Sunday, August 30, 2015


Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia (or Cataluna or any number of other spellings).  We had read books over the years regarding the Catalans but were not sure of the history of this region.  All we knew is that there has been 'bad blood' between the Spanish and the Catalonians for centuries.  And that the languages are very different.  Today I finally remembered to look it up.

If you have any interest in the history of this region, here is a simple yet relatively thorough explanation:

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Festa Major de Gràcia and Font Màgica de Montjuïc

Several of these along the wall at entrance
to Moulin Rouge display.  This one caught
my eye.  The crack in the wall; the untidy
white paint.  Community project.

Street festivals are usually fun regardless of the city.  Virginia on sistership Amel S/V Libertad had read about the Festa Major de Gràcia and suggested we check it out.  This was the final evening of the week long annual festival and we opted to go in the early evening when it might be a bit cooler rather than the heat of the afternoon.  We met up with Virginia and Dennis at the Metro station near our marina.  This was the first time Bill and I had used the subway in Barcelona other than the recent family trip out to Montserrat.  Easy-peasy!  We bought a ToT ticket for 9.95 Euro which allows 10 rides on the subway and can be used by multiple people on each ride.  This evening for the both of us totaled 6 rides; 2 out there, 2 over to the Magic Fountains, and 2 back to the marina area.  Made me think of all those taxi rides when family visited a few weeks ago.  Subways would have been much less expensive but more difficult because of the baby stroller.

Virginia & Dennis, S/V Libertad, with Bill

Maybe we should have attended the festival earlier in the week because much of it was shutting down (or already shut down) by the time we got there.  The decorations were all still in place and there still were crowds, but most of the stages had already shut down and performers gone.  We saw only 1 band perform.  That's okay; there still is one other street festival we hope to attend next weekend where there will be bands and dancing.  And missing out on the street vendor foods was okay too.  Not much into that stuff.

Eiffel Tower constructed of paper tubes

Really liked this shade thing constructed from simple
netting and small plastic water bottles with small
amounts of water with food dye added.  Every
decorated block has something hanging overhead.

Childrens' drums and flames

I had read that there would be the children's drums and flames this evening and we hoped to see that.  Because...what did that mean...'children's drums and flames.'  A bonfire?  


The youngest drummer

It meant children (and adults of all ages) drumming away as they marched down the street in simple costumes, most of which had flames decorating the pants legs or jackets.  I never found out the significance of the flames.  And each group had 1 or more guys carrying either tall staffs with strange decorations or long pitchforks.  Surely there was some significance in these things that the locals understood but it escaped us visitors. 

(I have a short video of the 3 drumming groups but need to find an editing program to make it small enough to fit the requirements of this blog site.  Will try to add it later.)

Who requires a real drum to enjoy the fun!
A Mickey Mouse plastic bucket works just fine.

The obligatory beer.  No street festival is complete
without it.

Could not figure this one out.
This was at one end of block.
A sea monster?
This was overhead after the
sea monster.

According to what I had read online, Festa Major de Gràcia is held mid-August each year; dates are always 15 August to 21 August regardless of days of the week.  The 15th day of August is a public holiday in Spain called Assumption Day.  This festival takes places in the Gràcia district in Barcelona, called a barrio although barrio here does not mean what it connotes in the USA.  
Next were lots of colored balls and
shapes overhead.  Then the DNA
Residents of 18 streets decorated their respective blocks this year. There are hundreds of activities, most of which are for local residents; but tourists and visitors are welcome to the concerts and parades.  As the website stated: the Festa de Gràcia is about Catalan traditions like parades, giants, castle building and fireruns, but most of all it is a shining example of community spirit which also welcomes visitors." 

For what it is work, we saw no 'fireruns' and not sure exactly what those are.

And at the entrance at opposite end of block was this.
Perla means pearl, so that sort of ties in with the
sea monster.  But how does that relate to DNA?
They lost me.

What kind of instrument is this?
Looks like an umbrella handle.

The Japanese block.  They did a nice job making
the cherry blossom tree.

The Gràcia festival is the second biggest of Barcelona's neighborhood street festivals, only surpassed in size and visitor numbers by the Barcelona La Mercè festival which is held annually in late September.  We will miss that one as we should be in Gibraltar about that time. That festival, which officially first took place in 1902 and is held in honor of Mare de Deu de la Mercè, the Patron Saint of Barcelona.  It bids goodbye to the summer with a bang and welcomes in the cooler months of autumn.

Overhead stuff at Japanese block
Around 120,000 people live in the Gràcia district.  The name of this district originates from a Carmelite convent dating bck to 1626, which was called Nostra Senyora de Gràcia (Our Lady of Grace).  Up until 1897 the Vila de Gràcia was a separate village and municipality from Barcelona city.  To get through the fields from Barcelona to Gràcia one traveled on a road called Passeig de Gràcia (passage to Gràcia).  This road still has the same name today and is considered by most people to be Barcelona's most exclusive shopping street.

Sumo Wrestler.  Also had a Geisha Girl
same size.  There were at opposite end of
block from the cherry blossom tree.

In 1897 Gràcia village was annexed to Barcelona.  As the city expanded, Gràcia became surrounded but remained largely intact as the original village.  This explains why it is the oldest barrio with plenty of old world charm despite being in the middle of the modern city of Barcelona.  Gràcia has plenty of narrow streets and many charming plazas; it maintains today an independent and local feeling.  There are no big tourist attractions, not even fast food chains; leaving space for the residents to weave a neighborhood tapestry of bohemian and artistic shops, cafes and restaurants.

The obligatory dragon overhead
In a word, this barrio is charming.  

The music theme street

Paper cellos and musicians

And looking into a shop window
explained why the music theme.
Shops on this street manufacture
violins and cellos, and guitars, etc.

Most unusual shaped
wine glass.

After strolling the streets a few hours we stopped for a pleasant dinner in a small Italian cafe.  Food quality was just okay.  As yet we have eaten no meals in Barcelona that we would consider outstanding or even just very good.  Nothing 'bad' but nothing spectacular.

Next we hopped back on the Metro and went to see the La font Màgica de Montjuïc, the Magic Fountains.  Montjuïc is another district of Barcelona.  And nothing like Gràcia.

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya
Montjuïc district is jam packed with tourists.  All hours of the day and night.  The Magic Fountain is the main feature of the collection of waterfalls and ponds and many smaller fountains on Avinguda Maria Cristina, which stretches from the Palau Nacional (the Catalan National Art Museum) to Plaça Espanya.  This is a spectacular fountain and is very popular. The fountains are one of the major tourist attractions in the area. Tickets can be purchased online to allow one close proximity to the large central fountain.  We did not plan this ahead of time, so we just stood well away.  Close enough for me -- considering how crowded it was!

Magic Fountain in moonlight
The fountain was built for the 1929 World Fair by Carles Buïgas using extremely artisanal methods (traditional; non-mechanized).  Up to 30 water arrangements (patterns) could be displayed with different colors.  Water is pumped through this great fountain at at rate of 685 gallons per second in 3 concentric pools which have a water re-circulation system.  Through its connection the the groundwater network of Montjuïc Mountain, the Magic Fountain and the 3 upper waterfalls are supplied with water coming from below ground level.

Magic Fountain colors

In the 1980s music was added. Shortly before the 1992 Olympics, the Magic Fountain was completely renovated. Despite the renovation, the fountain still has a large part of the original mechanisms.

The only music played to the fountain color changes and water pattern changes that I remember from the night we visited was listening to 'Roar' by Katy Perry.  For whatever reason, every time I heard her 'roar' it brought on a smile.

A better image/video:

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Montserrat (the original, not the island)

View looking up from Montserrat.  We
could see mountain climbers up there.

Okay...I will openly show my stupidity.  Until we visited Madrid and watched a series of places to visit in Spain which was shown on the hotel television, I did not know there was a place called Montserrat in Spain.  I knew only the Caribbean island of Montserrat which is a protected territory of the UK.  We have visited the island of Montserrat 3 times; twice on Windjammer tall ships when it was thriving in the early-to-mid 1980s and once on BeBe in May 2006 after the volcano eruption and relocation of most of the inhabitants.

Here is a link to the blog posting about that last visit:

Sign at church entry at Montserrat

The images on TV of Montserrat, Spain, were breathtaking!  We had to go see it.  Visiting family members also were keen to see Montserrat and a day trip from Barcelona was planned.  Transportation to Montserrat from Barcelona is extremely easy -- it is via the Metro subway train departing from the Plaça d'Espanya station.  The Barcelonetta Metro station is only a block or so from Marina Port Vell but we had not yet figured out the Metro subway lines, so we piled into 2 taxis to the  Plaça d'Espanya station.  Yep; we paid about 20 Euro for taxis rather than the much less expensive subway (or bus).  As it was, still we arrived only about 10 minutes before the scheduled departure to Montserrat.  

Statues at Plaça d'Espanya
Looking toward Magic Fountains
and the National Palace of Catalonia
Plaça d'Espanya

Lynn and kids in the subway station.
Elisabeth pretended to be a hippie for this day.
Lynn and Aaron had visited the  Plaça d'Espanya Metro station and purchased tickets for everyone the previous day.  We opted for the ToT Montserrat tickets at 46.20 Euro rather than the basic ticket for 29.30 Euro.  The Tot tickets included Metro there and back, the Cremallera funicular up to Montserrat and back down, entrance to the museum, the audio visual presentation, and a surprisingly nice 3-course lunch with beverage at the cafeteria. The tickets also included the almost vertical funicular from Montserrat monastery level up to St. Joan, but we did not learn that until it was too late in the day to do it.  That thing looked unbelievably steep!  

The ultra-steep funicular going up from
Montserrat to Saint Joan.
Not sure I would have gone up there even if we had known it was included in our tickets.  

I think these ToT tickets also included 2 Metro rides within Barcelona (to get to the  Plaça d'Espanya station) but none of us ever figured that out.  We instead blew 40 Euros on taxis there and back to the marina.  There are trains basically every hour to and from between Barcelona and Montserrat and tickets are good anytime, so one can spend as much or as little time on this excursion as desired.  It is a good excursion to get away for a break from the summer heat in Barcelona and go the the higher elevations of the mountains.

Photo taken from funicular when about half-way up.  Look to the right from the 'V' in the mountain top
and there is the Benedictine Monastery of Montserrat.

View down from the funicular train station

And it is beautiful!

Absolutely gorgeous up there!

The scenery alone is worth the trip.

Look at very top of that mountain peak.  There is a
large building up there.  How do they get to it?
Photo taken from courtyard of the monastery.

We visited the Plaça d'Santa Maria.  

And the monastery.   

Including the church.

The very old and mysterious black
Madonna and Christ.

We saw the statue of the black Madonna and Christ in its special place inside the back area of the church.  I took a photo because I saw no signs stating that this was not allowed and others also took photos.  Later, Elisabeth said she had seen a sign prohibiting photos somewhere along the staircases as we approached this special statue.  I missed that sign and I was looking for one.  

Elisabeth and Bill walking up final flight
of steps to view the black Madonna statue

According to the audio-visual presentation, this statue was found around 880 A.D. inside a cave a bit farther down the mountain called Santa Cova.  Some children playing in the area returned to the village claiming that they had found this statue.  No one believed them but the children insisted, so finally some adults went down to check it out.  When they and the local priest entered the cave a bright light shown down inside the cave leading them to the statue.  

One of several small alcoves in church

No one knows where this statue came from.  Supposedly it was made during the 6th century and some speculate that it was hidden inside this cave high in these mountains to protect it from the Muslim Moors.  The Moors invaded and occupied Spain in 711 A.D. so this speculation does fit the timeline.  But that is only speculation. 

Beautiful area inside church where hallways intersected

Other websites claim that this statue was found in the 12th century; so it is anyone's guess where the truth lies.  All that can be known for certain is that the origination of this statue and how it came to be hidden inside a cave in the mountains of Spain remains a mystery. Miracles have been attributed to this statue since the 12th century by religious pilgrims.

The Baptistery

The other thing that Montserrat is famous for is the boys choir.  They can be enjoyed in this video showing Montserrat from aerial views (well worth a look!  I encourage readers to click on this link):

Outside entry to church.  No idea who is
buried here.  It was beautiful.
Watching baby Rose while patiently
waiting for the rest of our group.

Paper rose petals on marble floor exiting church.
From a wedding that day.  We watched the bride and
groom depart.  Made me wonder how involved it must
be to arrange a wedding in this location.

Rather than write a lot about Monserrat, here are a couple of links that provide almost anything anyone might want to know about this Benedictine Monastery.

Looking up from monastery courtyard.

I enjoyed the beauty of this area so much that it would be easy to tempt me to make another trip out there before we depart Barcelona in a few weeks.  It was a cloudy day during our visit and I would like to see the vistas on a  bright sunny day.  As we were waiting for the funicular to arrive to deliver us down the mountainside to the train back to Barcelona, the skies finally opened and poured.  Could not see much on that ride down because of the rain. 

Looking out to mountains from outside monastery

Fortuitously, the rain stopped before we exited the funicular coach and it remained dry as we waited 8 minutes for the train back to Barcelona.  After we boarded the train, the rain began pouring again.  Lucky us to be able to remain dry!

Wooden statue.  Virgin Mary?
Or a light version of Darth Vadar?

Lynn took the 3 kids to see the Magic Fountains around 10 that night.  Bill, Aaron and I were tired and chose to sleep or read instead; but she and the kids thoroughly enjoyed the show of fountains and lights and music.  It is one of the highlights of a visit to Barcelona.

Check it out here:

And just so some of us present that day can remember how 'fun' family vacations with small children can be, here is a photo of baby Rose's reaction when her mother walked away to retrieve the stroller from where it had to be left while we went inside the church.
Heartbroken.  Mom walked away for 3 seconds.