Friday, February 26, 2010

BARCELONA, Winter 09 : UNFINISHED but published

This is my third winter here in Germany and I wanted to travel to somewhere warm. Two freezing winters had already saturated my want for snowfall. Barcelona it is. Before my previous trips to places like Rome, Prague and Paris, I did a lot of research on the internet to learn about the history and map the places I wanted to see in depth and detail. Those were carefree days of my research life, but this time, the flame is on the penultimate thread of the wick and this pressed me to backpack and experience the insitu planning. Nevertheless, trips to historical cities always keep me on the edge with an overdose of adrenaline to last for even weeks after returning from the holiday.

It had snowed heavily in Germany and all the flights were delayed by more than 2 hours. Luck be praised, our flight was planmeßig, which means 'on time' in Germany. One quick look at the display board and my friend Vimal read it as 'plane missing'! It was a clean 2hrs 15mins flight from Düsseldorf Weeze airport to Girona Barcelona and the bus from Girona took an hour to reach the Arc de Triomf bus station. This Arc is not to be confused with the likes of the historical one in Paris. In Barcelona, this was constructed just as a gateway to an exhibition in the late 1880's.
Taking the red line of the metro from there to clot station, we changed to the purple line to Pep Ventura. This is the last stop of the purple line, 20mins from the main city center and just outside the metro stop is the Barcelona Dream hostel. A perfectly calm location near the beaches(calm during winter) and the hostel was amazing. Clean and neat dorms and absolutely nothing to complain of. It was already 6PM when we reached the hostel and after checking in, we found company in the form of an Indian couple to travel with us. Buying the unlimited metro pass to last for 4 days, we proceeded to the city center in search of food and for the first contacty with the city of Barcelona. 
Placa Catalunya is the center of the city. This is a massive square where the Gothic city meets the advent of modernism and the center is the origin or the confluence of the main streets Passeig de Gràcia, Rambla de Catalunya and La Rambla. A walk through these streets will make you experience Catalunya. Why do I keep referring to this place as Catalunya and not Spain. Well, in principle, they were(are) different. Catalunya means land of the castles or the land of Goths and its capital was Barcelona.

The La Rambla is the most fascinating street I have ever come across. From the center of the city it leads right down to the Harbor. A walk down the La Rambla is an experience by itself. This street is actually a dried river bed and during the dark European ages, this river was used as a quick dump for transporting waste right into the sea. Now, it is highly crowded and is the exhibition street for street performers and hawkers. They even sell animals like hamsters, rabbits, several species of birds, monkeys, reptiles, tortoises, porcupines, mice and several unknown but fascinating species.

Turning left into any of the small alleys in the La Rambla will take you right to the Gothic part of the city with the Cathedral of Santa Eulaia standing magestically over the Roman constructions. This is the seat of the archbishob of Barcelona. Outside the church, one can still see the only part of aqueduct that reminds the city of its Roman foundations. Just behind the Cathedral is the museum where you can take a lift down to visit the preserved parts of Barcelona as founded by the Romans. The city plans, the baths, wineries, laundry and the watch towers are preserved inside the well designed and informative museum.

The entire trade and history of Barcelona could be understood with a visit to the Maritime museum and the Museum of Catalonian history. Unfortunately, these were closed on 25 and 26th Dec. I guess another trip to Barcelona during the summer is on the cards just for these and the beaches!!

Walking down to the end to La Rambla from the city center, I reached the Columbus monument. It stands at the port where Columbus returned after discovering America. His hands don't point out to America in the West, instead deliberately to the East. The maritime museum is situated just around the corner from here and so is the Port Vell. Cruises are offered here that could take you even until Mallorca. There are also the shopping complex and cineplexes making this place bustle with activity and entertainment.

The most impressive place in Barcelona is the Montjuic. It is a hill offering the most brilliant panoramic view of the city and the harbor. The best way to reach up the peak of this hill is to walk from the Palau Nacional(National art museum) to the Poble Espanyol(Spanish village) and further up to the Olympic stadium and finally reaching the fortifications on the hill top by a cable car that can be taken from the Montjiuc funicular stop. Though I followed the opposite route, I figured out this is the best way to start the evening and reach Montjiuc peak before sunset. The fortifications served as a prison and also to protect the city from the naval attacks. There are several long range cannons at strategic locations. One can spend hours during and after sunset enjoying the glimmering lights of Barcelona up from this place.

Enter Barcelona and the most heard name will be Antoni Gaudi. He is know as the son of Barcelona and its most celebrated architect. His most famous church, the Sagrada Familia is still under construction due to his untimely death(1926) and economic recession(1914). Yet another incomplete work of his is the Parc Guell. This showcases loads of ceramic work and very different styles of pillars. Gaudi's non catholic architecture includes the Casa Batllo and Casa Mila.  This is the list of his must see works in Barcelona. The walk to Parc Guell from its nearest metro stop is grueling but then it is totally worth it. There are several shops selling Gaudi stuff and I would recommend people to shop here for curios and memoirs rather than in the La Ramblas for the Ramblas, its expensive and low quality.

This should pretty much give you the historic experience of Barcelona. But a visit to Barcelona is incomplete without a visit to its beaches. Ha! Talk about beaches in winter. Well, for me, I have grown up on the sea side and nothing can attract me more than the Marina and yeah, goes without saying that you are not bound to see any bikini clad beauties in Winter. Still, I walked up to the beach near my hostel to set foot on the Egyptian and Sahara sand strewn over the rocks to make an artificial beach and to smell the Mediterranean sea! In better beaches in the summer, the palm trees are shipped from Arabia to make the landscape more attractive!

An added attraction in my trip was the Flamenco opera. I booked a show in a VIP restaurant, Tablo de caramen, inside the Spanish village. It was a choice I made after reading internet review and it really stood out! worth the money! 90 minutes of amazing Spanish guitar and Flamenco. The energy possessed by the dancers were amazing. Even after a month now, I can still feel the electricity when I think about it!