If someone, sometime ago left his heart in San Francisco, he was surely struck by something ethereal, maybe mystical even. Indeed, Barcelona surreptitiously, during the few days we were there, took a piece of mine.
Through all my travels in many years across the world, this sentiment had happened only twice before, hence my familiarity with the symptoms. I am forever torn between my love for Paris and Amsterdam, and now further irresolute, I must add Barcelona to my vacillations.
This feeling of familiarity, if hard to describe is impossible to forget. A sense that you belong... you belong even among strangers speaking a language that you don’t fully understand.
These cities are anything but homey, yet unexplainably they each grabbed a little part of my heart, and every time, no mater after how long, after how many times, under this or that conditions, when I go back, and find myself amidst their streets, I feel like I belong. I can now call Barcelona my home.
If cities have such things as soul, Barcelona's is embodied in the legacy of Gaudi.
La Casa Batllo
His forms permeate the city in so many ways, just look at the tiles that you unthinkably step on, as you wander among its streets, be it in La Rambla, the Gothic quarter in la (Ciutat Vella), the port, Plaza Catelunya, and so many other spots.
The ceilings of the entry.
There are no angles in this building, all is pure fluid arches and smooth curves.
The roof top.
Of course many come to Barcelona for Gaudi’s masterpiece; La Sagrada Famillia. You cannot escape her spell, just think about this for a minute:
Is there any other city in the world that is currently erecting a building, scrupulously following the plan of the original architect, more then 80 years after his death (Gaudi died as a result of injuries caused when he got hit by a tram), the construction of the Cathedral started in 1882, and is not scheduled to be finished for the next 30 to 50 years.
It is sheer madness. This allegoric temple was originally built by unpaid labour, and volunteers, now entry fees, the city, private investors, as well as other illustrious unknowns finance it.
A church that would belong not only to those who build it, but to all regardless of faith.
A temple for the people, it depicts 3 periods of the life of Christ, the nativity, the crucifixion, and the glory, it has 12 towers, the highest mast, representing Jesus, one for the Virgin Mary, four for the evangelists and six more for the remaining apostles.
For if Gaudy dedicated his masterpiece to the memory of Christ, his true love was with nature, as is reflected in his encompassing legacy.
Jackie was having the time of her life
I am far from religious, but who ever said that spirituality has anything to do with religion? This is a debate that we would be willing to wage at anytime, but right now I would rather keep on talking about Barcelona.
The Ciutat is easy to get around in, only the old quarter will make you look at the map a few times, it is largely build on a grid system of many one ways, crossed by very wide diagonals.
Its amazing how despite the chaotic traffic how fluid it is to get around the city.
There are very little stop signs. Large areas of the city are dedicated to pedestrian only.
No matter what you like you can find it at the market.
The egg stand.
Oups! Caught with her mouthful.
Many street corridors are dedicated to taxi, and buses only (scooters and motorbikes use them without interfering). All types of motorized two wheel vehicles are omnipresent, from the old fifties' Vespas, to custom made choppers, and everything else in between. There are a lots of people traveling on two wheels in Barcelona. Many streets have dedicated parking for two wheel contraptions with an engine.
Even when not parked in designated spots, their sheer static magnitude, seem to respond to one of the law of chaos, or some other mythical universal order.
ST made lots of friends.
A funky office tower.
Another cool structure
The city is also bicycle friendly, not like Amsterdam, but Barcelona, as Paris with “le Velib” allows you, for just a few cents to grab a bike from one of the many distribution stops, use it to get to a short distance and drop it at another pick up point so it may be used by someone else. The bikes are in good repair with a light for the night, and an adjustable seat to fit any rider.
The subway grid is as complex as the tube in London or le metro in Paris, lots of tracks with many junction points. However, the system is idiot proof, the cars are equipped with maps; TV’s continuously scroll the next stop at the bottom of the screen as you watch the news, or a commercial. The stops are also announced over speaker, and there is an electronic display of the track you’re on lighting up a red LED over the name of the station, as the train leaves for the following stop.
If you can't figure it out, I suggest you stay home and watch another episode of the Trailer Park Boys.
There is even a cable car suspended high above the city that gets you to Mount Monjuic. Yet Barcelona is so much more, just take a walk to Barceloneta and you can enjoy several beaches, the waterfront has been cleaned up. And even under grey sky it was perfect.
The average high temperature in January is 13 C and 27 C in July. The city receives about 73 days or rain per annum. We got to enjoy 0.5 of one BTW, so we decided to go to the movies and we saw the last Indiana Jones.
Jackie and Valentino playing in the rain.
Barcelona is also parceled by hills, and surrounded by small mountains. There are lots, and lots of threes in the city, and even more green-spaces. It is one of the greener cities in Europe with green spaces expanding by about 25 acres per year. It is also clean and pampered, as in other smaller Spanish city we visited, we saw garbage being pickup everyday, even late at night, city personnel constantly sweep, and pick up detritus.
Yet Barcelona is so much more (or did I say that already).
So, forget all I’ve said so far, what truly defines Barcelona IMHO is its culture; think about Montreal, or Brussels on a good day. Barcelona is the capital of Catalunya, a cultural island of Catalan amidst a sea of Castillano.
Catalan is at time closer to French than it is to Spanish, it is the prime language of the province, street names are written in Catalan, and official services are offered in both Catalan and Castillano. Most Barcelonian speak both languages, and many have fought feverishly, at times violently to preserve, and maintain their cultural uniqueness.
If it remains profoundly divided by the singularities that form it, both cultural identities rejoice in proud common Spanish plurality. Despite Madrid been the international metropolis it deserves to be, in my mind it pales in comparison to the true cosmopolitan nature of Barcelona.
My only disappointment is that I only got to sample it for a few days. But I know we will be back.
On the road again.
Can you tell I loved it.... See you in Italy. We ride for another 1000 km or so through the Pyrenees, France, Monaco, and I feel the Stelvio getting closer and closer...
Hasta pronto Barcelona, muchissimas gracias.