Travel: Old Barcelona

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Old Barcelona
Old Barcelona

Barcelona was the favorite stop on our two-week visit to the Mediterranean when my two granddaughters and I sailed aboard the Crystal Serenity. I opted for extra time, knowing they would love it, too.

The charming city recalls Paris with broad, tree-lined boulevards dotted with monuments and fountains. Its wonders attract lovers of antiquities and modern art, as well. One of my granddaughters, Cydnie Staub, 17, was entranced by the city’s beauty and kept snapping away with her camera. The other one, Marti Freudenberg, 13, kept repeating, “This is amazing.”

Passing some of architect Antoni Gaudi’s signature apartment buildings with undulating architecture provided a quick introduction to his unique talent.

Old Barcelona
Old Barcelona

Our guide, Elisabeth Thallwitz, started us at the Sagrada Familia, the Temple of the Sacred Family. The impressive church, Gaudi’s masterpiece, has been undergoing continuous construction since 1882. Each time I visit there have been more accomplishments.

Now eight of the projected 18 sand-dribble spires are completed and work is being done on two more, each capped with a whimsical sculpture. The designs are religious, yet inspired by nature. Much of the decoration is Art Nouveau in style. Inside, pink marble floors have been installed and the main bronze door is in place along with the statue of St. George. A Mass is planned for celebration next year. Guests may also visit displays of how Gaudi worked, along with a current workshop.

We wended our way through the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), an area of narrow streets that includes many preserved medieval buildings. Notable is the grand Cathedral of St. Eulalia. The present building dates from the 13th century and features 15th-century stained glass windows and polychrome interior decorations.

This area houses the Picasso Museum, spread over three palaces, which we visited. Oils, drawings and etchings are mounted, many donated by the artist himself and by his friends. One room displays paintings from his blue period. (We were surprised to learn that Picasso was the artist’s mother’s name; he chose it since he felt his father’s name, Ruiz, was too common.) Cyd, a modern art lover, was impressed.

Nearby, in the Medieval Jewish Quarter, we also visited the ruins of Sinagoga Mayor, believed to be Europe’s oldest synagogue. Guides such as Israeli Adi Mahler and Spaniard Carmen Sabate narrate descriptions in English, telling how it was discovered in 1987 and excavated in 1996. The synagogue dates back to the third century, with parts from the 13th century.

Evidence shows the congregation was active until 1391. The large metal menorah, or candelabra, was added in 2002. The artist, Ferran Aguilo of Majorca, descended from a converso family who returned to Judaism. A recent marriage ceremony was celebrated here in April 2010, Mahler said, and B’nai Mitzvot and Brit Milot take place as well.

Old Barcelona
Old Barcelona

“More excavations are planned,” he said, “but it’s in the hands of the local municipality.”

Then it was on to La Rambla, a 3/4-mile pedestrian promenade with sections dedicated to flower sellers, bird and bunny merchants, and artists. But most fun were the extravagantly costumed and cosmetically decorated street entertainers who stood perfectly still – until one tried to grab a passerby. And then we entered the Mercat de la Boqueria, the market, where tables of beautifully presented fruits and vegetables awaited.

“I never saw some of these fruits,” Marti exclaimed. And the fish! Giant octopus made the cousins squeal.

The street ends with a tall pillar topped by Colon, the statue of Christopher Columbus, leading to the port. And near the port awaits the Barcelona Aquarium, featuring marine inhabitants of the Mediterranean and tropical waters. Sure to fascinate young ones, its Oceanarium boasts a tank unique in Europe at 118 feet in diameter and brimming with sharks and eels. It also features a transparent tunnel about 260 feet long, where visitors feel as if they’re walking along the ocean’s floor. Currently a new permanent exhibit, opened in April, 2010, highlights jelly fish in the Water Planet section.

IF YOU GO

For information on Barcelona, contact the Tourist Offices of Spain, with offices in Los Angeles (323-658-7188), Chicago (312-642-1992), New York City (212-265-8822) and Miami (305-358-1992), or visit www.spain.info.

For restaurants, visitors should avail themselves of a tapas eatery, where selections are made from a variety of regional appetizer dishes. A fine choice is Els Porxos near Sagrada Familia. Though catering largely to groups, smaller groups may enjoy its fare. It served the best tapas I’ve tasted on many visits. For reservations, call 93-231-99-90 or visit www.restaurantelsporox.com.

We stayed at the boutique Condado Hotel, located on the fashionable Diagonal Avenue. It had with free Internet service and was within walking distance of La Rambla: www.condadohotel.com.

It’s easy to see the major sights using the Hop-on Hop-off Tour Bus. Although it may seem pricey, for those covering lots of territory on their own rather than on organized tours, it works out better than taking taxis.

Our flight from Miami to Barcelona was via British Airways: www.britishairways.com.

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