Wednesday, 6 July 2016

24 hours in Barcelona

Shhhhhh. Top secret. That's the way on film sets. So I'm afraid I can't tell you what I saw (except that it was very cool) or what was being filmed, but I can tell you that I was sent to Barcelona (orginally*) for just one day, flying in first flight, leaving on last, to write a behind-the-scenes piece on the making of a TV advert.

Wait, I'm being given a round-trip ticket to Barcelona? Does it matter then, when I use the return? No? Then I'll come back the following evening, thanks very much. Oh, and can I review a hotel while I'm there? Yes? Fabulous! That means I'll have 24 hours to explore the city.

The filming took place inside a huge exhibition hall-type place, right by the bottom of the steps leading up to the National Museum of Calalan Art. A hefty climb up in the summer heat is worth it for the fabulous views alone (I can't vouch for what's inside, because I didn't have time to go in) and if you walk around the back, you can see the park and buildings left over from the 1992 Olympics. Yet more tantalising possibilities for exploration, but for another day...

My kotch for the night was Room Mate Carla, on  Carrer Mallorca. It's cool, calm and quiet downstairs, with a very sensible noon check-out, so you can totally take your time over the vast, help-yourself-buffet breakfast. Best of all, to my mind, was the room. Huge, with heaps of storage (if only I were staying that long!), a comfy sofa, a big bathroom with heaps of lovely smellies to wash, scrub and moisturise yourself with and – oh joy! – a balcony overlooking the street with a side-on view down to the spires of the Sagrada Familia.

In case you don't know, this was to be architect Antoni Gaudi's masterpiece. A drip-sand-like castle of a cathedral he started building in 1883 and had not finished by the time of his death 43 years later in 1926. A great unfinished masterpiece which, though construction continues to this day, "will never finish", or so said my taxi driver with a mixture of affection and ruefulness.

In the morning, after a delicious sleep on the enormous bed and filling up on croissants, eggs and fruit, I left my bag at reception and walked to the cathedral. I didn't go in – too many people and I'm not great with heights, but it's worth a slow walk around and I found my new favourite tree: jacaranda. These are the astonishing purple-flowered ones throughout the little park square in front.

The best way to see any city? On foot. And as I love architecture and the unusual, Barcelona is perfect, with so many beautiful buildings by Gaudi which he did, thankfully, finish. It's an easy city to walk around too, because much of it is on a grid. I took off in the general direction of Casa Batllo, which Gaudi didn't actually build, but did completely re-fashion.

Along the way, I came upon one of Barcelona's many covered markets. You've probably heard about La Boqueria, the huge one just off La Rambla, but I actually preferred this smaller one. For a start, it wasn't rammed and it also had the feel of a neighbourhood place, where folks were picking up food for their families, treating their young children-in-tow to a freshly made fruit drink. I had a cup of strawberry and coconut for a euro, which I drank as I walked around admiring the displays of food.

Then back out into the fray and on to Passeig de Gràcia, which is heaving with tourists and the now-ubiquitous selfie brigade. Here's a thing: when I was growing up, we were given to understand that it was somehow a) not cool and b) not dignified to be so into oneself. Now it's perfectly acceptable. But you knew that.

There are actually two Gaudi-re-fashioned buildings next door to each other here. Casa Batllo is the one on the right and was the private home of the Batllo family, so inside are a number of private apartments for the different members. The audio guide tells you there are no straight lines, but I did spot a few. It also tells you about Gaudi's influences and passions. You can spend as long as you like inside, which makes it worth the fairly hefty entry price, but if you're only going to visit one paid-for thing while you're in town, I'd choose this. Also, though the city was crowded the day I was there (a Saturday in early June) it really wasn't too bad inside. 

As well as all the obvious things, like the tiles and the glass and the woodwork, I was struck by the simpler, plainer details, like the air/light vents along the corridor on the top floor, which served as servants quarters and the washing rooms. There was a lovely, very simple wardrobe in one room too. 

One could go on and on about how interesting all the bits of this house are and I could easily fill this whole blog with pictures of it, but best is to go see it for yourself. 

From here I walked down to La Rambla – of course. You sort of have to and, anyway, if you ignore the tourist tat, there are some interesting buildings and it takes you down to the much revamped harbour area. The last time I came down here, it was all a bit dingy and seedy. Now, million-euro yachts moor and a whole floating addition to the city has been constructed called Port Vell. 

This is where I stopped for some perfectly decent tapas and to recharge, before walking on past a different sort of market selling clothes, as well as plenty of Africans selling counterfeit sneakers and sunglasses on the pavement.

Eventually, I made it to my goal: Barceloneta, the man-made beach, created in time for those Olympics, and what a great idea. The city clearly needed this beach and it's very popular. It sits just off the area where the fishermen traditionally live and there's clearly a bit of annoyance at the hipsterfication of the old neighbourhood, as evidenced by the signs hanging off the apartments. Still, I doubt they'll stop the spreading crop of quinoa-salad cafés, bicycle shops and coffee places that have taken root here.

I had just enough time to dip my toes in the water before walking lickety-split back to Room Mate Carla, picking up my bag and catching the train to the airport. Phew! All in good time, though I'd walked a good 18km, according to my iPhone anyway.

But what's this? My flight's been cancelled? No way! Yes way. We got put up in a Novotel midway between the airport and Barcelona, fed almost-tasteless pizzas that had clearly been bought frozen by the dozen. What a come down after the lovely Room Mate Carla and my fascinating day! Still, there was a camaraderie of sorts between my fellow detainees, and all was well that ends well, as the next day was Sunday and nothing, really, was lost. Ah, yes, that *. So, I lied: I was there longer than 24 hours, but you get the idea...


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