Friday, October 5, 2012


I've written of watching Messi at the Camp Nou and I've written of the visit to Park Güell, but what do I make of the city itself? The truth is, I really don't know. It's too big to get a handle on in a 4-day visit and I think I picked the wrong time, to boot - La Mercè: the city was a gigantic party scene while I was there. Most touristy places were throbbing with people and ticketed attractions had long queues. And everything was twice as expensive as, say, Granada. It's safe to say that I didn't catch the almost mythical city that is Barcelona in its best light.

And yet... while Granada and Cordoba (to come later) are pretty, and Seville (also to come later) is stately, Barcelona marches to the beat of a different drummer. It's as if the city were designed by a reformed Dracula; who'd decided that after centuries of gloom and blood, he was ready for a make-over. How about some fun now? How about some visual feasts? How about some energy? And so you have Barcelona - weird and with a tinge of the sinister, but also beautiful and entrancing. The hostal I stayed in was the best introduction to the city, with its enclosed porch, dark and cavernous and dripping with charm tinged slightly with menace, ancient stone steps on two sides leading up to the reception, the rooms and the corridors filled with antique furniture, and the walls and the carpeting light-red in colour.

And a city that never sleeps. I remember catching the metro back to the hostal after the game at the Camp Nou. It was after one-thirty at night, maybe even later. As I walked out of the train, I was a little worried - my GPS had warned me beforehand that I would have a walk of a kilometre or so. I have this dislike of dogs and, in my experience, cities at night have them lurking with malice in their minds. I was wondering how many I'd have to deal with, when I emerged out at ground level... into an absolute sea of people. This was the Ramblas* I'd stepped into. Imagine Brigade Road, Bangalore, on a Saturday evening, and that was the crowd there in the dead of the night.

The places I visited are kind of a haze, due to the not-very-methodical nature of my visit, and a couple of other things, but I think I started with the Parc de la Ciutadella - which contains a waterfall with some huge sculptures around it, the Parliament of Catalonia, and stuff like trees and lakes that you normally see in parks. Then there were the fantastic modernista buildings of Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau that I unfortunately could see only from the outside.

As part of La Mercè, I got to see the human-tower competition in the Gothic quarter. It was unbelievably crowded. It got so much that I asked my friend, Francesc (more on him in a later post), if we could watch it from somewhere near the edge of the crowd. It was a pretty difficult thing to have to ask: I mean, there he is from Catalonia, population 7 million, and here I am from India, population 1.2 billion, and I was the one who grew claustrophobic. Also as part of La Mercè there was a light-and-sound show at the Sagrada Familia, with the four towers of its Nativity facade glowing from the inside and rivers of light flowing down its curves. You normally don't need much of an excuse to stare at the Sagrada Familia anyway, but the show was worth the hour or so we waited to make sure we would have place to stand in the square.

A whole day went by at Montjuïc (Jewish mountain), which affords nice views of the city below and also of the port. Fundació Joan Miró is located on it and I spent a few hours in there. It's a beautiful building: I made a note to myself to click a snap when leaving and then forgot all about it. How about an image search instead? I even bought my very own and relatively expensive Miró t-shirt. Yellow is not normally my colour but, given the money I paid for it, Bangalore is going to be treated to a lot of Miró in the coming months... Montjuïc is also where the 1992 Olympics was staged - the event that brought Barcelona to the forefront of tourism in a gigantic way - and contains some lovely constructions, like the communications tower, for instance.

In the evening, it was time for the concluding event of La Mercè, a fireworks-and-music show in front of the Magic Fountain at the foot of the hill, that lasted all of half an hour. I wish I could find a good link to it: it's one for posterity. Just seeing the half-a-kilometre avenue in front of it filled with people was a sight in itself. Before the fireworks started, the magic fountain gave a performance that looked pretty magical to me, but Francesc says the normal weekly show of the fountain (minus the fireworks) is far more magical. I'll take his word on that but he did agree that the fireworks were outstanding.

Did I also mention that I met my first-ever folks from Pakistan there? There are a lot of them, running restaurants and supermarkets, and my breakfast everyday was from one such establishment run by a friendly chap called Ali. At least that's what he told me. I later found out that his name is Shahid. He tells people his name is Ali because it's easier for the Spanish to pronounce that. I was a little hurt when I found out: why would he think I would have trouble pronouncing Shahid?

And that was that. Before I knew it, I was on the train to Cordoba. Where did all that time go? And the weirdest thing is, I slept only an average of 4 or 5 hours a night when I was in Barcelona. Indicates a pretty packed schedule. But written down, it doesn't sound like much, does it?

*The moment I realised I was on the Ramblas, I looked around to try and find (and succeeded in doing so) the balconies of the Continental, from where George Orwell people-watched during his stay in Barcelona.

A run-of-the-mill communications tower

The Mayor of Barcelona watches the human towers

Hospital de Sant Pau

La Sagrada Familia

A wine shop. Also a cafe.

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