I spent two great days in Barcelona. What a beautiful city! It was such a pleasant place. The historic old city is a wonderful maze of streets and plazas that are so much fun just to wander around in. The Ramblas is a pedestrian street in the middle of town that is filled with activity. There are street performers, shops, restaurants, and lots of people milling around. It was a great atmosphere. My favorite part was the mercado -- a huge open market filled with vendors selling fruit, fresh juices, cheeses, meats, seafood, etc.
Outside of the historic old center, Barcelona is a very modern thriving city. There are huge tree lined boulevards, beautiful neighborhoods, a great metro system and shopping to rival New York. The city is right on the beach with the hills in the background. Barcelona is totally unique compared to Madrid. They speak Catalan here, which is a language distinct from Spanish. It is basically a mash of Spanish and French with a little Italian thrown in. The culture here is different as well. It seems a little more refined than Madrid. Art and architecture are definitely a big thing here, and the city is best known as the home of Gaudi and Picasso.
My first day in Barcelona I basically wandered the streets. I went to the cathedral, which unfortunately is under restoration so I didn't get a good look at the facade. But the interior was beautiful. I especially loved the cloisters -- an open air courtyard complete with palm trees and geese and surrounding chapels. I went to the Montjuic area and saw the fountain show that night. They do a combo light/water/music show with the fountain. It was a little cheesy, but the setting was beauitful. I went back to the same area the next day and wandered the gardens. This is the area that was the setting for the 1992 Olympics. The stadium is huge and perfectly incorporates the modern day event and the old artistic feeling of Barcelona. I went to the Catalan art museum. The best thing in this museum were the various church frescoes that were rescued from delapidated churches in the Pyrenees. They have basically reconstructed multiple churches within the museum in order to display the Romanesque paintings that were found. Pretty remarkable.
I tried to go to the Picasso museum, but it was free on this sunday, so the line to get in was very long. So I decided to skip it and walk around. A few minutes later, I stumbled upon a plaza filled with people. I hadn't realized that it was Palm Sunday. The plaza was in front of one of the main churches in Barcelona -- Saint Marie del Mar -- and they were having an outdoor service for Palm Sunday. It was fascinating! It was basically like a big party. Families all together, milling around, chatting, meeting friends, laughing, singing. The priests stood on the platform at the front of the church and conducted the service. Everyone in the crowd had bunches of leaves or intricately woven palm sticks. The sticks were really interesting. I had seen several of the flower vendors making these the day before but I didn't realize what they were for. Some had bows or flowers on them, others had small toys or items attached. I saw a couple of sticks that had spiderman and hello kitty on them! When the priest would reach a certain part of the ceremony, everyone would wave their bunches of leaves and pound their sticks on the ground. It was really awesome to see.
I spent the afternoon at the Sagrada Familia -- the famous church that Gaudi designed and is still under construction. It really is amazing and like nothing I have ever seen before. The design is so unique. It really feels like a modern day cathedral, and it is the only one that I can think of that is of our time. It was originally started in the late 1890s and they are predicting it will be another 50 years before it is finished. I can't imagine working on a structure like that. I guess this is what people in the middle ages must have felt like -- building cathedrals like Notre Dame that would take over 200 years.
I spent the evening with two people I met at the hostel I am staying at. I have really enjoyed staying in hostels -- much more than I ever thought I would (It turns out I really can sleep anywhere). I feared that most people would be a lot younger than me (and most have been) but there are a lot of people my age and older that are staying in hostels too. In Madrid I met a Canadian girl who is getting her Masters in Archeaology in London. She was spending one night in the hostel before heading to eastern Spain for a 2 week dig. There were also 6 Greek guys in our room who had come to Madrid for an AC/DC concert. They were crazy but a lot of fun. We ended up all going out for drinks one night and having a great time. In Barcelona, I met an Israeli girl who was in Spain for a vacation. She spent most of last year travelling around South America. There was also a guy from Atlanta who works for Delta Airlines in maintenance and flew to Barcelona for 24 hours just because he could (crazy airline people!). They were great fun and we had a wonderful evening of tapas and conversation. It really is nice to meet so many different people with different perspectives. One of the best parts of travelling is meeting like minded people from all different parts of the world.