Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Barcelona - Parc de la Ciutadella (Park series 1)

This is my favourite park in Barcelona. It has lots of space to put your blanket down and enjoy the sun, there are lots of interesting buildings, lots of activities and lots of things to explore. Let’s look at these in detail.

Lots of space to put your blanket down
I was surprised to discover that this is not true of all the parks. For example in Parc Guell, it is not possible to do this as it is on the side of a hill so there are no flat bits. Even in the Parc Joan Miro, there are lots of benches all around but no grassy bits. Ciutadella has plenty of grass to enjoy.

Lots of interesting buildings
Unfortunately I don’t know what the purpose of the buildings is as even though there is a little description about them it’s in Catalan, not even in Spanish so the chances of understanding them is small. My favourite nevertheless is the House of the Tree Dragons. It is a very cool looking building and it makes me wonder how it got its name.

Lots of activities
The park is full of wide paths so people can stroll, run or cycle around, with green bits in the middle and on the side where there are usually classes held, for example yoga or zumba. Both the locals and tourists like this park so you can hear many different languages during a walk.

Lots of things to explore
There is a little lake where you can hire a boat and it’s full of ducks.

There are little fountains with white statues, some of them secluded from the rest of the park.

The Barcelona Zoo can also be found here. I’ve never been inside as I don’t like zoos as a principle but there’s a big climbable mammoth not far from the entrance that always has people trying to get on it. Apparently there’s a steel cat somewhere as well but I haven’t seen that one yet.

And of course the fountain, the Cascada, the pride of the park. It’s just simply amazing. It was commissioned by Josep Fontsère and he was assisted by Gaudi, who was a student at that time. It is full of fantastic creatures, they are all white and on the top there’s a golden chariot pulled by four horses. It’s all very grand and imaginative. I never fail to be impressed by it. My favourites are the dragons at the front.

It’s a very lovely park. If you’ve had enough of the hustle and bustle of the city, just come here and relax. It’s on the Av. del Marquès de l'Argentera. Don’t forget to look out for the wild parrots!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Barcelna - Palau de la Musica

As it has been raining all weekend long we looked at things to do indoors. On Friday we went to a Flamenco night, on Saturday we went to an art exhibition at the Casa Batllo, one of Gaudi's famous houses, with an ulterior motive. We just wanted to see the building from inside and it was free to get into it with the exhibition tickets. It didn’t work out though. I was hoping the art things will be on the top of the building so we can see it but they were in the bottom of Casa Batllo so we didn’t see anything. It was worth a try.

Today I suggested visiting the Palau de la Musica. I have heard so much about how beautiful this building is and how amazing the acoustics are inside so I really wanted to see it. The tickets for the guided tour were 17 euros per person and there was a concert that evening for 27 euros that I quite liked so we bought tickets for that instead.

The building from the outside is very impressive. You cannot miss it as there are always many tourists taking photos of it. For some reason it was built on a thin road so there is no space to fully admire the architecture however it still looks very impressive.

The building inside is simply jaw-dropping. Our tickets were for the very top and I tripped on the way up at least three times as I was watching the ceiling and the walls instead of where I put my feet.

The performance was great. I chose this show as they were all popular classical pieces. We listened to the Sheherezade, Romeo and Julia, Bolero, just to name a few.

During the break I left Paul and went to explore the concert hall. Apparently the building was financed by the general public and was built by many Catalan architects. The main objective was to enhance the acoustics as much as they could to make it the best place for listening to music. They put great effort into the design in the style of modernism but they made sure that it didn’t detract in any way from the acoustics.

The walls on both sides of the building and on the ceiling are adorned with stained glass windows letting in lots of natural light.

The most famous part of the concert hall is the stained glass window on the ceiling. Let me quote Wikipedia for this: “The concert hall of the Palau, which seats about 2,200 people, is the only auditorium in Europe that is illuminated during daylight hours entirely by natural light. The walls on two sides consist primarily of stained-glass panes set in magnificent arches, and overhead is an enormous skylight of stained glass designed by Antoni Rigalt whose center piece is an inverted dome in shades of gold surrounded by blue that suggests the sun and the sky.”

At the back of the stage there are the statues of 18 women, all playing different instruments. We found them curious as half of them were protruding out of the wall but the other half are made of colourful mosaic.

Some other pics from around the hall.

Even though I hate this word I still have to use it and say that the Palace of Catalan Music is a must-see, even if only from inside. There are many kinds of concerts on offer and they are not all in the evening. Have a look, maybe you can find something interesting, too. Here’s their website. 

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Barcelona - My first Flamenco experience

My language school organised a Flamenco event for this week and I thought as I’ve never seen it live it would be a good chance to do it.

It was quite hard to find the place, it is on a residential street where you would never expect to find a Flamenco school.

It had two little rooms, one where they teach and one at the back where the actual performances are. It was a little room full of tiny chairs and a candle to give light. To be honest, it did not look very serious.

We sat down and waited for the show. There were only about twenty of us to watch the show so it seemed very intimate. We were sitting in the middle but as nobody was in front of us, we could see everything close up.

Two men came in, one had the flamenco guitar and the other one was the singer and the show started. It was so different to everything I’ve heard before and these people were obviously artists. They were watching and reacting to each other hinting that they have been working together for a long time.

More people came in later, one sat down on a box that I thought was an amplifier but turned out to be a drum (!), the other one was clapping and then the last one started to dance. I’m not going to tell you how amazing they were, see it for yourself.

By the time the dancer finished he was covered in sweat. They all give everything in whatever part they are playing. 

We had a 15 min break when others asked for a drink and we went to explore the room next door with Paul. We found some interesting things.

After the break we went back for the second part of the show. Us foreigners just watched with our jaws dropped but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there’s a part of it that we are completely missing. The few Spanish girls in the audience seemed to be actually part of the performance. They clapped the rhythm together with the musicias and when the passion ran high they clapped louder and said ‘ole’ when one of the performers did something especially great. I’m not sure I can put it into words properly but it seemed to me that while we were just spectators they actually understood the depth of the performance.
Here’s the finale.

I can definitely say that the experience was incredible. These guys looked like they just walked in from the street and they showed us something that has decades of practice behind. There were no flashy dresses, no stylish outfits and flowers that the tourists usually expect and get, it was just Flamenco. But somehow it brought the dance and the music closer to us and showed the passion in a purer form.

We’re very glad we saw these guys and if you’d like to see them as well, they perform there every Friday on Carrer de Progres, 38, Gracia. Here’s their website. Go and check them out! 

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Barcelona - The green parrots of Barcelona

Whenever you go to one of Barcelona’s parks you will see these little green birds. You can hear them chirping from far away and they are looking for food on the ground together with the pigeons. They look very exotic and tourists often take photos of them, just like I did. They simply make people smile.

There are two stories about them. One of them says that about 20 years ago they escaped from the zoo but liked it in the parks so much that they decided to stay.
Another story says that they were very popular pets in the 70’s but as they are very noisy the owners let them out and the population of 50 has quickly become 2000, and then more.

Whichever story is true they are actually a big problem here in Spain. They are not only in Barcelona but also in Madrid, Tarragona and had even spread on the Balearic Islands.

They are VERY noisy and eat everything that they see causing a lot of problems for farmers. They are also threatening the other native bird spices. There is a very good BBC article about them here