Saturday, June 20, 2009

Does Barcelona Count as Another Country?

BARCELONA, Spain-- I have an architecture guidebook. Keating has his camera bag. Together, that spells a very slow walk along Barcelona´s boulevards.

In the early 20th century, this city was the home of a quirky architectural movement known as Catalan Modernism. It had its roots in France´s Art Nouveau school, but quickly branched off into something completely different. Its best-known practitioner was Antoni Gaudi; his works form the visual texture of whole parts of the city.

While Barcelona is legally in Spain, it is proudly the capital of Catalonia, an area with its own language (Catalan) and years of separatist politics. Think Montreal, but with street signs in a language that looks like a cross of Spanish and French with a lot of extra Xs and diacritical marks thrown in for good measure. Spanish is the second language; sometimes, English shows up, too, but trilingual signs can look a bit silly.

The Barcelona city government helpfully publishes a book with a well-explained walking tour of Modernism. On our first afternoon and evening in Barcelona, we followed it carefully (and slowly) for several miles, ooohhing and aaahhing at one spectacular building after another, ending our stroll with our first look at La Sagrada Familia, the cathedral that is Gaudi´s masterpiece.

As we saw when we revisited La Sagrada Familia the next morning, the cathedral is still very much a work in progress. Actually, it´s a construction site -- see photo -- where hundreds of people are laboring on a building that has been in the works for more than a century. There was a bit of a setback in the Civil War years, when anticlerical activists trashed the place. However, the sanctuary is scheduled to be completed in 2010, barring the usual construction delays, I guess.

From there, we crossed the city to Park Guell, a Gaudi fantasy of a public park. This, like many of his other works, was built with the backing of a patron who more or less gave him an open checkbook. That sort of unstinting patronage seems necessary for extreme art like that produced in Barcelona at the time. (Of course, such flashy spending also feeds the anarchist revolution that came soon afterward.)

Barcelona´s extensive subway system made it simple to reach sites spread about the city--over our days there, we saw the mansions of Tibidabo Avenue, the Joan Miro museum in Montjuic, and more.

And the narrow medieval streets of the city´s old quarters--Barri Gotico and El Raval--made it a blast to seek out shops and bars on what I could only think of as the "Picasso Drank Here" tour. Two of the more famous ones where the Spaniard spent some time: the London Bar and Els Quatre Gats. The latter received a new touch of fame in recent years as one of the key settings in "Shadow of the Wind" ("La Sombra del Viento"), a book that was a runaway European bestseller. In Spanish, it´s a spooky Gothic thriller that´s soaked in Barcelona atmosphere. In English, I´m afraid it´s a bit silly.


  1. I've just started reading your blog concerning your RTW trip. What a great read....I read the article about the trip in the Star Ledger's travel section and I just had to read more. My husband and I went to Barcelona in 2008 and fell in love with the city. I was reading about the various hotels/resorts you stayed in but I couldn't find one for Barcelona. When we were there we stayed in the Hotel 1898. Where did you finally end up? Speaking of hotels, it was a great idea to post your lodgings. It's always nice to get a picture of the whole trip.
    Perhaps, some day, we'll do a RTW trip. After reading your blogs and article it's put an idea in our heads.
    Please keep posting.....
    Amy Ricupero, New Jersey

  2. Thanks for reading. We stayed at the Hotel Principal ( about a block and a half off Las Ramblas on the El Raval (grittier) side. It was clean, comfortable, friendly, with free wifi, a compfortable balcony in our room and a generous breakfast, and I actually liked the neighborhood. I thought it was a bit overpriced for what we got, but the weekend we were there, there was a music festival underway in town and rooms seemed tight. Also, I see that it cost about half of what Hotel 1898 charges and is just a couple blocks away, so maybe it wasn't so very overpriced. I won't be posting much more on this blog, because this trip is over; I'm now preparing for my next adventure! Maryann

  3. Thanks, Maryann, for the reply. You're right, our hotel was a bit $$$. This was our first time in Barcelona and we really didn't know where to stay. Because the hotel was on the Ramblas we thought it was in a good location. When we go back to Barcelona (and we will in a heart beat) we'll most likely select another hotel. Keep us posted on your next trip. Amy

  4. Barcelona Spain is awesome place to travel I m planning to make a tour of Spain.