Aug 19, 2016

Barcelona Sunday

Sunday morning we were up early enough to breakfast downstairs at the bakery before going back up to finish packing and checking out. We left our bags at reception and dived back into town. We struck out in a different direction this time, to Montjuïc, the vaguely soviet quarter filled with massive empty plazas, oversized monuments, exhibition halls and crowned with elaborate stairs and fountains leading up to the national palace / art museum. First stop was the Barcelona pavilion, which is an architectural icon by Mies Van der Rohe. It was the perfect time to go. So few people we thought it was closed, and the low morning sunlight was ideal for casting deep shadows on the compositional masterwork. And also empty enough to take goofy photos of me “levitating” and Saori doing yoga in front of the reflecting pool.

We climbed the stairs to the palace and sat on the top, drinking some kiosk coffees and enjoying the view. We made a quick detour by CaxiaForum, a renovated industrial complex, all in brick, before pressing on to the Sagrada Familia.

I was given the opportunity to see this building under construction about once every decade. I saw it first with mom and dad as part of a cruise when we were still living in Beijing in 1999 or so, then again with Chase as a backpacker in 2005. This is the first time I’ve seen it enclosed with a roof. I’d booked tickets online in advance so our line to get in was only about ten minutes or so. It was of course, pretty packed.

But what a building! A baroque fantasy. By turns severe and harsh, then whimsical and exuberantly floral. The stained glass filling the nave with red and orange light, the amazing beehive like spiral towers. The two main facades on either side are astounding. One depicts the nativity, the other, the passion. They are less facades and more sculptural and symbolic ensembles which hypnotize, haunt, and fascinate. One thing which struck us odd was the central crucifix above the alter. Jesus was doubly suspended- once to the cross, and the cross suspended in mid-air, ringed by floating lights like candles, and a giant round canopy in red and white stripes overhead. ...which makes it look like He just came parasailing in from the nearby beach.

We did a quick spin through the gift shop (there’s actually two, and that’s just INSIDE the cathedral), returned our audio guides and hit the trail back to Barceloneta for lunch. Walking through the crowded Sagrada Familia subway station, I felt a jostle against my backpack, and acutely aware of the pickpocket problems of Barcelona (wasn’t this where dad also had his run in with a pickpocket?) I whirled around to see a bunch of people, any of whom could have been the picker. They didn’t get anything. Just time enough to unzip my outer backpack pocket. I carried my backpack backwards at Saori’s suggestion after that.

We went to this great little tapas bar in Barceloneta for lunch. Jai-ca, the same place we were for lunch less than 24 hours prior. The food was that good. This time we branched into some grilled prawns and tried the chorizo along with the fried seafood. Good, good stuff. We took the rest of the afternoon to slowly make our way back to the hotel, pick up our bags, and mosey on out to the airport. We could have taken our time to see one more thing, actually. Our flight was two hours delayed. Direct, but we didn’t get back to Stuttgart until nearly 1 am, which was unfortunate.

Overall, it was a great trip. I didn’t need to take any time off work, it was expensive but not blisteringly expensive, and it was Saori’s first time in Barcelona, someplace she had really wanted to go for a long time. We ate some great food, walked a lot, and enjoyed the light feel of a summer vacation. A weekend is nice- mentally, you give up on a bucket list of must-see, after all what can you do in a weekend? But the trip still ends up feeling like a weekend stretched into a week.

And what a contrast between Barcelona and Stuttgart! These are two cities which share a time zone and are only a 90 minute flight away, but are separated by a worldview. Pleasure, for Germans, is the fulfillment of a thorough and detailed plan, the sight of a shelf of black binders with everything inside hole punched and organized, drinking the familiar beer at the familiar biergarten, and very occasionally eating something or going someplace ‘exotic’ for the thrill of the unfamiliar, like wearing a costume, rather than the possibility that the unfamiliar might change something in them. Rather like Hobbits living in the Shire.

It should also, perhaps, be mentioned that Germans and the culture here power the biggest economic engine in Europe, unemployment levels, social benefits, and vacation time are the envy of most of the world, while Spain continues to languish, and many Spaniard professionals who can speak other forms of Spanish (like Mexican) or other languages have left to seek their fortunes abroad. I digress.

Barcelona. Would definately go again. Next time, maybe a crappy hotel by the beach, a day on the sand, and maybe exploring the edges of the city a bit more.

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