Wednesday morning and breakfast was again the same bread and juice and coffee assortment. I learned to say “poqueto leche” (I learned to say it, not sure I learned how to spell it) in order to get just a little milk in my coffee and enjoyed my morning meal with Holly while we made plans for the day. Our first stop, once we headed into town, was the Miro exhibit at the Barcelona museum of history…or maybe it was the museum of Barcelona history? Either way, we walked there from Placa Catalyuna and it was down by the harbor. I’d seen it the night before and knew that I could get in free with my ITIC card so it was good for me.
Now, I should probably explain a little bit about Barcelona. Barcelona is known for lots of things, Antoni Gaudi being one. Art wise, though, Barcelona is also known for three main painters – Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali (more on him later). I’m a big fan of Miro, myself, ever since going to an exhibit in Baden Baden a year and a half ago. Of course, seeing signs all over town for this Miro exhibit, I didn’t realize it wasn’t THE Miro Museum in town, but it still looked interesting, so off we went. It turns out, this was a temporary exhibit of Miro’s poster work, showcasing his pop art sensibilities. It was a cool display, with some really great pieces. Holly and I shared some jokes and insights and then we headed upstairs to see the rest of the museum, which was devoted to the history of the area.
Now here’s the other thing about Barcelona – It’s the “Austin” of Spain. What I mean is that in Texas, if you say to someone in Austin that they’re from Texas they’ll correct you by saying “no, we’re from Austin.” Barcelona is the same way. They are doing everything they can to distance themselves from the rest of Spain, including having a different language (everything is in both Spanish and Catalan) and have even tried to get secession on the ballot. This is to say that the museum was great, but it was all in Catalan/Spanish and it was about the history of the area, which we could tell from the various graphics and maps. Being a Wednesday, it was also full of school children on field trips. We moved quickly, seeing what we could, moving the interactive panels and always staying a few steps ahead of the amassing hordes of kids. Everything was going great…until I spied the armor. That’s right, there was armor. It was just sitting there, waiting to be tried one. How could I not? Did the breastplate fit? Of course not – it was designed for a little kid. Did I try anyway? You bet your ass I did! I did manage the sleeves and helmet though, so that was cool. At the end, we barely escaped, having to walk through a group of kids in order to get out of the museum but it was worth it.
By the time we did leave, though, we were both getting a bit peckish so we decided to stop for lunch. My choice, and Holly agreed, was to go somewhere for Paella. Everywhere I’d seen it the day before it was only sold in portions (and prices) for two or more and since this IS one of the national dishes and we WERE two people, Paella it was.
A few days later, I heard a story explaining the origins of the dish. It seems there was this girl (it’s amazing how many good stories start with “there was this girl”) and she was on a date with her man, who had decided to make her dinner. So he brought her back to his place and realized he hadn’t picked up any food so he just took everything he had in the pantry/ice box and tossed it into a shallow pan with some rice and whatever spices he had, including saffron. Then he left it to simmer for a bit while he went back to romancing the young lady, whose name was Ella. After forty-five minutes or so, he went to taste the dish and realized it was the best thing he’d ever eaten and so named it Par (for) Ella and thus Paella was born. Sure, probably apocryphal but a good story.
Anyway, we had paella and a couple of mojitos and just enjoyed the early afternoon sunshine before heading out again for a long, long walk. We weren’t sure where we were headed but we had all day to get there. Where we ended up was a former bullfighting arena which had been turned into a shopping mall. On the top floor was a weird little Rock and Roll museum that just felt like it had to be seen, so we saw. The artifacts on display were a little light in the “importance” department, really being mostly a collection of signed items or Barcelona specific promotional pieces, but it was still interesting. Not sure it was worth 5 Euro, but then what are ya gonna do. See, here’s where international economics starts to play a part. I get paid in Litae (ltl), which gets about 3.5 to a Euro (and
about 2.5 to a US $ but that’s not important right now). So a 5 Euro entrance fee is about 17.5 ltl. To put this into perspective, I can get a really nice meal, with drink, for 16 ltl, and the coolest museum in Kaunas, the Devil Museum, costs 6 ltl (4 for students). So anyway, we went, we saw, we took pictures.
Afterwards we walked towards Montjuic (Jewish Mountain) in order to see the site of the 1992 Summer Olympics. On the way, we walked past the incredibly famous and much recommended “Magic Fountain.” This is a multi-colored water display which is absolutely gorgeous… at least I’m assured it is when it’s operational. When we walked by, it was under-going renovations, which I suppose is par for the off-season. Walking to the top of the long flight of steps, though, we rested at the top, in front of the National Museum and were able to really look out over the city. In the distance, La Sagrada Familia was easily visible amidst the generally lower buildings. It was a nice place to sit and rest and have a bit of a chat. It was just behind this, though, where the Olympics had taken place a mere twenty years earlier. We could see the track and field stadium and the building which housed the gymnastics and some of the water venues as well as the Montjuic Communications Tower, built to broadcast the games but designed to look like an Olympic torch. Really rather impressive.
Then we had a choice: We could go back the way we had come or continue down the other side of the mont. We chose to discover new territory. And discover we did. We found an amazing cemetery filled with rows and rows of mausoleums five or six caskets high. It was stunning. We stayed, looked around, took pictures we weren’t supposed to take and continued down. Eventually, we once again reached ground level but our map wasn’t to specific on how we should get back to La Rambla. The only road we could find turned out to be a highway with big signs warning against pedestrian traffic. However, since we were North Americans, we decided we could play that card if we got stopped and honestly, we didn’t see any other way around. It was a good plan, really. It would have worked, too, if the shoulder we were walking on hadn’t stopped about 600 meters into our journey and we were forced to turn back. It was rather embarrassing. What we did find, however, was a bus stop and an infrequent bus which was able to get us back to town without further incident.
Once we hit civilization, Holly and I decided to get some food before I had to run off to meet a couch-surfing friend so we just hopped off the bus and wandered into the nearest little café we could find. It felt like wandering into the Sopranos. Aside from a young family also having dinner, the place was empty and even though we weren’t far from the tourist areas, no English was spoken. We played “dinner roulette” where we just pointed to something and hoped for the best. I think I had salmon and Holly had duck. But then, as we were finishing, other people started coming in and while I have no proof of this, it certainly felt like they were dropping off payments and “protection” money. We got out pretty quickly after that.
Holly headed back to the hostel while I went to a more local area of town to meet up with Elena, whom I had met through couch surfing. She took me to a great little café and we proceeded to laugh and talk for the next two hours, before she had to go off to a tango lesson but we made plans to meet up the next night at her “English” club for a beer and then I headed home myself.
Back at the hostel, the only excitement was trying to find the FCBarcelona / Real Madrid match on the TV. I thought we had it, but after about twenty minutes of commentary and the game clock showing in the corner, it turned out the game was blacked out locally (despite the match being almost sold out and tickets going for 155Euro for the cheap seats) so stayed downstairs talking to fellow travelers from around the world before heading to bed myself.