Traveling to Barcelona for the second time allowed me to undertake my new photo mission with ease and confidence. I knew what was there, what architectural wonders to see, what renown geese resided in a specific cathedral's atrium, what cafes prepared the most delectable paellas, which views were best, where the best mimes mimed, and which bus to take to one of the world's most idyllic amusement parks. Las Ramblas left an indelible imprint on my memory and when my son and I arrived again for our second time in Barcelona, it was familiar and warm.
Planning a trip with a teenager, one must remember to plot the day's journey around key food establishments and to ensure that each stop provides menu choices to add up to at least an 8000 calorie daily input. This task is quite easy in Barcelona, as there is, with the certainty that the Erotic Museums are run by transvestites, a Starbucks around every corner. We spent over a week in this bustling, jovial town, and most days found ourselves wandering in for a quick caffeine infusion at the Las Ramblas Starbucks. The menu there offered many of the same items we see here in the States, but also a smattering of pasta salads, chipotle sandwiches, and a few exotic and very sinful cupcakes. My key piece of advice remains the same here. When travelling with a teen, ensure regular ingestion of either starch, sugar or just pure chocolate. I have never had a bad day travelling with my teen when I planned for the proper food items.
Speaking of the Erotic Museum, it became a regular topic of discussion as we strolled among the myriad of pickpockets on Las Ramblas each day. (You know you are in trouble when the hotel posts a sign in the lobby that reads "The world's best pickpockets live in Barcelona.") We would pass below the Museo Erotica on our journey to Starbucks, and on the balcony above us, we would see what appeared to be a dazzling, glamorous woman dressed as Marilyn Monroe, electric fan at her backside blowing her skirt above her head, much like those iconic scenes of the real Marilyn standing on top a subway grate, skirt blown high. Many times, my son would squeal in delight, that blond haired Marilyn, sunglass clad, girl with the just whitened toothy smile was waving to him and actually blew him a kiss. My son felt special, that is, until, he realized that Marilyn was actually a shapely young man with toned thighs and beefy calves. Woe, the disappointment and embarrassment when he realized a man was throwing him kisses in the wind. In any event, we journeyed into the museum one evening, only to find several very odd exhibits. The most peculiar was a room with potted plants that contained vegetables that had grown in the shape of either a penis, or a female organ. It reminded me of the people I had read about in South America who saw the shape of the Holy Mother in a potato chip. There was also a pornographic film taken from the king's library from 90 years ago. It was a silent movie, but the action made up for the lack of sound.
Aside from the Erotic Museum, one of my favorite attractions in Barcelona, being the cemetery enthusiast that I am, was the Poble Nou Cemetery. The Poble Nou Cemetery was built in the mid 18th century and then rebuilt and extended during the 19th century. It is divided into three sections. The first section is a labyrinth of seven-story high burial niches which are typical of Spanish cemeteries. The second section is chock full of extravagant Neo-Gothic and Neoclassical tombs, ornate mausoleums, and chapels built by some of Barcelona's wealthiest families. The third section is a mixture of niches, monuments and what is called the "fossar", or common grave where the poor were interred. The best ornately poignant gravestone and most famous in the cemetery is called the "Kiss of Death". It adorns the grave of Joan Fontbernat and sculpted in 1930 by Jaume Barba. This work is so disturbing, that it completely justified our visit to the cemetery. It is my understanding that there is a long local debate on whether or not the young, masculine man featured in the statue, is surrendering to the Angel of Death with resignation and glee, or pure disgust. It depicts an oversized skeletal, claw endowed beast sinking its teeth into a kneeling man's neck, much like a vampire sucking on a victim. I so enjoyed this statue and spent the good part of 20 minutes photographing it from every imaginable angle. (For those on foot in this area, there is an excellent bathroom stop directly across from the cemetery in a large hotel. I also rank bathrooms in cities, and this one was a firm 10.) We spent several hours inside the cemetery walls, and captured many a stone angel, some in very contorted positions, so very Cirque de Soleil style, but graceful nonetheless. Don't miss this cemetery if you adore graveyards as much as I do.
My Russian hairdresser, who travels just as much as I, if not more, has always recommended the double decker buses to visit absolutely all the highlights a city has to offer. We remembered her advice and bought tickets for the Hop On Hop Off bus to last us two full days. It was just like having our own personal taxi service. We could get off if something caught our eye, and in just 10 minutes, another bus (our own personal driver, we called him) would stop to pick us up and drive us to the next fascinating location. The first day of our extended bus ride ended with the mountain top amusement park called Tibidabo. I had seen this park way off in the distance from the bathroom window of our hotel room while seated in a particular place. The park resides on the highest point above Barcelona, and boasts magnificent views. We took the Blue Tram (Tramvia Blau if you are Spanish) half way up the mountain, but to get to the very tip top, we had to catch a funicular train from the half way point. There is also a breathtakingly beautiful church, 575 meters above sea level, at the very summit of the mountain. The rides in the park date back to 1889 when the park was built, but the rides are whimsical and safe, operated by sane, normal Spaniards, unlike fairs and carnivals in America, that are run by strange men featured regularly on America's Most Wanted. On the tram's journey up and down the mountain, you will pass through Barcelona's most affluent residential area. I took in the leafy surroundings and made sure to sneak a few pics of the homes of the rich and famous!
What is a visit to Barcelona without seeing as many of the buildings designed by Antonio Gaudi as possible? We trekked to Parc Guell our first day and were rewarded with gigantic cypress trees providing a shady canopy over comfortable benches, and Gaudi's garden complex of elegant curving benches in the form of a sea serpent, situated on the hill of El Carmel in the Gracia district. The bench forms small enclaves to ensure a social atmosphere for residents. It was built in the years 1900 to 1914. To create his colorful mosaic designs, Gaudi would instruct his workers to pick up discarded ceramics and glass bottles on their way to work each morning. Gaudi incorporated many motifs of Catalan nationalism and elements from religious mysticism and poetry into his park. I was scolded by a guard for standing on the serpentine bench to secure an elevated view for my photo, but we totally enjoyed our visit to this most famous Barcelona attraction. We also visited the infamous and very incomplete cathedral called the Sagrada Familia, and his famous Casa Batllo, a renowned building located in the center of the city. This place is a Gaudi masterpiece. Designed in 1904, it is nicknamed the House of Bones for its skeletal design. It was originally designed for a single family in the Modernisme or Art Nouveau style. The house has a unique styled roof that is arched and likened to the back of a dragon. Being inside this house makes you feel a bit like you are Jonah inside the whale. It is a remarkable building and worth a visit.
Always remembering to stash a few extra bread slices or doughy rolls in all of our empty pockets at breakfast, putting aside the fear that we looked unusually pudgy after our morning meal, we would head out to Barcelona's Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, one of Barcelona's largest religious buildings. The site of the cathedral has long been a place of worship. The first basilica was built during the Roman occupation in year 343 AD. This basilica was later burned and destroyed during an invasion by the Moors but it did not take long until a new cathedral was built in its place. The origin of the Cathedral's name comes from the co-patron saint of Barcelona, Santa Eulalia. According to legend, Eulalia was a young virgin who suffered martyrdom during Roman times in Barcelona. She was killed at the ripe young age of 13 for refusing to denounce Jesus. In front of the altar are stairs to the crypt which encases the beautiful sarcophagus of Eualia. The site's most splendid feature, in our minds, is the 14th century cloister which consists of a charming courtyard with a lush garden where one can find different types of trees and small statues. Also located in this delightful courtyard is a green, mossy pond known as the Well of the Geese. The center houses a flock of white geese, exactly 13 in number, each one representing a year in Santa Eulalia's short life. This courtyard is definitely the loveliest oasis in all of Barcelona. Sam and I were drawn to this place each day we were in Barcelona. It emanated a sense of peace. The geese, however, were quite aggressive with their bread demands. We fed them all equally, as we tried not to show any preferences, but a couple in particular, were very vocal and pushy, and, yes, geese do have lots of teeth.
Ready for something completely different after several days in the big city, we decided to venture "further afield" as Frommers guide books like to call it. We took a 40 minute train ride to a small, lively, party city, with sandy beaches, topless sunbathers and old monasteries. We visited the seaside town of Sitges. There are a total of 17 sandy beaches in Sitges. My son preferred the naked ones. For over a century, Sitges has been celebrating nonstop between the months of February and March. The festivities begin on Fat Thursday with the arrival of King Carnestoltes' spectacular appearance. From the moment this character shows up until the burial of the sardine, which is late afternoon on Ash Wednesday, it is safe to say that Sitges moves to its own beat. Sitges is a popular destination for gay and lesbian travelers and is now known as one of the most gay-friendly places in the world. We ate squid at a café on the beach, photographed dogs in tutus carried around in Paris Hilton style purses, and purchased designer souvenirs from intriguing shops all along the cobblestone streets. Sitges' praise is well- deserved and a must-see seaside town if you travel to this area.
Barcelona is a huge city with over one and a half million people. About one third of those inhabitants visit the glorious public market each day called the Mercat de la Boqueria. One can find everything from chocolate covered insects to cold, icy smoothies, to hot meaty sandwiches to whole lamb heads stacked tall in a cold refrigerated unit. The first record of this market dates back to 1217, when tables were installed near the old city gate to sell meat. After 1470, the site was used as a pig market. After 1794, it was a straw market. It was not until 1826, that the market was legally recognized and an official structure was completed. The inauguration of the site finally came about in 1853. In 1911, a new fish market opened and the metal roof that exists today was built in 1914. We didn't let a day go by that we didn't stroll through this market, watching the butchers carve a leg of prosciutto or ogling a candied fig. The photo ops were other worldly and the food was incredible. The most colorful and unique booth housed gummy candies in every shape and size to include semblances of worms, snakes, insects, fruits, animals and odd objects. If you watch carefully, you will likely see Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern in an adjacent booth munching a sheep's eyeball on a crusty roll slathered in hot sauce.
These were just some of the wonderful things my son and I did in Barcelona but I have covered the highlights. Situated on the coast, complete with modern beach sculptures and locals running in the 6 AM sand, the city is filled to the brim with an unending list of exciting things to do, see, feel or eat. This is a city for anyone, a jewel in the sun. Barcelona is unlike any other city I have visited. It has its own culture, atmosphere, and modern, yet classic feel, with something fresh around every corner. It is weighted in history. There is avenue after avenue lined with architectural gems in stained glass, wrought iron, ornamental brick, colorful ceramic tile, spiced up with a devilish gravestone here and there. Put this city on your bucket list. It is well worth a visit. I've been to Madrid and I can say that Madrid is a man, but Barcelona is a woman, an extremely stylish, vain, vibrant, hot, chic woman.
Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end! `I wonder how many miles I've fallen by this time?' she said aloud. `I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think--' (for, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the schoolroom, and though this was not a very good opportunity for showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over) `--yes, that's about the right distance--but then I wonder what Latitude or Longitude I've got to?' (Alice had no idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but thought they were nice grand words to say.)