Life in not Barcelona
One of the things I struggled with on my blog during my last stint abroad was knowing what to write about. Regrettably, in the 6 months since that I was back in Toronto I never gave this any more thought. Now, here I am soaring through the Spanish countryside at 300km/h and I have no idea what to write about.
I guess Barcelona would be a good place to start, since that the city I’m calling home for the current month.
I chose Barcelona to start the next stage of my journey because well, Spain. Most people know that I called this amazing country home for 5 years so it’s no surprise that I have an affinity for it and most of things that you find in it. However it was figurative and geographical heart that is Madrid where I called home. Given the time of year it is, I was driven by the calls of the Mediterranean Sea. I also wanted to get to know another city a little better.
Even though for this current journey It was me that chose where I would go, when, and how long I would stay for, I didn’t plan it with enough foresight to take any time off so I could really get to explore it. Kind of shameful if you consider what I do for a living so please don’t tell anyone.
While working full-time and living in a city for a month, I essentially have my weekends free and aside from that, not too much free time. There are a few hours in the morning at my disposal before my mid-day starting time, and a few hours in the evening when I finish around 9. This weekend I’m heading to Madrid to see old friends, reacquaint myself with a city that I’m remarkably fond of, and visit my favorite museum in the country. Next weekend I’m off to Amsterdam for the same reasons but different friends, and since it’s a different country, a different museum, obvi.
Considering I arrived on a Sunday and I’m leaving on a Saturday, it has essentially left me with one full weekend, my first one here, to explore Barcelona. So what did I do? Leave town. I guess the subject of this post can be things to do in not Barcelona.
About 30km outside of Barcelona is a well-known monastery called Montserrat. It’s somewhat of a pilgrimage site because it contains something called a Black Madonna. I tried to find other coloured Madonna’s but they must have been sold out.
The monastery is in an interesting location because it’s up on a hill and surrounded by all sorts of towering rock formations. It’s a popular place, not only for religious types but for those who like to hike the handful of trails that wind their way up through the hills. The friends that I went with never bothered to tell me that the plan was to some hiking, so my street shoes and jeans weren’t really the best things I could have worn that day. My trekking shoes were back at my place, dying to be put to use.
About 3 hours and an elevation gain of over 1 km later we reached the summit of these curious looking mountains. My feet were a little sore from the lack of tread on my shoes, and my quads and calves were very sore from the fact that I’d become lazy, but the weather was perfect with warm, sunny skies, and the view was stunning so I was able to suspend my discomfort. About 6 hours after setting out for the day we were heading back to the city.
Apparently there’s a weird tradition in Catalonia that takes place this time of year that involves taking a vegetable that’s in season that looks identical to a green onion (it’s not a green onion!), grilling it, and somehow shedding the skin of it off while simultaneously sliding the rest of it in your mouth. Restaurants that specialize this can be found all over the countryside but since it was already 6:00pm, we had just missed lunch and were too early for dinner so we couldn’t find a place to serve us any. Just as well, because we had tickets for a performance at the impressive Palau de la Música – Maestros de la Guitarra. It was a great show in a fascinating venue, but since we saw it in Barcelona it’s not appropriate for the post and I’m not going to tell you about it.
Another site/attraction that I’ve been aware of forever but never made it during my previous trips here is the Dalí Museum in nearby Figures. There are a couple of options to arrive but seeing as I’m such a fan of Spanish trains, we took the obvious choice. We flew in the AVE in about 55 minutes.
Everything about this museum is unusual, and this is quickly evident at your approach it. The perimeter of the roof is adorned with a bunch of giant eggs. I think they must be hard-boiled because nothing about Dalí’s art is half-baked. The main façade seems to replicate St. Peter’s in the Vatican City, but instead of saints lined up on the roPreview (opens in a new window)f you have figures wearing underwater exploring suits and large helmets.
There are all sorts of drawings, sketches and installations in the museum, and given the layout of the building, you move through it in a rather curious manner. One thing that’s largely missing in the museum are any recognizable paintings. Dalí is a prolific artist, that much is certain, but one of the reasons that he’s so know is because his works can be seen in great museums acrossEurope and the Americas, thus leaving few to display in his home town. Anyway the museum is meant to showcase the diversity of his collection and the furthest reaches of his imagination. In this the museum greatly succeeds.
In one weekend I was able to cross of a couple of things on that have been on my list for a while. As for my day-to-day, I’ve been enjoying exploring the narrow, largely pedestrianized street of el Born, the Gothic Quarter and el Raval. The mate that I’m staying with has loaned me his bike and, given how bike-friendly the city is it’s also been a great way to start the day and explore.
One of the largest advantages of being here, as is the norm with nearly all large European cities, is the transportation infrastructure. Riding the train is a pleasure in mind, and the ability to fly easily and cheaply to Amsterdam (see you next weekend) and Split (see you the weekend after that – my next home-for-a-month), make it a pretty good temporary base.