Barcelona, Day 2 – Las Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter

Barcelona!  We saved this city for last, hoping — based on everything we had heard about it — that it would be a highlight of the trip.  It has been that and more:  Of all the cities we’ve visited during the past two weeks, this one has won my heart.  Architecture, food, beaches, vibrant city energy and weather that couldn’t be better.  I could live here and be very happy.

With only two full days in Barcelona, we knew we needed to plan our time carefully to make the most of our time.  Plugging our ears against the siren song of the famous Barceloneta beaches, we decided to devote the entire first day primarily to seeing as much of the city and its famous Modernista architecture as possible, and also eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant.  The second day, we promised, would be consecrated to beach and sun and nothing else.  Well, almost nothing else.  Halfway through the first day we ended up buying tickets to a flamenco concert for the second night so that we could get inside the famous Palau de la Musica Catalana and see stained glass ceiling in the concert hall.

The plan went off like a charm.  We’ve seen and done everything we wanted to do and had a great time doing it.  My writing about it, however, is complicated by some unwelcome developments; namely, my nice camera broke, forcing me to rely on my phone for photos and use a much more cumbersome mechanism for inserting them into the blog, and now I’m running out of time.  We fly home in the morning and I still have to figure out how I’m going to pack everything (why did I think it was a good idea to buy ceramics?).  So, I’ll do the best I can.

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We began our exploration of the city on foot, with a promenade down La Rambla.  La Rambla is one of Barcelona’s most famous streets, and for good reason.  It’s a broad, shady boulevard devoted almost entirely to pedestrian traffic. With shops on either side and little roads leading off into lovely plazas and winding medieval neighborhoods, the Ramblas is a flaneur’s paradise. 

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Filling a small plaza off to one side of La Rambla is the awesome Mercat de la Boqueria.  This covered market is filled with nuts and dried fruit, gorgeous produce, giant sea monsters and butcher shops where you can get little cones of Iberian ham.  After the flies and smells of the food markets in Morocco, the clean and orderly feel of this market was very refreshing.

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On our way out of the market I spied a gaufre shop, which as a matter of principle I could not pass up.  So, quick detour for a yummy gaufre liegeoise. 

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At the end of La Rambla is an impressive monument to Christopher Columbus.  Apparently Barcelona is where he came first after his voyage to the Americas. 

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From there, we crossed along the waterfront of the harbor and then turned up into the Gothic Quarter.  Barcelona had quite a heyday in medieval times and the Gothic Quarter was described as a must see.  The cathedral was certainly remarkable, as were the Roman walls.  But otherwise I have to say I wasn’t that impressed — I’ve seen better gothic neighborhoods in France.

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Roman walls
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La Catedral
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Crypt of St. Eulalia, whose various tortures at the hands of the
Romans were detailed in bas relief near the entrance
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After a quick bite to eat (lest we expire in a gothic gutter) . . .

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we found our way to the Palau de la Musica Catalonia.  Completed in 1908, it’s an outstanding example of the Modernisme architectural movement (about which I will write more later) and a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The interior — particularly a stained glass ceiling in the main concert hall — is even better than the exterior, but we couldn’t see it without going on a guided tour or attending a concert.  We inquired about ticket prices and discovered that tickets to a flamenco concert were only a little more than a guided tour, so we bought two tickets in the balcony section and took a rain check on seeing the interior.

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Palau de la Musica Catalana
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And that was it for the general walking tour of the city.  From the music hall, we sauntered home to make restaurant reservations for dinner and then went to see Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral — and both the cathedral and dinner merit their own posts, so stay tuned!

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