Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Spain Trip: Barcelona - 2 Days in the Big City

La Pedrera rooftop

I actually am not going to have too much to say about our time here in Barcelona. We didn’t visit many “destination” sites during our day and a half here. No doubt we could have checked out many places but that was not our choice. Instead we spent the time just walking the areas within a few miles of the hotel. It is better to say over the hours we walked a handful of miles using the hotel as our base. For example, yesterday - the whole day - we probably walked between 7 and 8 miles. 

The city is a mix of broad avenues and narrow streets. It lacks the twisting narrow streets with exceedingly narrow sidewalks of a place like Seville or Granada let alone the twisty streets and sidewalks of Punto Delgado in the Azores. Of course, Barcelona is a city of several million and has gone through many re-designs and expansions over its long history. Even the “old city” though feeling older doesn’t feel quite as ancient as other old centers. Along with the broad and narrow streets toss in large palazzos and, of course, La Rambla (sometimes referred to on signs as La Ramblas). The latter is the long pedestrian way lined with innumerable shops and cafes and restaurants and no doubt all sorts of other shops . La Rambla is also clearly where the greatest concentration of people, likely mostly tourists, are. Boy is it crowded. The crowds thin out considerably if you get a few blocks away from La Rambla but they can still be thick. 

This is a bustling city and a cosmopolitan one. You will hear many languages spoken in many accents. No doubt most of what you hear is being spoken by people like us: tourists. But tourists need infrastructure and the city provides that in abundance with touristy places and plenty of more “local friendly” places you can find if you look just a little bit harder.

One thing Barcelona is known for, famous for, is the buildings by Antoni Gaudi.  Sagrada Familia, still unfinished, is his biggest work but he designed many buildings. We’d been to several before several years ago and this time just planned to visit one: La Pedrera. We recalled others places fondly like the Serpentine benches of Parc Güell. La Pedrera though stood out in memory especially for its roof.

The roof of ochre stone slabs has several structures on it. Like all rooftops you have chimneys, ventilation housings, and other things sitting on top. Gaudi saw no reason not to make these things intriguing to the eye as well as functional. They certainly are both. It really makes the rooftop a special place to just be on. We were also struck by the public spaces in La Pedrera more than the apartments themselves. When first completed in 1912 a family, the people who commissioned the building, lived in the first couple floors and rented out the rest of the space. They had a huge living area: 1,300 square meters (better than 13,000 square feet). Today the private dwellings are much smaller. The attic, again today, is back to being one great curving , catenary arch filled, space. Originally it was where things like laundry and other community-related machinery (elevator motors, for example) was housed. The attic also provided dead-air space to help insulate the building. It’s a neat place with the arches. The grand central space around which everything is built is also cool. But, I don’t think I would want to live in La Pedrera with all the people tripping through every day to see the public accessible spaces.

Our wandering took us through some parks including past a triumphal arch near the Picasso Museum. We glimpsed the sea but did not actually go right to it. We visited a huge street food market that completely overwhelmed us in its size and throngs of people milling about buying meats, veggies, fruits, drinks, prepared food, and no doubt more. On La Rambla  we saw some interesting busking going on from the fellow making huge soap bubbles to several slow-moving performance artists and a surprisingly small smattering of people playing music. Sadly, we also saw a fair number of homeless people sometimes just sleeping right there in plain sight during the day.

We scratched the surface and I am sure you could do a lot here. We did a lot back in 2009 but this was enough for us this time.

Some final thoughts: We stayed at Hotel Curious which is a couple blocks off of La Rambla and so its street isn’t too busy with people.  If you want a spartan room that is also just big enough then take a look at this hotel.  My room reminds me , in terms of size and functionality, of my cabin  on the Hurtigruten ship Vesterallen. Except that cabin had a porthole which let in some natural light and though the room has a window it is an interesting window that looks out on a shaft that houses the elevator, but had a lighted photo of a cut scene. 

Food: No end of places to eat in Barcelona. The places that serve little thick crust pizza-like things were quite nice to see and we got food quickly. At the other end, the cafe we had lunch at yesterday took a good half hour to get us our salad and quesadillas. The place we had dinner the first night should have been good but it turned out to be a bit of a bust because of what we ordered not being quite what we wanted. But our finding of Bacoa, the burger place, was a wonderful find. Very good burgers though I’d skip the fries.

From Judy
Crowds and crowds of people on the streets most everywhere on La Rambla and all the main avenues we walked on. Smaller side streets in neighborhoods outside the old center were quieter and a good place to get a cup of coffee and a snack. The one destination stop for us was a visit to one of Gaudi ‘s most spectacular buildings in terms of ingenuity and engineering   - La Pedrera- or as it’s more familiarly known Casa Mila.  Build in the early 1900s for a bourgeois family it is a multistory building where the family lived on the first 2 floors and they rented out apartments on the upper 4 floors. The roof terrace and the area that is called the attic (it was once divided into 13 apartments) are the most spectacular. The chessman like structures on the roof all serve an aesthetic purpose disguising air vents and stairways and other mechanicals that usually just make the skyline look ugly. Over 200 red brick catenary arches of varying widths make the  attic space an engineering marvel but are also amazingly beautiful. Also in the attic space are several models showing the engineering techniques for this building and the famously still to be completed Sagrada Familia. The audio was terrific. 

We walked a large rectangle in and out of streets covering 8-9 miles, but with no ascents or descents. We saw just one protester in the government square, some police in evidence, but no big guns and maybe just the usual for the large crowds. 

1. The roof of La Pedrera is a great place. 

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