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Life in Barcelona

Posted on April 4, 2013 by Emily

I have taken a plethora of photos in Barcelona on different occasions and, going through them, I'm not entirely sure how I haven't found an excuse to share them yet. It turns out I've spent a lot of posts yattering about calves and food. That's what you get, I guess, when I post at 11pm. But I'm feeling a sort of deadline approaching here.. I'm going to be LEAVING soon. And every time I try to refer to a past event I start by saying "a couple weeks.. no, wait, a MONTH ago.. ?!". So, I need to tell you more about Barcelona, and I need to do it snappy-like, before time makes me leave. Here we go.

Back when Liam was visiting in February, we rounded off our sampling of Gaudi's architecture (adding to our tour of La Sagrada Familia, and our oggle of the exterior of Casa Battlo) with a tour of Palau Gell. This mansion is just off La Rambla and is notable from the street for it's colourfully-tiled chimneys. They're really quite bizarre up close. Using jarring shapes and garish colour to unsettling effect is clearly Gaud's forte. These look like things that belong in Munchkinland.

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Despite this colourful feature, Palau Gell is in fact a weirdly sinister place. It was designed by Gaud for the Gell family. We opted for the audio tour which was interesting and made the experience of walking around a bizarre house feel more eventful. Palau Gell is a tall, narrow place, built with all the upper rooms looking down on the main "hall", a room which actually had a fairly limited floor area. The effect was a combination of claustrophobia and vertigo. In addition, the finishing and decorating of the rooms was over-bearing and intricate to the point of oppression. The audio guide pointed out a specially designed wood "screen", built so that the Lady Gell could look down to see which visitors where arriving (presumably with a creeping feeling of vertigo, as she squinted at two floors below) without them seeing her. While I didn't particularly like the upper floors, where rooms we're pushed into small spaces by the central area gaping down into the hall, I thought the main entrance was impressive. It was huge and open, and it was a bit awing to look up through the many floors above to the roof. The hall and front door we're designed for horses to be ridden in off the road, and a spiraling cobblestone ramp led riders down into the stables, which we're in the basement of the palace. The stables we're airy and well-ventilated through some miracle of Gaud's architecture (paraphrasing from the audio tour) and there we're several roomy large stalls and aisles. I was pretty enamoured by the idea of a stable in your own home. So interesting!

I was reminded of the visit to Palau Gell a few days ago, as I was reading the first bit of The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (who is from Barcelona!). In the novel, this house is referred to as ".. that macabre palace that our dear Count Gell insisted Gaud should build for him near the Ramblas". And, yeah, "macabre" is the right word. Mid-way through the audio tour, the narrator dropped in, carefully expression-less, that Lady Gell was never fond of Palau Gelland they only lived there a few years before moving to Parc Gell. And, despite having had little opportunity to really reflect on the place or develop much opinion at the time, I found myself nodding and thinking yeah. Yeah, I believe it. Weird place to live.

Being up on the roof also gave us an interesting view of the surrounding area. Feeling mildly apologetic towards the imagined residents of the adjacent apartment buildings that must apparently endure tourists staring eye-level with their bedrooms, I took some pictures of the rooftops.

I find myself intrigued by indications of what life for the average person living in Barcelona is really like. I realize that taking pictures of people is maybe .. poor etiquette? But as long as they're not particularly focused on a single person, let's say they're fine. I'm fascinated by scenes of normal daily life in the Gothic quarter and El Born places that seem, to me, so interesting to live in and so different from what I'm used to. I particularly liked seeing kids drawing with chalk on the street the equivalent of drawing with chalk on the sidewalk outside your house suggesting all at once that childhood here is so similar and so different from what we see in Canada. I also see a lot of people mingling in groups with their dogs, and I wonder if this is the equivalent of chatting over the fence between front yards?

If you wander through the old quarters, you reach a strip of park, adjacent to El Born. At the North end, there's the huge brick Arc de Triomf. On the sunny days that I've been there, the park is packed with people, apparently eager to get out of the dense older quarters where everything is connected and covered by stone.

When Liam was visiting, we stumbled down into the Parc de la Ciutadella, which is beautiful and green. It's a bit of a shock of nature after the winding labyrinth of cobblestone alleys you walk through to get there. There's even a large-ish pond, grandly referred to as a lake.

This park is home to the Parliament of Catalonia and is also nestled in beside the zoo. And, it has the huge Font de la Cascada, which didn't actually have any water in it when we saw it, but was pretty impressive despite being clearly not at it's best.

Lunch on several Barcelona day trips has been pinsos usually pieces of baguette, topped with combinations of seafood, meat, cheese, tomato, peppers.. with a toothpick holding the tower of toppings in place. Basically each one is a little mini meal on a baguette. These are already prepared as you come in to the restaurant, on platters along the bar, so you pick up a plate and wander about choosing what looks good. As you eat, you keep a pile of toothicks so that you pay based on the number of empty skewers on your plate (honours system!). Aside from being (usually) delicious, these are fantastic because: a) they're instantly ready to eat the second you wander in off the street hungry, thirsty, dazed, and probably lost, b) they're super if you are one of those people who can never choose what you want off of a menu and inevitably end up coveting your neighbour's dish, c) they're even better if you can't read a menu, period, and d) you can try nearly EVERYTHING that looks good, with minimal consequence if it's not fantastic, providing the perfect opportunity to be adventurous. I think my favourite to date has been a roasted red pepper stuffed with a chopped shrimp and cream cheese mix, skewered to a baguette and drizzled with olive oil. Also good: a mound of an undefined brown-ish substance which turned out to be drool-worthy spicy tuna drizzled with aioli.

So, there you have it: life in Barcelona, whether you're a Gell, a kid with a piece of chalk, or a hungry tourist.

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