Jo drove us to the airport around 11am, and we were able to get through security without problem, then boarded our flight to Atlanta around 2pm. There we switched planes to our Barcelona flight and left around 6:30 pm. The flight was scheduled to last 8-9 hours.
We arrived in Barcelona little after 9am local time, and went through a long line at passport control before picking up our bags and grabbing a taxi to our hotel. Our room was not ready, of course, since checkin time is 3pm, so we left our bags and went out. First we found a local supermarket where we bought a few necessities, and then a bank ATM to takes out some more Euros. We had left home with 80-odd Euros left from our Ireland trip last year, but the cab ride put a dent in that and we will need more. Then we sat in the Plaza de Catalunya while Cheryl had lunch, and when we got to the hotel our room was ready, so we went upstairs for a much needed nap. We got up at 4pm and got some suggestions from the front desk for restaurants, but the ones they recommended were all closed and would not open until around 7pm or so. The Spanish tend to eat much later than we do, but we sure got in our steps walking to different places. Then Cheryl found a Lebanese restaurant (Mazah) right around the corner from our hotel, and we had a very nice dinner. The place was empty, but that was explained as Ramadan. All of their regular patrons would be fasting during the day, and would arrive as soon as the sun went down. We had a leisurely dinner and were back in our room in the hotel around 8:30 pm, when it was definitely time for bed.
We were up at our usual 6am time for showers before heading down to breakfast. The hotel has a breakfast buffet in the basement level that opens at 7:30 am, and we were due to be picked up at 9:00 am for a full-day tour of Barcelona. The buffet was quite satisfactory, and we were fully fueled for our day in good time to meet our tour guide, Giovanni. His van seated 8, and after picking us up he picked up another couple and a family of 4 to get us started. Although Giovanni was originally from Italy, he now lives in Barcelona and seems to know everyone. He started by giving us a little history of Barcelona in recent years. Barcelona is the capital of the province of Catalunya, and a few years ago the local government held an election to vote for independence. The Government of Spain said the election was illegal, and arrested some of the leaders, others fleeing abroad. So it is still a sore subject, and you can see Catalan flags and signs about freeing political prisoners. I could also see that the Catalan language is a bit different, though everyone is fine with Spanish. For example, in Spanish you might greet someone with ¨Buenos días!¨, but the Catalan equivalent is ¨Bon día!¨.
We started at the National Art Museum (MNAC), but only to look from the parking lot at the city below since it is on a high hill. We got some excellent views here.Then we went to the stadium where the Barcelona Olympics were held in 1992. Barcelona had been scheduled to host an Olympics in 1936, but the Spanish Civil War made that impossible and those games went to Berlin instead. So they were very excited to get the 1992 games. I took a picture of one of the signs in three languages: Catalan, Spanish, and English, and another picture of the Olympic Torch. Then we went across the street to a park with an overlook of both the city and the port. Barcelona is a port city on the Mediterranean, and gets a good deal of traffic from cruise ships since it generally an end point for Western Mediterranean cruises.
From there we drove into the Gothic section of the city, which has some generally older buildings, including some dating back to the Roman Empire, when it was a Roman city called Barcino. Often walls and parts of buildings are incorporated into later structures, but whenever anyone digs down, such as for a foundation, they might encounter ruins and have archaeologists called. I snapped a picture of one such excavation. One humorous, and mildly scatological experience is the shops selling figurines of people pooping. Often it is very famous people like Einstein or Marilyn Monroe. We were told that many Catalans put such a figurine in their Nativity scene at Christmas, and that to leave it out would be bad luck. The meaning of this whole thing is that it reminds you that no matter how rich or famous someone is, we are all alike in the bathroom.
Around noon we went to lunch. Giovanni took us to Taverna El Golp, which is barely a block from La Sagrada Familia, and where we had a very nice lunch. He told us that this is a place that existed before all of the tourist places, and catered to locals. In case, the food was delicious and we were well fortified for our afternoon. And it gave us a chance to get to know the others in our group a bit better. Felix and Marina, the other couple, are originally from the Ukraine, but now live in New York, where Felix is a computer programmer. He is working on a project for a local government where he is moving functions from a mainframe running COBOL to a clustered client-server environment, using SQL Server and programs written in C-sharp. The family of 4 is from Pittsburgh, and had two teenage boys. The older boy, Max, is a super geography nerd who has made it to both the national and international competitions, and he seems to have memorized every flag and all of the capitals.
Then to La Sagrada Familia. This cathedral was started by another architect, Villar. Then they needed a new architect. They approached a famous architect who said he was too busy and turned them down, but put forward his top student, Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi said that he would do it, but he would only keep the crypt and otherwise remove what Villar had done. The authorities eventually agreed to this, and work began. Gaudi himself had only finished one facade before his death, but left models and drawings, and the work is still ongoing. But they hope to finish it pretty soon. We have seen a number of impressive cathedrals in Europe, but nothing like this. Gaudi had a unique vision, and tried to make his stone structures look organic. The pillars inside the cathedral are all different, and made to resemble trees with branches. Sagrada Familia means sacred family, but what Gaudi meant by this was not the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph. Instead, anyone who comes into the cathedral becomes a part of the Sacred Family of believers. We went inside, and saw the magnificent architecture. The stained glass windows on each have two different color schemes. On one side, they are in cool colors like blue, and this is for morning. On the other side, they are all in warmer colors like orange and yellow, for afternoon and early evening. Then we went downstairs to the museum where we saw some models and watched a movie about Gaudi and the Cathedral.
Our last stop of the day was Park Güell, which was part of an area Gaudi designed as houses for rich people. It did not succeed commercially, but Gaudi lived in one of the houses, one was sold to a private owner, and one is a now a museum. One of the striking sites there is the Hypostyle Room. From above, it looks like a somewhat circular ring of dirt, like you might use for horses. But that is the roof for a room held up by pillars, and with ceramic medallions in the ceiling. This structure, like much of the site, is decorated in a mosaic style typical of Gaudi, where the individual pieces of tile, instead of being small, are very large and give you more of an impression that they came from broken pieces of pottery.
Then it was back to the hotel. We were tired so we laid on the bed for about an hour, then went to a restaurant called Canton Food, just a couple of blocks away, for a nice dinner including the Choy Sum we were introduced to in Hawaii. And then, back to the hotel. I made a mistake of having two cafés con leche before going to bed, and had three sleepless hours as a result. Note to self: don´t do that again.
The alarm went off at 6am, and I reset it for 7am. We have tickets for the Picasso Museum, but they are for 10:15, so we have plenty of time to get up, wash, have breakfast, and walk down to the Museum. In fact, we got there before the 10am opening time. Picasso lived in Barcelona for a time as a child, and often returned here prior to the Civil War and the Franco regime. His close friend, Jaume Sabartés, lived here, and became his administrator and secretary, and Picasso sent him many works, which became the focus of the Museum when it was founded. Since then, it has grown as other works were donated, many by his widow Jacqueline. They had planned a big opening with many officials in attendance, but Picasso said no to that once Franco was in charge. Picasso spent the years of the Franco regime in exile in Paris.
The Museum mostly has works from Picasso´s early years, and from his later years, but nothing from the middle. We hope to fill that out when we get to Malaga, where there is another Picasso Museum. The early works are mostly student pieces, before he found his specific style. Towards the end of that period you can see him starting to rebel. He was admitted to the Royal Academy in Madrid, but stopped attending because he didn’t feel he was learning anything new. You can start to see something new emerging in the works of his late teens. The Museum had a number of works from his Blue Period (1901-1904), when all his paintings had a Blue tinge and a few from his Rose period (1904-1906), when Rose colors predominated. It was after this that he feel under the influence of Henri Matisse, but that leads into the works we didn’t see in this Museum, when Modern Art was invented.
We saw a movie of a performance of the ballet Parade, by the Ballets Russes of Serge Diaghilev. The music was by Satie, and the costumes were designed by Picasso. The ballet was excellent, and the costumes very interesting. It was also a much needed chance to sit down for a bit.
Then we saw a series of paintings Picasso did all based on a painting of Velázquez called Las Meninas. The painting shows the Infanta, Margaret Maria, surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting (Las Meninas). Picasso took this Baroque painting and did a series of studies of different parts of the painting, transforming them as he went. Then, almost as a palate cleanser he did series of paintings called Pigeons, showing the birds in his dovecote by a window overlooking the ocean. These are all late period paintings, both series were from 1957. We finally wrapped up with some ceramics that Picasso did. We spent three hours there, which is about as much as my back can take these days. So it was back to the hotel to rest before going to dinner.
For dinner we returned to the Lebanese restaurant just around the corner, Mazah, and it was again delicious.