Friday, September 26, 2014

Five Fun Facts About Barcelona

Battló House (with the spire)

 ” Allow me to state here how much I 
love Barcelona , an admirable city, a 
city full of life, intense, a port open 
to the past and future ”
~ Le Corbusier

 Mike's wanted to go back to Barcelona since we went there seven years ago.  For our 30th anniversary, we took on a cruise that ended in Barcelona, and we just happened to be there for Feste de la Mercé. I had chosen that particular cruise because I'd majored in Spanish and, while I lived in Mexico for a summer semester, I had never gone to Spain. Mike really enjoyed Barcelona and the Mercé, and he wanted to experience it again.

When I was planning my summer in Bologna, Mike suggested that instead of coming to Italy, we go to Barcelona.

"You want to see Spain," he said to me. 

"I *wanted* to see Spain," I replied.  Long story short, we compromised.  I went to Bologna, and then we went to Spain. It turned out to be less expensive for him to fly to Bologna first, so that's why he joined me in Italy before we went to Barcelona.

I thought I'd pass along five facts you might not know about Barcelona.

Sagrada Familia
 1. The most popular tourist attraction in Barcelona is the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia (above and below).  Designed by Antoni Gaudi, the Sagrada Familia is still not complete.  Work started in 1883, and when Gaudi died in 1926, it was not even 25% complete.  In 2010, about 50% of the work was done, and Pope Benedict consecrated it as a basilica. (Side note: A basilica differs from a cathedral in that a cathedral is the "seat" of a bishop.)  Work is contingent on private donations and fees for touring the church.  The contractors hope to finish the entire project by 2026-28.  To give you some idea of its size, it is  300 feet in length by 200 feet in width (The nave is 150 feet wide.), and the tallest of the 18 spires (Only eight are currently complete.) will be more than 550 feet high.

Gaudi, who also designed the renovation of the Batlló house (top photo), died after being hit by a street car.

Sagrada Familia

2. After Spain colonized the Americas in the 17th century, they brought cocoa to Europe.  Chocolate as a beverage was so important in most of Spain that Spaniards drank more of it than coffee.  One popular breakfast item in Barcelona is churros with chocolate.  While churros are not necessarily Spanish (Think 'Mexico.'), dipping them in molten chocolate is popular.  Also popular is hot drinking chocolate which is nothing like hot chocolate in the states.  Instead of milk flavored with chocolate powder, think of how a melted, dark chocolate bar would be.

Boqueria chocolate
 In La Boqueria, there are a number of stands that sell all kinds of chocolate (above).  Considering they are a tourist trap, I'm not sure how good their chocolate is.  I preferred Chök, the pastry shop about which I wrote the other day.

Low-foam cappuccino
 3. While coffee has caught on in Barcelona, it's not really very good. Of course, I'm pretty prejudiced as I prefer Italian coffee, but Mike even agreed with me.  I ordered a cappuccino one morning (above), and I swear the barista blew bubbles in the milk before he poured it into the espresso.

Awful foam

"I don't get why people like foam," Mike says way too many times.  "It doesn't taste like anything." I always roll my eyes because I'm a cappuccinolier (a sommelier of cappuccino).

"Actually," I always reply, "a good foam is flavorful."

"What does it taste like?" he finally asked me the other day. 

"Warm whipped cream," I answered.

"I think they put something extra in your cappuccino," he replied. 

I wish.

Sign in Catalan
 4. Barcelona is part of Cataluña. The official language in Cataluña is Catalan, not Spanish, although everyone does speak both. The first time we were in Barcelona, I saw a lot of Spanish signs. This year, I saw very few.

Three days before we arrived, people held a huge demonstration in Barcelona requesting a referendum on independence from Spain. It was so large that the US State Department sent us a notice that the demonstration was going to happen and that we should stay away if we were in town at that time.  (Side note;  I always register with the State Department when we go out of the country so that, in a crisis or emergency, they know we are somewhere.)

Sardana, Catalan folk dance
When Franco was dictator, he forbid the use of regional languages and the celebration of regional customs. A lot of that was due to the fact that the people of Cataluña fought so hard against him.  When he died, they brought back the dances, the festivals, and the language.

"How are you doing with the Spanish and Italian?" Mike asked me last week.

"How do I know?" I snipped.  "With the Catalan thrown in, my head is constantly whirling."

If you're interested in seeing a Catalan folk dance, click here and here.  The first is the Sardana (photo above).  The second is the Bastoner, a dance done with sticks.


5.  There are over 20 Starbucks in the city center of Barcelona. Since I had been in one in almost two months, we headed to one the morning after we arrived in Barcelona.  The coffee there did not taste the same.

"Does this taste right to you?" Mike wanted to know.

"It tastes like brown water."  I was glad  it was hot, though since that morning was pretty cool.  "I might be too used to Italian coffee now, though."

"In a way, maybe," he said, "but I don't think it tastes right."

Just like home

Imagine my surprise when I saw that Starbucks was serving AMERICAN pancakes (above). I walked over to the counter to see what they looked like (below).

"Their pancakes are probably worse than their coffee," I told Mike.  "They look like toaster pancakes."

Toaster pancakes

One Starbucks is located in a historic building in the Barri Gotic, the old Gothic district of the city.  We went to that one two or three times, and Mike waved to passers-by.  He finally got a few people to wave back.

"I think they were so annoyed they decided they had to wave back just to get me to stop," he said.

That guy from Las Vegas is a friendly fellow.

He is something else, I tell you.  People are probably still talking.

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