It’s nice to know that we don’t have to get up and rush out of our hotel to catch our flight this morning. We take a leisurely trip back to Montmartre and, stepping out of a souvenir shop with a new dark red beret perched on my head (ooh la la), there is a very nice man just waiting to sketch me. We have plenty of time for the obligatory wander down the banks of the Seine, hand in hand, before stopping for a cuppa at a café. Anyone would think we were on honeymoon…
The man at airport security wishes us a pleasant stay in… Barcelona, so the cat is out of the bag for our second destination. But I don’t care; I love that city and the face-splitting grin is back again. (Not that I haven’t loved Paris... but omig I do love Barca). I’m off that airport bus like a greyhound out of the trap. There’s only one place where Steve can have booked for us to stay and all I want is to get changed and be sitting on La Rambla with the biggest glass of Sangria in my hand.
And half-an-hour later, here I am, watching the world walk by.
Saturday 26th September – Barcelona
We haven’t been back to Barca since our first visit here about 5 years ago and I knew that Steve would have booked us into the same hotel, because we had such a smart time here before, and it’s about 100 yards from La Rambla. The place has changed a little in the interim, but only quite minor and all for the better.
Now I know what Steve meant about showing me somewhere to wear my new dress!
This morning, our first stop is the Guell Park, which was conceived as an exclusive housing park but is now dedicated to Gaudi. This is the aspect of the city which we didn’t have time to explore on our last visit so I’m really looking forward to it. I am fascinated by our visit to Gaudi’s house in the park, where there is a display illustrating Gaudi’s explorations into how a series of straight lines can result in a curve. When we exhaust the park, we embark on a tour of Gaudi’s buildings around the City. Being quite unusual architecturally, though reasonably sympathetic to their surroundings, they are easily distinguishable. I particularly like the two buildings at the main entrance to Guell Park (the story of Hansel and Gretel comes to mind) and the Palau Gell, tucked away on Carrer Nou de la Rambla (‘those are catenary arches,’ says Steve). Gaudi’s house in the Park is also definitely worth a visit. Not particularly large-looking from the outside, its interior is light, airy and cool.
Even though we settle down for a beer – or several - in Placa Reial, we’re discouraged from having more than one by a very disconcerting woman on one of the city bikes who is riding round gently haranguing… well anyone and no-one, really. I think the last straw for Steve is when she lifts her top to reveal: that she keeps her cigarettes in the top of her tights.
A stroll round the Gothic quarter is definitely what’s called for, where we buy me a new necklace, haggle down an FCB Messi top for Steve, and briefly visit a luthier, varnishing a guitar in his studio.
After which, more beers are most definitely in order (23 degrees apparently, though it feels hotter). We find a table in the large café opposite the Columbus monument and find plenty to amuse ourselves over several beers this time, between a pair of bitching Aussies behind us, a husband and wife street-cleaning team (she’s rather more fastidious than him) and a curious gentleman who’s looks and mannerisms are remarkably like Mr.Bean, and who appears to be on an architectural tour of the city.
On our way out to dinner this evening, Steve is brought to a halt just as we’re about to cross to the waterfront. On hearing the sound of Les Pauls being played, the pull is just too great and we have to make a detour to investigate. I’m hungry and not at first enthusiastic, but I am pleased we made the effort in the end… we have landed in Barcelona at the end of their music festival and there is a quite mad band playing in the region of Placa de Blanquema. Dressed all in pink suits, and harnessed to their wheeled Marshall amps (what else?!), we arrive in front of a café just as they park up and start to run through their routine. Which includes at one point, their sound engineer stripping off and sunbathing by the café pool – after having one of the bystanders apply sunscreen to his back!
We have decided to revisit one of our favourite restaurants from our last visit, overlooking the harbour. The couple on the table next to us share a massive platter of shellfish, which makes Steve’s huge plate of assorted crustaceans look quite nouvelle cuisine. Unsurprisingly, for a change, I therefore finish my fabulously tasty salmon first and am then quite defeated by the huge dish of ice-cream and fruit that we share for dessert. The couple next to us are still eating their platter… Steve’s romantic mood can only be enhanced by the firework display, let off behind us, but reflected in the water and the windows of the building across the harbour from our restaurant (our table is on the first floor, outside, right next to the rail). Much tapping of our wedding rings is still going on, against the table.
Sunday 27th September – Barcelona
After a late night we rise early – but get up late! – and make our way to the Castle, up some very steep streets. Turns out there is a Metro stop next to the cable car (which is the last stage to the Castle), but Steve is working from the map we had five years ago. As if I needed the exercise! Once on the cable car, I receive a text message – it was only something very trivial, but remember this for later…
Even for a warm weekend in Barca, there are lots of people milling around up here, so after a stroll around the battlements (it’s a stunning view over the sea from here), we set out to investigate: turns out there’s some sort of family day happening. Amongst other things, there’s a puppet show (all in Spanish, but apparently hilarious), a giant ‘mechanical’ clock (people in costume act out an amusing story in robotic movements while the clock chimes the quarter hour), a merry-go-round orchestra (real people on a revolving stage, in period costume, playing miniature instruments. And at one point, garden implements), and a magician.
We take a stroll back down the hill through Barca’s botanical gardens, built on reclaimed land where the slum district used to be, then through the old Olympic stadium (still used, some sort of inter-school competition seems to be just finishing) and on to the Placa Espanya, where we stop for a well-earned rest. From here, it’s a quick Metro ride to the other place we only saw in passing on our last visit: the Sagrada Familia. The cathedral, started in the 1880s and still under construction, is quite magnificent. Though Gaudi was not the original architect, his influence is obvious and I am fascinated by it. The building has more than a passing nod to the ‘old’ traditional style of building churches, but with modern twists, and is almost avant garde in places. It’s a stunning ‘modern’ construction which retains curves and avoids stark angularity.
Once I stop and put my camera away I realise my feet are aching, so we hop back on the Metro to return to La Rambla. As we make our connection, the tannoy warns us to keep an eye on our belongings, so I swing my camera bag round off my back… to discover my phone has gone, and I didn’t feel a thing. I am, by turns, angry at my own stupidity, angry at the sheer front of the thieves, but relieved that nothing more valuable has gone (it was the only thing of worth, apart from my camera, that was on me). And then thankful that I am due an upgrade anyway, though I hadn’t been planning on exercising that. A call to O2 stops the phone and sorts out a new SIM card, and a visit to the police station (the queue is full of tourists in a similar situation) gets the formalities dealt with. Steve, bless his over protective heart, tells me he’s quite impressed by my cool thinking in the heat of the moment.
Tapas in Placa Reial calms me down again properly and the presence of a fire-breather, a juggler, and the return of the mad woman really takes my mind off the predicament. What else to do in this situation? There’s only one thing for it, and we finish our Barca stay as we started; with sangria on La Rambla. It’s a slow night for the various street-pedlars: a troupe of amateur teenage acrobats are swiftly moved on, though they were quite amusing, by dint of the fact that their enthusiasm is so much greater than their talent. Also, a rose seller is tenacious but ultimately unsuccessful and a seller of little toy neon helicopters has only slightly more custom. Ironically, we are charged by him with keeping an eye on his bicycle while he plies his wares, and someone in the next restaurant leaves their bag on a chair, which is unfortunately too tempting an invitation to resist and it’s gone the moment they turn their head. So quickly in fact, that the first we know is when the cry goes up: you really do have to be careful out there (as if I hadn’t found that out for myself). It doesn’t dent my feelings for this place though: omig I do love Barcelona.
We return to the hotel earlier than planned as I’m starting to feel a little under the weather, and I don’t think it’s just the effects of the litre of Sangria I don’t manage to finish. I’ve had a sore throat since leaving Paris and am starting to hope that it doesn’t develop further. After an uncomfortable night, for those of you who’re interested, the final tally of Barca civics is: 5.