Thursday, November 7, 2019

Mediterranean Sojourn Pt 6: Barcelona... What a Riot

Old Rodan at Casa Batlló

October 26, 2019: Farewell to Rhapsody of the Seas
For years, the people of Catalonia—the region in northeastern Spain encompassing Barcelona, the Pyrenees Mountains, Montserrat, Costa Brava, and more—have sought independence from Spain. In recent weeks, massive demonstrations have shaken Barcelona, with hundreds of thousands of protestors in the streets. Most have been relatively peaceful, though violence has broken out on several occasions. The week prior to our group's arrival in Spain, protestors closed down Barcelona's El Prat Airport—from which our flight was scheduled to take us home at the end of this trip. But since Barcelona was our ship's final port of call and reservations had all been made and paid for, there really was nothing for it but to carry on with our trip as planned.

It was with a sense of both sadness and anticipation that we left Rhapsody of the Seas for the last time. For the past week, the ship had been a most comfortable home away from home. As in Venice, we had arranged for our three-day stay in Barcelona at a nice VRBO flat in the city center. We boarded a shuttle to get there and then had a relatively short walk to the property—although hauling all our luggage over cobbled streets took some effort. We arrived about 10:30 AM, though check-in time wasn't till 1:00 PM; fortunately, our host, Pedro, was onsite, and we were able to leave our bags in the apartment.

So, we hit the streets, seeking to acclimate ourselves to our new surroundings as well as procure some Catalonian vittles. Happily, a nice virtual cache lurked at a nearby architectural marvel—Casa Batlló, designed by the renowned architect Antoni Gaudi. I claimed the cache and then we found food at a picturesque café called Txapela, just north of Catalunya Square. The fare was mostly tapas, and I had an interesting little taco-type thingummy filled with raw fish. Happily, I enjoy raw fish, although this was so mild, all the flavor came from the goodies wrapped around it. Afterward, we wandered for a while, wondering whether we might see any sign of the Catalonian protests. Initially, we did not, but later, when we bought tickets for the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus that takes you on a riding tour around Barcelona, the staff indicated the bus lines would be closed on the following day due to the scheduled demonstrations.
Lunch—held together with a cute little wooden clothespin

After lunch, I snagged a couple of physical caches in Catalunya Square. And at last, we were able to check in at our VRBO: a relatively spacious sixth-floor flat on Carrer d’Aragó, a couple of blocks north of the square. From there, we headed out again to explore, eventually ending up some distance to the south, in the Gothic Quarter at La Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia—a.k.a. Barcelona Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Barcelona. One of the first things we saw was a rather creepy, ghostly figure made up in white—actually, a beggar, so I was told. Interestingly, we discovered that, not only could we tour the cathedral's interior, we could take an elevator up to the roof, which offers a spectacular view of the city. As with so many of the cathedrals we saw in Europe, the interior is another architectural masterpiece, a staggering example of gothic excess. We took in the interior views for some time before boarding the tiny, box-like elevator to the roof. It was a shaky, fairly scary ride, both coming and going. If ever a scary ride was worth it, though, this one was. Atop the roof, we had some rickety scaffolding to negotiate, also a little disconcerting, but indeed, we did have a spectacular 360° view of Barcelona. As far as activities in Spain went, this rated among my favorites.
Old Dude and Ms. B. on the rooftop of Barcelona Cathedral. Sagrada Familia is visible in the background.
After some wine at a couple of different bistros, we boarded one of the Hop-On, Hop-Off buses, figuring we'd take a ride around Barcelona and look at the various sights. We did see a host of gorgeous locations, including the mountains that rose to the north, just beyond the city. Unfortunately, as the sun set, the bus parked itself in a location considerably north and west of our neighborhood, evidently to "get back on schedule." This 30-minute delay played hell with certain bladders, and some of us had never been more glad to get back to our neck of the woods. However, as we approached our stop, we saw flashing blue lights and began to hear helicopters circling overhead. Apparently, the roads to Catalunya Square had been closed down as the Saturday night demonstrations were beginning in earnest.

Fortunately, we'd come close enough to our place to just hop off the bus and hoof it. Sure enough, though, mobs of young people had begun parading through the streets wrapped in red and gold Catalonian flags, more and more folks were bolting in all directions, and the police sirens blared nonstop. Still, we figured we'd need some dinner, so we started looking around for places in the direction opposite the demonstrations. We found it at a beautiful rooftop restaurant at a nearby hotel, where I enjoyed some delicious beef medallions with a couple of different sauces. We were about the only folks there at the time, no doubt because it was still relatively early—somewhere in the 8 o'clock hour, and a good many Barcelona restaurants don't even open for dinner until 8:30 or so in the PM. It seemed almost surreal that, just a couple of blocks away from the protests, everything in the city seemed to be carrying on as normal.
Up on the roof
We retired to our apartment—fortunately avoiding the worst of the protests—but it was clear things were turning far more violent than earlier, so rather than go out to get a street view, we opted to remain inside and watch the events on TV. Trash fires blazed in the streets; protestors and police clashed, which resulted in lots of tear gas going off; and the roar of helicopters and wail of sirens provided a constant soundtrack for the evening. Fortunately, by 11:00 PM, the noise began to peter out, as the mostly young demonstrators began heading back home to go to bed. The helicopters continued to hover for some time, but eventually we were able to go to sleep more or less undisturbed.

October 27, 2019: From Sagrada Familia to Los Caracoles
On Sunday morning, Ms. B. and I decided to venture out on our own for a while and visit Sagrada Familia, perhaps architect Antoni Gaudi's most famous work—still unfinished after almost 140 years (it is projected to be completed around 2026). We didn't go inside, but we did wander around the exterior for a bit, and I snagged both a virtual and a physical geocache at the site. Brugger discovered an arts & crafts store near the basilica, so she got to satisfy her addiction as well.

After this little jaunt, Brugger and I wandered back to our apartment, reunited with Terry and Beth, and then went in search of lunch. Today was the big march in Catalunya Square, but this crowd, though massive, was far more peaceful than the previous night's. We managed to find another cozy little outdoor bistro, where Ms. B. killed some delicious grilled shrimp and I tried a dish consisting of mushrooms, goose liver, and egg. I found it pleasing.
Mushrooms, goose liver, and egg for lunch
Old Rodan looks askance at the paparazzi

During the afternoon, we made our way back down to the old Gothic Quarter, south of Catalunya Square. Beth and Kimberly went off hunting wares, while Terry and I plopped down at an outdoor restaurant, where an attractive, kindly waitress who spoke very good English worked hard to convince us to drink wine, wine, and more wine. I can safely say we disappointed her not even a little bit.

Forty years ago, when Terry was in the Navy, he had visited Barcelona and discovered a restaurant called Los Caracoles, which means "The Snails." He had been quite taken with it at the time, and during our wanderings the day before, we had peeked inside it. Duly impressed that it still existed, we made reservations for this evening. At the appointed hour, reunited with the women, we made our way back to Los Caracoles. By the appearance of the entrance, it seemed a rather unassuming place, with a small bar just inside. But once you enter, you are led through the kitchen, into one of several large dining areas, all beautifully appointed, the walls covered in photographs of celebrities who have dined there. Above our table, we had photos of Jimmy Carter, Robert DeNiro, Robert Mitchum, and... O.J. Simpson. Well, what fun.

I ordered Paella Los Caracoles, which came not with snails but seafood. (There were plenty of snails being served, and though I do enjoy them—I'd had escargot on the ship, as a matter of fact—I didn't order any this go round.) I confess I was a little disappointed in the paella. As with so much of the food I sampled in Barcelona, the flavor was rather bland, and all too uniform, given that it was loaded with mussels, clams, fish, squid, and prawns. I could barely distinguish the flavor of the mussels from the squid from the fish. That's not to say it was bad; it was not bad. But for all those savory ingredients, I might have expected something with a little more zing. Still, the experience was top-notch, and I would love to go back there sometime and actually try their snails.
Inside Los Caracoles
Carnage on the battlefield: remains of the Paella Los Caracoles
Once we departed Los Carocoles, we returned to our apartment, happy, stuffed, and tired. We retired before very late, for we needed to be ready to face our upcoming, final full day in Spain: we'd be heading to Montserrat, just north of Barcelona, one of the most distinctive mountains on Earth (the name, quite aptly, means "Serrated Mountain"). A tour of its famous monastery, a nearby winery, and a geocache or two awaited us.

Read Mediterranean Sojourn Part 1 here.

Read Mediterranean Sojourn Part 2 here.

Read Mediterranean Sojourn Part 3 here.

Read Mediterranean Sojourn Part 4 here.

Read Mediterranean Sojourn Part 5 here.

Read Mediterranean Sojourn Part 7 here.

1 comment:

James Robert Smith said...

Sounds like an amazing trip!

I'm sorry, but that 140-year-old unfinished basilica is easily the most hideous pile of architecture I have ever seen.

But the rest of the city looks quite amazing!