Spain & Portugal

Monday, 16 January 2017

Bilbao's Guggenheim - a pilgrimage...

Bilbao was the highlight of our Amsterdam to Barcelona cruise - Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum has been on my bucket list ever since I was bowled over by his Walt Disney Music Centre in Los Angeles. This trip was for me a pilgrimage to see the his architectural masterpiece in Bilbao.  The New Yorker had described it as "a fantastic dream ship of undulating form in a cloak of titanium" - it could have been applied to the L.A. building as well except this one is bigger and more sensational and has the environmental advantage of being on the banks of a river.  The inside was also more spectacular than the Disney Music Centre, which was relatively tame compared to the Guggenheim.  

We were lucky that it turned out to be a beautiful day and the photo ops were plenty.  I was at first disappointed that the bus didn't stop across the river from the museum to allow for a full frontal shot.  So after we've had a tour of the museum and the old town of Bilbao, we followed the bus tour back to the ship terminal, then took the bus shuttle back into town just so I could walk across the river to take that panoramic shot.  Afterall we've come 6,000 kms across the ocean to see the museum, what's another bus ride back into the city!

As is typical of art galleries and museums inside architectural masterpieces, one couldn't help but be distracted by the architecture, the art almost became secondary (for me at least).  There was an excellent exhibit of Guggenheim masterpieces, including artists like Mark Rothko, Yves Klein, Andy Warhol, Anselm Kiefer (love his "Land of the Two Rivers) and Gerhard Richter together with Basque sculptors Eduardo Chillida and Jorge Orteiza.  We also happened upon a temporary exhibit "The School Of Paris" drawn from the collection of the Guggenheim in New York - a lot of familiar works that were not sufficiently unusual to dim the exciting architecture. 

Dramatic man-made fog mark the opening hour at the Guggenheim - to add to the surreal ambiance.  Here the panorama was a bit squished because I was standing directly in front of the building, not far enough for a true panorama yet dramatic enough for an opening shot.

"Tall Tree & The Eye" by Anish Kapoor outside the museum

The atrium in panorama - Gehry called it the "flower"
Tulips by Jeff Koons on the terrace walkout from the atrium

Richard Serra's "The Matter of Time" - a sculpture of oxidized steel built for the main floor gave people who walked through the angled sheets a unique experience of shifting space and perception, which could be dizzying at times

Plaza Nueva in the Old Town, a gathering place with many taverns and restaurants in the arcades, and a flea market on Sundays

Streets of Bilbao
A house with very beautiful facade and balconies
Dry goods store in the Old Town
Salted fish store

Painted ceiling on one of the arcaded streets

Interesting store built into the side of a church?

No lack of variety in terms of music on the streets

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Our first encounter with the pilgrim route in front of this church

This steel sculpture that reminded me of a thumbprint was in a garden at the top of the hill overlooking Bilbao, we could get an almost aerial view of the Guggenheim
Yes, a full view of the museum but it's not the same as a full frontal view!  This was why we went back for more. 
Came across this interesting footbridge that took us across the river

A late afternoon side profile

The full frontal view that we came back for.  We began and ended the day with this breathtaking, fantastical piece of architecture.

Next stop:  Ferrol, Spain for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Santiago de Compostela - another pilgrimage

Our ship docked in Ferrol, in itself a historical port with probably lots to see.  But we chose to take the two hour bus trip to Santiago de Compostela, if not on a pilgrimage at least to see what we're missing.  It turned out I attended the pilgrim mass and the botafumeiro (giant incense burner) was set in motion as a special favour (to whom I didn't know but I was told someone paid for it otherwise it would be done only on Holy Days and Feast Days).  I also joined the lineup to see the relic of St. James and passed through the Holy Door.  It turned out to be quite a pilgrimage.
Before the mass we were taken on a tour of the old town with its narrow streets.  The University of Santiago was in a handsome medieval building.  I left the tour early to attend the pilgrim mass which was standing room only.  It was amazing how no photos were allowed during mass but as soon as the botafumeiro was lit, everyone's cellphone was out!  And was it ever spectacular!  The giant burner swung from one side of the altar to the other, over the pews on each side - it required four people to manage it.
We were taken to an unusual venue for lunch before going back to the ship.  This was at the Hostal dos Reis Catolicos, built in 1486, a stunning medieval building complete with courtyard and fountain.  We were served lunch in the chapel with an open second floor balcony where the sick used to be able to hear mass.  This was built as a hospice and hospital to serve the pilgrims at the end of the trail.  It is now a five star hotel - the Parador, widely considered the oldest continuously running hotel in the world.  It was a delicious lunch but as usual the architecture distracted from the main theme. ;-)
The Cathedral seen from the bus terminal
The crowd all heading towards the cathedral square
Cathedral front under restoration
The Camino shell of St. James
Entrance is through the side entrance
The botafumeiro swung on both sides of the altar - standing room only inside

The swinging botafumeiro
The botafumeiro - when it is not swinging
The highly gilded altar
The dome
The line up to see the relic of St. James in front of the Holy Door
Carved door at entrance

The relic

Fountain in the square beside cathedral
The University of Santiago de Compostela with the statue of its founder Alonso III de Fonseca, an erudite Renaissance man

Streets of old town Santiago

Hostal dos Reis Catolilcos - the oldest continuously running hotel in the world

The beautiful courtyard and fountain

The dining room set up in the chapel with its lovely windows

Something else for the pilgrim - cake shop!

The Square beside the cathedral side door

Friday, 20 January 2017

Picturesque Porto

We had quite a welcome when the ship docked in Porto - the fireboat did a display with its waterjets for a good 20 minutes using various configurations and playful tactics dousing neighbouring boats in the process.  It was a fun way to start a discovery of a colourful, diverse city, the second largest in Portugal.

Old town Porto was laid out on a hill, a rather steep one and we were lucky it was a dry sunny day so we did not have to worry about slipping on steep, often cobblestoned streets.  The good thing was there were always landmarks in view and it was easy to see if you were going in the right direction.  We headed down the hill towards the Ribeira riverfront where all the action was, visiting the Mercado building and the stock exchange building on the way. 

The Ribeira was lively with some colourful structures and lots of action on the river.  We enjoyed a snack of salted cod cakes at one of the roadside cafes - how could one not sample this in Portugal?!  I have to confess though, we have had better homemade salted cod cakes here in Toronto.  Having been enticed down the hill by one colourful street after another, we did not realize how far we had actually gone so it was quite a climb to get back up the hill to see the Cathedral and back to our bus pickup point.  At some points along the climb, we were the only people in the rather deserted back streets but it was broad daylight and at no point did we feel unsafe.  Again the good thing was we could always see our destination and could easily find our way to the Cathedral keeping twin towers in view.  The cloister attached to the cathedral was very beautiful.

Walking back along the outside of the old town we noticed how much of a big city Porto really is with pedestrians from different ethnicities spilling off its sidewalks.  It was amazing how different it was from the old town.

First panorama of Porto including the riverfront from a terrace half way down the hill

Welcome waterworks from fireboat

Lush back garden with mural
Colourful balconies

Houses stacked on steep streets

Plaza Infante with the Mercado Ferreira Borges

Mercado Ferreira Borges, a market built in the 19th century although never really used as one - now a venue for concerts and other events.  The iron building was considered as the last tribute to the iron period in Porto. 
Central courtyard of the Palacio da Bolsa (stock exchange building), a fabulous neoclassical structure from the 19th century.  
Tram along the waterfront

The River Douro with many boat cruises and other commercial traffic

View of the Ponte Luis I from the Ribeira
It was a nice walk along the Ribeira, lined with picturesque houses

Fresh baked Portuguese tart
Cod cakes

Close up of the Pont Luis I with pedestrian, train and vehicular traffic
Here's an unusual promotion in Portugal - how to use chopsticks!

First of many stairs on the steep climb up to the Cathedral

Panoramic view of Porto from the front terrace of the Cathedral

Cathedral outside and in
Rose window and organ

 The blue-tiled cloisters

Looking up the grand avenue to City Hall

The Torre dos Clerigos - baroque granite landmark in Porto from the mid-18th century

The prison turned into Portuguese Center for Photography
Inside the former prison

Another stunning piece of architecture - the new terminal building (architect Luis Pedro Silva)

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Lisbon - charming neighbourhoods

When we visited Lisbon the first time, we spent a few days there and did the historical highlights.  This time around, since we only have one port day, we decided to focus on one area of the city that we haven't explored before - the Alto Bairo district, just a funicular ride up the hill.  It took us a little while to find the funicular as the directions at the tourist information booth were a little vague and there was no big sign indicating funicular ahead so we went by blind faith that we would find it somewhere ahead of us.  It turned out it was just a few blocks beyond the train station with its stunning twin horseshoe entrances and the funicular took us all the way up to the top.

The Alto Bairro, a working class neighbourhood established since the 16th century, together with neighbouring Chiado, were supposed to be very lively at night with lots of fado clubs, bars and restaurants.  It was very interesting during the day too with its cobbled streets and colourful facades.  At the top of the funicular (Elevator de Gloria) was a lookout terrace that offered a panoramic view of Lisbon.  A short walk from here took us to the Church of Sâo Roque, the earliest Jesuit church in Portugal from the 16th century.  It had a plain facade on the outside but the inside was very baroque.  

We wandered around the neighbourhood streets and then into Chiado.  The highlight for me was the Carmo Convent ruins from the 14th and 15th centuries.  The church was considered one of the most beautiful Gothic temples in Lisbon until the earthquake of 1755 and I could understand why.  Reconstruction started in 1756 but was abandoned in 1834 when the religious orders were abolished in Portugal, leaving large parts of the church uncovered and the chapels incomplete.  But I found the ruins spectacular and likely even more so because they were ruins - stripped of adornment, the pure beauty of the structure stood out in all its splendour.

Just next to the convent we discovered the elevator Santa Justa which offered a viewing platform and a direct descent into downtown Lisbon.  A short walk took us back to Rossio Square where we started off.  We enjoyed the walking tour very much.

Lisbon from the harbour

I could still recall these beautiful Lisboan pavements from the last trip
The 19th century Rossio train station with its twin horseshoe entrance (revival of the 16th century Manueline style)
Art deco apartment hotel on the way to the funicular
Toy car?
The Elevator de Gloria saved us a steep climb up to the Alto Bairo

Panoramic view from the terrace beside the funicular stop

The Church of Sâo Roque - 16th century Jesuit church

Beautiful tiled apartments on cobblestoned streets

The streets of Alto Bairro
Look at these colourful building facades!

Entrance of the Carmo Convent
Carmo Convent ruins

The chevet from the old church is now part of the Archaeological Museum
One of the apses in the old church
The view from the viewing platform of the elevator Santa Justa.  I am amazed at the size and height of the Carmo Convent.

View of Rossio Square

Looking towards the Castelo de o Jorge in the distance
The amazing elevator which took us down from the Chiado

Performing for the lunching tourists
Clown getting ready for performance in the square

Rossio Square with the Column of Pedro IV on one side and the fountain on the other with the wavy pavement in between

The impressive Terreiro do Paço
Next port:  Cadiz, Spain

Monday, 23 January 2017

Cadiz - a Spanish wedding!

Cadiz was our ninth port since we left Amsterdam and we had been sightseeing every day.  By this time, we had been on the cruise for 10 days without a single sea day.  Not that I'm complaining but it would have been nice to have a sea day in the middle for a break.  Most people used Cadiz as the hop off point for a tour of Seville but we had been to Seville before so decided to stay and have a relaxing day in Cadiz - it was also a very hot day.

Cadiz is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain and one of the oldest in Europe.  We knew we wouldn't be disappointed if we hung around and just wandered the streets for a few hours.  And we were right! It was a Sunday and also happened to be an important Catholic feast day so we were ted with the sight of Cadiz' important people in procession down the cobbled streets.  The only negative was we didn't get to go inside the Cathedral for that same reason.  But we figured we'd seen enough Cathedrals for a while and there would be more in Barcelona, so it was not a huge loss.

We lucked out again when we hit a small old church around the corner from the Cathedral.  This turned out to be the old Cathedral, the Iglesia Santa Cruz dating back to the 13th century.  A wedding party was on its way but we were allowed inside.  In fact, we could have stayed for the ceremony as some tourists did.  The hosts were very relaxed about who attended their party even though at least one side was from the military establishment.  I wondered if this was the case everywhere else in Spain.  And what a find that was! Some of the guests were glamorous - great subjects for some nice shots on their way in and then again on their way out after the ceremony when we were on our way back from the ancient Roman amphitheatre.  The Spanish wedding made my day!

In the Plaza de Espana, the monument to the 1812 Spanish Constitution with allegorical figures of War, Peace, Agriculture and Industry.  It was significant because Cadiz was where Spain's first national sovereign assembly took refuge during the Peninsula War and this was essentially Spain's first constitution.

The narrow streets of Cadiz

Religious procession

The Plaza de la Flores, a rather unusual place to find a statue of the Roman agronomist Columela

The Cathedral

Nice surprise - Henry Moore in Cadiz!  This one appropriately named "Knife edge"

Looked great amidst the old stone

Cathedral Plaza Sunday morning (above) and Sunday afternoon (below)

We practically followed these wedding guests to the old Cathedral
Iglesia Santa Cruz used to be the old Cathedral from the 13th century, rebuilt in the 18th

Bridal party arriving

Married!  Note how guards stopped the couple from proceeding
Yes, they had to kiss first
then the Champagne
 Some of the wedding party and guests...

Mrs. Peacock?

After all that excitement, the ancient roman amphitheatre was almost an anti-climax...
The tunnel under the theatre
This amphitheatre (discovered in 1980) likely dated from the 1st century BC and considered one of the largest ever built in the Roman Empire.  According to Wikipedia, it was one of the few Roman structures mentioned by classical authors, including Cicero and Strabo.
Houses built around the amphitheatre - this reminded me of the one we saw in Durres, Albania
Spectacular sunset - last one over the Atlantic before we rounded the corner of Europe and entered the Mediterranean
Finally, a much needed sea day before we hit Barcelona!

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Barcelona - Montserrat and Park Güell

Barcelona!  A place I had wanted to visit for more than twenty years!  It was with great anticipation that I looked forward to visiting it this time at the end of our 12 day cruise.  Our ship docked in the port early in the morning and since it's to early to check in at the hotel, we took a small group tour to Montserrat and Park Güell.  The driver also took us on a quick tour around the waterfront and up to Montjuïc to see the panoramic view of the city before we headed out to Montserrat.

Montserrat with its spectacular mountain backdrop was awe-inspiring.  We had planned our visit to coincide with the boys' choir concert at 1 pm but the church was way too crowded before it was even time for the concert, literally packed from door to door, with hardly room to allow people to leave if they wanted to.  It became more of a spectacle than a spiritual experience. 

We returned to the city and visited Park Güell, another crowd experience and one almost had to learn to be skilled crowd dodgers, with practice, to survive and claim a right to enjoy this magnificent piece of art without always having someone posing in front of it.  It was a challenge but lesson learned - visit first thing in the morning or put up with the crowds - and we got very good at it, as there were crowds everywhere in Barcelona.  According to the word on the street, Barcelona was experiencing an unprecedented influx of tourists because of the fear of terrorism in the other parts of Europe. And of course, it was also thanks to the many cruise ships that either started or ended in Barcelona throughout most of the year.  I knew it would not be our last visit so we did not rush to see everything in the four days that we were there.

Panorama from Montjuïc, the hill in Barcelona with the Olympic stadium and a couple of art museums, including the Joan Miro collection and the Catalan Art Museum, neither of which we got to see - but one had to leave some good stuff for another visit!

Sculpture depicting Catalan national dance the "Sardana"
Barcelona Face sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein at the old port
Montserrat was an hour's drive out of Barcelona - these mountains are over 4,000 ft. high with trails right to the top

The Benedictine abbey and the church Santa Maria de Monserrate, reachable by road, cable car, or rack railway - and of course, by hiking trail!

The trail and the rack railway

Inside the Santa Maria

The loggia between the church and the abbey

Arthurian myth? 

Boys' choir in concert

Park Güell entrance

Gaudi built this as the Porter's Lodge of the estate - this is now the Barcelona History Museum
The "monumental" flight of steps up the Hypostyle or Columns Room
The star attraction here is the dragon - absolutely everyone must have a photo with it!

Uncluttered view
Detail beside the stairs
Ceiling of the Hypostyle Room - the room has 86 columns - directly above this is the ceramic undulating bench of the upper square

This was quite a photographic feat - finding a patch with no one sitting on it!
The gardens

The outside of the Hypostyle Room

Dinner tonight at a Basque tavern, with a nice surprise on the menu, was a great way to wrap up our first day in this great city!  Please visit Foodsparks to read more about the meal.



Monday, 30 January 2017

Barcelona - Gaudi Casas

We spent our second day in Barcelona in the Eixample, walking the Passeig de Gracie between the Gaudi casas and exploring the adjoining neighbourhood.  We visited La Pedrera (Casa Mila) in the morning and Casa Batllo in the afternoon (online tickets are a must) with a three and a half hour lunch at Disfrutar in between.  If you are interested in the exceptional 20 course food experience at this Michelin starred restaurant, please visit my food blog Foodsparks.

La Pedrera, described as a "petrified wave" and built at the height of Gaudi's career, was jaw-dropping amazing. We spent three hours there without realizing the time passing because there was something to see around every corner. We started at the unusual roof terrace with its dynamic forms, artistic yet functional and which inspired the figures in Star Wars. Then we entered the attic where we marvel at one of the gems of Gaudi's architectural creations - the 270 beautiful brick arches and the exhibition on Gaudi's life and work. The apartments brought us back to daily life in the early 20th century and how Gaudi designed for it. 

By the time we got to Casa Batlló after a long lunch, we were tired but it didn't dampen our enthusiasm for the beautiful interior of this remarkable house.  I loved the many curves and arches that made up its stairs, walls and ceilings.  The rooftop was on a much smaller scale than La Pedrera but still the same fascinating symbolic sculptures, this time reminiscent of the dragon and St. George.  

It was a great day in the Eixample, with its many high-end shops established in old houses, we enjoyed the fascinating mix of architectural styles and streetscapes.

La Predrera

The internal courtyard

Roof terrace of La Perdrera

Rooftop sculptures were all functional elements

 Beautiful brick catenary arches in the attic

Inside the apartments

Tile detail

The colour glazed internal facade

Lobby ceiling and front entrance

Disfrutar inside design - see Foodsparks

Casa Batlló

More curves!

Fireplace and chimney on the main floor

The front window
Whirlpool on the ceiling of the main room

 Attic corridor and attic with catenary arches

Staircase to the rooftop
The dragon

Staircase from the lobby

Passeig de Gracie


Plaça de Catalunya

Friday, 3 February 2017

Barcelona - Sagrada Familia

I have been warned by more than one person not to expect too much from the Sagrada Familia, a few even suggested that it's not worth the lineup or jostling with the crowds.  I have met at least one couple who was in Barcelona several times but never went to the Sagrada Familia for those very reasons - they visited the casas instead.  I have to say while the casas are interesting architecturally, they have nothing like the ambiance or the grandeur of the Sagrada Familia.  I am certainly very glad I visited (with my online ticket)! Gaudi's masterpiece was worthy of all the hype.  While the outside was a little bizarre in places, the inside was phenomenal!  I was completely awe-struck and dumbfounded.  

The temple was light-filled and uplifting - emanating a sense of effervescent joy that was not often seen in cathedrals.  Entering through the Nativity facade and walking through the temple was like walking through a forest, celebrating nature in its many manifestations.  The Passion facade, done by sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs, was in a completely different tone but the sculptures were very powerful as you can see below.

Yes, the site was crowded but most of the time the visitor would be looking up anyway, so it did not bother me.  I had less trouble taking photos here than I did at Park Güell!  So if you are debating whether to visit or not, please don't miss this stunning Gaudi creation.  To find out more about the history and the architecture, visit the official site - there is some interesting background information there.

While waiting for our turn to enter, we stumbled upon this reflecting pool in the park across the street from the basilica

The Nativity facade of the Sagrada Familia

Closeup of scenes from the Nativity façade    

The view upon entering

The vault with Gaudi's catenary arches, each column a tree with branches, each branch supporting a part of the vaulting

Sculptor Subirach's bronze doors with the "Our Father" in Catalan at the exit to the Passion Façade

I found the sculptures in the Passion Facade very powerful - Subirach's style was in stark contrast to Gaudi's

The "screwdriver" spiral staircase.  According to the iconography of Gaudi, helicoids (spirals) represent the rising movement that links the earth with heaven.

The beautiful organ

Sculpture of St. George above the Senior Portal 

Portal of Chairty bronze door installed in 2014, created by Japanese sculptor Etsuro Sotoo, inspired by nature, like the rest of Gaudi's Nativity façade 

We spent the morning at the temple and then proceeded to the Sant Pau hospital a short walk down the shady boulevard Avenue de Gaudi - also a great place for lunch.  More in the next post on the Hospital and the Palau de la Muscica Catalana, both designed by architect Lluis Dominech i Montaner.  Barcelona is a treasure trove!

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Barcelona - Hospital de Sant Pau and the Palau de la Musica

The Hospital de Sant Pau and the Palau de la Musica Catalana, both created by architect Lluis Domenech i Montaner in the Art Nouveau style of his time, are great artistic and cultural treasures not to be missed in Barcelona.  The Hospital was a short walk from the Sagrada Familia but had far fewer visitors so it was the perfect place to escape from the crowds in and around the basilica.  It was a peaceful haven and built with that idea in mind. The hospital complex was built as an independent isolated site, "a city within a city", with an area of 145 square metre per patient, including the landscaped grounds - a concept unheard of at the time (1930). The complex was made up of 27 pavilions (16 were modernista), each with a specific medical specialty and linked to each other through underground galleries.

Materials chosen were the best, including brick, colourful clay tiles, glazed ceramic or decorated stone, ceramic mosaic, wood, marble, glass, metal and iron, to create pleasant natural surroundings for the patients.  Not just functional, the hospital was a work of art.  You can see from the photos below what an exceptional hospital environment this was.

The Palau de la Musica Catalan was not just an architectural jewel, it was also a "symbolic emotional heritage" for the people of Catalonia. The building brought together all the decorative arts: sculpture, mosaic, stained glass and ironwork.  Guided tours were offered but we purchased advanced tickets for a concert at the Palau to fully experience the venue. We lucked out as the week that we were in Barcelona, there happened also to be a concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of Habaneras in Calella (a seaside town near Barcelona). We enjoyed an evening of lovely singing and also participated in a bit of nationalistic expression - everyone was given white kerchiefs to wave along with the choirs on stage for the grand finale.  Lots of fun even though we have yet to figure out what the white kerchief signified although it was clearly an expression of support to wave it together!

I am also happy to report that despite all the warnings of thefts and pickpockets in the city, we were able to walk back unmolested to our hotel from the Palau after the concert.  We felt safe because there were lots of people on the street at night - of course, we were also lucky...

The front of the Hospital de Sant Pau faced the Avenue de Gaudi, a straight line to the Sagrada Familia.  The photo below is a view of the Sagrada Familia through the front portal of the Administrative Pavillion, framed by the reflection of another building in the portal glass.

We entered through the basement - these were the decorated steps leading to the upper level

Beautifully kept gardens were part of the planned concept - a new one at the time since open-air areas for patients' enjoyment and wellbeing were regarded then as unnecessary.  Here the architect designed two gardens per pavilion.  The plants and trees served the purpose of purifying the air and also modifying the weather.

Beautifully decorated pavilions

The magnificent foyer of the Administration Pavilion and the stained glass cupola over the stairs (below)

The Dominech i Montaner Room, formerly the main hall of the hospital: convergence of a host of artistic disciplines - architecture, sculpture, stained glass, mosaic, ceramics and painting

The Palau de la Musica Catalana

Beethoven frowning down upon the street

The grand stairs in the foyer

Stained glass everywhere

Lluis Millet Hall - the double colonnaded balcony could be seen through the stained glass windows

The main concert auditorium
The skylight in the auditorium portraying the sun

Mosaic covered columns
Waving the kerchief with the performers at the concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of Habaneras in Calella

Customers waiting to get in to Tosca, just across the street from the Palau, as we were leaving the concert - we had great tapas here before the show.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Barcelona - Old town

Our first three days in Barcelona, we were confined by schedules for the different venues, so it was a great relief to not have a schedule on the last day and we were free to wander around the old towns, Barri Gotic and El Born, stopping when we wanted to.  It was also our first chance to really see the much hyped Ramblas.  The star attraction was La Boqueria, the indoor market with its beautifully laid out stalls.

We wandered over to the Cathedral as it was free only in the morning and discovered another Holy Gate to walk through - this trip had unwittingly turned into quite a pilgrimage!  We walked through the impressive Plaça del Rei with its medieval buildings and also found the Roman ruins inside a courtyard surrounded by modern apartments.  

We made it to the gorgeous Santa Maria del Mar church while it was still free and had time to admire its unique Catalan Gothic style.  The church staff was in the midst of raising a huge wooden cross above the altar which added to its ambiance.  The Picasso Museum, located in five medieval town houses, took up the rest of the afternoon although by that time, we were "museum-ed" out and the collection, comprising mainly of his early works, required patience.  

We were finally able to spend some time people watching as we sat in the Plaça del Pi for an early supper while there was still enough light to see.  We were hugely entertained by a clown who was absolutely hilarious, so outrageous were his people imitations.  We lucked out once again as we wandered back to our hotel we came upon the beautiful Santa Maria del Pi Church which happened to be open because of a concert rehearsal.  It was wonderful to actually see what Catalan Gothic meant in the unusually wide nave of the church, 54 ft of unsupported unreinforced stonework (apparently one third of its length).  It was a great way to wrap up our visit to this amazing city.

Inside the market La Boqueria - it was not only the huge selection of goods but also how carefully they were arranged

Santa Caterina Market in El Born was not as colourful

The Cathedral - designated "Holy Door" on the right

The vast nave inside the cathedral

The famous geese inside the cloister
The medieval Plaça del Rei

Remains of the Roman temple from the first century B.C.

The narrow stone streets were great acoustic venues for street musicians
Collection of water fountains

Lone animal activist spread out in front of the church

Santa Maria del Mar - Catalan Gothic from the 14th century

Beautiful rose window

Raising of the crucifix

The Picasso Museum located in five medieval townhouses

Entertainment in the Plaça del Pi

Santa Maria del Pi with its extra wide nave
The Ramblas at night
This wraps up our Amsterdam-Barcelona trip.  Watch out for posts on our next trip to Iguassu Falls and Patagonia.

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