Friday, December 11, 2009


My first impressions if this huge city are very positive but it is indeed a big city. I rented a bike today and did quite a bit of riding around looking at the sights. I walked over to Plaza Cataluna this morning by way of the broad and busy La Rambla, a boulevard with a huge center pedestrian mall (with bike lanes) and lots of vehicular traffic on both sides of that, to get to the bike shop. It's a busy place, full of vendors selling Christmas stuff and a few interesting street performers. I thought this one fellow's act was quite good so I recorded it. You can see it on Facebook. I'm not sure how to link it here as yet -- frustrating -- but I will figure it out eventually.

Below is a shot of La Rambla, or more properly, Las Ramblas (see this Wikipedia article for more). This is one of the main drags here and it's going hot and heavy at all hours. Street performances, music, places to eat and snack, souvenir booths, tourists and residents walking up and won the wide avenue -- the place is teeming with life all the time.

I finally reached Plaza Catalunya (Plaça Catalunya) where the bike rental shop is located but I was first drawn to the spacious public area in the center of the square. American cities should take note of these places . Homer is struggling with whether or not to even have a public space, and if it does, we might just let a big box store develop it. Yuk! All the cities I've visited have had very nice parks not to mention a multitude of bike and pedestrian walkways. Anchorage is pretty good, relatively speaking, and the trail system there helps make living in that city enjoyable. What's wrong with the rest of us?

From here I got my bike and headed back down Las Ramblas all the way to the beach. There is a beautiful, long, sandy beach here. It's lined with restaurants and shops, boat harbors and yacht basins, and shady copses of palm trees and grass. Naturally, a bike path runs along its full length. As I was riding along I caught out of the corner of my eye what looked to be a naked lady soaping up under one of the showers provided to wash the salt off after swimming. Nah, I thought, I'm seeing things. But then, sure enough, I came across an entire beach where everyone I saw was naked. It was mostly older men but still, the attitude about nakedness here is quite a bit different than in the states. When I was flying in on Vueling Airlines I glanced through their little seatback travel book, you know the kind I mean, and noted it was pushing naked vacations in the Canary Islands; bathe naked, hike naked, bicycle naked, party naked. Even the streetside advertisements for lingerie, for example, show naked women with their breasts fully exposed. Hell,as long as you're going to use sex to sell things, which we certainly do in the states, this just takes it to another  more honest level I reckon. While some might condemn this as licentiousness, others will say they're tired of the restraints put in place centuries ago in our Judeo-Christian tradition. What do you think?

After the beach tour I headed to what is perhaps the primo Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) site in this city, the cathedral known as Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family). I provide a photo below. I think it's fair to say that the artistic and architectural legacy of Gaudí are the hallmark of this city. I have visited many museums and churches in Europe on my tour and it seems as though most of them are either being renovated or reconstructed at the present time. The Sagrada Familia is no exception. Here is a link to a Wikipedia photo of this cathedral from 2006. If you click on the photo that loads first, the 7 MB original will begin to download into your browser window. Even back in 2006 when that photo was taken, you can see stationary cranes in the background. I'll wager I've seen at least 50 of these things working on museums and galleries in Europe this year. I'm pretty sure this cathedral is only being cleaned and repainted but it's a big job. If you're looking at my full size image, check out the scaffolding at the right side. It looks miniature compared the the massive size of the church structure proper. Part of the reason this work needs to be done is that Barcelona, like any large, modern city, has problems with air pollution and airborne particulates, particulates that can ruin an art form like the Sagrada Familia.

I did not enter  the church today opting instead to move on to other things I wanted to see. I headed over to another Gaudi building, the Casa Mila, which was close to the cathedral. I didn't get a shot of it but again there is a wonderful photograph of it in Wikipedia. What I did photograph was a nude figure, cast in bronze I think, done by French Catalan sculptor and painter Aristide Maillol (1861-1944). There is an exhibition of his works going on in Casa Mila currently.

I headed home after this intending to go out later to snag a look and a nighttime photograph of a very interesting building that I ran into while riding to Sagrada Familia earlier, the Torre Agbar. So I unlocked my rented bike and headed east. I had eaten an early breakfast at the hotel so by now, 6 pm, I was starving. And I wanted to try some paella. So I stopped at a restaurant along the way and entered. When I indicated that I wanted some seafood paella the waiter looked a bit confused and asked, Now? I said in turn, yes, now. Normal people don't usually eat supper in Spain until later, often much later. My friends back in Bilbao seldom eat dinner before 9 pm.

Eventually we got everything straightened out and my order came. I ate it, paid for it, and then left the restaurant to continue my ride to the Torre Agbar. But when I got to my bike I saw a large chain going around and through it, a chain I was not familiar with. Stupidly, I had inadvertently locked my bike and another one together when I locked mine to a post before going in to dinner. Then I found a note, written in perfectly respectable English, in which the owner of the other bike told me that he would be back later that night or else he would meet me sometime the next morning to unlock my bike. There was also a phone number given but he didn't answer any of my several attempts to contact him. I'll let you know how that all turns out. Tomorrow could end up being a very difficult day.