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If it’th Thursday, thith mutht be Barthelona. (I’ve started to lithp.) It was supposed to rain but decided not to, so we have to put up with more bright sun, though with a chill wind. But no, I must point out to my Toronto friends, snow.

Why are the trains in Europe infinitely superior to Canadian ones? We took the high-speed train from Madrid to Barcelona – it left on the minute, showed a film with free headphones, zipped smoothly through the countryside and here we were. Here we are. Bruce had found us a luxury hotel where we have a massive suite, filled with sofas … no, sorry, only joking. We have a deeply non-luxury hotel in a perfect location in the centre of town – two monastic cells, each big enough for a narrow single bed and chair – but who needs more? Fast wifi, and when we walk out the door, we’re in the heart of this fabulous city.
We settled in and went immediately for a walk in the sun, down the famous, crowded La Ramblas to the water, where we had a picnic lunch sitting on a bench outside. Back through the old city, around the Cathedral – we’re getting a bit blasé about cathedrals now, except for the big one to come – and then more wandering before our afternoon break, when Bruce went to sleep and I went SHOPPING. There’s a Zara store on every corner – Zara is a Spanish chain – so I just had to buy a cheap and cheerful t-shirt. Very satisfying.
We wanted to go on a Gaudi hunt in the evening – got as far as one of his apartment buildings, but the evening was windy and cold, so we found a simple restaurant for supper at the incredibly early hour of 7.45. Of course, there were only tourists for the next hour. Patsy has written to ask what we’re eating, as I have not once mentioned cheese. We did buy a good cheese at the grocery store in Madrid, but I didn’t notice what it was. We’re eating tapas for one meal, usually, and picnicking for the other – the tapas wonderful, small portions of all sorts of interesting things, last night a dish of beans with ham, red pepper stuffed with tuna, a kind of ratatouille with eggplant and peppers, and some blood sausage and onions, all delicious. And the wine is heaven, even the cheapest glasses at the restaurants. We did go last thing to the big grocery story in El Cortes Ingles, a department store, to look for a bottle of wine for me, so that I can have an aperitif in my room before we go out. So frustrating – row upon row of sublime Spanish wines, and I with no corkscrew looking for a screw-top bottle – could only find one from California! So I bought little Spanish bottles made for picnics.
Today we set off early for la Sagrada Familia, having heard it got very crowded later in the day. It was a half hour walk from the hotel along the elegant Barcelona streets – this bit like New York and that like Paris – gaping at other Art Nouveau house facades, until suddenly, there it was, Gaudi’s masterpiece, vast, with its crazy magic towers and complex, much-decorated facades – the life of Jesus amid stalactites and stalagmites. Inside, amazing, soaring light; what a feat of engineering, awe-inspiring, because it’s not an antique Notre Dame, it’s from our time and still being built. We took an elevator to the top to see a view of the city and to watch the workmen still plugging away on the top of the towers – the cathedral was started in the late 1890’s and won’t be finished until 2026.
It’s just 4 p.m. At least five different churches are ringing their bells.
By the time we left, the line up for tickets snaked around the corner, with giant tour busses unloading on all sides. Always good to start early.
We walked to the Palau de la Musica Catalan, another Art Nouveau masterpiece, booked tickets for a tour (in Spanish, since the English tours were sold out) a few hours hence, walked through narrow, dark, medieval streets to the nearby Picasso Museum, where the line-up was so long, we decided instead to check out a huge church nearby – Sta. Maria del Mar, where the decorations were destroyed by anarchists – and then had lunch sitting at a bar in a great covered market, a Catalan restaurant where the menu was not in Spanish but in Catalan, which often comes first on notices here. I had calamares – fresh fresh – and BK had an omelette with the bread here, which comes baked, smeared with garlic and tomato. Everything, always, very salty. Sat in the sun listening to a great hot jazz combo outside – banjo, trumpet and, somehow, a honky-tonk piano, pushed through the streets.
Then back to the Palau – the palace of Catalan music – constructed from 1905 to 1908 by a contemporary of Gaudi’s – and it’s so ornate, fanciful, flowery and stunning, it puts Gaudi’s work into context. He wasn’t the only genius at work in this city at that time. Truly a beautiful concert hall, an extravaganza of stained glass, sculptures, glass balustrades, ceramic roses, mosaic peacock feathers and stone muses bursting from mosaic bodies in the walls – every inch decorated and lovely. We toured with a large group of high-school students from Toulouse, who were more interested in each other than in the architecture. As I would have been, at that age. Now, for BK and me, sadly, it’s architecture, all the way.
I’d been keen to explore the nearby Museum of Chocolate, but was too tired. Even for chocolate. Back to our little rooms to rest until the next sortie.
Maybe, while Monsieur sleeps, I might deke out for another little bout of Zara … or perhaps I’ll sleep too.
Incidentally, Justin Bieber will be here soon. Vive le Canada libre. Now, after writing and downloading pictures, it’s 5 o’clock, and all the bells, low and slow, high and fast, are ringing again.



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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