Sunday, 21 November 2010

Barcelona part 2: the old and the new

In my view, Barcelona isn't nearly as 'in your face' as Madrid, and this is the opposite of what I expected. With the exception of La Sagrada Familia and anything else 'Gaudi' (which are as flashy as they come), Barcelona's attractions are more subtle. There is the bustling, jam-packed and colourful fresh produce market; the gorgeous old hospital and respite centre that have been transformed into the city library; the long shopping thoroughfare of La Rambla, complete with street performers; the tiny twisty laneways that make up the old (medieval) quarter; and everywhere you turn, it seems, the remnants of the old Roman town of Bacino.

from hospital to library

Roman remains
I didn't know anything about Barcelona's Roman origins, and it was fascinating to learn about Bacino and tour the excavated site of the village, including sections of the old wall as well as a laundry, dyeing shop, fish 'garum' manufacturer and winemaking factory. The same museum traced the history of the city now known as Barcelona: from Romans to Visigoths, to Muslim rule and Al-Andalus, to Frankish domination, the establishment of Old Catalonia and the rise to prominence of the Catalan Dynasty in the 11th and 12th Centuries . . . (My Spanish history is still remarkably rusty – it's very complicated!)

After spending yesterday exploring the historic centre of Barcelona, today I checked out some of the more contemporary sights: a Sunday collectables market (what fun to peruse all the 2nd hand books in Spanish); Gaudi's Park Guell (a hilly and well-forested parkland filled with Gaudi-designed terraces, outdoor balconies and buildings, including his final residence); and the peak of Tibidabo (a big hill overlooking the city and ocean – ascended via train then tram then funicular train to achieve fabulous views).

Gaudi's Park Guell
 With respect to Barcelona's somewhat 'edgy' reputation, we haven't seen too much evidence of this. Sure, the locals stay out late on a Saturday night (festivities outside my window at 4am this morning), but none of us have felt unsafe at any stage and our pockets are all unpicked! It seems to me to be an eminently livable city, and I'm sad I didn't have more time to do a little shopping. (I was quite decided on buying some 'boots of Spanish leather' or some such, but no more time!)

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