The train is a pleasant way to transition from the Andalucia’s lazy, ancient Moorish lands to cultured Catalunya. Our stays skirt España’s vast Meseta Central in favor of her coasts and peripheral mountains, so the trains give our best glimpse of Castilla-La Mancha, and I get an audible dose of this Quixotic land, thanks to a very entertaining book-on-tape version of Cervantes’ classic – bedtime stories are perfect salves for insomniac nights. At 300 kmph with just a handful of stops, we’ll be in Barcelona this afternoon… probably ahead of Malaga’s mourning flights stalled by today’s fog.
If only I were a faster reader. I’m literally overbooked – before leaving I downloaded Michner’s Iberia; I’ve read only a few pages. On our Villa host’s recommendations I bought a paperback version of Driving over Lemons… and I’m ⅓ through that easy entertaining read. But we’re leaving Andalucia so I’ll bury it in my suitcase and switch to Orwell’s lesser known Homage to Catalunya, which documents his fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. It seems fitting, as these are Orwellian times, and with Trump, Burma and now Catalonia passing through our family’s collective conscience, so we might as well absorb The Prophet. But there are also parallels between Cervantes quixotic Don and our own…
Our ambitious travel schedule pushes all that literary intent out the window. We have things to see and do, and it takes a day to plan a day. I like seat-of-the-pants travelling, but it just doesn’t work with my crew, so most of my train time is spent scouring our schedule, and trying to minimize those those little hiccups that might conflagrate into patricide.
The work pays off – the transfer to our Barcelona flat goes smoothly, and the space is modern and comfortable, with 3 bedrooms and a comfortable great room overlooking lively little Plaça de la Vila de Gracia, a pleasant square in the bohemian Gracia neighborhood, It’s tapas heaven, and we’re well outside the crushed tourist zone but still quite central. The square is packed tonight – a celebration, with hundreds of families crowding in among banners, enjoying live folk music, shopping cart races around the square, and eventually some kind of pagan ceremony with devilish figures doing battle and celebratory fireworks… all night. I’ve caught Max’s cold so am too pooped to party but we enjoy the show from our balcony and then use earphones and white noise apps to find sleep… Catalonians are notoriously late nighters.
Sunday I sneak in some blogging and travel planning before Sue and the boys rise. Max is in a foul mood – probably sleep deprived – so rather than negotiate public transit we taxi down to the Gothic quarter. We take in the communal Sardana dancing and lovely classical music outside the Cathedral, a walking tour of some key sites like the Jewish Quarter, the government plaza Placa de San Jaume, roman ruins and the excellent Barcelona History Museum, which meanders below the Barri Gòtic.
Along the way there are bombing pock marks and other reminders of the brutal Spanish Civil War – a forgotten chapter in the history books of my youth. Rebellious, socialistic Barcelona took a pounding from fascist Franco. I expect we chose to overlook his Axis leanings and human rights violations because his anti-communist position proved more convenient during the cold-war… witness the US army bases in Spain. Max is already familiar with Picasso’s Guernica, and so has discussed it with Ben… which inevitably brings up discussion of the Spanish Civil War, Nazi bombings, and contemporary facist parallels… just the kind of mind-expanding experiences we hope for in these travels. Good… let it sink in.
It’s siesta time, so we taxi home for a nap and some down-time, then I rally the troops for a trip up to Barcelona’s charming, old amusement park Tibidabo. Ben and I have the stronger stomachs so we buy a full pass and turn laps on the rollercoaster, while Max and Mom take it easy and enjoy the views over Barcelona and the Med. It’s a pleasant, family-friendly place, quaint and sincere by American amusement park standards. Tripadvisor reviews are mixed but Ben and I vote yeah.
Getting home was one of those seat-of-the-pants experiences I relish and Sue hates: no taxi’s up on the mountain, so we talked our way onto a bus, figured out the Metro and walked 10 blocks home in the mild night. It’s all good.
Monday I made good use of the quiet morning. The weather was glorious so rather than taxi we walked south along the swank Passieg de Gracia, letting the boys got to oogle at luxury stores, and then… Max: “hey dad – what’s up with those funky buildings?” Me: “Oh that’s the Block of Discord, where Gaudi and other Mordernista artists tried to outdo each other with their riffs on Art Noveau design. Max: They remind me of Paris”… The bait’s taken, the hook is set. Now we’re talking about our upcoming visits to Gaudi’s Park Güell and Sagrada Família.
At grand Placa de Catalunya we bear right to ancient La Rambla, once lined with bird and flower stalls, now overrun with tourists and Nike shops, which Max and Ben enjoy. At Mercat de la Boqueria we lunch on falafels and monster curry burritos a. Passing into the Liceu opera house we can’t get a glimpse of the grand theater, but we do get lured
below into a funky arthouse-restaurant. A darkened underground hall leads the curious past multimedia dioramas which tell the story of Zeus warring with various gods and somehow food results (I didn’t pay too much attention to the details)… then to a half dozen food-themed rooms wrapped in whimsical decor surrounding colorful tables and sculptures. There’s the seafood room, set under a ceiling of blue glass waves, with a boat hull above. The meats room surrounds a carved cowof and settings of glass, glass with food-themed rooms including a seafood room set
then I lead the family through an unintentional loop through gritty El Raval until we find the facade of Palau Güell, one of Gaudi’s early works. Lots of tattoos, marijuana and downtrodden here… “stay in school boys…” Passing the big Colombus statue we get our first up-close glimpse at Barcelona’s redeveloped waterfront, broad and welcoming. Sue’d delighted to see her old cruise ship the Black Watch is in harbor… we can’t get on but enjoy the stroll down her memory lane at the ship terminal. The handy Metro returns us to Gracia for siesta before Sue and I enjoy a fine set of tapas near our Gracia flat. Barcelona is alluring.