Catedral de Santa Maria del Mar

As you may know from Alan's blog, on thursday night we went out with his class to a Basque tapas bar in the Born area of the city, near Barceloneta. Since we hadn't been to the area, we decided to leave home early and explore it a bit before meeting the others at the bar. I specifically wanted to visit the cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar.

Santa Maria del Mar

The first written reference to a church of Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona dates to the late 10th century. The basilica, as it stands today, dates to the 14th century (my period!!) and I have to confess I found it the most beautiful church I've ever been to. 

 I think the TMB (Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona) describe it best: "Designed by the architect Berenguer de Montagut in the mid-14th century, it contains three naves, all of which are of almost the same height, separated by pillars, extraordinary spatial proportions which turn it into a unique building. It was the church in which the shipowners and merchants of Romanesque & gothic Barcelona worshipped."

The first stone was laid down by Berenguer in 1329 to mark the conquest of Sardinia by Jaume the Conqueror, which completed the conquest of the Mediterranean initiated by the conquest of Mallorca 10 years prior. The domain of the House of Barcelona would extend to Greece and Sicily in the 14th century.

The sense of space in this church is unbelievable. It is one, very big, open space. All the previous gothic cathedrals I've been to were very impressive, very tall and certainly had gorgeous stained glass windows but somehow I've always felt they were a bit stuffy. Somehow, the proportions in this church give you the feeling of lightness and space so sought by medieval builders.

One of the reasons I wanted to visit the cathedral was the book La Catedral del Mar by Ildefonso Falcones. It's a historical fiction set in the fourteenth century about the building of the cathedral. It was released at the beginning of the year and it's in its 6th edition already. A huge success. I was looking for a historical fiction book set in medieval Spain and this one could not have been more appropriate. I'm sure I'll cringe at all the historically inacurate bits but hey, it's just fiction… Note about the next picture – it's a very modern stained glass window. I wonder if it is replacing some of the ones broken during the civil war… I LOVE it and hope to find out more about it.

* Remember that you can see larger version of these pictures (or download them) – and a few more – through the Flickr link on the right side of this page…


Another beautiful day…

Every wednesday the Spanish class is devoted to conversation. No need to bring books; all we do is discuss some topic and play games. Last week we talked about work and our previous experiences with job interviews. Obviously, Anika, the German MBA student, and Antonio, the Portuguese businessman, had had several complicated interview experiences and could relate. I personally found the topic mildly boring and in the end we somehow ended up in a heated argument over working mothers. But more on that later.

The teacher has said we may discuss things that annoy us in Barcelona. I've been trying to make a mental list but haven't come up with much beyond the fact that restaurants only open for dinner at 9 pm. I could deal with 8 but 9 is a bit late for dinner during the week. Oh well, I'll just have to stick with lunch. Not unwise since you can usually get a lunch menu – first plate, second plate, dessert, bread, coffee & wine – in a reasonable restaurant for about 7-8 euros. But I digress. The point of this post was to share with you that the temperature is currently 21 degrees (70 F), I'm wearing a skirt for the first time this season and this is the view from my window:

Looking left from our balcony Looking right

Looking across:

Beautiful early-20th-c buildings

At last but not least – this is what the sky looked like when I woke up:

weather forecast

Now, how can I have anything bad to say of a city that wakes me up in the morning this way and has such amazing weather forecasts??? Friday, vamos a la playa for sure!!!

Archive of the Crown of Aragon


I was looking for the directions on how to get to the archives this morning and found a picture of the old building. Isn't it nice? I wish the archives were still there…
Apparently, it's one of the few renassaince  buildings in Barcelona. A shame it's closed. The local newspaper says of the restoration work that "hay obras que 'duran más que las de la Sagrada Família.'" For those of you who don't know  building of the Sagrada Familia has been going on for decades and it's supposed to take at least another 40 years.

April 23rd – Sant Jordi

As many of you may or may not know (I didn't!), St George is the patron saint of Catalonia. In fact, the little community of Montblac, near Tarragona, claims to be the spot where the famous saint killed the dragon. See more info here.

As UNESCO's Day of the Book and the day Cervantes died (and Shakespeare for all that matter), here in Barcelona, Sant Jordi is also known as Dia del llibre i la rosa (day of the book and the rose). Traditionally, Barcelonins give each other a book and rose today and every major street of the city was packed with book and flower stalls. Actually, men would get a book and women a rose but in today's society everybody gets both.
Stall near home Books galore

All the books were 10% off – not enough of a discount in my opinion to warrant braving through the mass of people to get one – and it was fun walking around and seeing the people and the colours.

Crowds everywhere Roses...

[For more photos of Sant Jordi and other trips, click on the Flickr image on right hand corner of this page and you'll be brought to my photo page – you'll also be able to see larger versions of the images I put here]

After walking all the way down Passeig de Gracia and up Rambla Catalunya, we made our way to the little Pl. de Rius i Taulet in the lovely Gracia neighbourhood. We sat down in an outside terrace, had some wine, beer, tapas, and watched the kids play in the square and the people walk by.

These two were too cute. They kept running around and making the pigeons fly. They got along so well, I thought they were related. But in the end of the afternoon, the little guy said goodbye to his little girlfriend and she blew him a kiss. Too funny.

Cool guitar shop on the way home

All in all, another great weekend. I took a lot of neat (I think) pictures at the old town yesterday but I used my film camera, so it will take a few days before I can have them up here. Stay tuned.

Finally a decent paella

It's Friday night and after a succesful week in terms of working out we decided to go out for dinner. Right next door to our building, on number 264-266 (we live on 268) of C/ Rosselló is Can Pere, a family restaurant with a good reputation for paellas and Catalan cuisine. Since we were tired and didn't want to stray far, we decided to give it a try. We went downstairs at 8:30 pm but that was too early – restaurant only opened at 9 pm. We tried again at 9:15 and got a table. We had a Amanida Catalana (Catalan salad) to start – a fresh mix of lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, slices of Catalan sausages, olives and cheese. We then had the paella, which was only served for two. 

Let me open a parenthesis here to add that Alan had already experienced paella here and was very disappointed. During our first trip to the old city we found ourselves hungry and in a little square filled with restaurants aimed at the tourist crowd. They all offered the same menu of pasta, pizza and paellas. It looked pretty artificial to me so I told Alan it was best to avoid the paella there. He didn't listen and had what we now call a "tourist-trap paella". It was indeed pretty bad and he decided he didn't care much for the dish. We've since seen the exact same sign for the paella he had in that restaurant in several other touristy spots and we've decided that it must be some sort of mass-produced paella sold to restaurants across town. Maybe frozen paella??

Tonight he decided to give it one last shot in a place that looked legitimate enough – the lack of english menus was a good sign – and we were not disappointed. The seafood (different kinds of shrimps, baby lobster, mussels, oysters, etc) was very fresh and the rice al-dente and well seasoned. We followed it with a flan de la casa and a cortado and more or less rolled home. Alan's bad impression of paellas was succesfully erased. 

Next week we are going for tapas with his class. I'll let you know how that goes.

Milan 0 x 1 Barcelona

Wooooohoooo!!!! My first Barcelona game in a packed smoky bar in this city of football lovers and Barça won!!!!!!!!! The match was really exciting and the energy in the bar was something else. We figured we would get there early to get a good seat but unfortunately the rest of the neighbourhood had the same idea.

A couple sitting by themselves in a table for  4 invited us to sit with them and we had a good time. The wife left when the came started – she alleged her nerves wouldn't stand it – but the daughter joined us. Turns out she used to study history and now does art history – medieval art history!! What a small world… Her dad told me he really likes medieval history too and after I told him what I study I got a little speech about how "la reina Isabella" was "muy mala" because she kicked out the Jews and that Ferdinando was "tonto" for allowing her to do it. Very amusing. Alan even got into a little discussion about politics – basically on Canada's relationship with Bush. 

 All in all, a great night. Can't wait for world cup… But before then, Barcelona plays again this coming sunday. Força Barça!!!!

Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau

Standing on a 45 degree angle from the surrounding Eixample grid system, this hospital was built by Domènech i Muntaner based on the notion that aesthetic harmony and pleasant surroundings were good for the health. He certainly did a good job. The red brick buildings are stunning, marked by a combination of colourfull tiles that accentuates its walls and roof, and the occasional mosaic, such as those depicting SS. Cosma & Damian (shown below).

Roof detail

A hallway

The beauty of the surroundings, the quietness, only heightened my awareness that this is still a working hospital, marked by all the quiet sadness, hope and despair that such buildings often conjure. The ambulances, the doctors in white gowns, the odd patient sitting outside carrying a fluid flask, all erase the impression that this is a mere tourist destination. Suddenly I felt I was invading their privacy.

After the visit to the hospital we walked down Av. Gaudi – a nice tree-lined (what street in Barcelona is not tree-lined??) boulevard with a central promenade and sprinkled liberally with little cafes and shops. We stopped for a hot chocolate at Mora, a local chocolaterie and patisserie. Like in Paris, a hot chocolate in Barcelona is not your usual milk chocolate either…

Watch how the spoon stands straight up!