Having finished my vacation in Italy, I started work with an intense training (TMAP Testing) including a grueling few weeks of studying, trying practice-exams and skipping a lot of fun events. I really wanted to visit M. (and Barcelona) after the final exam, either as a prize or to help me forget a bad result. Either way: Barcelona it was to be.
I’ll not keep you in the dark till the very end: I passed the test and that sure was a load of my back. Now I could travel to Barcelona a lot more relaxed. On Friday I took the train to Schiphol, handed over my luggage and not much later KLM flew me back to that oh so lovely city.
Once I arrived and shortly after saw M. waiting for me at Placa Catalunya where the Aerobus dropped me off, we had a dinner at the apartment where I also dropped of enough tulip bulbs to fill a small park and went into the city a little later.
We were on our way to the Harlem Jazz Club when we saw one of the many lovely traditions of Barcelona. As we passed Plaça Del Rei there turned out to be a live band playing music supporting a public dance. An instructor showed the dance that was about te be performed and tourists and Barceloneans, the dancers and wanna-be-dancers all alike were welcomed to join in. This included a barefooted rebel of some sorts that did things his own way and was very amusing to watch, as was a guy that failed at an early partner-switch and found himself paired with male dancers for the rest of that dance. As I was carrying my camera-bag I was sadly unable to join in (well… that’s my version of the story at least and I’m sticking to that), but watching the brave people doing their best trying to keep a circle in dancing going was also very amusing.
Onwards to the Harlem Jazz Club where the Orquesta Ilegal De Barcelona played a terrific concert. The band originally started ‘illegally’ on the streets in Barcelona, hence the name. Terrific songs, lovely solos and a terrific place to go for my first night back with M.
On Saturday -after a few good espressos- we went to the Plaça d’Espanya to look at a huge line of fancy dressed up grown ups waiting to enter the Salón del Manga de Barcelona. An enormous Manga-exposition and the line was nearly endless containing many Mario Brothers, fictional soldiers, LotR characters, fantasy-creatures of all shapes and sizes and of course many Manga-costumes. It was simply amazing to see the amount of effort that went into the many of these costumes.
Leaving the Manga-queue behind we climbed the stairs to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya where we visited the top of the museum for a wide view over Barcelona. The inside of the building itself is beautiful: it features beautiful designed light-fixtures, a grand hall and a fantastic painted dome and is therefore well worth a visit.
However the view from the balcony is amazig and guides you from the waterfalls in front of the museum to the Fontana Magica and to Placa Espanya and from there all over Barcelona with Tibidabo on the horizon. It’s really a superb place to sit down for a while and take in the view.
Next to the museum you can find The Pavilion: a remnant of the World Expo held in Barcelona back in 1929. They kept the German pavilion where the famous Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Chairs still are on display to this day. A tranquil pond and a statue all housed in a marble-tiled pavilion. It’s nice to visit, but to ask five Euros for that is really quite ridiculous (considering you’re not even allowed to sit in the chairs)!
We then traveled to the Torre Agbar to visit the Encants Market. We visited that back in March and it’s a very nice place to nose around and I simply wanted to visit it again. There’s a lot of buzz at the market and besides small items for sale there is a store selling fantastic comic book-relates gadgets and movie stuff and you can find some terrific antique stores in that area.
We made a quick stop at Casanova Foto in the hope of finding a 50mm Summicron lens for my Leica M6, but had no luck there. It will come when the time is right but as it had been on my mind a long time, I could at least put it to rest for now.
After the many costumes we saw at the Manga-expo earlier this day, there were still many more costumes to be seen. It’s October 31st: Halloween and Dia de Todos los Santos. And to make sure we’d see as much as possible we took a metro to have a drink in a Mexican bar. In the metro in a mix of witches, zombies and cats, a group of four Jokers were on their way to wherever when a group of Batman masked men got on and spotted the Jokers. That was just hilarious!
But having a drink in a Mexican bar on Dia de Todos los Santos is simply awesome. All waiters in deathmasks, the owner in a huge drag dress, many visitors in costumes and a Mariachi band in polonaise through the isles. We had such a good time!
Sunday was our chosen day for a trip out of Barcelona. A train ride of two and a half hours left us at a small train station at 927 meters altitude, to be taken to nearly 2000 meters at the beautiful Vall de Nuria, not so far away from the French border in the Pyrenees. It’s an impressive location, but I was a bit careless with M.’s advice to dress warmly and had only brought a thin leather jacket. With only 3 degrees Celsius I should have brought sweaters and thermal underwear! It was COLD! However the valley is a great place for a walk in the mountains and that will warm you up too (well, a bit at least).
The only thing that is a bit of a let-down is the travel time from Barcelona (taking a good 3,5 hours). I think it’s better to book a hotel and arrange an extra day there. I’d love to explore the valley more, there are lots of paths leading into the mountains, a ski-lift to take you up for some hiking on the top, horses to ride you around and rest your feet and so much more. We ended the day in a lovely little restaurant back in Barcelona. I love Barcelona, but a day out with M. somewhere into nature is just a such nice way to relax and leave the noise of the city behind for a day.
I was really happy that M. had been able to get Monday off from work so it was such a shame that rained that day. And it rained a lot. I mean like almost rare to Barcelona. The whole damn day long! It does make some lovely pictures though.
On the plus side we walked through Barcelona snuggled tightly together under a pretty pink umbrella. We had a coffee at a new favorite coffee place of mine: Nomad Coffee. Terrific espressos, good service and a superb location. It’s hidden away in the Passatge de Sert, where a few more interesting stores are located (will have to look into that with M. the next time).
From Nomad Coffee we went to Café Ina to see M’s friends there and have a bit of a drink. Talking and sheltering from the rain it was nice there. And dry! Also they usually have a lovely exposition of photographers hanging there (I must try and get some of mine in there sometime).
We then visited MACBA (The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art) and as it was raining stupid hard by then we took our time checking a photo exposition by Xavier Miserachs and various other expositions. It’s a beautifully designed modern building, interesting architecture and very white! A great place for taking a few posed photos of M. and me :)
The rain messed up our initial plans for the day a bit, but we had a super time anyway, rain or no rain. You can’t always have it all and actually a day in the rain has it’s charms too (but Barcelona? Let’s not make a habit of this, OK?). We ended the day in Jazzman where the house-band played some great jazz standards. With a Gin-Tonic in hand and the rain outside it was a great day to end the day.
Tuesday arrived and like it or not: I had the day to myself as M. had to go back to work. A time to release the inner photography geek in me and do a silly amount of walking. Completely different to Monday’s rain it was brilliant, warm and sunny today. I started out walking to the Arc de Triomf, to the Torre Agbar, to the Sagrada Famila and then (passing the Arc de Triomf) back to Nomad Coffee. Got to talk with the guys a bit and bought coffee to bring home. Close to Nomad Coffee is a shop that has a terrific selection of vinyl albums and as I hadn’t bought that at all yet, I bought a good stack of jazz and blues.
After a quick stop at the apartment where I unloaded the purchased coffee and records a rather daft idea popped up in my head: as I’ve been walking so long anyway, why not walk up to the Bunker del Carmel with the grand view over Barcelona? I was totally beat when I got up there. With a few hours of hiking in my legs the climb was more then a bit of a challenge, but the view is totally worth it. It was pretty crowded up there with lots of tourists and a bunch of people taking a picknick up there (must remember to take M. for a picknick there next time, the background is so good).
Walking back down I found an incredibly beautiful building: the hospital Sant Pau. I’ve listed it for a future visit, because I’d really like to walk those grounds, the architecture is amazing!
By the end of the day I wanted to see a few more modern buildings that M. had given me directions to visit, but I’m totally useless with directions and so took a right turn where I needed to take a left turn and found myself in front of the Palau Robert where an exposition of Catalan actrices of the twentieth century was on which was an interesting break from walking all day long. I entered and left the Palau Robert at the Passeig de Gracia, where also the Gaudi buildings La Pedrera and Casa Batllo are built and so I gave up on the modern buildings and took a cultural look at Gaudi’s masterpieces.
(La Pedrera: click image for full set)
At the moment I’s had anough and was about to head back to the apartment again when M. messaged me she was home again and so I ended my long walk (my feet were never happier). We took a dinner at the Velodromo restaurant and to top it all off we went to the Ideal cocktail bar: a real gentlemensbar with a huge selection of whisky’s, cocktails and the atmosphere of an old English upperclass bar with great seats. It’s a terrific place, but comes at quite a price, especially when you order a decent whisky ;)
(Scooters galore: click image for full set)
On Wednesday my time in Barcelona was over. After saying goodbye to M. I did a last short round in the Gracia neighbourhood and had a last espresso at Tiramisu. As my previous visit to Barcelona ended in a race to make it to the plane in time, this time I went to the airport well on time.
Stuck between a surprisingly large amount of Chinese that were also on their way to Amsterdam, the flight was a tiny bit peculiar, but with a good view onto the Pyrenees and directly over Toulouse it was a great flight. The train ride home wrecked what was left of me and when I finally got home, I was totally exhausted. It might be a good idea to take a few days off, maybe visit M. in Barcelona :D