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'Buenas Nochs!' Barcelona

FRANCE | Thursday, 18 June 2009 | Views [805]


As I have never been to Spain before I have decided to write entries on each city that we visit as a way of keeping a diary of our experiences. As I am typing this, we are travelling on a very high speed train from Barcelona to Cordoba. In contrast to the train we arrived on Saturday night that must have been the oldest train on the Spanish network. This train is one of the newest. We are travelling at 300 km per hour and travelling first class is like travelling on an aircraft. There are movies, drink and meal service and the main difference is that there is more space and bigger windows; also all the reading materials and movies are in Spanish.

I wrote last Sunday that we arrived in Barcelona on Saturday night. We got a taxi from the station; after we had waded through the army of backpackers scrabbling for cheap accommodation and hotel transfers, and we were driven through the busy streets. Like any town on a Saturday night, Barcelona was very much alive. Our hotel was located in the centre of town close to the main avenue; La Ramblas. If you have been to Barcelona, you will remember that this is the avenue lined with plane trees with a pedestrian thoroughfare in the middle of it. As it was Saturday, the driver would not take us directly to the hotel and we had to weave through several narrow alleys to get to our hotel. The central area of Barcelona is a series of small streets lined with shops and cafes that link small squares. Our hotel was located on a square with a medieval church; one of many in Barcelona that is still undergoing restoration. We discovered over the last couple of days, that many churches in Barcelona were burned, along with their religious artifacts during the Spanish Civil war and the restoration process still continues in many of them.

Initially Paul was somewhat disappointed with the size of the room of our hotel. It was a typical of any hotel that we have stayed in any big city a room the size of a cardboard box and a shower that could operate as Doctor Who's tardis because of its cupboard size. However, the size of the room was made up by the very helpful receptionist on the front desk who provided information on any subject from the best Tapas bar, to where to get your clothes washed, where to get one's hair cut and operated as a postal service. Breakfast was provided by a very typical Spanish woman who brought it on a tray, with juice, a toasted roll and coffee but it took at least 20 minutes to prepare. The hotel overlooked the square and it was interesting to watch out the window the activity below, especially on a weekday when vans of all shapes and sizes brought in supplies to the businesses around the square.

Our first experience of eating Tapas was at 11 pm on Saturday night when we were recommended a local Tapas bar, by the helpful 'Italian' receptionist. (In Bordeaux Ian Raskall discovered a delightful winemaker called Isabella in Barcelona Paul discovered a delightful receptionist named Helena). We walked to the bar where there was a queue to get a table; remember it is well past any time we have eaten over the last 10 days and we were usually in bed by 9 pm when it is still light in Summer in Europe. We were seated at the bar where we watched the bar tender create what has now become Paul's favourite drink; the Mohito. For those of you who know cocktails you will know the powerful combination the taste of white spirit, lemon and mint that this drink produces, it is refreshing in a number of ways. The Sangria was also good as well (red wine and fruit). The tapas consisted of small plates of food such as calamari, chirizo, potato salad and croquettes.

We learnt the next day that nothing happens before 10 am in Spain and therefore the working day usually extends to 8 pm at night. On Sunday, it is even later. This doesn't really apply if you are a tourist as most sites do open at 9 am and close between 6 and 8 pm in Summer. There fore we commenced our day with a visit to the tourist office we where discovered the thousands of backpackers still queuing for accomodation. We were able to purchase a Barcelona Card, which most major cities have, giving you transport on the public transport system for 2 days and discounted entry into museums, galleries and tourist sites.

Barcelona is the city of Gaudi architecture, which I had particularly focused upon in my final year of school. Therefore I was able to see the buildings that I had only ever seen in 1970 black and white reproductions. I studied Art in the early 1980s and most art text books in colour were expensive. This would surprise many students today who now only see these works in colour on the internet. We planned the buldings to visit and set off.

Over the course of the day we became very Gaudied out as we visited the famous Famillia Sangria Church, Casa Barillo and Guell Park which are all designed by Gaudi. We discovered the variety of cultures and lifestyles in Barcelona. We learnt that most locals and backpackers go to Guell Park on a Sunday afternoon to relax and soak up the sun. Along La Ramblas and in most public areas you still have those Africans hawking fake watches and handbags. Paul loved the new trains on the metro and learnt that he could even carry out fare evasion when his metro ticket didn't work (he jumped the turnstiles; and if you know Paul well, you know this is very uncharacteristic behaviour, I think he just wants to be Spanish).

Finally we were all out of Gaudi and we returned to the hotel for another tapas visit. The following day we decided to just experience more of the local scene of Barcelona. We visited the contemporary art museum which was built in the Ravel area of Barcelona. This was formally the redlight district of the city but it has been revitalised and now houses many of the art and design schools of the city. I managed to get my hair cut without really speaking a word of English and even got my watch fixed that I had been trying to manage for the past 4 weeks in France. We enjoyed wandering the alleyways of the city and just strolling past the clothing stores. Many of you know that my family is awaiting the birth of my parents first grandchild at the end of this week so everywhere I look I see things for babies. We laughed at the section in the department store entitled 'Futura Mama' and had to stop ourselves buying a bib with the name of the Barcelona football team embroided on it as it was just too tacky and we don't know if Michelle and David's baby is a boy or a girl.

Barcelona was selected for the 1992 Olympic Games and reminds me very much of Sydney; there is a combination of older architecture, very much older than Sydney and sandy beaches in the city area. The city is definitely alive with people to late hours of the night and the Spanish people are a very relaxed race. There is more difference in the appearance of people compared to other European cities as there are more cultural influences from neighbouring countries such as France and Italy. It is also unusual for us to travel to a country where we do not really speak any of the language and less people seem to speak English. So as we travel to Cordoba, we travel to another area of Spain to experience another aspect of the country.

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