…but it was too late. Gaudí died two days later, on June 10, 1926. Thousands attended his funeral.
29 February, 16ºC
We decided to take breakfast at a cafe on Calle Roger de Flor. Perhaps it was unsure of itself for it had emblazoned across its red banner which stretched across the double fronted property ‘Cerveceria Cafeteria Bar Roger de Flor’. We consulted the menu with helpful pictures and in poor Spanish we asked for two omelettes and two coffees. We took our seats across from a few workers in high visibility, yellow jackets having a mid morning break.
After breakfast, we wandered down the wide triumphal passageway Lluis Campanys – ‘A dog walkers paradise,’ said Marjorie as the third dog walker passed us. The palm trees made it feel foreign and the cyclists made good use of the wide, traffic-free pedestrian zone.
We wandered down Carrer de les Freixures, a wide boulevard lined with an arched colonnade of 19th century splendour and stumbled on the old fruit and vegetable market, El Born. Gone are the lorries, and shouts of the wholesalers hawking their wares, gone is the bustle and smell of the place, it has been replaced by calm and quiet. Archaeological diggings have revealed the mediaeval past ten foot below ground level. The old city of Barcelona laid bare; its house foundations and passageways, its wells and sewers. This is the main visitor attraction along with a cafe, a library/gift shop and some exhibition rooms (audio guide available).
Towards the centre of town, the streets narrowed only allowing a ribbon of sky to be seen from the street. We aimed for the Picasso Museum. Entry for two plus audio guides costs 32 euros.
I knew little of Picasso’s background and the museum introduces the artist from his earliest days. His precocious talent is obvious at fifteen in his early exhibition entry, ‘First Communion’, an oil on canvas (118x166cms). He used his sister as the model for the main subject. Slowly, he evolved. Books have been written about his work, but I found his obsession with Velázquez fascinating. Having spent many years of his childhood studying Velázquez, in 1957 he shut himself up in his studio to devote himself to the study of Las Meninas (The maids of honour). The result was fifty-eight separate studies of the painting, the sizeable majority of which retained the same basic figures and composition, but radically distorted everything else. In picture after picture, I saw the square shape of the Infanta’s dress. Other figures in his abstract fashion made sense too. I could almost feel him trying again to reach his goal of expressing the painting the way he wanted it to be.
Out of the Museum, we came upon the mouthwatering Santa Caterina market. Dead fish of all descriptions lay on crushed, blindingly-white, ice, their unblinking eyes gazing at us. Cheeses of all shapes and sizes assaulted our noses and my stomach groaned at the sight of so many cuts of beef or pork displayed behind curved glass counters. Freshly stacked fruit and vegetables, pickled olives, even chocolates, everything lay waiting for discerning buyers.
Bar Joan offered a 3-course lunch with a drink and bread for 12 euros. We arrived just before the locals at 1.20pm, by 1.30 the place was full.
Postprandial wandering took us around the old cathedral (7 euros p.p. entry), which enabled us to see all around the city from the roof, and the Jewish quarter with an occasional Hebrew inscription cut in the walls.
Six hours passed so quickly; more Barcelona days lie ahead.
In the Chinese quarter, we dined at Peix d’Or. Red Formica tables and metals chairs don’t do much for ambience, but the food was well cooked and we chose our dish from the display of fish, crabs, lobsters, squid and octopus. Three of us enjoyed dorado (sea bream), lubina (sea bass), pulpe (octopus) and gambas (king prawns) with salad and a bottle of blanc pescador for 61 euros. A good end to an eventful day.
1st March 15ºC
We bought tickets for Carmen on Friday at the Catalan Music Centre and then headed towards Mont Juïc on the far side of the city. We crossed La Rambla stopping at the Canaletas Fountain for a drink. It should bring us luck and make fall in love with Barcelona. We did this two years ago and I still love the city.
The wide, sunny Rambla, mercifully empty of cruise-liner tourists, was still busy. We stopped for a coffee in Plaza Real, a square of imposing early 19th century charm with a central fountain and palm trees. Two coffees, a piece of cake along with a slice of history – 11 euros.
Refreshed, we walked towards Mont Juïc past Palau Guell where a pterodactyl-like eagle hovered above the ornate entrance. Carrer de Ramon caught my eye as the sun gleamed directly down the street highlighting the balconies clinging to the buildings’ facades.
Finding our way up Mont Juïc was problematic as we could find no sign for the ‘Citadella’ once we had climbed a hundred or so steps up from the street. Nevertheless, we had fine views across the city from just below Hotel Miramar. Finally, we found the cable car and took the ride directly to the Castell de Mont Juïc.
From here the views of the port below were stunning, even though it cost us 10 euros to wander around the old fort built in the 1750s. The stacks of containers looked like Lego blocks around which two or three, yellow stackers moved. In the distance lay the airport and during our fifteen-minute wander, we saw four or five planes come into land. We descended in the cable car and walked a few hundred yards to a white building with promontories sticking out like badly folded shapes from an attempted cube. Two senior entries plus one audio guide is 19euros. However, before tackling Joan Miro’s work, we had a beer and a sandwich in the small courtyard, then modern art overtook us just like it overtook Joan Miro.
The opening gallery had some ‘conventional’ art by the teenage Miro alongside a giant later work made of a Hessian tarpaulin used to haul in the grape harvest. I liked his opening quotation: ‘We Catalans believe you must always plant your feet firmly on the ground if you want to be able to jump up in the air. The fact that I come down to Earth from time to time makes it possible to for me to jump higher.’ I agreed with that but then found his leaps of imagination too much. To me, it was inexplicable, while to Miro fans it had meaning. I didn’t like the museum, too avant-garde.
As we walked home, I saw on Carrer del Carme a Western Union advertisement for money transfer. This is the old Barrio Chino district. Migrant workers living in this poor quarter send their hard earned cash home to help their families in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
We dined at Firebug on Ausiàs Marc; solid, unadventurous, disappointing.
2nd March 15ºC
We started out at the Sagrada Familia, 14 euros p.p. (seniors), and the usual adjectives apply – a long queue, colourful, awe-inspiring, intricate, along with others which bring into mind the majesty that God commands in the minds of the great visionaries and Gaudí was one of the greatest. He was also a great marketeer for in 1926 shortly before his accidental death, he said that they should ‘Start with the towers, for people will be interested in what we are doing here.’
One tower was completed before he died in bizarre circumstances. On June 7, 1926, as Gaudí walked to confession he was hit by a tram along the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes. The 73-year-old’s unkempt appearance meant people who witnessed the accident thought he was a beggar and no taxi driver would take a beggar to the hospital. A doctor who lived along the Gran Via was alerted to the accident. He went to examine the old man, but concluded that nothing could be done. A police officer eventually took the gaunt, injured Gaudí to the Hospital de la Santa Creu, where he got only the rudimentary care that a pauper would receive. It wasn’t until the next day that the chaplain at the Sagrada Família recognized the beggar as the famed architect, but it was too late. Gaudí died two days later, on June 10, 1926. Thousands attended his funeral. Today, thousands queue each day to enter his vision and marvel at his ideas.
The empty Plaza de Toros Monumental or Barcelona bullring to be less dramatic no longer echoes to the shouts of the crowd urging long gone matadors to make the final thrust. An old man with a tanned leathery face sits on a chair half asleep by the gate. He is surprised we want to enter (6 euros p.p.). Marjorie kept thinking of the Coliseum in Rome, however, it is dull by comparison and even the small exhibition feels dreary. The costumes were dusty and posters of old bull fights strangely dated. Bullfighting may not be dead, but it is taking its last gasps of air like the bulls in the ring before it sinks to its knees and quietly expires.
Stephen suggested La Paradeta for lunch. We arrived after 2.00pm but still in good time for a fish lunch cooked according to our selection. Grilled and fried calamares, octopus, mussels and prawns, with bread, beer and a green salad costs 41 euros. We had a fine lunch.
Barely a hundred yards from the restaurant we spied an ice cream shop and gave in. We sat in the sun on a wooden bench and enjoyed a sorbet and a strawberry ice cream.
We wandered into Placa de Sant Jaume and up a side street to the Temple of Augustus, but the small room was filled with schoolchildren so we departed. We walked through to the courtyard of the Palau Real Major. The open indoor courtyard is lined with the trunk of an enormous vine and through the opening at the far side, I could hear music – Tchaikovsky. A young man was sitting at a Yamaha Grand Piano in the open mediaeval courtyard playing. A crowd gathered as his fingers skated over the ivory teeth of the piano. He finished and others stepped up. We listened to these talented young pianists for a while before making our way back through the palace courtyard to the main square in front of the old cathedral.
Slowly, we made our way home with a final stop in the slanting sunlight at the Arc de Triumph Bar for a coffee.