Winter in Barcelona

9 January to 19 February

We returned to Barcelona to prepare for the next part of our adventure. We thought it would be fun to go to Central America.

We took an apartment in the Raval area. Hayden and Andrea didn’t approve of us selecting this area, it had been a well renowned trouble spot. We had of course read latest reviews of the area and didn’t share their concerns. Not until the taxi driver dropped us at the Rambla del Raval, a large square, saying he couldn’t/wouldn’t go any further. We walked the remaining 300m and found our apartment, unfortunately up a couple of steep flights of stairs, but perfect in every other way.

It was winter. The festive season was over, the tourists were thin on the ground and the skies were blue.

We shopped at the temporary Mercat de Sant Antoni. Waiting impatiently for the beautiful original market building to be reopened after restoration. We bought a lot of prepared meals, casseroles that were easy to reheat, pulses that are kindly precooked. We enjoyed fresh meat and salads and fruit. We tried very hard to communicate in Spanish, or was it Catalan?

We enjoyed just walking our own hood, the narrow streets of the El Raval district of Barcelona. Hayden had introduced us to an excellent coffee shop called Federal which we frequented for a comfort stop. They even served avocado toast and toast and vegemite. 

There was so much to explore – the sort of stuff that is number 69 on the must do list but still amazing in this wonderful city of Barcelona.

We took the train to Sitges, a lovely coastal town just south of Barcelona. It was ‘winter warm’ with lovely soft light. We treated ourselves to an outdoor lunch, beside a noisy group of airline staff – and we thought we’d been everywhere. There was a large group enjoying the sunset over the Mediterranean – just like home.

On the edge of Raval is the Jardins de les Tres Xemeneies (The Gardens of the Three Chimneys) on Avinguda del Paral·lel (Parallel Avenue). The area is a reminder of the past when Barcelona was an industrial city. The avenue gets its name because it is the only street in Barcelona to run parallel to the Equator (at 41°22′30″ North). Paral·lel has a middle dot accent in the word to allow the ‘l’ to be pronounced. In the Catalan language the ‘ll’ becomes a ‘y’ sound.

Paral·lel is now a wide avenue with apartment blocks on it, but in the late 19th century it was the city’s  ‘Montmartre barcelonés’ with cafés, music and dance halls and brothels. It has a colourful history of drunken sailors and unruly workers, anarchist trade unions and a haven for gangsters and police spies.

The power station of the Three Chimneys was the site of union uprising that eventually brought about the 8-hour day to Spain. So much history here.

We enjoyed many walks along the beautiful and uncrowded beaches of Barceloneta in winter sunshine. Each time we walked we seemed to discover something new – a fountain, a monument, a café.

We were able to visit a number of Gaudi houses, without the summer crowds.

The first was Casa Batlló. This is probably the second most famous house designed by Gaudi. It was owned by Mr. Josep Batlló I Casanovas, a textile industrialist and his wife Amalia Godo Belaunzaran. They who wanted something that would stand out as audacious and creative. That certainly is the case.

The house sits on on Passeig de Gràcia in the famous Illa de la Discòrdia (Block of Discord) which has buildings by four of Barcelona’s most important Modernista architects, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Antoni Gaudí, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and Enric Sagnier, in close proximity.

Another Gaudi house is Palau Güell, in the Rambla district, with its colourful chimneys. Designed for the industrial tycoon Eusebi Güell it was built between 1886 and 1888 and designed to entertain Güell’s high society guests. I love the description of the reception room:

The ornate walls and ceilings of the receiving room disguised small viewing windows high on the walls where the owners of the home could view their guests from the upper floor and get a “sneak peek” before greeting them, in case they needed to adjust their attire accordingly.

Casa Vicens in Gracia was one of Gaudi’s earlier commissions in  1883. It was built as a summer residence for Manuel Vicens i Montaner, who was a probably connected to the ceramics industry, which would explain the Moorish revival architecture including the use of tiles. It was not open when we visisted, but the outside captivated our interest.

One of the train line destinations that kept popping up on our platform when we lived in Badalana was Vic, so we had to go. It was a pleasant hour and a half train ride to the historic village. Vic is an old Roman town which now has a beautiful big square. It was cold so after exploring the town we enjoyed a long Sunday lunch. It was a sleepy train ride home.

Parc de la Ciutadella is on the edge of the old town. A beautiful place for a sunny winter’s walk, with attractions such as the red Arc de Triomf and Font de la cascada. It was a former military barracks of the 18th century Fortress of Barcelona, turned over to the city in 1869.

A popular destination for the young alternative population of Barcelona is the Mercat dels Encants de Barcelona or the Glories Flea Market. It is typical of the lifestyle of Barcelona where everything is used and reused and reused. Nearby is the ugly Cucumber building, nearly as prominent on the skyline at the Sagrada de Familia

And on the other side of the old city we enjoyed The Barcelona Pavilion, which was the German display in the 1929 International Exposition. It has become an important representation of modern architecture.

The Pavilion was reconstructed in the 1980s and invites leading artists and architects to temporarily alter the it in what is called “interventions”.

Nearby is the Jardí Botànic de Barcelona and the Montjuïc Cemetery. The gardens specialise in plants that are comfortable in the Mediterranean climate, which includes species from Australia, the African continent and the west coast of Northern America.

The cemetery overlooks the port of Barcelona and is crammed full. It provided an interesting journey through past lives.

Our last place to visit, probably 99 on the best things to do in Barcelona was the delightful Parc del Laberint d’Horta (Park of the labyrinth of Horta). It is a mix of Neoclassical and Romantic gardens with a tall cyprus hedge creating the labyrinth leading to a statue of the god Eros. Spring was coming and the deciduous trees were already waking up.

The tourists will soon start arriving. We did justice to our time in Barcelona and left with a lot of plans to visit Central and North America.