Thursday, December 31, 2009
Happy New Year from Barcelona
You can't do Barcelona in a day and we didn't try. We've been here before and we know we will be back for a proper visit some day. For today it was just a question of wandering about soaking up the ambience and doing a little shopping.
We had been told that significant work had been done on the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona's famous cathedral, designed by Guadi who died just as work on the huge project got underway. For various reasons it remained a magnificent shell for decades but now a concerted effort is being made to complete it. So our one planned part of the day was to visit the cathedral, which we quickly reached on Barcelona's excellent subway system. Unfortunately we weren't early enough to beat the huge crowds lining up to get in and so contented ourselves with viewing the cathedral from the outside only. We saw the inside five years ago and it's a good reason to return to Barcelona. That done we made a quick side trip to a nearby booksellers that I knew would carry Tin Tin books. I am slowly building a collection of the entire series in the languages of the countries we visit.
The subway got us quickly back to Placa de la Caltaluyna, which marks the beginning of Barcelona's famous shopping thoroughfare, La Rambla. I needed a new pair of dress shoes for work which I soon found, while El came away blissfully happy with some funky purple leather ankle boots and a cool, royal blue sweater.
Walking around Barcelona is a real treat. People are very fashion conscious and even when dressed casually, appear elegant. Europeans just have that effortless put together look. My Italian friend Elisabetta has it whether she's going for a walk or just having coffee. I wish that I could master it. For the ladies boots are a must. The height doesn't matter or the style but everyone wears boots. Jeans are tight. Mini dresses and mini skirts are worn with the requisite tights. Those Latin men were also kitted out in tight jeans and very often designer tops. It was refreshing to see that the "gansta" look for men is well and truly dead in Barcelona. Everyone male and female, young and old, looks really good.
By now we were opposite the market area which is a must see. It is hard to describe the range of fruits, vegetables, fish, fresh and cured meats, cheese, pastries, and candies on display. The Serrano hams were hanging everywhere and we watched a fellow cut a ham very thinly with a knife and then pick up the bit of ham with tweezers. Sausages, cold cuts, steak and veal were everywhere. Every kind of fish was piled high, the dorado, branzino, sole, snapper, swordfish, squid, cuttlefish, the scampi still moving their feelers, and lots of fish we didn't recognize. The fruit and vegetables were to die for, beautifully fresh. There was an array of mushrooms on sale. Maybe some were porcini. We weren't quite sure. The oranges and tangerines freshly picked were piled in mountains. Prickly pear cactus were cut in two and wrapped with little plastic spoons so that you could buy and eat. We finally settled on having a pina colada drink.
One of the best things were the rows and rows of every kind of candy from beautiful chocolates, marzipan fruits, nougat, jellies licquorice Every kind of candy you could imagine in every colour was there to buy. It was a real feast for my eyes. We came a way with a few pieces of marzipan, some nougat, some jellies and little violet hard candies that I hadn't had since I was a child. They tasted every bit as good as I remembered.
We then veered off into the many narrow winding pedestrian only side streets. It's fun to get lost here. Any given direction could lead to a quiet residential area, a beautiful tree-lined square, or a national monument. This was the oldest part of the city and included a short section of original Roman walls. We found a tapas bar for a late lunch and then did some more wandering about, eventually making our way back to the hotel to rest our tired feet. On the way we passed the Guadi museum where once again a huge lineup decided us against going in but didn't prevent us from visiting the museum's excellent gift shop where I found a cool poster.
In retrospect we should have put more thought into how we planned to spend New Year's Eve. We might for example have found a concert or show of some kind to attend. Many locals go out to dinner and we found that those restaurants remaining open had switched to a fixed menu and were often fully booked. As my appetite was only just back to normal and El's stomach was still not right, a big meal at a fancy restaurant was not really practical. There were still plenty of Tapas bars open and so we found one of these for dinner.
By this time the revelers were out in force, and police, ambulance and sanitation vehicles and personnel had taken up positions to deal with whatever the evening brought. Thousands of mostly young partiers wander up and down La Rambla often sharing premixed concoctions in large pop bottles. Individuals were also selling bottles of champagne or beer along with the traditional grapes (to be eaten for good luck in the new year). We walked all the way down to the waterfront before deciding that we would be just as happy to catch the final countdown back in our room on TV, which is what we did.
A few short hours later we were in a cab on our way to the airport. There were still many determined individuals on the streets and we could see many bars and restaurants still hopping.
There's not much worth remembering about the rest of the day: The unavoidable tedium of long distance air travel with its check ins, security lineups, cross terminal marches, finding the VAT refund office, checking out the duty free, finding a book to replace the one I inadvertently left in Morocco (with only ten pages to go!), waiting, more waiting, etc, etc, and finally home to our welcoming dog and a welcome invitation to a bowl of soup with our friends.