Catalonia

Hi everybody! I didn’t blog last night because I was too tired, but I will attempt to fill in all the deets as best I remember them. Yesterday morning after cooking up an awesome hot breakfast again, we headed down to the Travel Bar to get on a free walking tour. This wasn’t with Sandemans, but it was just as good (and also got tips at the end). Our guide was a lovely Irish guy called Duncan and the tour walked us through the Gothic Quarter, which is quite a small part of Barcelona, but the oldest part and the most beautiful in my opinion. It is completely car-free, because all the little winding streets are too small to have cars in them and they wanted to preserve the streets as they were. We saw a lot of beautiful old churches, many in the Gothic-style architecture, and many Catalonian flags. I had no idea of the division between Barcelona and the rest of Spain. It is extreme to the point where a lot of people will claim they aren’t Spanish, they are Catalonian. They won’t speak Spanish and get ticked off when tourists try to speak it. After Duncan explained the history of Spain and Catalonia, it became clearer why the animosity exists. Spain has only been a democracy for about 40 years, and was feudal in the early 20th century. I can’t remember all the details, but the Spanish Civil War is still a sensitive topic for many Spanish and Catalonian citizens and it is best to not mention it. That is what the government has decided to do anyway. We visited Placa de Sant Felip Neri, which had been bombed and used as an execution site during the Civil War, but is a very romantic place nonetheless. (And it has the balcony from ‘Perfume’ in it!). It was full of kids running around, all dressed for carnival. It was so funny to see them all. Stacks of little boys running around dressed as their mums. In Australia, they’d be beaten to a pulp. In Barcelona, everyone was giving them bits of jewellery to add to their costumes. Its a crazy, wonderful, extremely liberal city. We also saw plenty of adults dressed up, as smurfs and other interesting things. Apparently its legal in Barcelona to be completely naked on the street. So in summer you see people cycling up Las Ramblas in their birthday suits.

We we told the story of Santa Eulalia, the patron saint of Barcelona, and a 13-year-old Roman Christian martyr. We stood on the street where she was tortured and saw the church that holds her remains. We walked through the palatial section of the old city, within the walls, and also ducked outside the walls for a bit. Some of the palatial buildings were built using destroyed headstones from the Jewish cemetery and you can still see the inscriptions. It is terribly eerie. They have excavated sections below the city and you can see the original Roman foundations, including some really grand Roman columns. Parts of the walls are still standing as well. We walked through the Jewish section, which was subject to a terrible massacre that sent all the Jews out of Barcelona (those that survived the massacre that is). The section contains the oldest synagogue in Europe (over 1000 years old, and not a synagogue any longer). We saw some wonderful street art scattered all over the shop and learnt about the current political climate – pretty shaky. Due to the euro crashing and the unemployment rate soaring, there are a lot of people becoming homeless and protesting. But it still remains such a vibrant and fun city. We saw the King’s square, where Ferdinand and Isabella would have received Columbus as he came back to tell them he’d discovered the New World. And we saw carvings of two important figures in Barcelona’s history – ‘Hairy Willy’ (Wilfred the Hairy) and St George. We also learnt of the rivalry between Picasso and Miro and Picasso’s later boycott of Spain. We saw the art school where Picasso studied. Apparently the surrounding streets were full of brothels, and this was the inspiration for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, one of his very famous paintings.

We stood in the very centre of Barcelona (they have a little circle with a marking inside it to mark the extreme centre) and we heard about castells. This is a custom exclusive to Catalonia, which involves making enormous human towers. Sometimes they collapse and people get hurt or occasionally die, but it is something so intrinsically Catalonian, that everyone still does it. Catalonia has abolished bullfighting, a further measure to separate themselves from the rest of Spain. After the tour, we all went back to the Travel Bar for discounted drinks and Cara, Sean and I decided to have a meal there as well. We chatted to other people from the tour for a few hours after, including two girls from Taiwan staying at our hostel, then headed back to the hostel for tapas night! For 6 euro, you partake in tapas and sangria, made fresh at the hostel. We helped with the making, and felt very Spanish. Everyone in the hostel sat around and ate and chatted and we met so many cool people. Two sisters from Wisconsin and a teacher from Perth who was living in France came to an Irish Pub with Sean and I and by the time we fell into bed at about 2.30, I was exhausted!

xxxxx

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