BOB CORBETT'S TRAVEL JOURNAL -- 2006

Journal 18 -- June 4, 2006
Barcelona Day 3

By Bob Corbett

Folks, this is the morning of our third day here in Barcelona, but the first time weíve gotten to e-mail, and it is here at our hotel and free. Great deal. However, itís rather hard to fine e-mail in Barcelona.

Our travel day on Friday was long and hard. Our plane was not at the time they had told us and thus we sat for several hours at the airport, and didnít get into Barcelona until 8:30 PM. We took an airport bus to the center of town and walked the few blocks to where I had stayed once before, but I wasnít too sure of the street, it had been 13 years earlier.

It was now dark, but only about 9:15 PM and very crowded in the area of The Rambles. I set Sally up with the bags at a small outdoor cafe and went to look for the hotel. It was just about 100 yards away, so I did well getting there, but actually took the hotel across the street since it looked much nicer and our stay was only to be four nights. It is much more expensive than we like, but weíre still likely to do our trip on budget in the end.

It took quite some time to register, see the room and all that but when I got back Sally was very upset. Some guy had come to sit at her table and was trying to get her to let him help her with some mess that was on her bag. It is likely he put it there. But the waiter came over and asked Sally if she knew the guy and when she said no, he kicked the guy out and told Sally that he was getting ready to rob her of her bag.

This was our first negative experience of the trip and Sally started out her stay in Barcelona with enormous unhappiness about that experience and not much liking the town.

But, yesterday 100% wiped that out. It was a day we rank way up in the top two-three days of the whole trip and she now understands why I rank Barcelona as one of my very favorite cities in the world.

We left the hotel early yesterday, about 8 AM and first walked up to a large outdoor market. We had picked up a small piece of cheese cake each at a bakery on the way, and then each got a wonderful freshly squeezed fruit juice at the market. We had a ball walking around the market and saw many many foods, especially fish, which we didnít have any idea what they were. Sally was not too keen about the butcher shop which fascinated me, having a Saturday special on fresh goats heads, eyes, teeth and all, and at a very good price. Nor was she as excited as I by the whole baby pigs for sale. We then wandered down the storied Rambles, one of the greatest streets in the world, and finally turned into the tiny narrow windy streets of Barri Gotic, the area, along with the Rambles and the Cathedral of Antoni Gaudi, Sagrada Familia (Holy Family Cathedral) which make Barcelona so incredible. We stumbled upon a huge square with a large fountain, palm trees and several outdoor cafes, open for breakfast. We just had tea (Sally) and coffee (me) soaked up some sun and did some serious people watching.

We next started wandering alone the tiny narrow streets. About 5 foot wide, no cars, buildings right against the edge of the walkway and about three or four stories high, so itís like walking in a Medieval alleyway -- which is about accurate. Things were coming alive and Barcelona has to be the music capital of Europe. Guitarists, singers, a Dixieland band of Americans featuring a guy about my age playing a wicked clarinet, tango dancers who just set up in a smooth area of one of the plazas, put out a hat and were just going at it like wild.... oh my goodness was it fun.

Eventually we simply stumbled upon the ruins of an old Roman church from the last 1st century BC, and then came to another square with an art festival. It also had a cathedral and we heard singing. We went in and there was choir practicing under and extremely exacting director. We just sat for a long time listening to this marvelous Gregorian Chant and some early Palestrina stuff. I was in heaven.

Outside later in the square there was a cheese market and some samples, much appreciated, and an outdoor coffee shop with lovely tables and umbrellas against the sun. Sitting at one set of tables were 9 guys, mainly in their 20s with one older guy. They were dressed in Medieval outfits with brocade and fur and stuff and they carried 9 different kinds of old guitars, some in very weird shapes. There were just sitting at the cafe, having finished some sort of concert and were drinking beer. But, they were drinking and playing and singing for themselves and having a ball. A huge crowd was gathering and the jester figure, one of their group in a different sort of shorts outfit, would take his tambourine-like instrument, turn it upside down and collect some money.

As luck would have it the table next to them opened up. It had four chairs and we grabbed the first two, to be joined minutes later by a delightful older Dutch couple. These guys were singing up a storm and my goodness, their 9 part harmonies were better than the choir in the cathedral across the square.

They finished up and paid their bill and then Sally and I purchased a round of beers for the band. Well, thatís when the real fun began. They all jumped up and turned to thank ME!!! I pointed to Sally, saying sheís the one. Well, they came over to our table, surrounded Sally and sang a beautiful Catalayan love song too her. I have to tell you, the lady was deeply touched!!!

Then, with new beers at the table, they just sat and started singing again, but they now included us and one guy who spoke English and is headed in a few days to Duke University to begin his law studies there, told us they were a group of university students at the university here in Barcelona who love traditional Spanish music and are part of a group trying to save the old customs and music and they perform around Europe a lot.

We soon found out they donít only do ancient music, nor do they do only group singing. The jester-guy, who was a great wit and kidder (most of them spoke English) rose and the group got out more modern instruments from under the tables, and in an operatic baritone of enormous power -- reminding me great of Nelson Eddy, he began a crowd pleasing version of Granada which just gave me goose bumps and had the now jam packed crowd in the square screaming in appreciation. They played a few more tunes and then we decided to move on. Weíd been there nearly two hours, had had lunch and a few beers ourselves, so we set off to see more.

By late afternoon, my pedometer telling us we had now walked over 6 miles today and we were never more than about 10 blocks from our hotel, and we walked out of the old streets of Barri Gotic and back onto the Rambles near the top of the wide walking street filled with street performers. We started the traditional walk all the way down the Rambles (perhaps 10-12 blocks) to the port and the famous Christopher Columbus statue.

It was getting to be later than we are ever out and we were both just bushed. We knew that to eat on the Rambles would be very expensive, but what the heck, we were blowing out the candles yesterday, so we picked a lovely shady outdoor cafe right in the heart of the Rambles, sat had some beers and a lovely mixed paella, me getting all the fish part and Sally getting the chicken part and we fought over the rice!! :)

Oh me, having sat there for another 45 minutes (the paella was a long time coming since they make it up when you order it), we started the last few blocks back to our hotel with sore legs and very very tired folks. We hadnít done this much walking on the whole trip. Just a few doors from our hotel was a grocery store and we picked up several nice bottles of rioja wines (last night, tonight and tomorrow night)a few cookies and headed into the hotel, two very tired travelers.

I really lucked out. The TV had a game just about to start. Spain was playing lowly Egypt in a warm-up game for the World Cup, but Sally was a great sport and didnít complain about me indulging my madness for soccer.

How in the world do we possibly top yesterday? I think we donít, but Iím not sure. As soon as I mail this note we are headed off to visit the awesome and story-book cathedral of Gaudi, Sagrada Familia (Holy Family Cathedral) one of the most famous buildings in all of Europe.

We might even take a funicular up the mountain to the Olympic Village as well, but no 6 plus miles of walking today. Though we do plan to climb to the very top of the Gaudi cathedral. Iíve done it before and it is extremely scary, a bit difficult, but such an experience!!!!!

Off to play -- ah and find some breakfast on the way. We do not like hotel breakfasts, as elegant as they make them, we like to sit outside to eat.

Bob

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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu