Sat Apr 14th, 2007 at 05:20:43 AM EST
The night train there on the 5th, would fill a novel by itself because it was a throw back to 40 years ago: Six bunks per compartment because all trains were full. My compartment was in the last car with five other women plus a 2-year old girl, but one woman stayed in the restaurant car. We hit it off and "unionized" even before the conductor came by, so we took over the "caboose" and the hallway. Fortunately, I had my glass of wine to induce sleep and we only told stories and laughed until midnight. An older woman and one my age were going to France and had family histories of civil war exile, which kept the Mexican student, the Ecuadorian student with the girl and I asking endless questions and comparing details.
I am not going to talk about "world class", fancy hotels and other BS comparisons. I am talking about a city where people are the main concern of urban planners and you can feel it in the way they interact. It seemed more respectful and dignified, less noisy and even groups of young people in the squares were less invasive on others. It´s densely populated and I heard it has one of the largest "okupa" groups of Europe, but the attitude and the public space is totally different than Madrid and pedestrians are the rule, not the exception.
From the diaries - whataboutbob
People rule most small streets and the drivers are the ones who have a hard time getting around! Lots of streets in the old city have one traffic lane, but absolutely no parking, so cars seem to avoid them altogether and in some of the medieval part, a car would simply not fit through. For decades, in Madrid, the sidewalks were the first to be cut in favor of parking and only lately has the city started to put some trees back in.
It was amazing to watch kcurie and Migeru the minute we all met because it was full understanding at first sight. They seemed like twins separated at birth and they talked and walked looking at the ground, with their thoughts way above the clouds, until I thought we might lose them. I even got a general sense of the research kcurie works on! Just don´t let them lead a 1km. walk between two points because they might ignore the map and take you on a 10 mile, zigzag march. I was too happy to care, except my legs were really killing me and I probably got crankier than our 5-year old, who was awesome throughout.
This is really the first time I went to Barcelona only to sightsee, I felt truly comfortable there and I enjoyed every moment. We stayed around the central part which is flat enough to make a bike the ideal transportation and it is included by design. Almost everywhere I went, I saw locals and quite a few tourists on bikes because there are dedicated and protected lanes, so it encourages ridership. There was a new "bicing.com" rental rack right in front of our hostal, which was across from the França train station.
I walked a big part of the city and the Park Guell hill on the first day and I got so absorbed, I didn´t even realize that I am not in great shape until the next day: I thought my calves would crack and fall off and I was in pain the rest of the trip, but I could have walked and observed another week, because the city has so many flavors in the main neighborhoods. kcurie, Amanda and her friends J and H, confirmed the amount of history and activity to be found there and I can´t thank them enough for their tours and hospitality.
The city is an architect´s dream and the decorative elements are everywhere you look. With the exception of very few buildings, like the latest Agbar, I wanted to take pictures of every block I passed. The attention to detail is breathtaking and the amount of sights from medieval to current, with very well done combinations seems endless. I noticed they preserve a lot of building elements when they try to update, which creates a city chuck-full of historical character. Unfortunately, I was so tired, I had to skip the tour of one of the most significant buildings to me: Gaudí´s "La Pedrera". I´ll see it next time, but Barbara can tell you about it and the "Twins" may even write the formulas for the curves in the building.
I sensed that local people "know who they are, know where they come from" and are proud of it. And so they should be. They seem more tightly knit and secure than people in Madrid, where everyone comes from "somewhere else" and they feel compelled to prove they have made it in the capital and must flaunt their purchasing power: Sometimes it seems like a comedy of competing hicks. In Barcelona people act naturally, appreciate and preserve what they have and use their wealth in improving quality of life, instead of buying flashy stuff.
From my experience, Catalonians are entrepreneurial and persistent, and it shows, which may be part of the underlying envy from Madrid. The time I spent on my own, I found people were friendly everywhere and I didn´t sense any of the political "crunchyness" that surrounds me at home, where the rightwing tries to create divisions with Catalunya every chance they get. Being a lefty in Barcelona does not
require heroic acts and the differences feel less polarized.
The quality and variety of food is dizzying and I have a good story just from one meal on my own. From local specialties to "nouvelle hippy" juice bars, food is treated with great respect, way beyond basic nutrition at a decent price, and the tackiest of bars had more choices of drinks than most in Madrid. Only being there, I realized that in Madrid food and drink are being reduced to mass practicality, even in the places that claim "nouvelleness".
DoDo, I thought of you when, for reasons I shall never reveal, I spent part of my (Alvia) train trip back to Madrid in the driver´s seat at the end of the train, talking to an engineer and a conductor. Looking out at 210km/hour, with 180º view was a thrill and I learnt more than I could imagine, but I´m sure, nothing you don´t know.
They said that it could travel at 270km/hr on that track, but 200 is the maximum they are permitted right now, because it is not the AVE.
The minute I set foot on my town and back to "reality", I found myself grumbling again at the small details that make such a difference in daily life, but I had a great time and it energized me. Spending five days looking at beautiful places without television, internet or news had a lot to do with it.
The photos will come via amanda 2006 and mine may be much later...