Saturday, December 14, 2013

¡Viva España! Barcelona Day 3

I woke up to a gorgeous Saturday feeling surprisingly refreshed.  My morning was free and I was eager to explore more of the city.  I had seen so much the prior day, and was unsure how to best spend the morning.  I thought I would just walk around with my guidebook and see where the streets took me.

Plaça de Catalunya had looked so beautiful the prior night.  Under the morning glare, however, it had reverted back to its nondescript "could be anywhere" square.


Checking my guidebook, I decided to walk toward the El Born Barrio neighborhood, which is adjacent and just northeast of the Gothic Quarter.  The description of quirky side streets and eclectic bars, shops, and restaurants sounded like a Greenwich Village kind of place, and worth checking out.

My first stop was the Palace of Catalan Music.  I hadn't really given this venue much attention; somehow I missed the fact that it was the number one Barcelona attraction on Tripadvisor.  I had shrugged it off as just a concert hall, but it was architecturally very interesting and captured the eye. Alas, the early morning light was harsh and prevented good photos.  Apparently, the interior of the music hall is even more beautiful, but it was closed this morning and to my regret, I didn't get a chance to explore it.  On the bright side, I guess I now have something to look explore in my next trip to Barcelona.

The surrounding neighborhood certainly was diverse.  Many of the shops were closed, but some were open and I wandered in.  One appeared to be a museum (or store) with bizarre greater-than-life sized puppets and statues.  I tried to talk to the staff but this time, the language barrier proved too great.  The statues somehow unsettled me.  They were spooky, although they apparently represented historic and religious figures.

I had really enjoyed seeing the food market the prior night.  This neighborhood's Mercat de Santa Caterina is not as famous, but apparently favored by locals.  The roof of the market was certainly kind of cool, but the inside, while quite busy, lacked the hyper intense bustle and commotion of the La Boqueria.  By contrast though, I didn't see many tourists here, although I could not tell if the NYC biker-wannabe was a local or not.

I continued to ramble around the neighborhood, getting occasionally lost.  More stores began to open up and people went about their daily business.  The guidebook was correct in calling this neighborhood "eclectic".  With its narrow alley ways and older but tall buildings, it had a very different feel from either modern Barcelona or the Gothic Quarter.  One thing I didn't understand was the presence of mannequins on outdoor patios.  I would see that again in several places.  Were the residents just lonely?

After a bit, I decided to wander back to the Santa Maria church and check out the outdoor fair that I had missed earlier.  Along the way, I stopped by to look at the remains of the ancient Roman walls, which served as the city's original fortification.  I was checking the restoration work when, out of the blue, this guy with a parakeet on his shoulder walked by and asked me if I spoke English.  Normally, I am alert for street hustlers and so forth, but he was just being friendly.  Or perhaps he wanted his bird to hear some native English.

The prior day I had walked the blocks surrounding Santa Maria, but apparently I still missed many nooks and crannies.  The weather was perfect for street musicians, so I just took my time and didn't care if I ended up seeing something I had already seen.   I referred to my guidebook as best as I could to understand the significance of each building, but I was no longer sure of my navigation.  But that was OK by me.

I eventually reached the front of the church and walked the stalls of the outdoor fair.  I encountered a lot of the expected arts and crafts, but nothing that I wanted to buy.  I was getting ready to leave when I heard loud drums.  The crowd started roaring.  Kids shouted as a rain of candy fell from the air.  Soon, a pathway opened up between the crowd.  A group of people were pushing the puppets I had seen earlier and throwing goodies into the crowd.  Speaking to the person next to me, I think the puppets represented the wise men bearing gifts on Christ's birth.  I personally still found the puppets a little spooky.

The weather quickly warmed up, so I decided to walk to the waterfront one last time.  I took my time along the way, mostly people watching than anything.  Seeing happy people helps bring a smile to one's own face, doesn't it?

When I reached the waterfront, it seemed that all sorts of Barceloneans were out to enjoy the magnificent day.  In one corner, many locals were shaking to an impromptu flamenco party.  Everywhere else, many happy and ordinary citizens just lazed about in the sun.  I sat for awhile as well, breathing in the scene and enjoying the feeling of the warm sun on my own skin.

I stayed for awhile, doing nothing, until I got hungry.  I went back to Irati for tapas, and it was as good as the first time.  All too soon, I needed to head back to the conference center to attend to more serious matters.  As I walked back toward the metro stop, these plant seeds caught my eye.  Talk about hot (peppery) sex?  Ah, those crazy Spaniards!

After my meetings, I was fatigued and not really up to going out.  The front desk suggested some restaurants in the shopping mall about a block away from the hotel.  Instead, I walked into the Carrefour grocery store in that same mall.  I bought some bread, delicious Iberian ham, wonderful cheese, and a good bottle of Ribera wine.

I had a picnic in my hotel room for my last Barcelona dinner, thinking this, too, was a great Spanish meal.  Unlike my prior trips to this city, I hadn't spent most of it cooped up in a conference room followed by a sterile dinner in some fancy pants restaurant.  Nor had I stayed out until the wee hours with clients indulging in Barcelona's famous nightlife.  And perhaps as a result, I found that I had glimpsed into a  much more interesting city than I had encountered in my prior visits.  I looked forward to seeing the rest of this country.  On to Andalusia!

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