Madrid to Barcelona – 12/10/14

Took the Metro from Plaza del Sol to Atocha Renfe station for the train to Barcelona. A little tortilla hispania with cafe con leche in the station, then a 3-hour ride across the countryside.

Hola, Barcelona! Reached Placa Catalunya, at the top of the famed Ramblas street/pedestrian walk to the sea. So many statues and fountains in the plaza – and an indoor skating rink.

And just a block down the Ramblas, our Hotel Continental – pink room, with a balcony on the Ramblas. And a 24-hour buffet with wine, beer, pastry, ice cream, snacks, and bigger breakfast selection. Great value, perfect location, if a little noisy in the wee hours.

Time to explore Barri Gotic, the most historic neighborhood. Followed Rick Steves’ self-guided walk. Started along the Portal de l’Angel street, now a busy Newbury-Street-style upscale shopping district, which leads to a plaza with a 17th century public water fountain. Note the blue & yellow tile showing a woman carrying water jugs, so the illiterate will know it’s a fountain – which still works.  Then on to Placa Nova, flanked by two ancient Roman guard towers. One tower still has a chunk of aqueduct. And across from the Roman ruins, a Picasso! What a city! Through the square, now crowded with booths of Christmas vendors, we reach the 14th century gothic Cathedral, with statues, gargoyles.

Next stop – the Casa de l’Ardiaca (archives), an old mansion, fountain, tiles, carved mailbox, and 100-year-old palm tree. Plus a roof-top view.

On we go – to the Martyrs statue honoring 5 Barcelonans who resisted Napoleon’s invasion. The schoolyard and church showing bomb damage from the Civil War (Barcelona was fiercely anti-Franco).

Next we reach El Call, the very narrow streets of the middle-ages Jewish Quarter, before the expulsion of 1492. And the tiny synagogue, rediscovered and restored in the 1980s from tax records! Lovely tour guide who moved to Barcelona from Russia gave us the history. She said that while the area was called El Call (meaning narrow passage), the name may have come from the Hebrew Kahal (community, congregation). The glass mosaic Jewish star marks the mehitza, the divider between the men’s section and the women’s balcony – but the women’s area is now part of another shop/apartment.

Walk through more streets to Placa de Sant Jaume, the government center with City Hall and the Catalonian government building. And a massive nativity scene in the middle of the square. It’s also a site for marches and protests – we saw two in 4 days! This square had been the Forum during Roman times – so we went to see the 4 columns remaining from the Temple of Augustus, and then the archeological excavations in the Barcelona History Museum. They found Roman houses, wine-making factory, and laundry!

Finally heading back towards Placa Catalunya, enjoying the lights.

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