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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Three Days in BCN: The Trip of a Lifetime, Part 7

Stanley's sweet smile with the honeysuckle near our hotel 
Barcelona is one of the most visited cities in the world, and with good reason. There's so much to see and do that's unique. The richness and the hugeness overwhelmed me and Stanley, probably because I hadn't prepared as thoroughly as I should have. I had been to Barcelona already—eighteen years before!—so that meant I knew my way around. Ha ha. 

In spite of my bungling, we enjoyed ourselves at four enchanted places I've never been to before. We started with Montjuïc, mainly because we'd read The Shadow of the Wind together and it sounded fascinating. 

Montjuïc is one of many peaks in the city and the name tells me it was the Jewish Quarter in the Middle Ages. Now, among other things, it has a castle and an enormous park with paths and little restaurants, and because you can get there by funicular, that's what we did. 

You could see the Sagrada Família from just about anywhere, it seemed. 
The city looked more vast the higher up we got. A couple of ladies from Scotland were in the car with us, and one of them insisted she would never look at the views. I sympathized that it's ridiculous to voluntarily dangle oneself hundreds of feet in the air in a rocking capsule that feels as if it will snap free of its moorings with the next breeze, but I was with my true love! What else mattered? I wasn't going to miss those views! 

It was a gorgeous day. 
The monument to the sardana, the Catalan dance par excellence 
We took the funicular all the way to the castle at the top of Montjuïc. I thought that from there, we could easily access the other attractions. We found out the exhausting way that yes, you can reach the other attractions, but "easily" is not in the cards for someone who hasn't done her research. In my memory, we spent about forty hours wandering, hot, sweaty, and thirsty, before we found someone who gave us a map of the mount and instructions for taking a bus where we wanted to go. 

The building of my childhood desire
Photo by Jessica Knauss 
The epic journey made finding the National Museum of Catalan Art all the more meaningful. I had a poster in my childhood bedroom with a photo of this building that mysteriously read, "SPAIN." Where? What? Why? I wondered and wondered (this was before the internet) for ten years or more. And now I was going inside that building, only to find that it contains some of the most wonderful things ever produced in the world of art. 

Countess Llúcia of Pallar, the noble lady who donated the money for this altarpiece,
has been immortalized in the painting. She looks like a Seven Noble Knights character for sure. 
It has a modern section, sure. But most of the collection is medieval. (Can you see the fairy dust around that word?) During the age of the American philanthropist (early twentieth century), Catalan art conservators made it their mission to save unique art that was at severe risk both of crumbling under the elements and of being carted off by rich American collectors. The result is the biggest, and dare I say, the richest collection of Romanesque art in the world. 

They preserved entire apses of churches. This is part of the masterpiece, 
Sant Clement de Taüll, c. 1123. 
I love Romanesque art. The style was produced all over Europe in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. When the Gothic style swept through, you can bet there were a lot of Romanesque casualties. It would be like a contractor today demolishing a 1960s concrete brutalist structure to make way for whatever the latest steel-and-glass high-rise style is today. You can hardly find this stuff anywhere. If I happened to find a Romanesque piece in a museum—and you can be sure it would be a single piece—I would always linger with it the longest for its rarity and its elegant execution. 

The Lapidation of St. Stephen from Sant Joan de Boí
Stanley's question: "Why are they throwing bread loaves?" 
So my head exploded. I'd had no idea that was what was in the National Museum of Catalan Art—otherwise, you can bet I would've returned to Barcelona much sooner. How could I take all this home with me? Only in pictures. These give the barest hint of the wonder of being there. My sweet husband followed me around for hours (seemed like a few minutes to me), dazed and amused and taking photos of anything I asked him to and often without need for a request. I asked him if he was enjoying himself, if there was something he'd rather do, if he never wanted to see another medieval picture or sculpture again, and he assured me he was fine with all of it, as long as it made me happy. The whole trip is a monument to his easygoing happiness.

A whole chapel! 
There was so much left to see in the museum that we ditched our downtown plans for the next day and returned. This time I merely visited my pal, the Romanesque wing, and wandered in the smaller but just as lovely Gothic section and through the twentieth century floor.

Close up of an altar frontal from Sant Martí de Gia,
in which St. Martin repudiates the devil on his deathbed.
Thirteenth century. The artist signed his work! 
Saints and beasts and seraphim, oh my! Twelfth century. 
I'm still not sure why I, with my training in medieval studies, was not aware of the National Museum of Catalan Art with all its medieval Catalan glory. I am now, and that's what matters.

Stanley and I in Cantabria? No, it's the Poble Espanyol! 
It was all so lovely, I didn't know where to look. 
We spent the rest of that day at an attraction on Montjuïc that felt like the contents of my head brought into reality. The Poble Espanyol (Spanish Village) was constructed as a world's fair type of exhibition. I knew this, and I expected it to be kind of cardboard and superficial. But no, it's nothing if not thorough. These are architecturally exact replicas of specific buildings from all the distinct regions of Spain. Later, in Morella, we actually recognized a building whose replica we'd seen here!

Andalucía, right? Nope. El Poble Espanyol. 
We ate, wandered, saw art, had ice cream. The concentration of so many of the beauties of the Iberian Peninsula in one space amazed me. You could practically take Spain with you in your pocket. Why would you need to visit the rest of the peninsula when it's all right here? Yes, it's a tourist trap, but if I were ever condemned to live in a tourist trap, I would choose the Poble Espanyol. We rested in the shade of an Andalusian plaza and I was filled with nostalgia. We weren't planning to head to Andalucía on this trip. "Are we really in Barcelona?" I had to ask.

Mt. Tibidabo (also mentioned a lot in The Shadow of the Wind) in the far back,
on the scenic route to Park Güell. 
When we got back to the hotel that night, we came to a reluctant realization that the next day was our last in Barcelona. Time to pull away from Montjuïc and do something else I'd never done before: visit Park Güell. For this, I was half prepared. I'd poked around online, looking for an easy way to get there without too much walking or a high taxi fare. I found step-by-step instructions to more or less go in the back door. I carried the printout in front of me for the entire journey, which involved secret metro stops and hidden escalators. It was so cloak-and-dagger, we thought we might get led into some kind of traveler's trap, but it ended up being 100 percent reliable.

Park Güell was designed by the famous Antoni Gaudí as a gated residential community for Barcelona's upper crust. The development failed and only a few buildings came into being, but I think most people agree it's better this way. Through the back door, there were just a few people, a normal day at a city park, and we enjoyed the unique design elements, the plants, and the buskers.

As we progressed downhill, so did the experience. The crowds started to swarm, and the big blow came when we learned you have to pay eight Euros to hang around in the Monumental Zone. I'd seen references to the Monumental Zone in the brief research I'd done. I hadn't realized it referred the the famous spot with all the tilework—where everyone wants to be, to put it bluntly.

The part everyone thinks of. 
Stanley took great offense at the high price and the long lines and we decided it wasn't worthwhile. We'd been happier above, when it was just a city park.

Plaça Catalunya from the Corte Inglés 
After a few moments of frustration, we got on a city bus that took us past amazing sights like Casa Milà and Casa Batllò, but nevertheless seemed as if it would never end. It ended up in the Plaça Catalunya, and I got to show Stanley a little bit of the Rambla. The first time I stayed in Barcelona, my hotel was just off the Rambla, in the middle of everything.

I still admire Antoni Gaudí and his park, but there was nothing in the world that I hated more than seeing Stanley disappointed—he never asked for very much!—so the day ended with a sense of defeat. I resolved to never plan a big city sojourn so poorly again. I would get a real idea of crowds and fees and avoid them like the plague. I would make note of all the inexpensive places to eat food Stanley liked so as to never be stranded. I would hire a chariot to drive us from place to place with no worries.

Barcelona, I'm not done with you. Be ready, because next time I will be! 

A sad piece of evidence I've run across while looking through these memories (skip if sad is not your thing): Our first night in Barcelona, Stanley requested we go to a pharmacy for more ibuprofen. It was only the fourth day of our journey, and I had packed more than enough pain reliever pills for two weeks for two healthy adults even if they were walking miles and miles a day—and he had already used up all those pills. 

I was too busy interpreting for Stanley as he made his request at the parafarmacia (which could not sell us ibuprofen like a farmacia could, only aspirin) to comprehend how outlandish the situation was. When I say Stanley was not one to complain, that doesn't begin to describe it. Just over two months from the date of his quest for more pain relief, it was revealed that he had Stage IV lung cancer that had entirely blocked his right lung and metastasized to all his vertebrae, down to his tailbone. 

The most he ever said, later, in June, was that his neck felt stiff. 

That evening, the parafarmacista asked what he wanted the pills for. Did he have a headache? 

"Something like that," he replied. 

I want to say something profound here, but I think you can sense how haunting those words are to me already. End sad segment. 

Had we had an email, a phone call, a text, a telegram from Manolo García? Not yet, not yet, became our litany of the evening. Even more than I, Stanley never gave up hope. 

Catch up with the rest of the posts in this series here