Barcelona

We started the last tour day in Barcelona with a visit to the Eixample district to see Gaudi’s extraordinary, unfinished Sagrada Familia church (photos).  It is a mix of Gothic spires, fruity mosaics and sinuous sculpture. Some say that it defies belief.  I am not a fan and I would not be visiting the interior which requires lining up for a ticket or buying one online and then lining up to get in. They hope to have it finished by 2026 which would be the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. We drove along the Passeig de Gràcia, adorned with elegant wrought-iron street lamps and flamboyant Modernist buildings, some by Gaudi,  en route to the old Gothic quarter, Bari Gotic, where we went on a walking tour. First we saw the cathedral in the Plaça Nova. Unfortunately a good photo was difficult to get as they were setting up for a food and wine festival to be held for Barcelona’s Saint’s Day celebrations. Barcelona La Mercè lasts for around 5 days and is a festival held in honour of Mare de Deu de la Mercè, the Patron Saint of Barcelona.  We then went through the narrow, winding lanes and old squares and ended up in La Boqueria, one of Europe’s largest and most famous food markets (photo). This was my first of many visits as it is only a few minutes from my hotel on La Rambla. As well as being a regular market, there are many stands selling glasses of freshly pressed juices and boxes of fruit for only 1 euro, and local fast food items containing the famous hams and cheeses for not much more.  Fish dinners are also available but tend to be pricier.  My friend who I met on the tour and I stayed uptown and bought a ticket to go to Monserrat for the next day.  The tourist office has an excellent arrangement. For one price you can get a ticket which includes two metro rides to and from the train station, the train, either the cable car or rack railway (my choice) up to the Monastery and unlimited funicular rides at the top and return. F0r an additional amount you can get an entrance to the museum and a lunch. We then walked down the famous La Rambla to our hotel on the harbour for our evening with the tour group at a “Celebration Dinner” at a local restaurant.

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The next morning we left our bags at the tour hotel and went to Montserrat.  The primary object of a visit to Montserrat is to see the 16th century Basilica of the Benedictine Monastery (photo) and the 12th century Romanesque image of La Morenta, a black Madonna who is the patron saint of Catalonia (photo).  Once up at the Monastery however, you are free to take a funicular to the top of the mountain for its spectacular views (photos) or another down to a path to the Santa Cova where legend has it that the statue of the virgin was discovered. That evening I transferred to my hotel at the top of La Rambla.

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The following day I took it a bit slower and only visited the Picasso Museum. I’m not really a fan of Picasso but this museum was very well done. Of particular interest was a series of 57 works that shaped Picasso’s interpretation of Velasquez “Las Meninas” which I saw in the Prado. The museum guide says that this is the only series of works painted by Picasso that hang all together in one museum. There is also a large collection of his early works which demonstrate his solid academic training as an artist.  Photos were not permitted, but a large number of these works are on the museum website at:  http://www.bcn.cat/museupicasso/en/collection/highlights.html

Thursday I used my Barcelona Card to go to Montjuic where there are a number of places to visit. My first stop was the National Art Museum of Catalonia (photo).  This museum, as all of the official or public museums that I visited in Barcelona, was exceptionally well presented. It has an extensive collection of 11th century to modern and contemporary art, including paintings, sculpture, photographs, furniture and other artistic media. There are some commentaries which explain the works. I took a couple of photos but here is a link to the collection: http://museunacional.cat/en/at-a-glance   From this museum I walked a short way up hill to the Miro Museum. Miro himself was involved in establishing this museum and participated in a short film about his life which is shown in Catalan, Spanish and English.  I’m not fond of the art but it was an interesting educational experience.  Here is a link to the museum website:  http://www.fundaciomiro-bcn.org/coleccio.php?idioma=2  I then took a long walk up to the top of the mountain and down again and I have photos of some of the spectacular views of the city and harbour.

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Friday I used my Barcelona Card again and went to museums in the Gotic area starting with El Born Cultural Centre (photos). This museum is set in a former public market.  The guide says that the purpose of the museum is to show the Barcelona of 1700 and the events of 1714 in the context of the War of the Spanish succession. The middle of the main floor has been dug out to show the very old city of Barcelona which had been destroyed by King Philip V of Spain to build a citadel which was then destroyed and the existing city was built over it.  There are interesting audio presentations describing the life of the people at that time. There are also two exhibits. One shows the artefacts that were discovered in the archaeological dig and describes something of the history of Barcelona through the years of the early city. The other tells of the events of 1714 when Barcelona capitulated to the troops of the Bourbon King Philip V who ended the liberties of the Catalan people.     I then went to another archaeological museum in Placa del Rei.  This one contains 4000 sq. metres of archaeological remains under the city as well as exhibitions about the medieval city and the former royal palace, the Palau Reial Major. The remains are dug out underneath the palace! The tour route is well explained and the remains are very interesting (photos). I then went to Frederic Mares Museum. This was a private collection. I have to give the collector credit. There wasn’t much he didn’t collect.  I found it overwhelming and actually skipped a lot of the collections.  The last place I visited was a small museum explaining life along the Roman Road into Barcelona. Most of it is in posters and pictures but there area few artefacts. It doesn’t take long to visit and is quite interesting.

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Today I went to the Historical Museum of Catalonia, again a very well presented Museum. It took a few hours to go around but in the end I had an overview of the history of the area from prehistoric times to the present.  The history of the years since the demise of the dictator Franco are shown in a film of newsclips. It can be understood even if you don’t speak Catalan.  Otherwise it has very interesting and well described exhibits.  Here is a link to the English website: http://www.en.mhcat.cat/

The Barcelona card is a good value if you intend to visit a number of the museums that it covers. It also includes a card for access to all public transportation. However, all museums have discounted fares for children, students and seniors so if you are only going to visit a few and a discount applies, you might not need the card. I did not use it for my first and last days. Tomorrow I board the Holland America ship MS Noordam for a 16 day cruise ending in Fort Lauderdale. The first port of call is Valencia.

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