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21 October 2013 @ 03:23 pm
Barcelona (1)  
Sunday 10/20: Arrived in Barcelona after an uneventful flight via Amsterdam. After checking into our hotel and a brief nap, took a walk to Plaça de Catalunya and down into the Bari Gotic (Gothic Quarter) where we saw some Roman sepulchres and stopped into a torrone shop for a sweet treat, followed by tapas at Bar del Pi ("I'm scared to go in there, which tells me we ought to do it"): anchovies, patatas bravas, empanada de verdura, champignons and a brief stroll through the hopping streets of La Rambla, getting to sleep around 10:00.

Monday 10/21: Awake for an hour in the night, but got back to sleep until after 9:00. Breakfast in hotel, where we learned that "macedonia" means "fruit salad" (not, as you might guess from the yogurt label, "coyote"), then to the local tourist office for various tickets and passes.

Decided to take the tourist bus around town for a quick orientation, but after obtaining our tickets we found that there was a huge line for the bus at Plaça Catalunya. So we walked to another stop nearby, with a detour into the FNAC department store book dept. in hopes of finding a Catalan phrasebook. We found one, but decided not to lug it around for the rest of the day.

The stop we walked to was for the blue line (we wanted red) but we got on anyway and took it a few stops to a place we could transfer, then rode the red line 3/4 of the way around to orient ourselves. Rather than the loudspeaker spiel I expected, this bus had multilingual audio with free earbuds. Dozens of earbuds could be seen on the roofs of the bus shelters, having been tossed there from the bus's open top.

Before preparing for this trip, I had thought that Catalan was a dialect of Spanish (like Bayrisch in southern Germany) or a nearly extinct language (like Languedoc in France) but it is neither: it is a thriving independent language -- in some ways closer to Italian than Spanish -- with a strong regional (wants to be national) identity. Like Scots, it is a point of differentiation and rallying point for partisans who were swallowed up by a larger power over a hundred years ago. Like Welsh, it is given equal status with the conquerors' language (signs at the airport were in Catalan first, then English, then Spanish). I don't regret having learned Spanish before coming here, but seeing the amount of Catalan in daily use here is an eye-opener.

We got off the bus near the port, at Palau de Mar, the walked to restaurant Casa Delfín near the Santa Maria del Mar church for a late (2:45) lunch: tuna & tomato salad, grilled asparagus with Mahon cheese, bread with tomato, chickpeas with blood sausage & spinach, rice casserole de la casa (= with shellfish). Yum. After lunch it was 3:30, and the church was closed until 4:30, so we headed to the nearby Chocolate Museum. Got rather lost looking for it, but it was an interesting neighborhood to wander in.

The Chocolate Museum ticket was a bar of quite good chocolate. The museum itself, rather small, was notable for many amusing translation errors in its signage and for a story of the mythological history of chocolate that prompted Kate to comment "Even the story of chocolate begins with a woman in a refrigerator." The museum also featured many marvelous sculptures in chocolate, including a bigger-than-life Komodo dragon, a pietá, Tintin on the moon, and a Minbari(?). How do they still look so good after being on display for years?

From there we walked to the nearby "House of Three Dragons," formerly the zoological museum, now just a cool building, then back to Sta. Maria del Mar for a visit to the spacious and quiet church with some excellent stained glass. Then took the tourist bus back to Plaça Catalunya, followed by a quick stop at FNAC to pick up that book & some others. Upon leaving FNAC: gee, it's getting kind of dark... Wait, how did it get to be 6:45? Back to hotel for a nap -- we seem to have stumbled into a Spanish schedule.

Dinner (8:30) at Cachitos. Montaditos (tapas on crusty bread): crab & pineapple, goat cheese & honey, and foie gras & fig jam. Entrees: grilled squid stuffed with potato; macaroni with cheese & "Iberian meat." Desserts: tarta de pera (pear cheesecake) and torrija (white bread soaked in milk and egg and caramelized on top, with ice cream). Back to the room by about 10:00; to bed (after messing with photos and such) around midnight.

That was our first full day. Tomorrow will be a busy one.

House of the Three Dragons

Civic garbage "aspirators" (they suck the garbage away like a giant vacuum)

Picturesque street scene

El Born, where we had lunch

Chocolate Pietá

IMG 2353
Chocolate Komodo dragon

IMG 2354
Chocolate Minbari (not really)

David and Kate with chocolate Tintin scene

Chocolate Tintin, Captain Haddock, and Snowy

IMG 2367
Me and a friend
desperance: lukedesperance on October 21st, 2013 10:35 pm (UTC)
How do they still look so good after being on display for years?

Licked into shape. Daily.
(Deleted comment)
scarlettina: LOL!scarlettina on October 22nd, 2013 01:26 pm (UTC)
::chuckle:: My thought exactly, Janet! :-)
scarlettinascarlettina on October 22nd, 2013 01:29 pm (UTC)
Looks like you've got great weather for touring. And all the food sounds marvelous.

An overview of town from a tour bus is a great thing to do on a first day. It's how I got my first taste of Glasgow when I was there, and things always look different from a vehicle than on foot (especially from the top tier of a double-decker--you see things you'd never see down on the sidewalk).

I hope you continue to have a fabulous time!
Sue Burkemount_oregano on October 22nd, 2013 03:30 pm (UTC)
Catalan is closest to medieval French. But the idea that it was conquered or swallowed up by Spain a hundred years ago is very wrong. It became part of Aragón 1137 when the Count of Barcelona and the Queen of Aragón had a son, who inherited both realms. And when Fernando, the King of Aragón, married Isabel, the Queen of Castile, in 1469, it joined what then became the Kingdom of Spain.

Of course, Catalan independence activists will tell you something different. But they are full of shit. Cataluña does have legitimate issues with the Spanish government, and so does everyone else -- the current government is at best incompetent, and Cataluña is in trouble, especially economically. That, however, is in large part due to its own incompetence going back decades. There is currently a race between Madrid and Barcelona to see who can be the most stupid. It is a dead heat.

The independence movement is a project by the Catalan elite, so they can be big frogs in a small pond. One reason for rejecting Spanish, for example in its use in universities and the medical system, is so that their job-seekers do not have to compete with non-Catalan speakers. Big advantage.

But this is more than you wanted to know, and won't make your vacation any more fun. Barcelona is a beautiful city. Be sure to see the Magic Fountain of Monjuïc. Water can dance! (The show is also free.)
Kate: Amazing Racekateyule on October 24th, 2013 06:07 pm (UTC)
Something not clear to me in either your comments or the Catalunya museum captions is why was it, when that son inherited both realms, that Catalunya become part of Aragon and not, say, vice versa? That just gets handwaved past as though inevitable & obvious.
Sue Burkemount_oregano on October 24th, 2013 06:20 pm (UTC)
The Kingdom of Aragón was bigger than the County of Barcelona. So the smaller part became part of the bigger part. Still, Barcelona kept its own customs, laws, and language, which was the way reigns were united in those days.
Elizabeth Colemancriada on October 22nd, 2013 04:33 pm (UTC)
I went to Spain when I was touring Europe because I was sick of French and wanted to go somewhere where they pronounced all their letters. So I go to Barcelona, and what do I find? Catalan!
Oz Whiston writing as Oz Drummondbirdhousefrog on October 25th, 2013 11:29 am (UTC)
I had no idea you were an Asterix and Tin Tin fan! I keep discovering your great taste!