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Splendor in Catalonia

by

Arnie Greenberg

It’s more than a city. There no place in Europe with the magic of Barcelona. I have been there often but each time I go there I discover a new area, new side of the city, new excitement, new thrills. This year was no different.

I chose to stay in the gothic center, the Barri Gotic. Our hotel was the Duc De La Victoria on a typically narrow street near Las Ramblas.This is the oldest part of the city with Placa Catalunia its nerve center and la Rambla its nerve center running down to the port. Here, Columbus stands tall, looking out to sea and casting a shadow on the refurbished port, that warren of restaurants, souvenir shops and exotic places to meander or drink in the fresh Mediterranean air. Here we walk on Avinyo where Picasso painted “Les Desmoiselles”, or lean on a section of a 3rd century Roman wall. It’s a constant historical holiday where more than 4,000,000 people work, frolic and thrive. Barcelona moves, especially at night. It is not unusual to find people drinking and laughing in bars at 4 AM. Even dinner is late in this sunny place. The restaurants are crowded at 11 PM, sometimes later. And while the fare is sumptuous and diverse, the mainstay of the early evening snack are the Tapas bars that serve open-faced sandwiches or tiny dishes of what we would call hors d’ouvres. These hot or cold snacks are special and more exciting because of their diversity. Everything can be served as a Tapa. And to wash it down, what can be better than Sangrila, that fruit flavored refreshment made of juices, fruit and wine? Served with ice, it is the best drink in town as far as I’m concerned. But it goes well with Paella too and Paella is one of the mainstays of Catalon cooking. The upscale tapas bars are lively, noisy and places to dawdle. We sat around chatting one night for almost two hours. Total fare for 2 was about eleven Euros. There was enough to eat so we skipped supper.

The best lunch I had was at the world famous Els Quarto Gats. Here, you should make a reservation. The large restaurant is a trip into the past when Picasso and his gang of artists, poets, dreamers, drank, argued and created in this beautiful setting. Even the poster that announces the restaurant is a design by Picasso in the days he lived in Barcelona. He wasn’t famous yet He was in Barcelona while his father taught at the art school. But things would soon change. Picasso would find fame in Paris.

Our meal that day was a fresh Carpaccio salad followed by grilled fish and the Catalonian version of Crème Brule. I picked up a lovely T shirt as a souvenir and when the manager found out I had written a book about Picasso, he gave me a recent historical publication on the establishment.   Call  ahead  for reservations at 93 319 41 40.

But food is only one small part of this amazing city. There is food for the soul and food for the eye.

We walked through the Bari to the Museo Picasso. Here we saw the most accomplished paintings from Picasso’s youth. Much is from 1895-1904 but there are works from 1917 when he worked with Cocteau and Diaghilev. I especially enjoyed the series he did that was inspired by Velazquez’s Las Meninas. Of all the Picasso museums and exhibitions I’ve seen, I enjoyed the Barcelona museum best. This 15th century mansion, noted for its courtyard and open staircase with richly carved windows, is open Tuesday-Sundays. Call ahead . It’s well worth the visit. Even the building is unique.

Again, sticking to the Bari, we visited the Palau de la Musica Catalona. I must confess that it is the most impressive building I have ever seen. How can you not like a colorful glass domed building with lavish floral themes and figures with mosaic busts in relief. Even before the music starts you are treated to a feast for the eyes. The acoustics are near-perfect in a building boasting walls of colored glass. That’s partially because of the special seats that absorb some of the sound. Constructed in 1908 under the direction of Lluis Domenech I Montaner, and continuously being expanded, this modernist concert hall was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Just standing in the vestibule near the magnificent mural by Massat is reward enough. You can have a guided visit hourly during most days. But try to get a concert ticket. You will not believe the atmosphere. It is truly a magical experience. Notice the centerpiece. It’s a stained glass sun that dominates the room.

Try to see it from the side and from below.

Actually, architecture is a major theme in Barcelona. There were many who fashioned new ways of expressing their personal architectural flavor. One in particular was Puig I Cadafalch whose Casa Amatller is a neogothic building decorated with polychrome ceramic on the façade. Just next door at on Passeig de Gracia Casa Batllo by Anton Gaudi with its sparkling mosaic façade using dragon-like forms, a theme now associated with this unique architect.  His Palau Guell with its stone façade and wrought iron arches is also a World heritage Site. This is an easy building to find as it is just off la Rambla.

Two other feasts for the eye are Gaudi’s Park Guell, the most famous park in Barcelona, and his La Sagrida Familia. There is much to say about both by way of criticism and marvel. I like to believe that these are two of the greatest sights in Western Europe and I’ll let you discover them for yourselves.

Anton Gaudi I Cornot was born in June 1852 in the nearby province of Taragona. The son of copper worker, Anton came to his craft naturally. The architecture uses ceramics and designs hitherto unknown but the iron grill work he used was an art in itself and one of his main traits. He had worked unstintingly for a friend, Eusebi Guell, for whom he created some of his greatest masterpieces. It was towards the end of his tragically shortened life that gaudi threw himself into his last work, the temple of the Sagrada Familia. He was killed in 1926 when run over by a trolly. The completion of the temple continues today, based on drawings Gaudi left.

The Park Guell, built between 1900 and 1914, was Gaudi’s attempt to create an urban development in the country. It is a collection of twisted and curved shapes. I especially enjoyed the columned space with ceramic suns, originally intended as a market. The columns support a large open terrace. My other eye-catching favorite

Is the waterfall at the entrance with the gurgling water descending through the mouth of a multi-colored lizard. I bought a small replica of that lizard which I proudly display. There’s a long list of Gaudi buildings including streetlamps on the Placa Reial, the Finca Miralles Doors of meta where a statue of the architect has been installed at the entrance porch, Casa Vicens, Casa Mila, (La Pedera),Casa Batillo or the St. Teresa of Avila College. It’s easy to take a Gaudi tour of Barcelona and it’s well worth it. You can pick up an inexpensive guide and do it yourself.

But there are other areas and themes to visit, in and around this unusual city.  A walk along Las Ramblas with the street entertainers, the bird and flower vendors and the throngs og tourists is very much ‘Barcelona” So too is the great cathedral in the Gothic quarter with the street artists, puppeteers and entertainers. I particularly enjoy walking around the refurbished waterfront or on the lovely Montjuic which became a part of the city with the Universal Exhibition of 1929. Visit the Montjuic Olympic Stadium. It’s awesome.

I sit under a palm tree on The Plaza Reial, making notes and taking pictures. There’s too much to write, too many pictures to take. Barcelona is a happening by day or night. It’s a place that welcomes you and beckons you to return. I certainly will.

Other places to visit: 

  • Parc Joan Miro (spectacular street sculpture)

  • Citadel Park(Transformed in 1888 for a World’s Fair)

  • Parc Clot (with a natural amphitheatre and drawbridge)

  • Monastery of Montserrat (outside the city atop a mountain).

TOURIST INFORMATION (CATALUNYA) 

Phone: 93 238 40 00

From Abroad (BARCELONA):

Phone: 93 368 97 30

In the United States: 

Email: losangeles@tourspain.es             

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at

Email:  Ultours1@gmail.com

Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to:  www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at ultours1@gmail.com.

(More about the writer.)

 

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