Late November I took advantage of seasonally low air fares and my remaining days’ leave to take a last-minute trip to my favourite city Barcelona. I spent my days revisiting and reflecting upon some of the places I used to frequent when I lived there back in 2007. To my delight, in the space of a two hour flight I had skipped back a season and found myself pacing the streets in early autumn climes under impeccably clear blue skies (ah, one of many things I love about BCN – you never have to draw back the curtain to decide what to wear in the morning!)
Catalonia’s vibrant capital has always held a fascination for me since my student days when I studied Spanish history and was enchanted by the strong sense of defiance and revolutionary fervour exhibited by the Catalan people back in the era of the Spanish Civil War. Almost eighty years have passed since then but even today I’m always inspired to see that the sense of protest in the city still looms strong – be it campaigning for an independent state or making a stand against property speculation and the lack of housing for locals. The city’s recent election of anti-eviction and social justice campaigner, Ada Calou, to mayor was an unprecedented and refreshing move and a blatant rejection of anti-austerity politics that would simply be unthinkable in a city like my native London.
Anyway, enough of the politics! Here are some of the things I got up to during my short stay.
Reacquainting myself with and spending far too much in the boutiques along Passeig de Gracia – I absolutely adore this street and the timeless elegance of its buildings
Admiring the art deco frescos on Passeig de Gracia
One of the evocative alleyways leading off from Plaça Reail
Stamp and coin market in Plaça Reail – I love this Sunday morning market and always pick up a beautiful old postcard or two every time I visit
The almost obligatory stroll in Parc de la Ciutadella when in Barcelona on a Sunday – not quite warm enough to sunbathe this time of year but looking splendid in the autumn colours
I visited two excellent photography exhibitions while in the city: Miserachs Barcelona blanc i negre at MACBA (Raval) and Perez de Rozas: Chronica grafica de Barcelona 1931-1954 at the Arxiu Fotografic de Barcelona (El Borne).
Perez de Rozas was a local photojournalist and the exhibition displays a selection of his works documenting the city over a period of almost 25 years throughout the Second Republic, Civil War and Francoist years. Here are a couple of his photos, which provide a fascinating insight into some of the most tumultuous years in Spanish history. The first image shows a lady going to an animal blessing with what appears to be a pet monkey at the church of Sant Antoni in 1936.
Street scene in El Borne district
Alfresco dining in a Catalan restaurant in Plaza de la Vila, Gracia – a seriously delicious dish of vegetables and hummus
No trip to Barcelona would be complete without a stop off at La Boqueria, the city’s famed food market off La Rambla. Delicacies include whole goats’ heads (eyes still intact), huge cows’ tongues and skinned rabbits (gruelling sights for a non-meat eater like me). Thankfully, however, the market also sells a delicious selection of fruits, spices and sweet things and has a fantastic selection of fruit smoothies.
The tree-lined Rambla del Raval – looking a lot more gentrified than the last time I was in town
Soaking up the last of the afternoon sun in the streets of Raval
I was really excited to visit my old neighbourbood, El Carmel, whilst back in Barça. I absolutely loved living in this understated part of town up in the hills beyond Park Guell. The area was originally developed back in the 1960s and 70s when immigrants from Southern Spain moved to the city and began to construct their own houses on the hillside. It still exists as an unpretentious largely working class neighbourhood and I wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else should I ever return – the views over the city are phenomenal and the rents are a fraction of those you’d pay in downtown L’Eixample. The area now has a metro station (several houses controversially collapsed during its construction) and brown tourist signs to the nearby WW2 bunkers have been erected. Thankfully, however, it remains a quiet unassuming area where you still see groups of elderly men chatting and playing cards together in the traditional no-frills Andaluz cafes. Unlike many other barrios in the city, you won’t hear that much Catalan in this neighbourhood, which makes practising your Spanish a little more straightforward!
I made a little collage of the neighbourhood which you can see below – the street escalators (image top right) are a godsend in this hilly neighbourhood, especially for the old folks! The WW2 bunkers just above El Carmel (image middle left) were built during the Spanish Civil War to defend the city from bombings – this spot offers an incredible viewpoint over the city and towards the sea – though unfortunately on this visit the sky was too hazy to get any good shots.
El Carmel also has its fair share of street art – including the Tiburon del Carmel (top image), a large agressive-looking shark made of bank notes and appearing to devour the letters PCC (Catalan Communist Party). This impressive creation is the work of Italian street artist Blu and is said to be a statement against unrestrained capitalism and political corruption.
Finally, on my last day I decided to visit La Sagrada Familia, 11 years since my last visit in 2004. I had a hazy recollection of the last time round, when the cathedral had been heavily under construction, but was really blown away this time – the interior is a stunning white forest of columns with beautiful stained glass windows. In 2010 it became a fully functioning cathedral and whilst I had thought completion was still decades away, current predictions put it at 2026 (just another 11 years to go!)
I had a ball in Barça and definitely can’t let another six years go past before the next trip!