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An Adventure in Barcelona
by Don and Peg Doman
Our trip by ferry to Spain was nice. We loved our staterooms, even though they were small. But, our first time in Barcelona, we were only there long enough to become frustrated with our rental car company. We had been told by Expedia that Sixt, the rental car people, would come and pick us up at the Grimaldi ferry landing. In reality, the phone number didnít work and Sixt refused to send a shuttle for us. After we took two cabs to the agency, we were told that we wouldnít be driving the seven-passenger van we had requested. Instead we had to split our three couples between two different cars for our week in Spain. We were not happy when we headed south out of Barcelona for the resort town of Peniscola.
If you've ever gotten lost while reading a map in your own language, you are in for a treat when you try to read maps in a foreign language. It's probably more frustrating to those who are behind us, than those of us in our cars, however.
We always arrived where we wanted to go, but sometimes it took us a little longer than anticipated . . . and sometimes in complete silence . . . but afterwards we could usually joke about the adventure . . . usually.
When we returned to Barcelona we were there to take possession of a three-bedroom apartment for our final three days in Spain. We were in a much better mood. We drove to the apartment building and met Xavier. We unloaded the two cars and then the two drivers and two navigators returned the cars before sharing a taxi back to the apartment building. The apartment was comfortable and furnished by Ikea. There were three bedrooms and two full baths. The living room and kitchen had a door onto the balcony, which overlooked a good-sized courtyard.
Xavier gave us a tour of the apartment, answered questions and made suggestions. He stressed further that downtown we would want to be careful on the street, but here in Poble Nau we were safe because it is a family area where the inhabitants are all Spanish. The section of Poble Nau had once been a manufacturing area in Barcelona, but now is a very comfortable family neighborhood. Almost every block had its own bakery and produce market as well as bars where we could have a morning coffee, and afternoon beer, or tapas for snacking virtually all day long.
One of Xavier's suggestions was to stroll down the Ramblas. Each neighborhood has their own Ramblas, which is a tree lined street with restricted traffic. Itís designed for walking, sitting, and chatting with friends. I really enjoy the idea of living downtown. I picture myself . . . eating fresh bread and vegetables . . . dining outside . . . visiting the little art galleries, jewelry stores, and craft shops . . . and stopping in-between for a gelato or a glass of beer.
Although our landlord had said everyone was Spanish, we noted Muslims (of course they could be Spanish) and Asians managing convenience stores. It was a very nice neighborhood.
Our second day in Barcelona we took the subway further uptown and from there purchased tickets on a tour bus. Just as in any big city, the tour bus is a great way to see the sights, especially when they have an upper floor that puts you in the open air. Not only does the double-decker tour bus give you a nice perspective well above the streets, but you are relatively cool driving around in the open air. Barcelona is filled with art both inside and out so you have plenty to see.
Casa Mila designed by Anontio Gaudi is an artistic triumph. Gaudi nearly obliterates straight lines with his fluid movement of form. He creates buildings that look like they were constructed by young children playing with modeling clay and left alone to let their imaginations run wild. His personal residence is on the tour also, as is the Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family) church.
Many of the figures of the Sagrada Familia are stylized. They are captured in the golden brown of the Spanish sand. By giving us images that are less than human, Gaudi gave us expressions and gestures that are more powerful and more emotional than realistic statues. His earth people show sorrow more than anything else I've ever seen.
The Sacred Family has to be seen to be believed. It was begun in 1929 and might never be finished. Work continues still. You canít just drive by, you must visit it, and not only visit, but you must take the tour and even after that you should sit and consider what it all means. Tableaux stretch from just off the ground and climb towards heaven illustrating virtually every Christian connection in the bible. The figures are not like the hard-edged marble figures in most churches, but rather resemble creatures created of sand, which is appropriate for this whimsical sandcastle of religion. In Barcelona, the Sacred Family leaves people transfixed by awe. In America, there would be rock climbers scaling Christ and boosting themselves higher on the backs of angels . . . but then donít we all?
Our last full day in Barcelona I promised Peg I would take her to art museums. First on the list was the Catalan Art Museum and the nearby Fundacio Joan Miro. The grand plan was to take her there by taxi and drop her off while I went to the Archaeological Museum, which was close by. Then we would get together and go to the Maritime Museum, then to the Picasso Museum and perhaps the textile museum or the cramic museum. It was not meant to be.
We started off in the taxi, but it wasn't too long before he shrugged his shoulders in disgust. There was a marathon race being run and the streets were blocked off. We finally got fairly close to the Catalan Art Museum, but were stopped by the police. Again, our cabbie shrugged his shoulders and retreated around the round-a-bout. I had him head to the Archaeological Museum and we met with the same problem and gesture. My guess is that each time he shrugged his shoulders it cost us another ten Euro. We finally settled on the Maritime Museum. Outside the museum was a wooden replica of one of the earliest submarines (1859) in history. Inside there were ships, models, displays as well as paintings and drawings. My favorite display was a full-size replica of a Spanish Galley complete with oars. Each oar would have cost the life of a substantial tree.
We left the Maritime Museum and headed to the next museum.
Art generally strikes an emotional chord. That's what makes it memorable . That chord is very individualistic. I turned a corner at the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art and stood looking at a memory. In 1961 at the Seattle World's Fair I had visited an art gallery. One of the paintings that captured my imagination was by the American abstract artist Ad Reinhardt. I don't remember the name of the painting, Reinhardt called them by number, but I remember the painting looked one shade of blue, until you got up close and then you realized it was made of many different shades of blue in geometric patterns. I loved the graduation of colors and the fool the eye technique. There in Barcelona, thousands of miles from Seattle, was either the same painting I had seen forty-six years earlier or one in the series. I told this story to Donn and he just looked at me and said, "You can remember a painting you saw forty-six years ago?" It doesn't seem unreasonable to me at all. I remember songs from that long ago. Scenes from plays I've seen as well as feature films and TV. Shouldn't we remember that which moves us? Things of beauty?
We made a mistake after the Museum of Contemporary Art. We should have gone directly to the Picasso Museum, instead we took a break. Peg visited the museum book store and I found us a table a few yards from the museum next to a narrow alley and just opposite the back door of a bar and restaurant. A light rain began to fall and most of the patrons scattered. Being from the Pacific Northwest, a few drops of rain were nothing to us. We stayed and had the two best salads of our entire European trip. Mine was salmon. It looked like it was pressed into a form about the size of a tuna can. Thin strips of smoked salmon were layered into the mold and then a lettuce, onion, and balsamic mix filled the rest of the mold. It was then inverted and plated looking almost like a large dark red hockey puck with a few capers on top.Peg's salad was formed the same way. Her salad was stacked a little higher than mine with the top layer being toasted goat cheese. Underneath was a salad of slivers of apple and pear. Both salads were beautiful and tasted even better.
We enjoyed our food and the surroundings. The graffiti in the alley was interesting. Just as the food was most beautiful served next to the Museum of Modern Art, so then the graffiti had to be worthy of the location as well.
After our sensible lunch we were off again. We took a taxi to the Picasso Museum. Actually, we took a taxi, but I think the taxi driver may have taken us. According to my calculations it didn't seem that Picasso was that far from the Museum of Contemporary Art, but the taxi took us straight south and then back up north. We were dropped off at a very narrow street and the driver gestured to us that the museum was down the street aways . . . and it was. We were there on the first Sunday of the month and there was no entrance fee (as is the local custom for some museums). There was a line, but not a huge one. Peg's feet were hurting and she voted to call it a day. I complied.
We returned to the apartment, which after only three days was becoming like home. We never saw our direct neighbors, but on the street you could see children playing, and people walking their dogs. The apartment building was constructed with a breeze way so the building itself did not take up all the ground area. Small shops ringed the building at ground level. There were also walk ways and alleys that adjoined the courtyard. Although, we could have chosen to have off street parking. I'm glad we returned our rental cars directly to the airport and then walked or chose local transportation.
Back at the apartment we met our fellow travellers. Their news was disappointing to Peg. They had simply used the subway and had visited the Catalan Art Museum without any problems. It also saved them about fifty Euro. Sometimes the best plan, isn't the best plan. We should have stayed with the group. We all went out for dinner, which really meant we took the elevator down and then walked across the street. We sat down at the tables outside, but it was a warm afternoon and we could smell the sewer, so we moved indoors where we had a great time. We still had a collection of Mountain Bars and Almond Roca from Tacoma's Brown & Haley, which we hand out to people we like, so I went back to the apartment to retrieve a good handful. Coming back to the bar I gave out some to other patrons who were sitting outside. They had been watching us as we first rearranged the outdoor tables and then abandoned them for inside seating. I gave them each a Mountain Bar and received an American accented "Thank you" in return. I gave out bags of Almond Roca to the waiter and waitress inside. The candy is a great way to pass on information about where we are from . . . and make friends.
We returned to the apartment to begin packing for our early flight the next morning. I made sure we left candy for Xavier as well. Before turning in we took one last look from the balcony. We never tired of looking at people's laundry hanging from windows and on rooftops. We had a small clothesline device we used. It's such a low tech way of living. We all laughed the first time we saw laundry hanging and drying in strange places, but in the end we joined in. At night it was nice standing next to our laundry on the balcony and looking at the architectural features across the courtyard . . . and laundry.
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