Barcelona – 1st to 4th February 2016

Barcelona – 1st to 4th February 2016

Monday 1st February

We were planning a late start but we just can’t help ourselves. So by 0930hrs we’re out of the flat. Ana won’t be back until 9pm, she’s a private English tutor, so we have a long day in front of us. We catch the train into Barcelona and first stop after breakfast

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is a visit to one of Antoni Gaudi’s creations. His unique approach to the Art Nouveau movement generated some of the most creative buildings you will see in this Spanish region known as Cataluña.

Casa Batlló is a renowned building located in the center of Barcelona and is one of Antoni Gaudí’s masterpieces. A remodel of a previously built house, it was redesigned in 1904 by Gaudí and has been refurbished several times after that. Gaudí’s assistants Domènec Sugrañes i Gras, Josep Canaleta and Joan Rubió also contributed to the renovation project. The local name for the building is Casa dels ossos (House of Bones), as it has a visceral, skeletal organic quality.

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Like everything Gaudí designed, it is only identifiable as Modernisme or Art Nouveau in the broadest sense. The ground floor, in particular, has unusual tracery, irregular oval windows and flowing sculpted stone work. There are few straight lines, and much of the façade is decorated with a colorful mosaic made of broken ceramic tiles (trencadís). The roof is arched and was likened to the back of a dragon or dinosaur. A common theory about the building is that the rounded feature to the left of centre, terminating at the top in a turret and cross, represents the lance of Saint George (patron saint of Catalonia, Gaudí’s home), which has been plunged into the back of the dragon.

 

The tour around this building was absolutely fantastic and there are many other Gaudí buildings in Barcelona.

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After wandering around the area looking at some of his other creations and a spot of geocaching we went to the Palau Robert Gardens to relax in the sunshine for a while.
Palau Robert Gardens are calm and sombre, very elegant and full of lush vegetation. Entering them allows us to travel to a time when Barcelona was in expansion during the late nineteenth century, it is one of many gardens of the Barcelona bourgeoisie mansions built in the most exclusive areas of the new emerging urban fabric.
The number and size of plants that fill to overflowing the huge garden beds hosting a great variety of plant species is astonishing. Everything is compressed into such a small area but this feeling is offset by the surprising harmony of all these plants in a proportionally small space. Decidedly, the color that surrounds us is green. An intense, vivid green, which changes into a thousand shades and through which sunlight is screened. Everything is silent and a lovely place to relax although the smell of weed was quite over powering.

 

We then wandered down a nearby street to a Catalunya Tapas restaurant for lunch. We sit out on the street and spend a relaxing lunchtime, trying out the tapas, red wine and doing a spot of people watching

 

To walk off lunch we stroll down to the Plaça de Catalunya (meaning in English “Catalonia Square”; sometimes referred to as Plaza de Cataluña, its Spanish name). It’s a large square in central Barcelona that is generally considered to be both its city centre and the place where the old city and the 19th century-built Eixample meet. Some of the city’s most important streets and avenues meet at Plaça Catalunya: Passeig de Gràcia, Rambla de Catalunya, La Rambla or Portal de l’Àngel, in addition to Ronda de Sant Pere, Carrer de Vergara or Carrer de Pelai. The plaza occupies an area of about 50,000 square metres. It is especially known for its fountains and statues, its proximity to some of Barcelona’s most popular attractions, and for the flocks of pigeons that gather in the centre.

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Then it’s on to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia (Catalan: Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia, Spanish: Catedral de la Santa Cruz y Santa Eulalia!!), also known as Barcelona Cathedral, which is a Gothic cathedral and seat of the Archbishop of Barcelona, Spain. The cathedral was constructed from the 13th to 15th centuries, with the principal work done in the 14th century. The cloister, which encloses the Well of the Geese (Font de les Oques) was completed in 1448 and as we enter we can still see several white Geese strolling about by the fountain in the middle of the church!! In the late 19th century, the neo-Gothic façade was constructed over the nondescript exterior that was common to Catalan churches. The roof is notable for its gargoyles, featuring a wide range of animals, both domestic and mythical. Thankfully there is a lift, so we don’t have to climb up to the roof, but once up there it gives us a fantastic view over Barcelona, we use our map and try picking out buildings and landmarks that we still have to see.

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Back down at street level we traipse on, (getting tired now) to Santa Maria del Mar which is another imposing church in the Ribera district of Barcelona, Spain, built between 1329 and 1383 at the height of Catalonia’s maritime and mercantile preeminence. It is an outstanding example of Catalan Gothic, with a purity and unity of style that is very unusual in large medieval buildings.

 

Finally, with the sun having set and the streets now full of light from the many shops and bars we walk back through the city. We walk through Passeig de Gràcia, which from the beginning was designed to be Barcelona’s Grand Avenue. It is Barcelona’s most elegant avenue and one of the best architectural walks in the city with lots of Modernist buildings. The quality and quantity of modernist buildings is unrivalled. It’s also the shopping mile, filled with international brands and chains from around the world. Its origins can be traced back to Roman times when it was a path that linked to the Via Augusta. In medieval times the city’s door to this road was the Portal dels Orbs (blind people’s gate), today the Portal del Angel pedestrian shopping area.

 

Then through the El Born neighborhood, a great place to relax and unwind after a days sightseeing, with many cozy bars and cafes where you can enjoy a cocktail or small beer (known locally as ‘cana’)

Finally we’re back at the Gaudí building which is lit up at night and looks very impressive with its colourful façade. It’s been a tough day. We’re both so pooped; our legs are tired, bodies tired and 7 day’s of cycling seems to be taking its toll, even walking is a challenge. We catch the train out to La Llagosta and our hosts. It’s not long before we have to apologise and retreat to bed… another full day of sightseeing set for tomorrow!!!

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Tuesday 2nd February

Somemore sightseeing in Barcelona… the highlights:

 

The Ramblas

A favourite street for tourists and locals alike, it has a vibrant feel to it as you walk down one of the city’s iconic landmarks, and at the end, you can have a meal or drink in the Boqueria.

The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, often simply referred to as La Boqueria is a large public market in the Ciutat Vella district of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain and one of the city’s foremost tourist landmarks. The market has a very diverse selection of goods.

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The first mention of the Boqueria market in Barcelona dates from 1217, when tables were installed near the old city gate to sell meat. From December 1470 onwards, a pig market was held at this site; at this time it was known as Mercat Bornet. Later, until 1794, it was known simply as Mercat de la Palla, or straw market. In the beginning, the market was not enclosed and had no official status, being regarded simply as an extension of the Plaça Nova market, which extended to the Plaça del Pi.

We love our markets and this is no exception. We have a good look round before settling on a tapas bar and have a few nibbles and some liquid refreshments. We also get chatting to a young Australian couple on a European tour.

Park Güell by Antoni Gaudí

Park Güell was commissioned by Eusebi Güell who wanted to create a stylish park for Barcelona aristocracy.

Antonio Gaudí parc Güell – large organic looking columns made from stone. The park contains amazing stone structures, stunning tiling and fascinating buildings. There is a Gaudí dragon fountain that is at the entrance to Güell park. This dragon is adorned in beautiful coloured tiling and there is something rather hypnotic and magical about it. Here you can see a walkway supported by twisting rock pillars that seem to be growing out of the ground like tree trunks. Although these are rather irregular in shape they do feel strangely natural too. Gaudí was strongly influenced by natural shapes and used them in his work. At the top of Güell park is a terraced area where you get a wonderful view of the park and of Barcelona City. Here you will find multi-coloured tiled mosaic seats as shown in this picture. The vibrant colours of the tiles are truly breathtaking. Park Güell also has a small house in the park which Gaudí lived in at one stage. The house has now been converted into a museum and contains interesting furniture also designed by Gaudí. Lovely visit but tough walk getting there.

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Sagrada Família

 

The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (English: Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family) is a large Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926). Although incomplete, the church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in November 2010 Pope Benedict XVI consecrated and proclaimed it a minor basilica, as distinct from a cathedral, which must be the seat of a bishop.
P1060434 P1060433 P1060432 P1060437 P1060436 P1060435 P1060440 P1060439 P1060438 P1060443 P1060442 P1060441 P1060446 P1060445 P1060444 Construction of Sagrada Família had commenced in 1882 and Gaudí became involved in 1883, taking over the project and transforming it with his architectural and engineering style, combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms. Gaudí devoted his last years to the project, and at the time of his death at age 73 in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete.

 

By the time we got here it was nearly closing time, so we satisfied ourselves with checking out the outer edifice and marvelling at Gaudí’s architecture.

 

Arc de Triomf

In 1888 Barcelona hosted the Universal Exhibition. The Arc de Triomf was built as the gateway to the fair which was held in the Parc de la Ciutadella. The monument is classical in shape and proportions and features ground-breaking sculptural and decorative finishes replete with symbolism. It has become one of the city’s iconic landmarks.

The Arc de Triomf rises up majestically at the top of the Passeig Lluís Companys. The gateway to the 1888 Universal Exhibition, the arch stood at the end of the Saló de Sant Joan, the boulevard that led to the exhibition grounds in the Parc de la Ciutadella. The architect Josep Vilaseca designed a monument of classical style and proportions as an allegory of Barcelona’s respect for the nations and provinces taking part in the exhibition. As a counterpoint, Vilaseca chose to build the arch from brick and decorate it with sculptural motifs evocative of the neo-Mudejar style that was very much in vogue in Spain at the time. The combination of red brick with the series of friezes around the arch, make it a singularly beautiful landmark.
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If you take a close look at the arch you’ll soon realise that the Arc de Triomf was the gateway to the modern Barcelona of the late 19th century. The frieze overlooking the Passeig de Sant Joan depicts Barcelona welcoming the nations and the frieze facing the park shows the city presenting medals to the exhibition participants. There are reliefs on one side symbolising agriculture and industry, and commerce and art on the other. At the top of the arch the shields of the 49 Spanish provinces are presided over by the coat of arms of the city of Barcelona.

 

We spent a nice time at the Arc, it’s dark but the area is now well lit by streetlamps and we sat and watched rollerbladers doing tricks, hiphop dancers practicing their moves to Michael Jackson and couples strolling by.

 

Parc de la Ciutadella


The Parc de la Ciutadella (Citadel Park) is a park on the northeastern edge of Ciutat Vella, Barcelona, Catalonia. For decades following its creation in the mid-19th century, this park was the city’s only green space. The 70 acres (280,000 m2) grounds include the city zoo (once home to the albino gorilla Snowflake, who died in 2004), the Parliament of Catalonia, a small lake, museums, and a large fountain designed by Josep Fontserè (with possible contributions by the young Antoni Gaudí).

The main attraction was, from its establishment, the zoo. This was due to the 7,000 animals present. Near the zoo’s entrance, a climbable gigantic stone mammoth is to be seen, as is a metallic cat in another area of the park.

One half of the park’s paths are sinuous and rather natural seeming trails, and the other half ordered and parallel. Along both, huge a variety of vegetation is displayed. The zoo was shut at this time of night, so we walked along to see the cascading fountain, but it’s only a pond during the week!!

We return to our couchsurfing hosts and buy a couple of bottles of red wine to share with them. We’ve barely seen them seen them. We chat about Emilio’s Euro coin collection, various movies and TV series, and Ana’s teaching job. We also talk about geocaching and Ana seems very excited by it all.

 

Wednesday 03 February

Last day of our 3 day sightseeing stopover. But this morning we take time out from Barcelona and take our couchsurfing host Ana for her first geocaching experience! There are a number of geocaches locally, so off we go. The first one is at an old house in the centre of her town, but as luck would have it we can’t find it, a great introduction!! Onto the next under a rail bridge and we soon find it, and Ana seems to be enjoying herself. Now we walk a while to a river, well, a dried up river bed, and a series of caches along its length. These all have quite a few favourite points, so we are hoping for some good caches. And we aren’t disappointed. They are fab, really well disguised and well camouflaged. Soon we are rushing to see who can find the next ingenious cache and Ana even finds a few before us, so she is well pleased!

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Unfortunately by the time we have finished the series it entails a 4km walk back to her apartment, so we are again well and truly knackered, so much for the rest stop. Ana is great and cooks us a lovely pasta dish for lunch before we are off out again, back into Barcelona to see a couple more bits. We have also booked a tour and light show for the evening in La Pedrera, another of Gaudí’s buildings.

 

But first we are off to see the castle that overlooks Barcelona and its port. We catch the train, then the metro then wait 30 minutes for a replacement bus (the funicular that would normally service the Castle is shut for 5 months annual maintenance!!) and then a second bus to the very top of the Montjuic hill and it’s Castle.

 

Montjuïc Castle is an old military fortress, with roots dating back from 1640, currently serving as a Barcelona municipal facility, built on top of Montjuïc hill in Barcelona. The foundation stone for the basic fortification was laid out in 1640. A year later, in January 1641, the fort saw its first battle, during the Catalan Revolt when the Principality of Catalonia challenged Spain’s authority. On orders from the King of Spain, Pedro Fajardo, heading an army of 26,000 men, proceeded to crush the revolt. The Spanish recaptured several cities, but they were defeated at the Battle of Montjuïc by the Catalan rebels, led by Francesc de Tamarit.

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Fifty years later, in 1694, new bastions and battlements were erected and the fortress became a castle.

The old fort was however demolished in 1751 by the Spanish engineer and architect Juan Martin Cermeño, creating the current structure, still standing. The final shape of the castle took form during 1779 and 1799, when major construction works took place in order to improve the castle and accommodate the needs. It was also during this time that the castle was equipped with 120 cannons.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the French Army entered Barcelona, and, on orders from Napoleon, they also captured the castle without firing a shot as the troops guarding the castle were ordered not to fight the French.

In the last 350 years Montjuïc Castle has played a decisive role in the history of Barcelona becoming a symbol of submission after the Catalan defeat to Spain in 1714. Since then the Montjuïc canons have bombarded the city and its citizens on various occasions and Montjuïc has been used as a prison and torture centre repeatedly for three centuries.

 

The castle is massive and we enjoy looking around it and the views down into the sprawling city and also its harbour and dockyards.

 

We then head back down the hill, through the old Olympic park from the 1992 Olympics and back into the city. We have a couple of hours before our show, so we relax in a bar and put our feet up for a while.

 

On to La Pedrera and the show. It’s actually in the building Casa Milà, but it is popularly known as ‘La Pedrera’ (the stone quarry), an ironic allusion to the resemblance of its façade to an open quarry. It was constructed between 1906 and 1912 by Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926). For its uniqueness, artistic and heritage value it has received major recognition and in 1984 was inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List, for its exceptional universal value.
Nowadays it is the headquarters of Catalunya-La Pedrera Foundation and houses a cultural centre that is a reference point in Barcelona for the range of activities it organises and the different spaces for exhibitions and other public uses it contains.

 

Once we arrive we are shown around this building and get to see the great features that Gaudí installed in it. It was originally built as apartments, one huge one for the owner which took up one entire floor and 16 further apartments divided amongst 4 more floors. Then it’s off up to the attic area with its high sculpted ceiling to see a display of Gaudí’s inspirations and models of the building before finishing off on the roof. Here we look down upon the brightly lit streets and then watch as an artistic light show is projected onto the great chimneys and stairwell caps around the roof. It shows the creation of life and the universe, and is supposed to depict the inspirations that Gaudí took from this… nice pretty colourful show, but we didn’t see the relevance!!

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It’s late now but we pop into a busy but cozy tapas bar and enjoy a couple of small plates and some wine before heading home… note to self, I don’t like fried little octopussies and not that keen on deep fried artichokes!

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We head home, and before hitting the sack we present Ana with a nice box of handmade chocolates to say thanks for having us. It’s been a fab few days in Barcelona but we don’t think we rested at all… at least we were using different muscles, so maybe the cycling tomorrow will be a nice change!! Hope so because I am sooooooo tired; everything aches and poor Daz feels just as bad.

 

Thursday 04 February – La Llagosta to Sitges

Distance 70. 87km

Max speed 43.4kmph

Average speed 14.9kmph

Total 1676.9km

 

So the plan is to cycle through Barcelona today, back onto the coast and down to Sitges. According to Google this should be a nice relaxing 60km, but this doesn’t factor in the heavy traffic, stopping and starting at traffic lights, pollution and all the other craziness that is cycling through big cities. But first we need to get on the road, this entails carrying the tandem back out of the apartment, into the tiny lift

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(It’s still in two pieces but we didn’t bother unhooking all the cables so the pieces are attached to each other just to make it more cumbersome and fun!!) down to the ground floor and put it back together. Then back in the lift to the 7th floor and collect all the baggage. Just as we enter the apartment the lights go off and Ana tells us there’s a powercut. We will have to walk down all the stairs with the baggage! Daz and I look at each other and are just thankful that we weren’t in the lift at the time with the bike, it was claustrophobic enough as it was, without getting stuck in there for hours!!

In the end we have everything downstairs, put together and packed back onto the bike and we thank Ana again and wave goodbye. What a fab host she and Emilio have been, thanks guys!!

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We cycle around the corner; the traffic is busy with school drop offs and we are nearly run over by a guy who pulls up and immediately starts reversing towards a parking space. He hasn’t seen us right behind him, and if I hadn’t reacted quickly and jumped off and thumped the back of his car he would have reversed into us!! We end up pushing the bike for a while before managing to get out onto the main road and setting off again. But no sooner are we off than we decide to pull over for a breakfast of coffee and tortilla bocodilla in a busy little roadside bar/cafe.

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This also lets the morning traffic die down a bit and gives us time to check the route we are going to take through Barcelona.

We set off again and for the next couple of hours we cycle into and through Barcelona. Unexpectedly this part was OK, a bit tough with so many red lights; stop, starts are hard work especially in large quantities.

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Our troubles began as we tried circumnavigating the airport to the south. So many motorways and heavy dual carriageways but not much in the way of cycle friendly routes. At times we found ourselves climbing up and over footbridges (fortunately they had ramps for bikes but it was tight cornering with the tandem) and cycling down the wrong way of carriageways so we could duck around some of the motorways onto a normal road!! This part was far more stressful than Barcelona City centre but finally we managed to move away from all the hectic traffic and I found us a road down to the seafront… it meant crossing another footbridge but we were already veteran’s at it so we survived!!

 

We stopped for lunch about 2pm and having done 46km we thought we had broken the back of the day. But the day had just one more sting in the tail and after cycling along the quiet coast for a while we were forced back onto a busy road that climbed up and up to get over a set of hills between Garraf and our stop for the day, Sitges. But we survived and we booked into a really nice hotel down on the seafront that was on offer on the Web for only 37euro (80%off), and it’s lovely. Time to relax.

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Sitges (Catalan pronunciation: [ˈsidʒəs]) is a town about 35 kilometres southwest of Barcelona, renowned worldwide for its Film Festival and Carnival. Located between the Garraf Massif and the sea, it is known for its beaches, nightspots, and historical sites.

While the roots of Sitges’ artsy reputation date back to the late 19th century, when Catalan painter Santiago Rusiñol took up residence there during the summer, the town became a centre for the 1960s counterculture in mainland Spain, then still under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, and became known as “Ibiza in miniature”.

Nowadays it is a popular destination for gay and lesbian travellers, as it has become one of the most gay-friendly places in the world. Sitges has been referred to as the Saint-Tropez of Spain,[4] with property prices approaching those of the most expensive European cities, the main reason for this being the setting by the sea and the surrounding Parc Natural del Garraf. Proximity to Barcelona-El Prat Airport is also a major advantage.

 

After a couple of hours downtime we walk into town. There’s a festival and celebrations and people everywhere. We discover that this is festival week; enjoy all your sins and hard living now, before 40 days of abstinence during Lent, before Easter.



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