Monday, December 5, 2011

A Sunday in the Park

The city park (Ciutadella Park) is Barcelona’s central park, located near town center and not far from the water front. It has plenty of green space, a large pond and a monumental fountain. On a warm Sunday afternoon, the park offers a glimpse to the favorite activities of the locals here.
An ornamental fountain in the park

Town folks playing a type of lawn bowling

Dancing Salsa
A children's birthday party....

while the dogs are waiting

Making political statements

A puppet show 

Large bubbles, to be burst

Playing Ping Pong

How about a tricycle ride through the park?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Catalan Parliament

Catalan Parliament

The Catalan Parliament building is located at a quiet corner of the city park (Ciutadella Park). It is off the beaten track and is not exactly a tourist hotspot, and it is therefore worth describing in this Blog. The region of Catalan, which Barcelona is part of, is run as a semi-autonomous district. The history of the Catalan Parliament, and the building, are representative of the tumulus pasts of Spain and are therefore of particular interest.

The Catalan parliament is one of the oldest parliaments in the world, dating back to the 11th century. Under the reign of James I the Conqueror the General Courts of Catalonia was formed, with a constitutional government that gradually acquired autonomy and executive powers. The War of Succession broke out in 1702, as a result of conflict of dynastic succession to the throne of Castile and Catalonia-Aragon. Catalonia made the unfortunate choice of supporting the Archduke Charles of Austria and recognized him as king, and his defeat in the war led to Philip V abolishing all Catalan public rights and institutions. Philip ordered the construction of a massive fort to control the city. Two centuries later, with the formation of the Second Spanish Republic, a provisional Catalan government was established, evolving into a self-governing body with legislative, executive, and judicial arms. Most of the citadel was demolished, except the arsenal which was rebuilt into a royal palace, then turned into an art museum, and finally in 1932 it was turned into the parliament. However the Spanish Republic was defeated by Franco’s revolt in 1939 and under his dictatorship all Catalan political institutions were dissolved again. It was not until 1980, years after Franco’s death, that election was held and a new parliament was formed.

As part of Spain's policy to keep the public informed and involved, most public buildings have open houses during the weekends. That's great for us visitors too! Here are some pictures of the parliament. It looked like we were the only tourists. There are guided tours provided, unfortunately in Spanish only.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Biking in Barcelona Nov. 17

It is now mid November, and the gloominess of late-autumn is setting in. After getting used to six months of blue sky, it was a shock to see the sky covered with dark clouds, which then turned into steady rain for days. But it is not all bad. The temperature is still mild, about 17C in the day, and flowers outside apartment balconies are still blooming. When the sun comes out, we take our bikes and go for long rides around the city. There are several main arteries that criss-cross the city with bicycle paths, much like subway lines. These are dedicated bike lanes, clearly marked, with their own traffic lights, and are very safe to use. One can pretty well go from one end of the city to the other within an hour. We would typically pick a destination, usually a restaurant or a signature building, and explore the neighborhoods along the way. Doing this by bike is at the perfect pace. Walking would take too long; subway works great but one would miss all the scenery.

Eliza is now an avid cyclist! Just  stay out of her way...

Dedicated bike path through the park

The bike lane is safely separated from vehicles, with it's own traffic light

Some nice buildings along the way...

Two-way bike lane on Avinguda Diagonal, a large boulevard

The only down-side to the popularity of biking: bike theft. We lock our bikes with three locks.

A night at the music hall Nov. 13

The Palau de la Musica Catalana is a spectacular modernist building designed in 1908. We went for a Sunday night concert with some friends, to enjoy an evening of Vivaldi,  but also to see the interior of the building. Richly decorated in multi-color mosaic tiles and stained glass, the Palau is indeed a work of art. The center of the hall is dominated by a large inverted glass dome, which bathes the concert hall in a soft light. After the concert, it was only 8:00PM, still too early for supper. So we took a long walk around the busy El Born district, got lost just a bit, and then found our little resturant hidden in a quiet alley, and had supper till 1:00AM.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

An architectural treasure trove

Barcelona is an architectural treasure trove. Everywhere we turn, we find beautiful buildings, truly gems of artistic design and craftsmanship. The amazing part is the abundance of it. Most big cities have some nice buildings, but in Barcelona, they are everywhere. Most of them were built in the last several centuries, but many are relatively recent. The wealth generated by the Industrial Revolution, combined with Spain's expertise in metal and stone works, were put into good use. The city held an open house during a weekend for many such buildings, called a "48 Hour Open House", and we were fortunate to be able to get into a few of these buildings.

Monastery of Pedralbes

Typical apartments in Barcelona

Palau Musica Catalana

Casa Asia

Life in Barcelona Oct. 24

Life in Barcelona         Oct. 24

View of Barcelona old city, from our marina 

A gorgeous sunny afternoon at the beach, a short walk from the marina 

The famous Cassa Batllo by Gaudi 

We like this artistic chair and lamp post! 

Placa de Catalunya, at the center of town

Barcelona is truly an amazing city. We’ve been here over three weeks now, going out sightseeing almost everyday, but so far we’ve barely seen half the city, and very superficially. Everywhere we turn there are magnificent buildings, interesting museums, impressive squares, beautiful parks, not to mention the signature Gaudi buildings. The city has done a wonderful job of laying out the roads to accommodate bicycles, and most streets have dedicated bike lanes, making it safe and easy to commute by bike. We are making full use of our two foldable bikes and go nearly everywhere with them. However the popularity of bikes also makes bikes targets for thefts; we use three locks on our two bikes.

Tapas! Yum!

Typical elegant apartments. Beautiful ironworks and stainglass.  

The AMAZING Sagrada Familia by Gaudi. Took a hundred years to build and not quite finished yet.

 Inside the Familia

We’ve settled into a pattern with our lives here in this big city. We get a fresh loaf of bread every morning for breakfast – Ben jogs the 5 minutes to go to the bakery in town outside the marina. We do a bit of exercise, then do a bit of boat-work (yes there are always things to be fixed, cleaned, varnished …. ), try to learn Spanish (mostly Eliza) and sometimes we go to the library, also within a short walk, where they have some English books and magazines, and free WiFi. Often we just go for long walks. Port Vell marina is very centrally located. Within half an hour walk, we can get to: a long beach with a nice promenade; the Old Town, where all the tourist attractions are;  a couple of large, modern shopping malls; a large, beautiful park; and of courses, churches and museums, just to name a few. The marina is right next to a vibrant, middle class neighborhood, which has everything we need – countless resturants, several bakeries, half a dozen fresh produce markets – all at very good prices. We were pleasantly surprised to find that produce in season is cheaper here than Canada. The quality and freshness of fruit and vegetable are amazing.

Food Festival! Eliza is busy sampling.

A local produce market. Great selections at good prices.

Fresh bread every day! Note the wide selection of breads. Freshly made in the shop throughout the day

However life is not totally perfect, of course, and we do miss a few things. The weather in this part of the northern Mediterranean is not as mild as southern Turkey where we wintered last year. Now, in late-October, it is turning cold (15C to 20C daytime high), and occasionally, we have cloudy and rainy days. In Turkey we had spring-like sunny weather until December. The marina here, while expensive, has only very basic service infrastructure, and social life here is nowhere close to Kemer. So there are pros and cons. But cruising life continues to be interesting, and we are meeting new friends and having a grand time exploring this exciting city.