Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rambling through Las Ramblas and the Bari Gottic

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The youngsters sharing my dorm went clubbing and didn't return till day break. They were sound asleep when I awoke at 9 am, used the Ladies Only bathroom at the far end of my corridor and went down to breakfast in the hotel dining room. This was Carboholics Paradise with cornflakes and muffins and toast and coffee presiding.

Reading up on the plane as to how to spend my three days in Barcelona, I was advised by the gurus at Lonely Planet to start with the Bari Gottic (that's the Gothic Bario or Quarter). Knowing that the best way to get a feel of a place is on foot, I fuelled up on those carbs, tied the shoe laces on my walking shoes firmly and was off for the day. And I honestly did not stop walking until night fell!

Las Ramblas was already frenetic with activity when I got there at 9. 45 am. I crossed it and entered the Call (or former Jewish Quarter) and was confronted with a tangle of confusing streets, some so narrow that only two people would walk through them abreast. But what character is preserved in this maze! I got a crick that stayed in my neck for the next four days as my head was titled at an angle to allow me to take in the overhanging balconies (very similar to those in Naples, Italy) as I walked gingerly along cobbled streets--the last thing I wanted was a twisted ankle! One old plaza opened out into the other and soon I was taking in the sights of the Plaza de la Jaume, one of the oldest parts of the city that traces its origin to the Roman occupation of Spain. My camera worked overtime as I tried to capture it all.

Lonely Planet's Walk through Ramblas and Bari Gottic takes the stroller through plazas and medieval cloisters of Romanesque and Gothic churches, through crusted Roman walls and tombs, through churches with enormous Rose windows and geese-filled courtyards, through ancient monuments, hoary with history. I even saw a wedding take place at the charming 12th century church of St. Anne and am sure to be in some of those wedding pictures--I'm sure the bride is going to wonder at the Indian tourist gawking at her off-white mantilla!

I spent a long while in the Gothic Cathedral with its many chapels, its superbly carved wooden choir stalls and pulpit, the crypt with the sarcophagus of St. Eulalia and the Monstrance of Barcelona, not to mention the quiet chapel of Santa Lucia.

Out on the main Plaza Nova, there was scribbles on a building which turned out to be Picasso drawings on the walls of the College of Architecture. That's what's so wonderful about these Spanish cities--you see the work of the Modern Masters embedded on the walls and on the streets (Gaudi tiles--I mean tiles by Antoni Gaudi--decorate the Passeig de Garcia and there is a Miro mosaic that you can walk all over on Las Ramblas!)

Leaving the Cathedral environs behind me, I stopped in a tiny old taverna for chocolate and churros (the Spanish snack I remembered so well from my visit with Llew to Madrid a few years ago). The chocolate is so thick, your churros (dried dough sticks) can stand upright in it. Yuumm! I didn't worry about the calories because I knew I was burning them up faster that I could digest those churros! Then, I was heading for the waterfront, where I saw another sculpture (Roy Lichtenstein's odd piece entitled Barcelona's Head). I found myself a bench and since my feet were fairly killing me by this time, I stretched put and closed my eyes (ah, how heavenly that felt!) and contemplated the canopy of trees above me.

Then, I set out for the Llotja (or medieval Stock Exchange building) whose front contains an Art School that both Picasso and Miro attended as teenagers. In a while, I was at the most famous church in the city--the Church of our Lady of the Sea--another Gothic wonder (though I preferred the Cathedral for atmosphere and art works). After a swift visit (there was another wedding scheduled there), I headed off for the Carrera de Montecada, a narrow medieval Bond Street of sorts which once boasted the most fashionable designer stores in the country. Today, its string of old palaus (mansions) have been converted into museums and when I discovered that almost all of them open their doors for free on the first Sunday of each month, I resolved to return the next morning to get to the Museu Picasso first.

However, I did also pass by the Museu de l'Historia de Catalunya and was I glad I popped in there! For this place was free on the first Saturday of each month, so if I could find the motivation and the energy to explore it, I could get in right then and there. And who could pass up such a good offer, right? So there I was, nine metres underground (a lift got me down there) doing a walk through Barsino, which was the Roman name for the city. Recent archaeological excavations have unearthed a city lying intact underground and I felt as if I was back again in Pompeii exploring the bakery and the wine cellars and the homes and palaces of the rich and well-constructed city as it thrived under the Romans!

My exploration done, I emerged on the Plaza del Rei (which I finally managed to find after almost a whole day's search) and made my way back to La Ramblas and then the sea front where the tall column with Christopher Columbus allegedly pointing to his beloved Genoa, graces the landscape. Antique and junk jewelery stalls kept me browsing for a while before I decided that if I didn't get back to my hostel room soon, I would quite pass out with fatigue!

Back in my room, my suite mates were partying (I don't believe they had stopped since the previous evening!) and offered me a Spanish beer (Estrella, which was cold and very good) and as I ate my sandwich dinner and socialized with them, I wound down and got ready for bed.

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