Over a year ago, we had booked a trip to Barcelona, but had to cancel it. We decided to rebook it for November 2008, but with a short side trip to Rome. With American Airlines’ policy of allowing triangle and open jaw use of frequent flyer miles, it’s like getting a second trip “free”.
We began our two-city visit with Rome, which we had previously visited over a decade ago. The images of Roman ruins, historical monuments, and exquisite art stayed with us, as did the unsurpassable food. Our familiarity allowed us to concentrate on just a few highlights during our short 4-day visit.
The joy of Rome (especially when the weather is good, which it miraculously was while we were there) is the art and history that infuses every vista. On our first day we just wandered, and within a few hours had taken in the Trevi fountain, the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, the Pantheon, and uncountable other fountains, amazing palazzos and ruins.
The Trevi Fountain would be awe-inspiring even if one had never seen all the movies that feature it so prominently. We sat for quite awhile with throngs of tourists from all over the world, just taking it in, The Roman Forum is more than just a collection of well-preserved ruins. The entire of foundation of western civilization is based on Rome, and its influence was so powerful and everlasting that its language, military strategy, literature, art, and architecture are still at the root of much of modern practices. Yes, they took much of their art and architecture from Greece, but during their conquests, they infused their culture throughout the known world. We were awed standing in the place where Julius Caesar was assassinated, where Mark Anthony spoke, where the Roman Army erected arches to memorialize their triumphs over an ever-expanding empire. Walking through the Forum and Palatine in the sunshine (yes, we had good weather in November!) was a highlight.
And what can be said about Italian food that hasn’t been said a million times? Suffice to say we had wine with every delicious meal, daily gelati and fresh pasta, and enough tiramisu to make sure we don’t need to eat more for the rest of the year!
After AA had changed our schedules for the umpteenth time, we decided to forfeit the “free” connecting flight between Rome and Barcelona, – which would have taken 5 hours and a stopover in Madrid, and booked Clickair’s nonstop Rome-Barcelona flight for 35 Euros each. Flawless service, though the seats were built for people much shorter than Phil. It was a survivable short flight though.
Neither of us had been to Barcelona before and we were both looking forward to tapas and pinchos (Basque-influenced hors d’oeuvres), the architecture of Gaudi and moderisme, and the Cuitat Vela’s mediaeval charm.
Barcelona is built on the small Roman city of Barcino, and Roman ruins are found throughout the area. One museum is built on the ruins of a market, and offers a tour through the remarkably well-preserved ‘block’ excavated in its basement.
The most remarkable thing about Barcelona is the architecture. The most striking style is the modernisme of Gaudi and his contemporaries. Similar to Art Nouveau, this form emphasizes organic lines and surfaces, flowing forms, and what seemed to be drug-induced applied ornamentation. The Sagrada Familia church is a good example of the otherworldly feel of the building. Other architects of his time also added modernisme elements to their buildings – and the city’s rapid expansion period coincided with this style’s popularity. In the “newer” part of the city, Eixample, modernisme-influenced buildings were everywhere. We took a tour of the interior of one of Gaudi’s creations, the Casa Batlló. The man was obsessive about detail, and although known as a Catholic ascetic, we believe his creations reflect the use of powerful mind-altering substances.
Part of the city (Cuitat Vela) was largely constructed during the city’s medieval period. The alleys are narrow, and the streets seem to wind aimlessly. We explored the former Jewish section as well as the entire area around the Cathedral, which was once surrounded by the original Roman city walls. We specialized in getting lost, and the poor tourist maps rarely helped. But each corner held new Gothic architectural gems, so we had no complaints.
The primary language of Barcelona is Catalan, which is primarily a Romance language. But despite this fact, it was fairly unintelligible to us. Spanish (Castellano) was ubiquitous, and many people spoke English. The city was packed with tourists from throughout Europe, and Las Ramblas seemed to be filled with tourists enjoying the bird markets, flower markets, and human statues.
Following the advice of friends, before we left the USA, we bought tickets to a concert at the Palau de Musica Catalanawww.palaumusica.org. The concert, featuring the Moldovan National Symphony, was good and the surroundings extraordinary – this has to be one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world.
Rome: Fellini B&B Inn. Excellent location a few blocks from Barbarini Metro station and the Trevi Fountain, and surprisingly quiet. Wonderful breakfasts, free wifi on the upper floor (breakfast room). The staff couldn’t have been sweeter.www.fellinibnb.com
Barcelona: We stayed at VRBO #127621, offered by EasySleep Barcelona. VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) has provided us with excellent apartments all over the planet. The location, amenities, and proximity of this apartment to the metro were superb. They had free wifi, a full kitchen, and the cost was very reasonable.
Clickair.com – like Easyjet and Ryanair, the travel sites don’t list these airlines’ flights. To find who flew where, I took a look at the Barcelona airport departures/arrivals listing.
Restaurante Siempreviva, Barceloneta – Barcelona is known for haute cuisine and superb restaurants. We stumbled on a great little seafood restaurant on the waterfront on Joan de Borbo. Their paella and the mussels were rich and well prepared, the service was excellent, and the prices were very reasonable.
Cal Pep Restaurant – www.calpep.com, Barcelona. Obviously in many tour books, Cal Pep specializes in large tapas of seafood. The seating area is tiny, and the wait was about ½ hour, but it was worth it.