CPT Travel Blog- CPT Visits Barcelona- Days 7 – 9

CPT Travel Blog- CPT Visits Barcelona- Days 7 – 9

Day 7- T Aug 1: La Sagrada Familia

The next morning I completed another 5.3 mile run along the beach. The run was hot, but I was acclimating better each day to the heat and humidity. Once returning I took a cold shower, ate my breakfast falafel, answered CPT emails, and then began my walk to La Sagrada Familia so that I would be there a few minutes prior to my ticketed 1 pm entrance time. Btw, I purchased my tickets online several weeks in advance, which is highly recommended for all tourists who wish to visit La Sagrada Familia.

While walking to La Sagrada Familia I passed the beautiful Palacio de Justicia de Barcelona. I also appreciated the unique detailed lampposts in a small park near the western face of the building.

While walking to La Sagrada Familia I passed the beautiful Palacio de Justicia de Barcelona. I also appreciated the unique detailed lampposts in a small park near the western face of the building.

The walk to La Sagrada Familia was about 3.7 kilometers (2.3 miles) and took about 50 minutes.   The walk gathered me away from the Ciutat Vella tourist areas, north and slightly east to the interior and geographic center of Barcelona.

La Sagrada Familia is located in the L’Eixample District, which is a principally residential district that is the most populous and most densely populated amongst Barcelona’s 10 city districts. L’Eixample contains 262,485 persons inhabiting a land area of 7.46 square kilometers, which equates to 35,586 persons per kilometer. Within the district are 6 administrative neighborhoods, including the Sagrada Familia neighborhood that houses the landmark church. The district contains many apartment buildings designed by world class architects, such as Antoni Gaudí, Josep Puig i Cadalfalch, Josep Doménech i Estapá, Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas, and Eric Sagnier i Villavecchia. Some of the L’Eixample neighborhoods are more opulent, provide residence to wealthy citizens, and contain mostly high-end shops, whereas other neighborhoods have older and/or less maintained structures and lower-income residents.

Several of the parks included persons who took up space selling blankets and towels. This location choice was interesting because it was not a tourist area. The park was frequented principally by locals.

Several of the parks included persons who took up space selling blankets and towels. This location choice was interesting because it was not a tourist area. The park was frequented principally by locals.

My walk clearly confirmed the disparity amongst the neighborhoods. For several blocks I saw people wearing old clothes and looking like life has not treated them particularly well. In contrast, a few blocks later the people were conspicuously more fit, wore more upscale clothing, and exhibited a more confident aura of success. The other saliently noticeable change from Ciutat Vella was that despite the population density the streets were not nearly as crowded. Whereas Ciutat Vella contained tens of thousands of tourists who inflated the summer population, L’Eixample was principally residential- and most people were working at 1 pm, not walking on the streets. Moreover, the streets and sidewalks were not as narrow as those in Ciutat Vella, which tended to have wide main streets, but very narrow side streets, with sidewalks that barely fit one person. After 6 days in Ciutat Vella, I appreciated the opportunity to have more space and less congestion.

Nevertheless, once crossing the Dreta de L’Eixample and Fort Pienc neighborhoods and entering the Sagrada Familia neighborhood the crowds returned, especially as I got progressively closer to La Sagrada Familia. El Templo Expiatoro de la Sagrada Familia (Expiatory Church of the Holy Family) is Gaudi’s most famous design. The exterior facade conspicuously exhibits Gaudi’s liking for a juxtaposition of curves, arches, depth, cubism, art nouveau, and Gothic design. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI named La Sagrada Familia a minor basilica, which is a privileged title that can only be bestowed by a pope. The building is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Moreover, Gaudi is buried at a tomb within the site.

Construction commenced in 1882 and is still ongoing based on Gaudi’s drawings, despite his death in 1926, after being hit by a tram. According to the current chief architect, Jordi Fauli, construction is presently 70% complete. There are 8 towers constructed and 10 more towers to raise. The 18 towers represent the 12 apostles, the 4 evangelists, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus Christ, who will have the tallest tower. The 8 completed towers are comprised within the Passion façade and Nativity facade, which have 4 towers each that represent various apostles.   The anticipated completion date for the additional towers and sculptures planned for atop the towers is 2026, a full century after Gaudi’s passing, with some decorative elements added until 2032. The final element will be a cross atop the Jesus Christ spire. The height at completion will be 172.5 meters (566 feet), as Gaudi did not want the height of the structure to exceed the height of Montjuïc, which he deemed “God’s creation.” Nevertheless, when finalized La Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church in the world, surpassing the Ulm Minister in Ulm Germany, which stands at 161.5 meters (530 feet).

 

La Sagrada Familia- The facade from the eastern face.  Impressively, albeit unfortunately, a phone camera can not fit the entire building into one frame.
La Sagrada Familia- The facade from the eastern face. Impressively, albeit unfortunately, a phone camera can not fit the entire building into one frame.
La Sagrada Familia- The facade from the eastern face.  Gaudi's use of Gothic and non-linear design and his attention to detail were awe-inspiring.
La Sagrada Familia- The facade from the eastern face. Gaudi's use of Gothic and non-linear design and his attention to detail were awe-inspiring.
La Sagrada Familia- The facade from the eastern face.   There is nowhere that Gaudi took the easy way out when designing the structure, which provides an explanation why construction started in  1882 and is not projected to finish until 2032.
La Sagrada Familia- The facade from the eastern face. There is nowhere that Gaudi took the easy way out when designing the structure, which provides an explanation why construction started in 1882 and is not projected to finish until 2032.
La Sagrada Familia- A view of the lower portion of the eastern facade.
La Sagrada Familia- A view of the lower portion of the eastern facade.
La Sagrada Familia- A view of the lower portion of the eastern facade.
La Sagrada Familia- A view of the lower portion of the eastern facade.
La Sagrada Familia- The eastern facade.  Notice the intricacy applied to each segment of the structure.
La Sagrada Familia- The eastern facade. Notice the intricacy applied to each segment of the structure.
La Sagrada Familia- The northern facade.
La Sagrada Familia- The northern facade.
La Sagrada Familia- The western facade.
La Sagrada Familia- The western facade.
La Sagrada Familia- The western facade.
La Sagrada Familia- The western facade.
La Sagrada Familia- The western facade.
La Sagrada Familia- The western facade.
La Sagrada Familia- The western facade.  Notice the seemingly disjointed dome and the continued construction of one of the towers.
La Sagrada Familia- The western facade. Notice the seemingly disjointed dome and the continued construction of one of the towers.
La Sagrada Familia- A view from a distance of the western facade.
La Sagrada Familia- A view from a distance of the western facade.

 

A 26-stop, 1492-pipe organ was installed in 2010. However, the interior is too cavernous to adequately provide the desired acoustics, even for such a large organ. Therefore, more organs are planned to supplement the primary organ, so that the total will equate to 8000 pipes and where the organs can either be played separately or together from a single console.

The annual construction budget is 25 million Euros ($29.8 million). The gargantuan project is currently funded solely by visitor entrance fees, which range from 15 – 29 Euros ($18 – $35) per ticket, and supplemental private donations. Fortunately for the advancement of construction, La Sagrada Familia is Barcelona’s (and Spain’s) most visited tourist attraction, with over 3.2 million persons visiting annually. This year, one of those persons was me.

The exterior of the building is amazing for its size, detail, and unique architecture. Gaudi was no Howard Roark (for those who read “The Fountainhead”). Whereas Roark emphasized function over form, Gaudi was interested in both function and form- and his form was often elaborate, with a composite of both traditional Romanesque design, modern shapes, and non-linear layouts. La Sagrada Familia has been called the most beautiful building in the world by multiple experts, ugly by others, and pretentious by several. I will go with both beautiful and pretentious.

After waiting in line and passing security, which included a metal detector, I entered the interior. Interestingly, La Sagrada Familia was the only Barcelona tourist site that mandated passage through a metal detector. Once inside the sheer cavernous size was astounding, as was the interior architecture, the attention to intricate detail, the uniqueness of the overall design, and the colors of the stained glass. After walking around for a few minutes, I headed to the elevator that would take me to the top of the Nativity Tower.

When purchasing tickets one has the option of a human-guided tour, a self-guided tour, or no guide. One also has the option of just seeing the interior or also taking the elevator up either the Passion Tower or the Nativity Tower. Since I did a lot of reading, I chose no guide and the Nativity Tower, which although shorter (55 meters compared to Passion’s 75 meters) provides a superior and less obstructed view of the city.

 

A View of Barcelona from the top of the Nativity Tower.
A view of Barcelona from the top of the Nativity Tower.
A view of Barcelona from the top of the Nativity Tower.  This view features the notable Torre Glóries, formerly known as the Torre Agbar, after the holding company that commissioned the Jean Nouvel design.  Nouvel envisioned the design as displaying a combination of Montserrat Mountain, a geyser, and a phallus. The 474 foot, 38 story (4 underground) concrete, aluminum, and glass building is the 3rd tallest building in Barcelona.  In addition to being salient during the daytime the 4500 LEDs along the exterior can produce a total of 16 million colors that provide the building an equally conspicuous nighttime presence.
A view of Barcelona from the top of the Nativity Tower. This view features the notable Torre Glóries, formerly known as the Torre Agbar, after the holding company that commissioned the Jean Nouvel design. Nouvel envisioned the design as displaying a combination of Montserrat Mountain, a geyser, and a phallus. The 474 foot, 38 story (4 underground) concrete, aluminum, and glass building is the 3rd tallest building in Barcelona. In addition to being salient during the daytime the 4500 LEDs along the exterior can produce a total of 16 million colors that provide the building an equally conspicuous nighttime presence.
A view of Barcelona from the top of the Nativity Tower.  This view features a wider angle of the notable Torre Glóries,
A view of Barcelona from the top of the Nativity Tower. This view features a wider angle of the notable Torre Glóries.
A view of Barcelona from the top of the Nativity Tower.  This view features the prominent Torre Glóries, the 3rd largest building in Barcelona.
A view of Barcelona from the top of the Nativity Tower. This view features the prominent Torre Glóries, the 3rd largest building in Barcelona.
A view of Barcelona from the top of the Nativity Tower.
A view of Barcelona from the top of the Nativity Tower.
A view of Barcelona from the top of the Nativity Tower.
A view of Barcelona from the top of the Nativity Tower.
A view of Barcelona from the top of the Nativity Tower.
A view of Barcelona from the top of the Nativity Tower.
Architectural detail of the structure as seen from atop the Nativity Tower.
Architectural detail of the structure as seen from atop the Nativity Tower.
Architectural detail of the structure and of adjoining towers as seen from atop the Nativity Tower.
Architectural detail of the structure and of adjoining towers as seen from atop the Nativity Tower.
Architectural detail of the structure and of adjoining towers as seen from atop the Nativity Tower.
Architectural detail of the structure and of adjoining towers as seen from atop the Nativity Tower.
Architectural detail of an adjoining tower as seen from atop the Nativity Tower.
Architectural detail of an adjoining tower as seen from atop the Nativity Tower.
Architectural detail of an adjoining tower as seen from atop the Nativity Tower.
Architectural detail of an adjoining tower as seen from atop the Nativity Tower.

 

The views were outstanding. I could see south all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. Nevertheless, what was most memorable was the panic attack of a French woman who was in my elevator group.

As we approached the top, in English she asked the elevator operator, “How do we get down?”

He blandly retorted, “The stairs. There is no elevator down. The elevator only takes you up.”

She queried deeper with some concern, “How many steps?”

He calmly responded, “About 300.”

Suddenly all hell broke loose. Ms. Paris released a blood curdling scream that would win her a role in any horror movie. She then started clawing the walls of the elevator, refusing to leave. Her husband tried to coax her out. However, her unsympathetic sympathetic nervous system was resistant to any cajoling. She screamed louder, started crying, and kicked hard at her husband and the elevator operator. Finally, the elevator operator broke protocol and agreed to give her a ride back to the ground. Thus, the elevator will take a person down- if the person has a full-blown panic attack.

My remaining question is, “Why would she buy tickets to a tower if she is afraid of heights?”   She is an adult. She should have known she exhibited a fear of heights. Or maybe she had a fear of steps. It was like watching a scene in a Hitchcock movie that combined “Vertigo” with “The 39 Steps,” except there are 300 steps. Good thing she didn’t ask about the Passion Tower, where there are 400 steps to reach the ground.

Once gathering the views from the catwalk, I proceeded down the 300 steps. The steps had a wall to the exterior, but no railing to the interior. Moreover, they spiraled, which was very pretty, but I imagine could make an anxious or poorly balanced person dizzy. In addition, there is an unimpeded view straight to the bottom. If an out of control married couple argued on those steps, there is a good chance that a life insurance company will be out some money, as with a little push there won’t be a need for a divorce lawyer, although a criminal lawyer may come in handy.

While halfway down the 300 steps I saw my second panic attack of the day. A Czech family of 4 had only 3 willing to navigate the steps. A young boy of about 10 froze, screamed, cried, and stayed glued to the wall. I offered to help, but dad did the duty on his own, carrying his son to the bottom an arduous and methodical 2 to 3 steps at a time.

I am not a fan of heights. However, for whatever reason I had no issue with the Tower steps, probably because the angle allowed me to avoid looking at the bottom. Instead, I oriented toward the spiral a few steps ahead. Thus, I raced down the steps and passed everybody, like during my trip last year to The Grand Canyon, where I passed everybody going down and all but 2 people going up, as one athletic couple from Germany was able to match my Type-A pace.

After returning to the bottom, I took a longer view of the interior and ceiling. I then walked around the northern residential area of the city for awhile until heading back to Barceloneta.

 

The interior of La Sagrada Familia features colorful and elaborate stained glass, statues, arches, columns, circles, arboreal shapes, other nonlinear shapes, angles, ledges,  balconies, organ pipes, and masterful use of natural  light.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia features colorful and elaborate stained glass, statues, arches, columns, circles, arboreal shapes, other nonlinear shapes, angles, ledges, balconies, organ pipes, and masterful use of natural light. Enjoy!
Gaudi's use of natural lighting was incredible.  The color and light accentuated the elaborate and exquisite architecture present within the church.
Gaudi's use of natural lighting was incredible. The color and light accentuated the elaborate and exquisite architecture present within the church.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia also included artistic furniture designed by Gaudi.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia also included artistic furniture designed by Gaudi.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia was elaborate throughout the structure, especially on the walls and ceiling.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia was elaborate throughout the structure, especially on the walls and ceiling.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia was elaborate throughout the structure, especially on the walls and ceiling.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia was elaborate throughout the structure, especially on the walls and ceiling.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
A panoramic photograph of the stained glass within the interior of La Sagrada Familia.
A panoramic photograph of the stained glass within the interior of La Sagrada Familia.
A panoramic photograph of the  upper level of stained glass within the interior of La Sagrada Familia.
A panoramic photograph of the upper level of stained glass within the interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
No detail was overlooked when Gaudi designed the interior of La Sagrada Familia.
No detail was overlooked when Gaudi designed the interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
Statuary within the interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
Statuary within the interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The elaborate columns and ceiling within the interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The elaborate columns and ceiling within the interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The elaborate columns and ceiling within the interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The unique ceiling within the interior of La Sagrada Familia.
The unique ceiling within the interior of La Sagrada Familia.

 

While walking around I saw more dogs walked off-leash. Although the majority of dogs were on-leash, a substantial number, between 33 – 40%, were off-leash and the vast majority of the off-leash dogs were well-behaved, despite the numerous urban distractions of people walking, dogs walking, skateboards, scooters, cars, and urban cafes. Consequently, I started to wonder, “What are the leash laws?”

After researching, it appears that prior to 2014 Barcelona dog owners were allowed to walk their dogs off-leash without restriction. However, after a rash of complaints, the City Council enacted more stringent animal control laws that became effective during October 2014. The revised animal control regulations were broad in their brush. The 2014 revisions banned people from walking their dogs off-leash, other than in designated dog zones. Moreover, they must first acquire a special civic license before taking their pet off-leash within a “dog zone.” Walking a dog off-leash outside of a dog zone or without a license or not promptly picking up dog excrement poses a possible fine of 1,500 Euros. In addition, the new laws ban people from leaving a dog home alone for more than 12 consecutive hours, forbid leaving a cat home alone for more than 3 days, prohibit city residents from breeding puppies for sale, outlaw feeding pigeons in public parks (fine of up to 750 Euros), interdict feeding stray cats (fine of up to 750 Euros), disallow residents from owning pet monkeys or horses, mandate that all persons adopting an animal from a shelter sign a document declaring they have never abused an animal (whereby a fraudulent declaration will be a misdemeanor), allow dogs to travel on the city’s metro system (other than during rush hour), and established an animal abuse registry and higher fines for those found guilty of animal abuse.

Upon the enactment of the new laws only licensed breeders and shelters could sell or adopt pets to new owners. Violators who illegally sell pet animals face fines of up to 30,000 Euros ($36,000). City legislators are also considering banning the sale of animals in retail pet shops. Spain has the highest rate of pet abandonment in the European Union. Therefore, legislators are attempting to humanely reduce the pet breeding population, humanely reduce the stray pet population, create a greater commitment on the part of pet owners, and deter persons from maintaining an attitude that pets are disposable. Presently, Barcelona still allows pet shops, but does not allow the stores to display live animals in the storefront windows.

Although I was surprised at the number of off-leash dogs, the majority were on-leash. By law Pit Bulls and their owners must pass a certification test for the owner to walk the dog in public without a muzzle.

Although I was surprised at the number of off-leash dogs, the majority were on-leash. By law Pit Bulls and their owners must pass a certification test for the owner to walk the dog in public without a muzzle.

The City of Barcelona has a human population of 1.61 million. The MSA (metropolitan statistical area) has a population of between 4.9 to 5.4 million, depending upon the research source. The human population of Barcelona province is 5.54 million people. The City contains an estimated 144,000 pet dogs and 28,000 cats. That is a rate of one dog for every 11.2 Barcelonans and one cat for every 57.5 city residents. In comparison, in the USA the human population is 323.1 million and there are an estimated 89.7 million pet dogs and 74.1 million pet cats, which equates to one dog for every 3.6 Americans and one cat for every 4.4 Americans. Spain has a human population of 46.6 million people, 5.4 million dogs, and 3.8 million cats, which equates to one dog for every 8.6 Spaniards and one cat for every 12.3 Spaniards. Thus, pet ownership appears culturally to be a much more common activity in the USA than in Spain and pet ownership appears to be more common in rural Spain than in modern, urban Barcelona.

Barcelona presently has 105 designated dog zones, tantamount to American dog parks, that average between 300 to 400 square meters (3200 to 4300 square feet or 359 to 478 square yards). Moreover, whereas the beaches were off limits between April thru October and required all dogs to be on-leash during the non-summer months, there is now an all-year off-leash fenced dog area at Levant Beach.

Nevertheless, despite the leash laws, I saw numerous persons walk dogs off-leash right in front of the urban guardia that were numerous throughout the city, especially in the areas more heavily populated by tourists. Barcelona has two primary police forces, the Urban Guardia (urban guard) and the Mossos d’Esquadra (beautiful squadron).

The Urban Guardia are Barcelona’s municipal police force. They are armed with batons, Walther P99 pistols, and PDAs. They are usually on foot, but also can be on Honda motorcycles, Piaggio scooters, in small blue and white cars manufactured by SEAT or Citroen, or vans manufactured by Renault. The foot patrol wears highly observable orange and yellow vests. The majority that I observed were young (in their 20s) and appeared very fit and attractive, like they were athletic models. There were a surprising number of women amongst the urban guardia and they too often looked like models, but with an athletic edge and a countenance that indicated they could get rugged if the situation arose. Their emergency call number is 092. However, unlike many American police officers, universally they were very casual in their approach to interaction and enforcement. Therefore, a citizen illegally walking a dog off-leash did not cause them to bat an eye. My guess is that if the Baltimore or Ferguson police maintained the attitude of the urban guardia we would have a few less riots in the USA.

The Mossos d’Esquadra are Catalonia’s police force. They are much more military in uniform, weaponry, and vehicles. They assume the role of Spain’s national police force within the autonomous province of Catalunya. Although some are dressed and equipped similarly to the urban guardia, many look more like characteristic SWAT officers with thick Kevlar vests, utility belts full of equipment, automatic weapons (Heckler & Koch MP5 SMGs with laser assisted sights, slings, and folding stocks), 2 pistols (an H & K P30L and an H & K USP), either Remington Golden Sabre or Simunition heavier-weight ammunition, and identifying berets. Some squad members also have Kevlar helmets, ballistic visors, ballistic goggles, tactical boots, Franchi or Remington pump-action shotguns, H & K MP7A submachine guns with Fiochi SFM Ram armor piercing ammunition, H & K G36 assault rifles, HK 417 battle rifles, Sako TRG 22 .308 sniper rifles, AMP DSR1 338 sniper rifles, H & K 69 40mm grenade launchers, and stun, smoke, and flash-bang grenades. Their vehicles were either high-performance SEAT sedans or SWAT-type vans. They also have unmarked equivalents and helicopters. They had far fewer women, but they still were mostly persons in their 20s who looked highly fit and athletic. They were also usually very tall. From what I observed the average height was probably around 6’ 1”. The 15,000 person squad works on crime investigations, narcotics trafficking, kidnapping, white collar crime, environmental protection, prison services, rescues, crowd control at major events, explosives detection, and terrorism. Their selection criteria is very rigid. Only 3% of applicants proceed beyond initial selection and a rigorous training program to become members of the squad. Preparatory and ongoing training includes physical fitness, combat fighting, police techniques and procedures, technical weapons training, marksmanship (they shoot over 1000 rounds per week), climbing, navigation, tactical driving, security protection, explosives, surveillance, and EMT-type medical training. Furthermore, some squad members specialize further in certain disciplines. These guys and gals are the real deal! Reviewing their weapons list was like making selections for Call of Duty.

Yet, when either the Mossos d’Esquadra or Urban Guardia observed off-leash dogs, they preferred to remain part of the scenery and ignore the minor violation. Somehow I can’t envision American officers exercising the same restraint.

Upon reaching my AirBnB in Barceloneta I made a visit to el mercado (the market) to buy some pasta to cook on my own. The market, owned by a Muslim family, was conveniently just half a block from Nico’s place.

There are a few Spanish hypermarket chains (Capbrabo, Consum, Mercadona), the French chain Carrefour, which has the most locations of any grocery store in Barcelona, and the low-price, international German chain Lidl spaced throughout the city. Nevertheless, unlike in Atlanta, supermarkets are not as common and there remain omnipresent small mercados and carnicerias where many city residents perform a majority of their shopping. The proximity and high number of small mercados makes sense, since the city is so densely packed, the buildings are old in the city center and likely not easy to retrofit to accommodate a large hypermarket, there is very little parking, the streets other than the main streets are very narrow, and residents will likely find it more convenient to conduct a majority of their food shopping, especially for staples, at a nearby market that they reach by walking. I certainly found it convenient to walk half a block to a market that has a refrigerated and frozen section that is smaller than my master bedroom and 4 or 5 aisles that don’t have a huge variety of brands, but that has what I need on a daily basis. It is similar to why I often prefer Tru-Value to Home Depot. I can get what I need far more quickly and then don’t have to wait in line to get checked out.

Btw, the pasta hit the spot for dinner.

 

Day 8- W Aug 2: Montserrat

I didn’t run on Wednesday because I was planning a mountain hike at Montserrat. I was looking forward to Montserrat, as the congestion in Barcelona was starting to bother me.

A mountain view from Montserrat. The pristine serenity of Montserrat was a welcome relief from the urban congestion of Barcelona.

A mountain view from Montserrat. The pristine serenity of Montserrat was a welcome relief from the urban congestion of Barcelona.

The city of Barcelona has a population of 1.62 million persons, who reside in an area of 101.9 square kilometers (39.3 square miles). Barcelona is the 16th most populated city in Europe and 2nd most populated city in Spain, behind only the capital, Madrid, which houses 3.17 million people within the city limits, making Madrid the 6th most populated city in Europe, behind only Istanbul (14.8 million people), Moscow (13.2 million), London (8.67 million), Saint Petersburg (5.32 million), and Berlin (3.67 million). However, Barcelona is the 3rd most densely populated city in Europe, possessing 15,991 residents per square kilometer (41,417 per square mile), which is behind only Paris (20,909 persons/km2) and Athens (19,135 persons/km2).

Moreover, given the Mediterranean climate, beaches, nightlife, restaurants, architecture, and museums, Barcelona is a major domestic and international tourist destination year round and especially during the summer. The City of Barcelona estimates that a total of 32 million persons visited Barcelona in 2016. The majority were Spanish citizens who visited for business or pleasure, with about half of the total visitors remaining for only a day without requiring an overnight stay. Nevertheless, MasterCard estimates that 8.2 million international travelers visited Barcelona in 2016. Statista states that 9.07 million tourists, national and international combined, used hotel beds in Barcelona during 2016, which does not account for the many visitors that used AirBnB or equivalents or who stayed overnight with friends or relatives. In addition, Barcelona is becoming an increasingly popular vacation destination. According to Statista 1.7 million hotel beds were sold in 1990, 3.14 million in 2000, and 7.13 million in 2010. The growth in Barcelona’s tourist population is conspicuously rapid and significant.

As you can see from the photo, there is a significant distance between Montserrat Mountain and the nearest town.

As you can see from the photo, there is a significant distance between Montserrat Mountain and the nearest town.

MasterCard rates Barcelona as the 12th most popular destination worldwide and 4th most popular in Europe for international overnight visitors (business and recreational) in 2016. Bangkok was number one with 21.47 million visitors. The top three in Europe were London (19.88 million), Paris (18.03 million), and Istanbul (11.95 million).

The United Nations World Tourism Organization ranks Spain as the world’s 3rd most popular tourist destination by country (75.6 million international arrivals), behind only France (82.6 million) and the United States (75.6 million). Thus, throughout Spain and especially in Barcelona, the tourist traffic is disproportionate to the size and population of the destination. Furthermore the combination of the residential population density and the influx of summer tourists made for crowded and noisy streets throughout the day and well into the night.

I was not the only person bothered by the human congestion. Barcelonans are irritated, too. In January 2017 Barcelona’s city council, supported by the majority of Barcelona’s tourist-fatigued population, passed multiple laws aimed at restricting tourism. From the residents’ perspective, the influx of millions of people within the already congested city boundaries is not the only problem, increased real estate demand has created property speculation and led to increased rentals that have priced residents out of the city. Moreover, residents are concerned that an increase in the size of the notably low-wage hospitality industry will change the average wage structure within the city.

Thus, the Barcelona Urban Neighborhood Association (BUNA) and 40 member community associations protested on Las Ramblas, with the theme that “Barcelona isn’t for sale.” The mayor and city council responded by authoring legislation that caps hotel beds, halts new hotel construction, ceases additional tourist apartment licenses, attaches a tourist tax to many businesses, and fines owners of unlicensed tourist flats. The city also fined online tourist rental companies AirBnB and HomeAway $850,000 each for advertising unlicensed units. An article in The Guardian estimates that Barcelona currently has 75,000 hotel beds, 50,000 licensed tourist apartment beds, and 50,000 unlicensed beds. The BUNA estimates that 17,000 apartments are now used exclusively for tourists, which has reduced the supply available to residents and driven up rents.

Another scenic view from Montserrat.

Another scenic view from Montserrat.

Naturally, the hotel and hospitality industry is displeased with the new legislation. The Barcelona Hoteliers Association cites the significant contribution to the city’s GDP and employment levels. Currently, tourism accounts for an estimated 12% of the city’s gross domestic product. Furthermore, unemployment was listed by residents as the number one problem in Barcelona. In the same survey, tourism interestingly was number two.

Spain’s unemployment rate is improving, but still high. The Spanish unemployment rate peaked at 26.3% in May 2013, but in April 2017 was much lower at 17.2%, which is the lowest it has been since March 2009. According to the Generalitat de Catalunya, the unemployment rate in Barcelona in 2016 was 14.4%, which is lower than for the nation as a whole. Nevertheless, the unemployment rate in the USA was a comparably diminutive 4.3% in May 2017 and in March 2017 the rate was only 4.5% in the UK and 3.9% in Germany.

Amongst the 35 member nations of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Spain has the 3rd highest unemployment rate. OECD data for the 4th quarter of 2016 states that 18.7% of the persons in the Spanish labor force are unemployed. The highest international rate is South Africa (27.2%), followed by Greece (23.2%), Spain, and Italy (11.7%). The lowest unemployment rates were in Iceland (2.7%), Japan (3.1%), and the Czech Republic (3.6%).

Spanish unemployment is highest in the southern and western provinces, the areas of the country that are the least industrialized and that have been most affected by property speculation.   Furthermore, the rate is higher for adult persons under the age of 25. The high unemployment rate is attributed to an overall lack of industrialization that affects many areas of the country; an emphasis on seasonal hospitality and construction jobs; the bursting of the housing bubble that has caused huge debt problems for Spanish citizens, a financial crisis for banks, and a significant reduction in new home construction; restrictive Spanish labor laws that make it difficult to layoff full-time employees, whereby employers compensate by hiring low-wage part-time employees who don’t count as officially employed when Spain compiles its labor statistics; low high school and collegiate graduation rates; a lack of top flight research universities (in the QS World University Rankings Spain did not have a college in the top 150 and had only 2, the University of Barcelona #173 and the University of Madrid #178 in the top 200- in comparison, the US had 12 in the top 25 and the UK had 6 in the top 25); the emigration of top tier science and engineering graduates, who often achieve superior opportunities abroad; an influx of poorly educated immigrants who tend to work seasonally or as temporary workers in the agricultural, hospitality, and construction sectors, and who have an unemployment rate more than 50% higher than the national average, which inflates the country’s statistics; the Spanish budget deficit that inhibits increased government employment; and limited nationwide investment in finance and industry.

Thus, although much of Barcelona’s employment quandary is prompted by a nationwide institutional dilemma, a majority of residents believe that the tourism industry exacerbates their employment predicament and drastically reduces their quality of life by adding exorbitant crowds and noise and inflating housing and rental prices. Therefore, in the 2015 mayoral election Barcelonans selected a former housing activist, Ada Colau, who ran on a platform of increasing employment, reducing mortgage failures, and decreasing tourism.

Since I was starting to agree with Ada that Barcelona has too many tourists, this tourist was eager to spend the day in Montserrat. Montserrat is a tranquil mountain and monastery about 60 kilometers northwest of Barceloneta.

To arrive at Montserrat I took my first of what would be multiple trips on the Barcelona Metro. Overall, the Barcelona Metro reminds me a lot of the IRT in New York City. The trains are not new. The platforms and subway cars don’t have a look of cleanliness, but neither are they dirty. Yet, the system is highly efficient and well utilized. The Metro takes a person anywhere he or she would want to go in Barcelona and many places he/she may have no interest in going. Most importantly, there is relatively no wait. No matter what station I was at I don’t remember waiting more than 5 minutes for a train. In contrast, I have lived in Atlanta since 1989 and don’t remember ever waiting less than 5 minutes for a MARTA train. In addition, regardless of whether I rode early in the morning, midday, or late at night, the subway cars were always crowded. Unlike in Atlanta, where the automobile is king, people in Barcelona make good use of their public transit system.

A map of the Barcelona Metro system.

A map of the Barcelona Metro system.

The Metro system is reasonably priced, highly efficient, and logistically sound. Moreover, one of public transit’s main competitors, the automobile, has a major figurative roadblock- parking. Although there was ample parking on the edge of sidewalks for motorcycles and scooters, there was minimal parking for automobiles. Thus, the Metro, buses, and taxis were highly utilized and residents often preferred motorcycles and scooters to automobiles.

The Barcelona Metro was created in 1863 by a private company that in 1916 sold the tracks and equipment to the city. The system expanded significantly in the 1920s with the laying of additional tracks and expanded again in the 1950s and throughout the 21st century, including current construction to expand lines L9 and L10. The Metro consists of 12 primary lines designated by number (L1 to L12) and by color. The 12 lines service 180 stations, which will increase to 209 upon the completion of L9 and L10 construction. Interestingly, upon their completion, lines L9 and L10 will become the longest automated railway lines in Europe. The 12 lines extensively cover both the city center and the suburbs. In addition, there are commuter and regional lines operated by Renfe, as part of the Rodalies de Catalunya system, that connect stations in outlying Catalun towns and cities to the metro system. The Renfre lines are identifiable by their “R” prefix.

The Metro is operated by 2 private companies, Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB) and Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC). TMB, founded in 2004, operates 8 of the 12 subway lines (L1 – 5 and L 9 – 11), metro buses (109 lines), and a funicular railway. FCG, founded in 1979, operates 4 Metro lines (L 6 – 8 and L12), some commuter lines prefixed with “S,” 3 tourist mountain railways (including the Montserrat rack railway), and 4 funicular railways (including 2 in Montserrat). In addition, FCG provides freight service from salt factories in Suria and potash factories in Salient to Martorell and the Port of Barcelona and transports finished cars from the SEAT automobile factory in Martorell to the Port of Barcelona.

Above the doors of each Metro car was a map of the Line's route with lights indicating each stop that remained. Compare that to MARTA where the location of the train remains more of a mystery.

Above the doors of each Metro car was a map of the Line’s route with lights indicating each stop that remained. Compare that to MARTA where the location of the train remains more of a mystery.

The 12 lines and 180 stations of the Barcelona Metro cover a distance of 146 km (91 miles) and by 2014 estimates moved 416.2 million persons annually. The lines operate from 5 am to midnight Monday to Thursday, Sunday, and on holidays; 5 am to 2 am on Friday; and all-day Saturday. In contrast, Atlanta’s MARTA rail system, which commenced operation in June 1979, covers 4 lines, 38 stations, and 77 km (48 miles) of track and in 2016 moved 68.7 million riders, which makes MARTA the 8th largest subway system in the USA by ridership. MARTA operates from 4:45 am to 1:15 am on weekdays and 6 am to 1:15 am on weekends.

Yet, as large as Barcelona’s Metro appears in contrast to MARTA, there are subway systems around the world that make the Barcelona Metro seem miniscule. For those into information, the longest subway systems in the world are Shanghai (588 km), Beijing (574 km), London (402 km), New York City (380 km), Moscow (346 km), Guangzhou (309 km), Madrid (294 km), Shenzhen (286 km), Nanjing (261 km), Mexico City, (227 km), Paris (214 km), and Chongquing (213 km). The busiest in annual ridership are Beijing (3660 million), Shanghai (3401 million), Seoul (2620 million), Guangzhou (2568 million), Tokyo (2497 million), Moscow (2385 million), New York City (1757 million), Hong Kong (1716 million), Mexico City (1605 million), Paris (1519 million), London (1340 million), Sao Paulo (1316 million), Cairo (1314 million), Shenzhen (1297 million), Singapore (1008 million), Delhi (1001 million), and Osaka (940 million).

Reviewing the data, in most cases there is a huge difference in the penetration of public subway systems when the infrastructure is planned prior to the influx of buildings, roads, and population. For instance, whereas MARTA’s subway started operations in 1979, Barcelona’s Metro started in 1863 and grew tremendously in the 1920s, and New York City’s subway began operations in 1904. Yet, the busiest system in the world, is an exception.   The Beijing, subway opened only in 1969 with 2 lines and after 2002 added 17 lines. However, Beijing also has a population of 21.5 million people, which dwarfs the population of Barcelona (1.6 million) or Atlanta (420,000). Nevertheless, culture is part of the issue, too. Subway usage is not part of the Atlanta suburban culture or a majority of the urban culture, whereas subway ridership is popular within the culture of New Yorkers, most of Europe, and in several Asian countries.

Each Barcelona Metro station has overhead LED signs indicating the time, the train line expected to arrive, and the time to arrival. Most importantly, I never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a Metro train. In contrast, I don't believe I have ever waited less than 5 minutes for a MARTA train.

Each Barcelona Metro station has overhead LED signs indicating the time, the train line expected to arrive, and the time to arrival. Most importantly, I never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a Metro train. In contrast, I don’t believe I have ever waited less than 5 minutes for a MARTA train.

Although multiple companies manage and operate the Barcelona Metro system, fares are unified and integrated. Fare rates are controlled by a public government consortium, Autoritat del Transport Metropolita (ATM). Commuter lines integrate to the Metro via the establishment of a variety of fare zones controlled by ATM.

I paid for my Metro ticket at an automated kiosk. Unfortunately, there was a minor problem. The Metro kiosk would not take my credit card without a pin number. Therefore, I had to pay with Euros. That wasn’t a big hassle, as I had plenty of money. However, change is only provided in coin money, not in paper currency, which would be significantly more convenient and lighter weight.

There are a number of Metro ticket options, one way, one day, two day, three day, four day, five day, thirty day, and ninety day. I chose the 2-day unlimited travel ticket, which cost 14.5 Euros. Then, from the Barceloneta station I boarded the yellow L4 La Pau-Trinitat Nova train north to Trinitat Nova. I next transferred at the Urquinaona station to the red L1 Fondo-Hospital de Bellvitge train west to Hospital. I then disembarked at the Placa d’ Espanya station, whereby I had to walk across the station and go down an escalator to find the ticket kiosks for the Renfre/Rodalies R5 train to Montserrat.

There are multiple ticket alternatives for the Montserrat train, as once arriving at the mountain a traveler needs to connect to either a cable car or rack railway to reach the top. Plus, there are additional choices. The ticket choices provide the purchaser a menu option of the cable car or rack railway, the museum, a lunch buffet, or a combination of everything. I chose a round trip ticket and added only the rack railway. Whereas I never waited more than 5 minutes for a Metro train, the Renfre trains work on a less frequent schedule.

The Montserrat train leaves at least once per hour from Placa d’Espanya between the hours of 8:36 am and 4:36 pm. The train takes 61 minutes to reach the Aeri Montserrat station that furnishes the cable car and an additional 4 minutes to reach the final destination at Monistrol Montserrat, which furnishes the rack/funicular railway. The R5 train departs back to Barcelona between the hours of 9:41 am and 6:41 pm. Thus, I had to make sure I got everything in by 6 pm, as I needed time to board the rack railway down the mountain (which takes about 20 minutes) before boarding the last R5 train back to Barcelona.

The scenic railway trip went from the city to the suburbs to very rural agricultural areas that had occasional industrial factories. The view was serene. After more than a week in Barcelona it was so nice to see pastures, trees, and mountains that weren’t interrupted by pavement and crowds.

Montserrat is a mountain within the Catalan Pre-Coastal Range comprised of 3 peaks: Sant Jeroni (1,236 meters), Montgros, (1,120 meters), and Miranda de les Aguiles (903 meters). The mountain became Spain’s first National Park. The primary tourist highlight is the Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat, which sits near the top of Sant Jeroni. The monastery is also popular with devout Catalonian and international Catholics who undertake a pilgrimage to experience the monastery’s sacred Black Madonna and to observe the sunrise from atop the mountain. In addition, the mountain is favored by locals for hiking and climbing.

The Montserrat Funicular Railway

The Montserrat Funicular Railway

Upon arriving at the Monistrol station I hopped on the relaxing and scenic funicular rail system that took me up to the Santa Maria de Montserrat monastery. The monastery was constructed in the 10th century, yet remains a working monastery staffed by 150 monks. In between the 10th century and today the monastery has had a dynamic history. Napoleon’s armies burned and sacked the monastery in 1811 and then again in 1812. It took from 1835 to 1844 to restore the abbey. In 1881 Pope Leo XIII named the Virgin of Montserrat the patron saint of Catalunya. During the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) the monastery was taken over by the Generalitat’s Republican forces and many monks were killed. However, upon victory by Franco’s Nationalist forces the monastery was reopened. In 1968 construction was completed on a new facade. In 2015 Turner Prize nominated Irish artist Sean Scully modified the Santa Cecilia Chapel that is part of the monastery.

Although Montserrat is a popular tourist destination, the site was far less congested than Barcelona, except for the line to see the Black Madonna, which moved too slowly for my liking. Yet, everything else about the monastery was beautiful, spacious, and tranquil. The view to the valley floor was spectacular. Moreover, there were numerous statues, paintings, and stained glass windows that appealed to my interest in art.

 

Montserrat Monastery.
Montserrat Monastery.
Montserrat Monastery- The Escolania (Singing Academy) building.
Montserrat Monastery- The Escolania (Singing Academy) building.
Montserrat- A statue in the exterior basilica courtyard.
Montserrat- A statue in the exterior basilica courtyard.
Montserrat- Placa de Santa Maria, the courtyard before the gatehouse entrance to the basilica.
Montserrat- Placa de Santa Maria, the courtyard before the gatehouse entrance to the basilica.
Montserrat- The gatehouse building that provides entrance to the basilica.
Montserrat- The gatehouse building that provides entrance to the basilica.
A statue in the interior basilica courtyard.
A statue in the interior basilica courtyard.
Montserrat- A statue in the interior basilica courtyard.
Montserrat- A statue in the interior basilica courtyard.
Montserrat- A statue in the interior basilica courtyard.
Montserrat- A statue in the interior basilica courtyard.
Montserrat- A statue of Pope Pius X in the interior basilica courtyard.
Montserrat- A statue of Pope Pius X in the interior basilica courtyard. Pius X was pope from 1903 - 1914. He is known for his anti-modernistic philosophies and support of traditional Catholic doctrine and orthodoxy.
Montserrat- A statue of Saint Ignatius Loyola in the interior basilica courtyard.
Montserrat- A statue of Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the interior basilica courtyard. Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491 - 1556) was a Basque priest who founded the religious order of the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits.
Montserrat- A statue of Saint Antony Claret in the interior basilica courtyard.
Montserrat- A statue of Saint Antony Claret in the interior basilica courtyard. Anthony Mary Claret (1807 - 1870) was an archbishop from Barcelona who was the confessor of Queen Isabella II and founder of the congregation of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, more frequently called the Claretians.
Montserrat- A statue of Carlos V (Charles V) in the interior basilica courtyard.  Carlos V was Emperor of both the Spanish Empire and the Holy Roman Empire.
Montserrat- A statue of Carlos V (Charles V) in the interior basilica courtyard. Carlos V was Emperor of both the Spanish Empire (from 1516) and the Holy Roman Empire (from 1519) until his death in 1558.
Montserrat- The entrance to the basilica.
Montserrat- The entrance to the basilica.
Montserrat- The entrance to the basilica.
Montserrat- The entrance to the basilica.
Montserrat- The entrance to the basilica.
Montserrat- The entrance to the basilica.
Montserrat- Here I couldn't make up my mind whether I was primarily taking a photograph of the emblem in the basilica courtyard or the young woman posing for her boyfriend.  Both are beautiful.
Montserrat- Here I couldn't make up my mind whether I was primarily taking a photograph of the emblem in the basilica courtyard or the young woman posing for her boyfriend. Both are beautiful.
Montserrat- The entrance to the basilica.
Montserrat- The entrance to the basilica.
Montserrat- Stained glass inside the basilica.
Montserrat- Stained glass inside the basilica.
Montserrat- Stained glass inside the basilica.
Montserrat- Stained glass inside the basilica.
Montserrat- Statuary inside the basilica.
Montserrat- Statuary inside the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- The entrance to the Black Madonna.
Montserrat- The entrance to the Black Madonna.
Montserrat- A panoramic photo of the basilica interior.
Montserrat- A panoramic photo of the basilica interior.
Montserrat- The ceiling of the basilica.
Montserrat- The ceiling of the basilica.
Montserrat- The ceiling of the basilica.
Montserrat- The ceiling of the basilica.
Montserrat- The ceiling of the basilica.
Montserrat- Stained glass within the basilica.
Montserrat- Stained glass within the basilica.
Montserrat- The ceiling of the basilica.
Montserrat- The ceiling of the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- The interior of the basilica.
Montserrat- Statuary inside the basilica.
Montserrat- Statuary inside the basilica.
Montserrat- The entrance to the Black Madonna.
Montserrat- The entrance to the Black Madonna.
Montserrat- A painting in the lobby of the Basilica.
Montserrat- A painting in the lobby of the Basilica.
Montserrat- Stained glass in the lobby of the Basilica.
Montserrat- Stained glass in the lobby of the Basilica.
Montserrat-Statuary inside the lobby of the Basilica.
Montserrat-Statuary inside the lobby of the Basilica.
Montserrat-Stained glass inside the lobby of the Basilica.
Montserrat- Stained glass inside the lobby of the Basilica.
Montserrat- A painting inside the lobby of the Basilica.
Montserrat- A painting inside the lobby of the Basilica.
Montserrat- Candle lighting inside the lobby of the Basilica.
Montserrat- Candle lighting inside the lobby of the Basilica.
Montserrat- A serene outdoor plaza adjacent to the Basilica.
Montserrat- A serene outdoor plaza adjacent to the Basilica.
Montserrat- A closeup of 2 of the statues located in the plaza adjacent to the Basilica.
Montserrat- A closeup of 2 of the statues located in the plaza adjacent to the Basilica.
Montserrat- A closeup of 3  statues located in the plaza adjacent to the Basilica.
Montserrat- A closeup of 3 statues located in the plaza adjacent to the Basilica.
Should a problem arise Montserrat security could arrive quickly on their Segways.
Should a problem arise Montserrat security could arrive quickly on their Segways.

 

After looking at natural views I experienced the buffet, which was surprisingly good. I then explored the monastery structures and artwork, whereupon I commenced a wonderful 2-hour hike to the top of the mountain. The hike was steep and it was hot, although cooler and less humid than in Barcelona. Nevertheless, I am glad I purchased a mochila (backpack) in Barcelona prior to traveling to Montserrat. The mochila came in handy for carrying water and some fruit during the hike. Most importantly, the landscape and views were beautiful. My only regret is that I didn’t leave time to enter the monastery museum, which includes paintings from El Greco, Picasso, and Dali. The day was very peaceful. I wouldn’t have minded an overnight stay in Montserrat so that I could spend an entire day hiking or trail running the mountain.

 

My hike on Montserrat's mountain trails was welcomed after a week in urban Barcelona.
My hike on Montserrat's mountain trails was welcomed after a week in urban Barcelona.
I enjoyed the views of the Catalan countryside from atop Montserrat mountain.
I enjoyed the views of the Catalan countryside from atop Montserrat mountain.
A view of the Montserrat Monastery from the hiking trails.
A view of the Montserrat Monastery from the hiking trails.
Still more have a ways to go before I reach the top.  Montserrat is a popular destination for local hikers and climbers.
Still have a ways to go before I reach the top. Montserrat is a popular destination for local hikers and climbers.
Getting closer to the top of Montserrat Mountain.
Getting closer to the top of Montserrat Mountain.
The trails included steps to help hikers handle the steep ascent.
The trails included steps to help hikers handle the steep ascent.
A view of Montserrat Mountain during my hike.
A view of Montserrat Mountain during my hike.
Some of the steps were very steep. Nevertheless, I was passed by 2 competitive runners training on the mountain. I talked to one who informed me that he runs the mountain from bottom to top as part of his training. He was fast. I couldn't keep up. And the woman that passed me later may have been even faster. What a great place for daily training!
Some of the steps were very steep. Nevertheless, I was passed by 2 competitive runners training on the mountain. I talked to one who informed me that he runs the mountain from bottom to top as part of his training. He was fast. I couldn't keep up. And the woman that passed me later may have been even faster. What a great place for daily training!
Another section of steep steps on the hike.
Another section of steep steps on the hike.

 

Once completing my return hike down the mountain to the funicular station, I boarded the funicular, then the R5 train to Barcelona, and then the red and yellow Metro lines back to Barceloneta. What a long but relaxing day! I highly recommend to anyone visiting Barcelona that he/she make time to travel to Montserrat.

Upon arriving back at Nico’s AriBnB I ate leftover pasta for dinner and then tried to crash for the evening. This was definitely the most pleasant day of my visit. Other than leaving a little earlier I wouldn’t change a thing!

 

 

Day 9- TH Aug 3: Figueres- Dali Museum, Museo Empedador

I went for a run early Thursday morning, cleaned up, ate some leftover pasta for breakfast, and then departed for another out of town excursion. Today’s trip is to Figueres, an eastern Catalonian town of 45,000 persons that is 138 km (86 miles) from Barcelona and 26 km (16 miles) from the French border town of Le Perthus. Most significantly, Figueres is the birthplace of the amazing artist Salvador Dali and the home of the Dali Museum.

The excursion to Figueres required continued use of my Barcelona Metro two-day pass. I started by hopping on the Yellow-L4-Trinitat Nova line north to the Verdaguer station. Then, I switched trains to the Blue-L5-Cornelia Centre line west to the Barcelona Sants station.

The Barcelona Sants station, located in the Sants neighborhood of the Sants-Montjuic District, is Barcelona’s largest and most important transportation station. Barcelona-Sants contains a Metro station (Sants Estacio), the hub for Rodalies de Catalunya’s suburban and regional trains, 6 tracks for AVE and TGV international high-speed trains, and an international bus terminal. I arrived to take my first venture onto European high-speed rail.

The TGV engine-car has a sleek space-age design.

The TGV engine-car has a sleek space-age design.

Once taking escalators and walking from the Sants Estacio Metro section to the main part of the Barcelona-Sants terminal, everything became very crowded and busy. I tried obtaining my TGV tickets from the kiosks, but the machines were a little confusing regarding whether I was taking the Rodalies operated AVE (Alta Velocidad Española) high-speed trains or the SNCF (Societie Nationale des Chemins de fer Francais) TGV lines, which were slightly faster- and from what I read better operated.

SNCF is an impressive multinational railway operator. The company has over 180,000 employees in 120 countries and manages 32,000 km (20,000 miles) of track of which 6% are high-speed lines. In comparison, Amtrak employs 20,000 persons.

Rail is a much more popular mode of transportation in Europe than it is in the USA. The USA has more miles of railway track than any country in the world, but most of the usage is for freight, rather than passenger traffic. For instance, according to Amtrak, in 2010 Americans accounted for 17.2 billion passenger-kilometers of travel. In contrast, according to the International Union of Railways, in the European Union rail passengers traveled 400 billion kilometers. The average French person rides the train for more than 1,000 kilometers per year, whereas the average American rides 80 km. I don’t have figures specifically for Spain.

There are multiple reasons for the comparatively limited use of rail transportation in the USA.

• Other than for the northeast corridor many cities are spaced far apart.

• The population has a lower overall density.

• There has been insufficient investment in upgraded tracks and trains.

• Most tracks and routes are better suited to freight trains than high-speed passenger trains.

• Freight companies own most of the tracks, which means that upgrades are unlikely.

• Freight trains take assignment preference, which slows passenger traffic at signaling areas.

• Gasoline is less expensive than in Europe, which increases the popularity of automobile transport as an alternative.

• There is an extensive highway system that is mostly well maintained and free of tolls.

• Not all mid-size cities have proficient local public transportation once passengers arrive by train.

• Domestic air travel is readily available and relatively inexpensive.

• The modern US culture does not encourage rail travel.

TGV, short for Train a Grande Vitesse, means “high-speed train” in French. SNCF’s TGV holds the world record for railway speed at 575 km/h (357 mph). More importantly, in its 30 year operating history the SNCF TGV has experienced just 1 fatal accident- and that event happened during a test run, not during regular passenger operations. Take that Amtrak! Thus, I wanted the TGV, not the AVE.

Whether from the front or the side the TGV engine cars look modern and fast- and they perform as good as they look.

Whether from the front or the side the TGV engine cars look modern and fast- and they perform as good as they look.

However, once I figured out the kiosks, I realized that the machines would not accept my PIN-less credit card. Therefore, I had to wait in line for a cashier. After confirming that I was waiting in the TGV line, not the Renfe/Rodalies AVE line, the ticket purchasing process was easy. The cashier spoke good English, we quickly established which times were optimal for both the departure and return trip, and I could buy the 21.7 Euro round trip ticket with my credit card or Euros.

Interestingly, there was a quick security checkpoint before I could achieve access to the platform. Yet, unlike Hartsfield-Jackson security, there were no lines. I placed my backpack on a conveyer belt, walked through a metal detector, and in a few seconds I had access to Platform 6, where my train was departing.

The train was stunning. The engine-car had a sleek space-age design and the passenger cars were attractive inside and out, clean, and provided comfortable, spacious seating. Also, given my time at Nico’s, I appreciated that the cars are air-conditioned. It was easy to locate my car and assigned seat and unlike my Delta plane ride I had plenty of distance from the person alongside me. Furthermore, she was not a noisy chatty Kathy. The 55-minute ride was very relaxing and scenic, although I was disappointed that the train never got above 200 kph (125mph). I knew the speed because inside each car is a digital speed indicator, which also provides the next stop, the time, and the temperature. Pretty cool!

 

The standard TGV seating was more comfortable and roomy than first class on an airplane.
The standard TGV seating was more comfortable and roomy than first class on an airplane.
LED displays informed us of the time, the temperature, the route, the next station, the time to arrival, and the speed of the train.
LED displays informed us of the time, the temperature, the route, the next station, the time to arrival, and the speed of the train.
LED displays informed us of the time, the temperature, the route, the next station, the time to arrival, and the speed of the train.
LED displays informed us of the time, the temperature, the route, the next station, the time to arrival, and the speed of the train.
Even the doorways between cars were sleek and modern.
Even the doorways between cars were sleek and modern.

 

Once arriving at the Figueres-Vilafant rail station I asked someone at the Tourist Information desk to provide guidance regarding the best route to walk to the Dali Museum. She was very helpful. Armed with her insight, a local map, and my phone GPS I headed toward the Teatre Museu Gala Salvador Dali.

Here I will interject a little bit of mapping insight. I tried Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze, and Maps.me, of which Maps.me was definitely the best phone app for walking Barcelona and the peripheral Catalan towns I visited. With Maps.me I had to first download a Map for the city I was visiting, then the app could provide detailed walking directions. Beside the detail, in comparison to the other listed apps, Maps.me was significantly less taxing on my iPhone battery, which is very important when walking, as I can’t keep the phone plugged into a charger.

Vilafant is a small town about 1.5 km (.9 miles) from Figueres. Whereas most of the rail passengers took taxis into Figueres, I remained disciplined and walked. The walk took me about 20 minutes and allowed me to obtain a feel for the city. From what I observed, the houses outside the city center looked old , crowded, small, and poorly maintained, although they were painted in nice colors. The appearance is very similar to the characteristic photograph of a Havana residential street. However, once passing the city park the appearance quickly transmogrified into a cleaner, more modern, and more upscale look.

The directions to the museum were easy. I followed the main road from the train station, passed the park, walked a few more blocks into the town’s retail area, and then made a left, whereby the museum was only 2 minutes away. Near the end of the walk I stopped for lunch at a small café run by a French emigre. Figueres is the last major Catalonian town before the French border. Therefore, there are a lot of French-speaking people residing in Figueres and visiting Figueres. The café offered a nice 5-course meal for about 12 Euros. After eating the multiple courses of food I was glad I elected to walk.

Upon finishing my meal, I walked the 2 minutes to the Teatre Museu Gala Salvador Dali. Salvador Dali (1904 – 1989) was a world renowned surrealist, cubist, and bulletist artist and sculptor who was heavily influenced by Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, while simultaneously maintaining his own unique style within his creations. Dali’s works run the gamut from traditional paintings and sculptures to surreal images to a variety of paintings based on his muse, Gala. Gala, born Elana Ivanovna Diakonova, was for 50 years his inspiration for many paintings and, although 10 years his senior, eventually became his wife.

In addition to Gala, frequent subjects of his work included animals, especially elephants, eggs, sex, and science. Dali’s outside pursuits included an interest in quantum mechanics and mathematics, which were themes that he often integrated within his paintings. Moreover, Dali was a prolific producer of art whose work extended far beyond paintings, illustrations, etchings, lithographs, and sculpture. He was an excellent photographer, designed homes and buildings, including the Teatre Museu in Figueres, produced noteworthy furniture, tableware, and jewelry, designed custom dresses and ensembles for the fashion industry, designed sets and costumes for theater and film, created short film productions, sometimes on his own and other times with notable producers and directors like Walt Disney and Alfred Hitchcock, and wrote several non-fiction books and a novel.

 

The entrance to El Teatre Museu Gala Salvador Dali
The entrance to El Teatre Museu Gala Salvador Dali
The entrance to El Teatre Museu Gala Salvador Dali
The entrance to El Teatre Museu Gala Salvador Dali
A monument outside the entrance to El Teatre Museu Gala Salvador Dali.
A monument outside the entrance to El Teatre Museu Gala Salvador Dali.
Salvador Dali (1904 – 1989) was a world renowned surrealist, cubist, and bulletist artist and sculptor who was heavily influenced by Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró.
Salvador Dali (1904 – 1989) was a world renowned surrealist, cubist, and bulletist artist and sculptor who was heavily influenced by Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró.
The courtyard of the Dali Museum in Figueres included a cornucopia of his work.
The courtyard of the Dali Museum in Figueres included a cornucopia of his work.
The courtyard of The Dali Museum.
The courtyard of The Dali Museum.
The main courtyard of The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The main courtyard of The Dali Museum in Figueres.
A sculpture within the main courtyard of The Dali Museum in Figueres. Salvador Dali was a prolific producer of a diverse variety of art.
A sculpture within the main courtyard of The Dali Museum in Figueres. Salvador Dali was a prolific producer of a diverse variety of art.
Sculpture within the main courtyard of The Dali Museum in Figueres.
Sculpture within the main courtyard of The Dali Museum in Figueres.
Sculpture within the main courtyard of The Dali Museum in Figueres.
Sculpture within the main courtyard of The Dali Museum in Figueres.
Sculpture within the main courtyard of The Dali Museum in Figueres.
Sculpture within the main courtyard of The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The main courtyard of The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The main courtyard of The Dali Museum in Figueres.
Although heavily influenced by Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, Dali maintained his own unique style within his creations.
Although heavily influenced by Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, Dali maintained his own unique style within his creations.
Surreal images were common to Dali's work.
Surreal images were common to Dali's work.
Although he is better known for his surreal works, Dali also produced numerous traditional paintings.
Although he is better known for his surreal works, Dali also produced numerous traditional paintings.
Dali’s works run the gamut from traditional paintings and sculptures to surreal images to a variety of paintings based on his muse, Gala. Gala, born Elana Ivanovna Diakonova, was for 50 years his inspiration for many paintings and, although 10 years his senior, eventually became his wife.
Dali’s works run the gamut from traditional paintings and sculptures to surreal images to a variety of paintings based on his muse, Gala. Gala, born Elana Ivanovna Diakonova, was for 50 years his inspiration for many paintings and, although 10 years his senior, eventually became his wife.
Dali enjoyed interpreting the human form, both with and without clothes, but more often without.
Dali enjoyed interpreting the human form, both with and without clothes, but more often without.
Dali also enjoyed artistically exploring nature.
Dali also enjoyed artistically exploring nature.
The courtyard of The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The courtyard of The Dali Museum in Figueres. The courtyard alone featured a wide diversity of art.
Dali Museum in Figueres- This painting was conspicuous for its lack of color.
Dali Museum in Figueres- This painting was conspicuous for its lack of color.
Dali also liked painting animal forms.
Dali also liked painting animal forms.
Dali's work included sketches.
Dali's work included sketches.
In addition to paintings and sculpture, Dali produced noteworthy furniture, tableware, and jewelry.
In addition to paintings and sculpture, Dali produced noteworthy furniture, tableware, and jewelry.
Dali had an impressive ability to combine traditional and contemporary art within the same painting or sculpture.
Dali had an impressive ability to combine traditional and contemporary art within the same painting or sculpture.
How many people are in the painting?
How many people are in the painting?
Dali's surreal morphing of stone into a human form.
Dali's surreal morphing of stone into a human form.
The courtyard as seen through a window on the 3rd floor.
The courtyard as seen through a window on the 3rd floor.
It is amazing that one artist produced so many quality pieces that comprised such a diversity of styles and types of art.  Few artists deserve an entire museum devoted to their work.  However, Dali has multiple museums devoted to his work, of which the Dali Museum in Figures is known as the premier Dali exhibit.
It is amazing that one artist produced so many quality pieces that comprised such a diversity of styles and types of art. Few artists deserve an entire museum devoted to their work. However, Dali has multiple museums devoted to his work, of which the Dali Museum in Figures is known as the premier Dali exhibit.
The one thing Dali did not do well was name his paintings. When researching the names to the works, I found that many were redundant and without significance.
The one thing Dali did not do well was name his paintings. When researching the names to the works, I found that many were redundant and without significance.
Dali Museum in Figueres
Dali Museum in Figueres
The use of color is brilliant.
The use of color is brilliant.
Dali Museum in Figueres.
Dali Museum in Figueres.
A realistic human sculpture encased in lighted glass.
A realistic human sculpture encased in lighted glass.
Dali Museum in Figueres
Dali Museum in Figueres
Dali Museum in Figueres
Dali Museum in Figueres
Dali Museum in Figueres
Dali Museum in Figueres
Although much of Dali's sculpture was contemporary, he also delved into sculpture that duplicated the style of ancient Greece or Rome.
Although much of Dali's sculpture was contemporary, he also delved into sculpture that duplicated the style of ancient Greece or Rome.
Although much of Dali's sculpture was contemporary, he also delved into sculpture that duplicated the style of ancient Greece or Rome.
Although much of Dali's sculpture was contemporary, he also delved into sculpture that duplicated the style of ancient Greece or Rome.

 

Throughout his life, Dali remained controversial within and outside the artistic community for his showmanship, his temper, his ego, and his quest for commercialization. He attracted fame and a worldwide audience, especially as his patron Edwin James and his art dealer Julien Levy booked him numerous shows in the United States. Dali was also known for his outlandish trademark mustache, which he grew very long and in many shapes, and his ostentatious garb that included a cape and walking stick.

Unfortunately, Dali’s last 17 years were tragic. He suffered extended periods apart from Gala. He developed a neurological condition that affected his ability to paint. Then, after Gala died in 1982 he became chronically and severely depressed, which included several suicide attempts. He later developed cardiac disease, which resulted in Dali requiring a wheelchair.

Dali’s ostentatious life included wealth, opulence, fame, veneration, and the purchase of castles, but also included tragedies. Some mystery and tragedy lasts even today, 28 years post his death. It is alleged by art dealers that while Dali was infirm his caretakers coerced him into signing as many as 50,000 blank canvases and lithograph sheets that were later turned into forgeries. Consequently, the art community is skeptical about later works attributed to Dali. Moreover, Dali was literally not allowed to rest in peace. In 2017 his body was exhumed from its resting place at the Dali museum so that a Spanish court could obtain DNA that eventually dismissed a paternity suit brought by a woman who claimed she was Dali’s daughter from an affair he had with one of his maids.

Dali certainly had his proclivities. Yet his broad talent and his prodigious output were incontrovertibly remarkable. He completed over 1,500 paintings in his approximately 55-year professional career. That means in between his etchings, illustrations, sculpture, photography, architecture, jewelry, furniture, tableware, clothing, costumes, theater sets, movie sets, movie production, and writing, he found time to complete an average of 3 paintings per month. Most people don’t create in a lifetime what Dali produced in the average month. He was awe-inspiring for his brilliance, output, eccentricities, and idiosyncrasies.

 

Dali's skeleton sculpture is probably a little different than the skeleton you used in anatomy class.
Dali's skeleton sculpture is probably a little different than the skeleton you used in anatomy class.
Dali also designed unique furniture.
Dali also designed unique furniture.
Dali also designed unique furniture.
Dali also designed unique furniture.
Dali Museum in Figueres
Dali Museum in Figueres
Dali Museum in Figueres
Dali Museum in Figueres
Dali Museum in Figueres
Dali Museum in Figueres
The dome atop the indoor  courtyard of the Dali Museum in Figueres.
The dome atop the indoor courtyard of the Dali Museum in Figueres.
Although Dali is best known for his surreal works, he also produced plentiful traditional works of art.
Although Dali is best known for his surreal works, he also produced plentiful traditional works of art.
Dali's sculptures came in all sizes.
Dali's sculptures came in all sizes.
Dali was also known for his outlandish trademark mustache, which he grew very long and in many shapes.
Dali was also known for his outlandish trademark mustache, which he grew very long and in many shapes.
Salvador Dali (1904 - 1989) and his notable mustache.
Salvador Dali (1904 - 1989) and his notable mustache.
Mustache art.
Mustache art.
More mustache art.  In addition to his mustache, Salvador Dali was known for his ostentatious garb that included a cape and walking stick.
More mustache art. In addition to his mustache, Salvador Dali was known for his ostentatious garb that included a cape and walking stick.
Dali remained controversial within and outside the artistic community for his showmanship, his temper, his ego, and his quest for commercialization.
Dali remained controversial within and outside the artistic community for his showmanship, his temper, his ego, and his quest for commercialization.
The outdoor courtyard at The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The outdoor courtyard at The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
Dali’s outside pursuits included an interest in quantum mechanics and mathematics, which were themes that he often integrated within his paintings.
Dali’s outside pursuits included an interest in quantum mechanics and mathematics, which were themes that he often integrated within his paintings.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
A boat with wax within the main courtyard.
A boat with wax within the main courtyard.
A beautiful Dali designed chandelier within one of the hallways.
A beautiful Dali designed chandelier within one of the hallways.
Surreal animal sculptures within one of the lobbies.
Surreal animal sculptures within one of the lobbies.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.
The Dali Museum in Figueres.

 

The Teatre Museu Gala Salvador Dali houses the largest and most significant collection of Dali’s work. However, if you never make it to Spain, but wish to see a Dali exhibit, you are not completely out of luck. There are 9 other Dali museums around the globe, including one with 1,500 Dali pieces in Saint Petersburg, Florida.

The Teatre Museu in Figueres was for many years Dali’s studio and remains for eternity his crypt. The structure was originally a theater within the Figueres town center. The theater had sentimental value for Dali, as he saw shows there with his family as a young child. Moreover, once Dali became a professional artist the theater was one of the first venues to display his work. Nevertheless, until Dali intervened, the once beautiful theater lay in ruins for over 20 years, since it was devastated by bombings from Franco’s Nationalist army during the Spanish Civil War. Thus, in 1960 Dali worked with the town mayor to propose the creation of a museum that would rise from the ravaged site. In 1968, the town council approved the architectural plans and project and the museum opened to the public in 1974. It has since expanded after acquiring adjoining property.

The museum houses a broad selection of Dali’s artistic creations. There is also an exhibit room of Dali’s personal collection that features other artists who Dali supported or admired. Moreover, the museum itself is a work of architectural art, especially the beautiful, spacious indoor courtyard adorned on the ground and walls with a distinctive car, nude statues, tapestries, and stained glass and decorated atop by a stunning geodesic glass dome. In my opinion, the Dali Museum in Figueres was one of the most aesthetically pleasing, architecturally pleasing, interesting, and well-organized art museums I have ever visited. If readers have the opportunity to travel to Barcelona or the French Mediterranean, I strongly recommend making a day trip or a 2-day trip to Figueres.

After spending about 1.5 hours at the Dali Museum I walked around the town center and then headed toward Museu Empordá, which was located alongside the main town plaza. My ticket from the Dali Museum provided me free admission at the Empordá, which contains a 4-floor collection of archaeological artifacts, medieval art, baroque art, and contemporary art and sculpture.

The Museu Empordá displayed some nice pieces. The Emporda was nowhere near as fantastic as the Dali Museum, but was definitely worth my time and even more certainly was worth the price.

 

The entrance to the Museu Empordá was unassuming, but what lied within was outstanding.
The entrance to the Museu Empordá was unassuming, but what lied within was outstanding.
The first floor of the Museu Empordá featured ancient art of the Empordá, medieval art, and baroque painting.  The Empordá is a natural and historic region of Catalonia, of which Figueres is considered the center.
The first floor of the Museu Empordá featured ancient art of the Empordá, medieval art, and baroque painting. The Empordá is a natural and historic region of Catalonia, of which Figueres is considered the center.
Museu Empordá had an excellent selection of early Empordan pottery and art.
Museu Empordá had an excellent selection of early Empordan pottery and art.
The exhibitions rooms were organized so that there was space, yet plenty to see.
The exhibitions rooms were organized so that there was space, yet plenty to see.
Museu Empordá
Museu Empordá
The second floor featured Catalan art, which progressed from older religious art to more modern and eclectic styles.
The second floor featured Catalan art, which progressed from older religious art to more modern and eclectic styles.
Museu Empordá
Museu Empordá
Much of Catalan sculpture included the nude human form.
One of the second floor exhibition rooms.
A sculpture on the second floor.
A sculpture on the second floor.
A more modern nude sculpture.
A more modern nude sculpture.
The Museu Empordá exhibited sculptures in a variety of sizes.
The Museu Empordá exhibited sculptures in a variety of sizes.
The Museu Empordá included paintings as well as sculpture and pottery.
The Museu Empordá included paintings as well as sculpture and pottery.
Catalan portrait art.
Catalan portrait art.
Traditional Catalan portrait art.
Traditional Catalan portrait art.
The third floor of the Museu Empordá featured landscape and abstract art.
The third floor of the Museu Empordá featured landscape and abstract art.
Catalan landscape art.
Catalan landscape art.
Catalan landscape art.
Catalan landscape art.
Abstract landscape art.
Catalan abstract landscape art.
Catalan abstract art.
Catalan abstract art.
"And there's more where that came from!" The Museu Empordá's storage area stocked many more paintings that the curator could rotate into the exhibit halls.
"And there's more where that came from!" The Museu Empordá's storage area stocked many more paintings that the curator could rotate into the exhibit halls.
There was also a small exhibit on Catalonian instruments and instrument construction.
There was also a small exhibit on Catalonian instruments and instrument construction.
The fourth floor contained a special exhibit on the history of cameras and a movie from a noted Catalonian photographer.
The fourth floor contained a special exhibit on the history of cameras and a movie from a noted Catalonian photographer.

 

After viewing all four floors of the Empordá I walked around the street stalls of the town square and then headed back toward Vilafant to catch my TGV train back to Barcelona. The street stalls sold about everything- clothing, tchotchkes, meat, sandwiches, vegetables, art, and more. Interestingly, during my sojourn about town, whenever I saw a dog in Figueres, it was always on leash. I imagine that the less cosmopolitan Figuerans are more law abiding than the citizens of Barcelona.

On the way back I stopped off at a sushi restaurant situated at the corner of the main city park. The food was good. The conversation was better. The waiter was very cooperative about helping me practice Spanish, especially since his English was “peor que mi Español” (worse than my Spanish). We had a pleasant conversation about comparing Figueres to Barcelona, Spain to the United States, and Spanish perceptions about the USA and President Trump.   Since my Spanish speaking and listening skills “estaban aún en desarrollo” (were still in development) the waiter was very cooperative “a hablar lentamente” (to speak slowly). He also was very tolerant of my slow speech as I grasped for the right words and tenses. A conversation partner was what I was missing to take my DuoLingo Spanish education to the next level. Therefore, I appreciated the discussion even more than I appreciated the sushi.

I then finished my walk to the modern Vilafant rail station to catch the TGV back to Barcelona Sants.   Once arriving at Barcelona Sants I traversed the station to locate the Metro tracks, whereby I took the Blue-L5-Vail d’ Hebron train east to Verdaguer, switched trains to the Yellow-L4-La Pau south to Barceloneta, and then walked 2.5 blocks to Nico’s AirBnB.

I enjoyed my day in Figueres. After passing the low-income outskirts, the town was very pretty. Most of all, Figueres had destination addresses, stores, and restaurants, but not the omnipresent crowds and noise of Barcelona. Thus, the day was very relaxing. I wish that I budgeted 2 days in Figueres, as I would have liked to have seen the Casteil de Sant Ferran (Sant Ferran Castle), Museu de la Técnica de l’Empordá (Technical Museum of the Empordá), Museu del Joguet (Museum of Toys), and uncrowded Costa Bravo beaches that are only 15 minutes from town.

The Sant Ferran Castle was built in 1753 as a military fortress that could house 6,000 soldiers who could prevent invasions into France. After the Spanish Civil War the Castle became a prison. Today it is a tourist site and the physically largest monument in Catalonia.

The Technical Museum displays a collection of business and home technology through the ages . The museum is especially known for its collection of typewriters, but also features stoves, telephone, utensils, radios, adding machines, clocks, cash registers, and cars.

According to reviews, the Museum of Toys is wonderful for adults and children. The museum features over 4,000 toys, including electric trains, elaborate electric train sets, dolls, doll houses, model airplanes, hobby horses, balls, tops, puppets, teddy bears, scooters, and tricycles.

All appear to be worthy destinations and I would have loved to visit the quiet, less-crowded Costa Bravo beaches.

Nevertheless, as relaxing as the day was, travel is often fatiguing. Consequently, when I returned to the AirBnB I just crashed (as best I could sleep in the heat of the apartment) until the next morning.

 

Figueres was only 16 miles from the French border, which prompted a quaint amalgam of Spanish, Catalan, and French culture.
Figueres was only 16 miles from the French border, which prompted a quaint amalgam of Spanish, Catalan, and French culture.
In some respects Figures was like a "tale of two cities."  The outskirts of town looked old and semi-squalid, like the stereotypical street in Havana, but the center of town looked conspicuously upscale and clean.
In some respects Figures was like a "tale of two cities." The outskirts of town looked old and semi-squalid, like the stereotypical street in Havana, but the center of town looked conspicuously upscale and clean.
Regardless, even in the touristed areas Figueres did not have the crowds and noise omnipresent in Barcelona.
Regardless, even in the touristed areas Figueres did not have the crowds and noise omnipresent in Barcelona.
The areas frequented exclusively by locals had barely a soul.
The areas frequented exclusively by locals had barely a soul.
And some streets had no souls, which I never witnessed in Barcelona.
Like in Barcelona, the side streets and accompanying sidewalks were very narrow.
Perhaps some of the calm was due to the Spanish schedule.  Lunch is later than in the USA, as is dinner, which usually starts at 9 pm or 10 pm.  Between lunch and dinner is a siesta.  I was walking the streets toward the end of the siesta period.  Yet, it looks like a band was preparing to lead a party during the evening.  Meawhile, the local kids had too much energy to rest during the siesta.
Perhaps some of the calm was due to the Spanish schedule. Lunch is later than in the USA, as is dinner, which usually starts at 9 pm or 10 pm. Between lunch and dinner is a siesta. I was walking the streets toward the end of the siesta period. Yet, it looks like a band was preparing to lead a party during the evening. Meawhile, the local kids had too much energy to rest during the siesta.
The street stalls at the town square sold about everything- clothing, tchotchkes, meat, sandwiches, vegetables, art, and more.
The street stalls at the town square sold about everything- clothing, tchotchkes, meat, sandwiches, vegetables, art, and more.
The main commercial district had many high-end shops.  Wherever I was in the city, if I saw a local walking a dog, unlike in Barcelona, the dog was on-leash.
The main commercial district had many high-end shops. Wherever I was in the city, if I saw a local walking a dog, unlike in Barcelona, the dog was on-leash.
Some high-end shops and dogs on-leash in the commercial district.
Some high-end shops and dogs on-leash in the commercial district.
The town plaza was frequented mostly by locals, but included some tourists.  Regardless, of where I was, the dogs were always on-leash.
The town plaza was frequented mostly by locals, but included some tourists. Regardless, of where I was, the dogs were always on-leash.
Not to fat shame, but this kid needs to get off the train and on the Chihuahua's exercise plan.
Not to fat shame, but this kid needs to get off the train and on the Chihuahua's exercise plan.
A small plaza approaching The Dali Museum, with a view of the cathedral proximal to the museum.
A small plaza approaching The Dali Museum, with a view of the cathedral proximal to the museum.
A closeup of the cathedral towers.
A closeup of the cathedral towers.

 

 

 

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