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I've been to Barcelona three times and I'm ready to return!


TOURIST OR TRAVELER? Can I avoid being part of the “horde”?

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My cat neighbor seen from my tiny Barcelona apartment.

I love Barcelona.  Imagine my horror when I watched a YouTube video (Bye Bye Barcelona) that identifies tourism as the scourge that threatens to destroy this city I love.  In fact, Barcelona’s new mayor, Ada Colau, has pledged to somehow keep the city from coming to the fate of Venice, a city where tourism has all but cancelled out the possibility of a normal life for locals.

Is it possible to be a traveler, a visitor, and avoid at least some of the impact tourists inevitably have?  For — like it or not — I am a tourist in Barcelona even if i never set foot on La Rambla and stay away from Sagrada Familia and Park Guell.  And what’s the problem with tourism anyway?  Isn’t it a great source of income?

The problem is that in order to accommodate tourists with hotels, apartments, restaurants, fast food, tchotchkes and tee shirts, space is taken away from the normal functions of residential life, and the space that remains becomes much more expensive.  Crowds make it difficult to move.  The narrow street outside the Picasso Museum can get shoulder-to-shoulder intimate due to the waiting lines for the Museum (which is a beauty and seems well-managed).  Traffic can become impossible, as it has near both Sagrada Familia and Park Guell, driving out families who have lived in the area for generations.  Sometimes I think Gaudi has a lot to answer for.

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“My” apartment near Palau de la Musica Catalana and Santa Catarina Market.

While I know tourist apartments have an impact on local real estate, renting has given me a different perspective on the place I visit.  Even when I’ve traveled as the leader of a student group, I’ve believed that something as simple as cooking your own meals can shift your relationship with the place you visit. Negotiating a food market in a foreign city is a learning experience.

In my tiny apartment, I soon realized I needed clothes line and clothes pins (hardware store), a small pillow (dry goods store), food (veggies, cheese, coffee, wine), a caving block (art supply) and sundries (a pharmacy).  I had chosen this apartment for its proximity to Santa Catarina Market, but I quickly realized that lovely as the market is (and much more patronized by locals than La Boqueria), it was the green grocer a street away that had the greens and artichokes I wanted at a much lower price.

And one shop led to another.  A few doors down from me there was a small wine shop that had both the cava I wanted, good cheese, and a cashier who could point me toward a hardware, itself in a pretty tourist heavy area, El Born.  I found a great art shop, Vicente Piera on Corsega, a long hike from home, but every excursion took me past other noteworthy sites.  For instance Raima on Comtal, the most luscious stationary store I’ve ever been in.

And as you track down the clothes pins, you find yourself in the company of people like the woman with her shopping bag rather than the couple with their backpack.

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On her way to market.

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Outside Santa Maria del Mar in El Born.




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I knew I wanted to see the Sardana when I got to Barcelona.  On an earlier visit, I wasn’t aware of when to be in the Cathedral Square to witness the traditional dance, but during my month-long visit I managed to be present several times.  The dance itself is rather formal and intricate, if you pay careful attention.  One of the several things that fascinated me was the age range of the dancers.  You may hear an activity described as being “for all ages” but I saw people of an age span from eight to eighty join the circle of the dance.

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The basic formation for the dance is a circle in which people join hands.  The circle may comprise as few as four or as many as twenty.  Participants put their coats and bags (and sometimes their small children) in the center of the circle.

The Sardana is considered a traditional expression of Catalan culture, and it was forbidden during the repressive Franco regime when defiant dancers would form a group in a city square, then disappear into the crowd when authorities arrived, a sort of Sardana flash mob.  You will often see the red and gold Catalan flag displayed at the Sardana.

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Notice the foot-wear.

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Although at first glance, the dance may seem simple, it is done competitively.  You’ll notice the tee shirts some of the dancers wear identify their particular group.  And the most avid dancers, young and old, often wear a sort of espadrille on their feet.

The live music that accompanies the dance is provided by the Cobla, a band of about twenty musicians that includes a hand-held drum, oboes, and some brass, a double bass.  There are several Cobla representing different folkloric clubs and representatives move among the crowds collecting donations to support the band.  Each donor is given a small lapel sticker.

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The Cobla members are dressed in matching suits and ties — very stylish.  Although the Sardana gathers quite an audience, it is not so much a performance as a social gathering.  I noticed that the same groups made it a point to get together, week to week.  One Sunday, there must have been over one hundred dancers.

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A dance for all ages — an good exercise too.

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A child in the center of Sardana circle.

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The Cobla on the Cathedral steps.

If you Google “Cobla Barcelona” you should be able to find examples of the music.  I became quite a fan and even brought home a couple of CDs — but there is no substitute for being there.

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2014-04-01 12.10.13

I traveled to a month’s stay in Barcelona with a single carry-on bag, and so I neglected to pack any guide books, a decision which made me an explorer.

I had spent a New Year’s Eve in Barcelona with friends a few years ago when we stayed in an apartment on Placa de Sant Miguel in the heart of Barri Gotic.  This area became “home” to me, the center of my explorations.  Of course, I gradually expanded my wanderings to include other neighborhoods, but I mainly avoided the Rambla — precisely because so many other people do not.

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I wandered around Barcelona Cathedral on an almost daily basis and became appreciative of this young woman puppeteer who charmed the socks off her audience.

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Often what pleased me most were accidental things.  I happened upon this small traditional orchestra on the steps of the Cathedral by following the colorful ribbons of one of the performers, an innocent form of stalking.  The performance was excellent.

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Another neighborhood I made it a habit of strolling through was El Born, the area around Santa Maria del Mar. The church, built in the 14th century, was built through the labor of those who would worship there, and men of the parish carried stone from the quarry: their efforts are depicted on the doors of the church.  I heard an amazing a capella group, Singer Pur, perform here.  The pews were nearly full.

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This peculiar structure on the back of the church’s door allowed people to communicate through the door when it was closed and locked.

2014-04-11 13.39.12An engaging window display in the El Born area.

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And entry and exit signs from a one-way street.  Yes, clearly these  signs were more useful when the street traffic was much slower and the travelers more alert than they tend to be today!

POST SCRIPT — I am working on my drawing-a-day.  More about that soon.




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Graffiti, fountains, statuary — all sorts of compelling faces in Barcelona.  The above trio at Placa Sant Just, the home of the wonderful Artists’ Books exhibit sponsored by ILDE (Festival Del Llibre D’Arista) every St. Jordi’s Day.

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One of the trio.

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No, it’s not a face, nor is it a real dead pigeon.  Just part of the public art whimsy you may see in Barcelona.

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The face may come in the form of graffiti.

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Or a charming enticement to come in and see the Artists’ Books.  Yes, we’re back at Festival Del Llibre D’Artista which happens on St. Jordi’s Day and is followed by a continued exhibition and workshops on book forms, print making, and other skills useful to the book artist.

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I had seen the sign for the Museu Frederic Mares many times from the Pla de la Sue, the grand square in front of the Barcelona Cathedral, but never bothered to seek it out.  Had I but known it is a testimony to the art of pack-rattery, I would have gotten there sooner.  The above picture of the lovely lunch at the Cafe d’Estiu became my reward after a Mares Museum visit.

In the museum’s guide book, the author says that Mares, a noted sculptor in the early 20th century, created and sold his work in order to buy more of the things he loved — most importantly, religious sculpture from the 11th through the 19th centuries.


The gentleman pictured here is removing his hat in reverence to the Virgin Mary.  The medium is what is called polychrome or painted wood and was created in the early 16th century.  I love this stuff, and I hadn’t even been aware what the medium was called.


The gentleman with his cap removed can be seen in the lower right hand corner.  I love this mob and I’m struck by how well fed and various the crowd is.  Such a far cry from the dour scenes I’d seen depicted in the Romanesque galleries.  (Forgive the overexposure and lack of focus.  I was sneaking these snaps when the guards weren’t looking.)


This figure fascinates me.  I’ve lost the notes for her identification, but I’m impressed both with the figure’s realism and the fact she’s dressed in what appears to be a reed mat.

IMG_3001And while there are gallery after gallery of sculpture, there are also gallery after gallery of … ephemera.  Dolls, doll house furniture, fans, perfume bottles, matchbooks, locks and keys, playing cards, pipes and menus.  Which brings me back to the cafe which is just outside the entrance to the museum, itself only a stone’s throw from Barcelona Cathedral.  I visited the Mares Museum four times in the month I spent in Barcelona, and I barely scratched its surface!

IMG_3262Outside the entrance to the museum is this fountain with its lovely fish and their shadows.  Who could ask for more — apart from a glass of cava.

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I began this blog to share my wonderful experience of a month (April 2014) in Barcelona, and I also hoped to get comfortable blogging. And the blog keeps alive my intention to return to Barcelona as soon as I can. In addition to my travel blog, I’d like to have a second blog that is more reflective and represents other interests: writing, teaching, drawing, my love for houses, reading.

Then I committed to having a class that I will be teaching this fall include a blogging assignment.  The course is a first-year seminar on journal keeping at a small public college in Vermont where I am an adjunct professor.  So it behooves me to get a handle on my own blogging process before I attempt to convince my students they can enjoy this assignment.  (Typically my students are way ahead of me on the technology front, so I do hope not to embarrass myself.)

I am a fan of several blogs and believe in the value of blogging on many levels.  I hope that by the end of these three weeks, posting blogs will be easier and I’ll be taking better advantage of the tools Word Press makes available.  Here goes!