 1888 was held in the park and a large brick Arc de Triomf was built at its entrance. A small neighborhood within La Ribera is El Born, home to many restaurants and tapas bars.

Eixample, pronounced, Ai-sham-play, is Barcelona’s “modern” sector, created in the 1800s. The medieval city walls were removed to build this “extension” to the city. Passeig de Gràcia is the main boulevard and houses additional UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Block of Discord on Passeig de Gràcia consists of three architecturally delightful homes; one of them, Casa Battló, was designed by Gaudí. Decorated on the exterior with tiles of orange, green, and blue, some describe this building’s roof as resembling an undulating dragon. La Pedrera (Casa Milà), another of Gaudí’s designs with its rooftop whimsical chimneys, is just up the street. Gaudí’s unfinished confection, La Sagrada Familia, is further out in this neighborhood. This church has been under construction for 125 years. There is often a wait for tickets, especially for the elevator to the tower.

Vickie is a former member of the Marco Island City Council and Artistic Director of the Marco Island Film Festival, and has been a volunteer for many island organizations. She is presently on the board of the Naples Mac Users Group. Prior to relocating to Marco, Vickie served as a school psychologist, Director of Special Services, and college instructor and also was a consultant to the New Jersey Department of Education.

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