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Barcelona Spain

September 23-28, 2015

Visit by Jenny and Charlie Plesums


Our son and family wanted to visit Spain, particularly Barcelona. We made a lot of plans, but they could not get passports, time off, and other arrangements made, so we went ahead and took the trip without them... probably in preparation for another visit next year.

Toni Ciuraneta is a woodworking friend from a forum who lives near Barcelona. He was kind enough to answer countless questions, and then spend a full day as a tour guide.

Trip Summary

Most would say Barcelona is in Spain, but the locals would say it is in Catalonia. Catalonia has a history that goes back to Roman times, and a distinct language (not Spanish). They have been bounced around through countless governments - for example under Franco teaching any Catalonian traditions or use of the Catalan language was outlawed. Since the Spanish transition to democracy (1975-82), Catalonia has regained some political and cultural autonomy and is now a major economic force of 7.5 million people. While we were there, the Catalonians voted to make a plan to secede peacefully and become independent over the next many years, but Spain doesn't like the idea since they are a major part of the Spanish economy.

So we went to Barcelona, either Catalonia or Spain, depending on who you ask. The three most common languages are (in order) 1) Catalan, 2) Spanish, and 3) English. Many more people speak English here than in Madrid.

Getting there

Left Austin Wednesday morning September 23 on AA flight 66 direct to JFK in New York. After a 4½ hour layover in New York we left on AA flight 66 direct to Barcelona. The same flight number was confusing to both the airlines and to us, but it certainly was not the same plane or any other reason we could see for sharing the flight number.

We landed in Barcelona at 7:15 am Thursday local time, and took the recommended bus from the airport into town. The plaza where the bus ends is Plaza Catalunya, a major local landmark. Rambla de les Flors is a largely pedestrian street from the plaza to the harbor, less than a mile. Our hotel was just off the main street, about 6 blocks from the plaza.

Thursday September 24

Wandering the few blocks towards the harbor, there is a prominent statue of Christopher Columbus. Why? Barcelona is on the Northeast side of Spain, and the Atlantic Ocean is on the Southwest side. Columbus did not leave from here. He begged money (and titles and royalties) for his four voyages from many sources, one of which was the Spanish (Castillian) throne.

These metal arcs were on the waterfront. I found them attractive, so I guess they are art.

A harbor is much like an airport, with somebody controlling traffic. Therefore I suspect that this is the Harbor Master's hangout.

Torre Jaume is the tower supporting a cable car and observation deck overlooking the harbor, and at 351 feet is the second tallest such tower in the world.

There are a couple floating sculptures in the harbor.

And this sculpture that is apparently the city logo. After the Olympics you can walk out to a shopping center in the harbor.

Santa Maria del Mar church (St. Mary of the Sea) was huge and impressive but seemed more interested in giving tours than in having services there.

Even the entrance was inpressive

The cathedral was nearby with a very distinctive entrance

And a rather grand altar.

Walking down the street we encountered a festival. Who knows what festival, but lots of characters, apparently from story books, 20 feet tall with a teenager inside. The figures marched, danced (in pairs), and spun around ... for blocks. There were many dozens of these characters, and very tired kids inside them (we watched a shift change in one).

Every city seems to need a major "Arch of Triumph" or Arco de Triunto - here as the entrance to a market.

This was part of the line to get into the Picasso Museum. Since it was a holiday or something, admission was free, so the lines were extraordinarily long.

Just some random street scenes. Barcelona is a beautiful, charming city

Note the Red and Gold stripe flag with the blue and white star... that is the Catalonian flag, flown from somebody's apartment, on the day before the vote for independence.

Friday September 25

There is a major Picasso museum in Barcelona. Go early and there are no lines, but it is hard to get in without waiting during the middle of the day. Their web site gave us trouble when we tried to buy advance tickets on-line, and when we went the next morning the tickets were cheaper than we remembered on-line, and we had immediate access.

Picasso's early works were quite beautiful - not at all what I feared from his later works with people's eyes in the wrong place, etc. Unfortunately no photos were allowed within the museum.

The museum itself consisted of five large houses or palaces from the 13th and 14th century that have been interconnected... including a few rooms which are still in their original grand style.

Pictures were allowed of the building even though there are no photos allowed of his art work.

They are building a new "cathedral," Basílica de la Sagrada Família, (Church of the Holy Family) designed by Gaude, that everyone is anxious to tour. When we went late morning, the earliest entry we could book was after 6 pm, close to closing time. The admission fee is blatantly high to support the construction costs.

Note the three languages - Catalan, Spanish, and English, but "online" is universal.

Since we were there, we explored from the outside. Next trip we will get advance tickets.

There is amazing detail everywhere you looked. Antoni Gaudi (the architect) often included sloping columns that created a roof like being in a forest. Inside many of the columns split into branches like trees to support the roof.

The tops on some of the columns are baskets of fruit. Note the walkways and ladders - they are still being carved.

Every church needs a stone Christmas Tree with doves, right?

And a creche with the Archangel Gabriel tooting his horn.

Opposite the cathedral is a park with a small lake - and the best view we could see (despite the construction cranes). Estimated completion is 2026.

An extraordinary animation of the completion of the basilica is available on YouTube - worth the minute (okay, 1:32) of your time.

From there we went to the beach, man-made for the Olympics from land recovered from the harbor. Nice but not as nice as Hawaii or other places with natural beaches. Late September, so still warm but definitely not crowded.

To answer the often unasked question about European beaches, based on a very small sample (the beach was not crowded, but was huge - it went on and on), perhaps 10% of the women were topless, and most of those were lying on their stomach. Based on tan lines, many of the topless were visitors, not regulars.

We went back to the area of our hotel (in part for a drink before dinner). The permanent market in that area is partially a tourist attraction and partially a real market.

Some vendors said "No Pictures" trying to keep themselves accessible to customers, but others - like this fruit vendor - accepted that there would be tourists, and offered small bowls of fruit, at very profitable prices.

There were lots of sausages sold in the meat markets

And even vendors specializing in eggs.

"Nebraska" Angus beef was over US$20 per pound, but other beef was what I consider "regular" prices

Saturday September 26

Toni Ciuraneta is an artist and fellow member of the "Family Woodworking" forum who lives near Barcelona, and offered to be our tour guide for a day. (In his day job he designs packaging for International Paper clients).

Our day started with a cable car ride up Montserrat or "Sawed Mountain" with a Benedictine Monastery near the top.

This was much more fun than just driving up the road, or taking the train.

The sawed mountain theme was present in carvings (note the bow saw cutting the mountains

And the peaks clearly looked sawed

At the main level are the residences, church, and required gift and souviner shops.

The entrance to the church is dramatic

Don't miss the detail of Christ and the disciples

The inside is pretty neat for a small monastery near the top of the mountain.

A local artist carves statues with faces inset rather the protruding. It has the almost spooky effect of the face looking at you from any direction.

Toni's wife María Soledad Dueñasis also an artist, doing restoration of stone carvings among other things. This is one of her works, in the courtyard.

If you want to go to the TOP of the mountain, you take a funicular (Jenny's favorite mode of transportation)

It is a cable railroad car - almost an elevator. Look at the angle of the windows.

Yes we both made it to the top

There are primarily paths for either hikers or for monks to walk and meditate

With religious inspiration along the way.

We went a ways, but not as far as we might have hiked in our youth.

Antoni Gaudi was an artist and architect that dedicated the last part of his life to Sagrada Familia (the new bascilica) but earlier developed some of his characteristic styles as the architect for a housing development sponsored by Eusbi Güell. The development was a failure (only two residences) but the central park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Parc Güell

The service roads for the houses (that were never built) were elevated, with sloping pillars to hold them to the side of the hills

Gaudi worked with native and recycled materials (including shards of broken pottery) and rustic "natural" look. The tops of the columns expand to look like the crown of trees.

The planters were also designed to look like trees

Gaudi's house has become a museum about his works.

The balcony is designed to be the common park for the development; as a World Heritage site access is limited so we could not get tickets at a reasonable time. Note the curved seats at the edge to support multiple conversation groups, and the tile made from broken pottery. The entrance is at the lower level; the columns contain the drains to collect rainwater.

Toni was raised in this area so he was able to find great places to view what we could not access.

The views from here were stunning. Notice Sagrada Familia not far away.

We had dinner with Toni and his wife María Soledad Dueñasis that evening, at their home. Toni is an extraordinary woodcarver - that is not a collage of tools behind them, but a wood carving of tools.

Another favorite carving is this pair of jeans - about 24 by 36 inches (600 by 900 mm). The zipper and all the stitches are carved wood.

This picture is copyright by Toni, used with his permission.

Toni also makes very artistic furniture, such as this cabinet or chest of drawers. Be sure to see his web site for more carvings and furniture.

This picture is copyright by Toni, used with his permission.

Sunday September 27

The National Palace is now the National Museum of Art. In front is the Magic Fountain, which was impressive just idling, but it did not put on a special performance for us.

There were many traditional pictures and sculptures (but this travelogue is getting long). It is a museum well worth visiting.

Note this detail from the previous picture, with the broken pottery tile work in the Gaudi style.

I am limiting myself to just a little furniture

and a carved door by Gaudi. We did spend hours at the museum - it was interesting.

We did go back to the cathedral for Sunday evening Mass.

Getting Home

Leave Barcelona airport Monday Morning at 10:00 am local time on AA67 to JFK at 12:50 local time (8 hours later). Then another 4 hour layover before the very different AA67 flight leaves at 4:55 pm local time, for the four hour flight arriving Austin at 8:13 pm local time.

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