The Barcelona trip during the MLK holiday weekend, two weekends ago, went well. The weather was cool, not cold, and for the most part, sunny. Although I had been there before, it was nice to see the sights that I saw last time, as well as new places that I missed out on last time. La Rambla, a wide tree-lined promenade, seemed to have changed significantly since I last visited almost seven years ago. I am not sure if it was because of the smaller number of tourists during this time of the year. It was not as lively as my first visit. The pickpockets, scammers, and con artists were not so prevalent. I remember the previous visit when we would purposely sit at a bench right smack in the middle of La Rambla and watched failed pickpocket attempts; observed a “three shell and a pea” as several shills seem to win periodically and slowly entice unsuspecting tourists to place their bets on where the pea may be located; or relentless pursued by Romas (gypsies) carrying fake babies or newspaper/cardboard to shield pickpocket action. Back then, there were more street performers (break dancers, soccer ball whiz, acrobats and tumblers). The Rambla of today, or at least during the non-touristy season, has more space for the pedestrian to amble, is less crowded, and does not have any street performers except for the scores of body-painted, costumed individuals who claim their small spot along the Rambla as human statues. The vendors now have newly constructed shops, spaced apart liberally, that they can lock up at night, instead of the rickety wooden shacks that were used before crowded on both sides of the boulevard. There are fewer sellers of birds, other pets, and flowers. Once it gets dark, La Rambla reverts to its seedier character. During the late night, there are the peddlers of beer in a can (perhaps because the bars serve alcohol only until a certain time) and the ladies who offer various services. One night, as my friend and I were walking and looking for a restaurant to eat dinner, we came across a group of women who were talking to each other. I had assumed that they were just chitchatting among themselves. As we got closer to them, we were quickly surrounded by them and were offered various propositions. My friend somehow managed to slip away from the group. I, on the other hand, was still among the group. Luckily, my wallet and passport were safely tucked away inside my coat front chest pocket. Two ladies were able to give me “pat down” within a few seconds better than an airport security checker, looking for items to pilfer from my pant pockets. I had to physically grab one of the women by her shoulders and yelled at her to stay away. My friend commented that this was the first time he saw me get mad.
During the trip we visited a few of Antonio Gaudi’s work. Antonio Gaudi was a local architect who created and designed in a combination of gothic and art noveau styles. His creations were highly original, irregular, and eccentrically shaped. We saw La Sagrada Familia (Holy Family church that is still a long way from completion), Parc Guell (now a city park that was originally planned as a housing community), and two buildings in the city center --- Casa Pedrera and Casa Batllo. I was not able to see the inside of La Sagrada Familia, Casa Pedrera, Casa Batllo. The church was 30 minutes from closing when we got there. Casa Pedrera is a residential dwelling with guards manning its entrances. We did not have a chance to see Casa Batllo during its open hours.
We did our share of walking along La Rambla, Boqueria (the market just off La Rambla), the waterfront, and other parts of the city. Our hotel was off the beaten path; although not too far distance-wise from the central area, it was still a couple of transfers on the underground Metro trains and few more long blocks of walking from the Metro stop. One evening, we met up with two other fellow Corps of Engineers who were also visiting Barcelona at the same time. The Palau de Musica Catalana is an impressive modernist building. The exterior of the building and the lobby were remarkable. I did not see the inside of the concert hall; the pictures in my travel book and postcards show a very stunning and ornate interior. We got there a few minutes after the last building tour. We had a chance to visit the Picasso Museum. I like the simplicity of the building as well as the simplicity of the artwork presentation, although the museum has a small number of Picasso’s creations. Most of Picasso works of art are spread out all over Europe in several Picasso museums and all over the world by private collectors. For two days, we toured the city using “hop on, hop off” tour buses. We had the opportunity to walk around Olympic Stadium grounds in Montjuic. The sky ride in Montjuic and walking around the highest part of Montjuic provided a panoramic vista of the city and waterfront.
All in all, it was an excellent trip. The food was okay, not spectacular. I am sure better food can be found, but for the most part, we were in the touristy areas when we were looking for a place to eat. Barcelona is a city worth visiting again. There are places I want to see such as the interior of a few magnificent buildings. There are places I want to see again. But the next visit has to be during times of warmer weather.
The following are photos from the trip. You can click on some of the pictures for a complete view. More photos can be found on my flickr page, http://www.flickr.com/photos/8745081@N04/.
Street performers at La Rambla:
La Sagrada Familia Church:
Palau de Musica Catalana:
Montjuic and Olympic Stadium Grounds: