Side trip

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February 20, 2017 by Ynnsie

I’m in Barcelona as I start writing this post, leaving for Seville on the first train tomorrow.

My dear friend Jane joined me here, leaving behind chest-high snow banks in Montreal. We’re celebrating a friendship begun 40 years ago when we were jeunes filles au pair. It might have made more sense to go back to France but we both remember how cold and damp Paris is in February.

Barcelona, however, has been glorious. Warm enough really to play the tourist, walking for miles. padronesWe’ve also eaten tapas. Muchas tapas. We eat for Canada.

This is just the kind of eating we both like to do – little bits of many things, all highly flavoured. The first night we put our names in at Cervezeria Catalunya, which is at the top of all lists of recommendations.

As we strolled around waiting we got distracted by a modest but busy place around the corner. La Bodegueta at Rambla de Catalunya 100, in case anyone comes this way – generous quantities and wonderful, all of it.Do not miss the padrones – little green peppers lightly (or well) grilled.

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The next night we followed a tip of another guide site to Gasetrea.

This places delivered the whole enchilada, as far as I am concerned. Great range, great tastes, great prices, a press of people coming and going. I could happily move in next door.

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2017-02-18-22-21-50Last night, we headed again to the Cervezeria Catalunya – we were curious about the hype. In the end, the hour and a half wait we signed up for was 2+hours long. But Jane’s mini hamburguesa was stellar. I had good tastes, but nothing truly memorable.

This tapas bar is a cool place – but from what I’ve seen so far in Spain, tapas culture is not about cool, being seen, carrying off an image. For me, it was worth the wait … once.

Are you wondering if we did anything other than eat?

On Friday we walked the length of the famous Ramblas, lunched in a covered market (more tapas) and finally reached the sea just beyond the Christopher Columbus monument –which perplexes North Americans because he’s facing east! Yoo hoo! Cristobal, turn around.  

You don’t actually get a good dose of the sea in downtown Barcelona – it’s too built up with marinas and promontories and stylish restaurants. So we headed inland and took in a contemporary art museum and poked around in the sun. Jane walked me into the ground – eventually I headed for home and a hard cover novel she’d brought me. Touring can’t be all work!

The next day, yesterday, we planned as our hop-0n-hop-off bus tour day. We mapped out our stops at key places. In particular, we wanted to give the architect Antoni Gaudi his due. But the line-ups were daunting, despite the season. Impossible to get into his Sagrada Familia unless you’d pre-purchased tickets. We hadn’t.

Here we are atop the bus, whizzing by it. Hasta la proxima!

So we enjoyed the warmish sunshine on top of the hoho bus all the way up to Park Guell – another Gaudi zone – which confronted us once again with our failure to plan. Clearly Barcelona is a tourist mecca at any time of year. If this is touring here in the winter, what can spring be like?

We turned our backs on the hour+ wait for tickets and walked around the Park Guell outside the paid zone. The area lined with Gaudi benches was closed to us, but we had wonderful views nonetheless, including the Sagrada Familia down there with its crane, and the oddly-shaped Agba skyscraper . Do notice the properly profiled photo of  Jane.

Part of the magic of this stay in Spain is the sense of dislocation between calendar and sensation. Such a warm afternoon, such flowers – and it’s only mid-February. So let me show off some of the flora we deprived Canadian gardeners enjoyed.

At this point, I discovered I’d lost my hoho bus ticket. We ended up walking home from the subway stop at the base of Mount Tibidabo as the weather turned cloudy. A long walk through residential areas well off the tourist path – just the kind of thing to appeal to us. And the kind of thing to earn us our tapas meal later in the day (see supra!)

2017-02-19-10-57-33This morning we managed to get into La Pedrera, Gaudi’s residential building around the corner from our flat in Passeig de Gracia.  The experience once again had me thinking about what makes a home. The Pedrera was designed as a show piece for the architect and for the wealthy family that commissioned it and settled there. Showy it is. When a home is more actor than stage set, is the human element dwarfed? irrelevant? Or perhaps the people who live within those walls upped their game, their lives necessarily enhanced by the set against which they played?

Comfort wasn’t the first priority of the Pedrera apartment we toured; style was. Gaudi even designed the major pieces of furniture for the original owners, and many appear far from comfortable. It is a bossy place. An intrusion of personality, if you happen to like your setting quiet and minimalist. I could admire it and wonder at it, but would never choose to live in it under any circumstances. Not my lair.

The rest of our Barcelona stay had us out walking in the sun again, chasing down tapas (avoid the Taller de Tapas on the Calle de la Argenteria, much recommended but rather disappointing), and taking our separate paths home. Jane wanted to see the university campus, but I wanted to read.

As the sun set beyond the grand window in our fairly nice flat, I got to a point in Tim Parks’ amazing book when I needed to come up for air. Jane came in to find me watching TV.

TV supplies a needed language-learning opportunity – JDG and I don’t have all that many contacts who speak Spanish to us. I’ve never seen him sit down to watch TV in Canada unless it was for a specific program. Here, I come in on him watching whatever junk is on. He even pays attention to the ads – there’s a lot to learn and the pronunciation is usually standard Castilian and relatively easy to follow.

In Barcelona, TV  has also supplied a dose of Canada!

One channel runs an endless stream from a series Love It Or List It in which homeowners in Toronto talk about what’s wrong with their homes and then leave for weeks while the LIOLI team does two things: renovates their current home and searches the real estate market for alternative houses. The camera follows the couple around as they view properties listed; it also tracks the challenges of the renos. The grand reveal features the best of the listings and the renovated home – and the couple’s decision whether to love and stay in their old home or to list and move to new digs.

I’ve never seen the show before and I cannot imagine the interest in it for Spaniards! And yet, there it plays, hour after hour, all weekend long – interspersed with a similar show set in Calgary and Vancouver. All dubbed into Spanish. Amazing.

Jane and I chatted over a picnic supper while I flipped through the channels. We hoped to find an English-language film but had little luck. We did however find no fewer than 6 channels featuring tarot card readers – some of the oddest-looking people in Spain – each on his/her own channel. All  sitting behind vast desks, either doing a reading for some caller or flogging the service.

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I don’t know what to make of this. I do wonder about the appeal of tarot in this erstwhile Catholic country. The Church certainly knows what it makes of tarot:  cartomancy  exposes users to “the influence of demonic spirits”. Hmmm.

To bed. Tomorrow we take a fast train to Seville.

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