Lots of adrenaline pumping on the streets of Barcelona. Only three hours north of our tranquillo home in Valencia, it’s a world away in terms of environmental ambiance.
Though January 5th, the spirit of the winter holidays was still in evidence. In Spain, it’s the 12th day of Christmas that’s most celebrated. Called Three Kings Day, it commemorates the wise men who traveled to Bethlehem bearing gold, frankincense and myrrh for the infant Jesus. It’s a no-holds-barred joyous occasion, highlighted by a 3 mile parade through wide city boulevards, special holiday foods, and gifts for the kids.
After checking in at our midtown hotel, Mark and I enjoyed a casual evening walk, feasted on a small army of tapas plates, celebrated the new year with a bottle of Cava, then tucked our tipsy selves into bed. The next morning over breakfast at Barcelona’s central market, our friends from California now in tow, we mapped out the next two at-large days together. As we share a compatible travel philosophy this was an easy task: relax into the day, plot out a general direction, allow time for surprises, soak up as much atmosphere as possible.
An hour later, our walk through the city’s Gothic Quarter, turned-up pure gold. Or should I say, pure white?
Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art
The Richard Meier designed Museum of Contemporary Art, is a big wow. To get the best first impression of the approach by foot to this Le Corbusier-inspired structure, watch the first few minutes of this video. White aluminum panels, glass, stucco, and granite, front a wide open plaza playing host to skateboarders, gawkers, and walkers. A great sense of community is palpable. It’s easy to see that, since it’s opening in 1995, the energy and traffic generated by the museum has led to a regentrification of the entire area. Though the exhibits inside were interesting, as an unabashed fan of Meier, it was the architecture itself, and the resulting play between shadow and light in the main hall, that held my attention.
Later that evening we would journey 100 years into the past for a concert at the century-old Palau De La Musica Catalana concert hall. Quite a shock of opulence after the starkness of Meier’s design.
The four of us were revved up to see a concert version of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. But this particular Nutcracker proved to be none like I’d ever seen.
Palau De La Musica Catalana
Architect Lluis Domenech i Montaner designed the concert hall in the Catalan modernista/art nouveau style. It’s construction in the early 1900s, led the way to a Catalan cultural rebirth and revival of Catalonian pride. In 1997, after a few years of extensive restoration, The Palau was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And for good reason. It’s an eye-popping experience, both inside and out.
I was a teen the first time I’d seen a performance of the Nutcracker. A ballet appealing to children of all ages, it’s a special delight during the holidays. However, there was one twist to the evening’s program I’d not expected. In additional to the great music and familiar story narration was a robust presentation of sand painting. Yes. Sand painting.
Wikipedia defines sand painting as the art of pouring colored sands and powdered pigments from natural or synthetic sources to make a painting. An on-stage artist with a camera overhead, moved sand around a flat board in front of him, creating a rapid series of paintings, one dissolving quickly into the next, to match the story’s narrative. The continuous flow of images on the large screen above the symphonic orchestra was extraordinary.
Though no photography was allowed during the performance, I was able to get some shots of the building interior. I think you’ll agree it’s a feast for the eyes.
Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation
Our next destination: the village of Lloret de Mar, nestled on the Mediterranean, about 60 minutes north of Barcelona. After a hearty breakfast at our beachside hotel, we made our way inland to visit the Gala-Dali Foundation, one of three Salvador Dali museums in the area.
There were few visitors to the 11th Century castle that day, giving us the opportunity to view without interruption the detailed refurbishment work. The custom applications of furniture, painted floors, lighting, and accessories, designed by the master for his wife, Gala, were enchanting. (A note about Gala: she was a surreal handful herself, having had relationships with many of the poets, artists, and writers ushering in the surreal movement. A strong advocate for Dali’s art, she is responsible – at least in part – for his success. And along the way, shall we say, she – inspired – many others.
Jardins de Santa Clotilde
Before returning our rental car in Barcelona the next morning, we opted for some zen moments at a world renowned garden. The Jardins de Santa Clotilde rests atop a hill that slopes down to the Mediterranean. Even on a cold winter morning the zen-like retreat is well worth a stopover. Considered one of the finest botanical gardens in Europe, it replicates gardens designed during the Italian Renaissance. Its location dictates that the species of plants are primarily Mediterranean. And as the garden’s acreage cascades down the incline to the sea, intermittent ponds and sculptures dot the landscape at dramatic intersections.
On a note of interest, the gardens were used as a major setting for the streaming megahit, House of the Dragon, the prequel to Game of Thrones.
After depositing our rental car at Sant Station in Barcelona we boarded a train for the short trip home. Our five day Costa Brava getaway was a perfect end to our first full year in Spain. And a breath of fresh air as we begin year two.
4 thoughts on “Road Trip! Barcelona and Points North”
Howard, I felt as though I was on this trip with you, You captured the special qualities of the places you visited with eloquent words and magnificent photos. When I was in Barcelona I only saw the stunning exterior of the music venue, and I am sorry to have missed the visual extravaganza of the interior. There couldn’t be more contrast between that building and the Meier museum. Both are worthy of great admiration. This is probably my favorite piece you’ve written about your new home. One correction, though about the sculpture in Gala’s crypt. I know they were surrealists, but I’m pretty sure this is a giraffe, not a camel.
I can’t wait to read about more of your travels – or anything else you decide to write about.
What a beautiful comment. Thank you so much. And yes…it is not a camel. I will change it as soon as I get home. Xo
Loved reading of your holiday! I’ve never had the urge to visit Spain until I read your travelog. Thank you.
Thanks Toby! It was a great trip. Spain is perfect. You should visit!