Sunday, December 14, 2014

Barcelona potpourri

Children chasing bubbles in Parc de la Ciutadella

I think I've been clear about our feelings for Barcelona: Both Ken and I put it right at the top of the list of favorite cities, (or nearly at the top for me, as I'm still going steady with Paris). Admittedly, we have A LOT MORE of the world to see, and I wouldn't be surprised if a visit to Venice, Lisbon, Bruges, or Oslo were to give the Catalonia capital a run for its euros.

For my third and final installment of Barcelona highlights, I let the pictures do most of the talking.

In 14-hundred and 92 ...

Christopher Columbus has fallen out of favor in much of the world,
but in Barcelona, Mirador de Colomb (Monument a Colóm) still has
its place of honor at the base of les Rambles (las Ramblas).

Detail on the monument of Christopher Columbus

Statues and such

I wish I could identify all these sculptures. Yeah, I know, I should have taken better notes. 

Our tour bus stopped here: in Montjuïc, maybe?

Angel with a star on his head

Man with a bird on his head

Modern art in the Gràcia neighborhood

Francesc Macià monument in Plaça de Catalunya

Barcelona's Arc de Triomf was the main access gate for the 1888 Universal Exhibition.

Parc de la Ciutadella

Like the Arc de Triomf, above, Parc de Ciutadella was built for the 1888 Universal Exhibition. Several prominent (some rather run down) structures from the exhibition and an amazing fountain remain. Barcelona's zoo, the Catalan Parliament, the Museu d'Art Modern, and the Museu de Geologia also are located here.

The Umbracle is home to tropical plants.

The winter garden, L'Hivernacle

Perhaps the park's most prominent features is the Cascada fountain, designed by Antoni Gaudi. This is a picture of the top of the fountain.

Gaudi's simple, understated style

Pretty tourists pose with wooly mammoth

Me, happy to be here, but sad it's our last day in Barcelona

On the waterfront

Large lobster in Port Vell

Modern sculpture along Port Vell

Gravity-defying glass building along Barcelona's port

Dramatic road shoulder in Port Vell

Top of Tibidabo

We didn't go to the top of Barcelona's highest point, but I managed to take this picture
(one of my favorites). To the right of Sacred Heart church is Parc d'Attractions.  

To market, to market

The Mercat de la Boqueria is the most popular of Barcelona's food markets.
The iron-and-glass hall was built in the early 1900s.

Fresh fruit cocktails

I don't recall ever seeing burritos like these.

Inside the Mercat de la Boqueria

... And remember ...

Words to live by.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Puymirol: Aquitaine’s oldest bastide

Tucked into the southeast corner of the Lot-et-Garonne department is the charming bastide village of Puymirol. Its name means “mountain from where you can see faraway,” and the views from (and toward) Puymirol are a testament to its name.

View from Puymirol

View from Puymirol

Puymirol from a distance: The village is perched 150 meters above the Séoune river.

La porte Saint-Seurin is the ancient entry used by residents
to access their land beyond the gates.

The village’s layout is unlike most bastide towns. Adapting to the rocky spur on which it’s built, the main street, rue Royale, crosses a large plaza. Several lanes, or bonellos, lead out to the edges of the village.

A cornières bordering la carra in Puymirol

Puits de la Place in Puymirol’s central square

Église Notre-Dame du Grand Castel

Le Puits de la Citadelle, one of Puymirol’s three wells,
recently was restored.

Playground in La Foirail, the square used for special occassions as well as
petanque and other pastimes.

Our visit to Puymirol unfortunately does not include a meal at Michel Trama’s l’Aubergade, a two star Michelin restaurant and five star hotel. Perhaps I can talk my husband into returning for a special truffle market on Dec. 29 and he’ll insist we spend the night — in my dreams! (Visit the Aubergade website here for details.)

After we exhaust the sites within its walls, we explore beyond Puymirol’s ramparts. 

Lavoir Saint-Seurin
Le chemin de rondes, the path along the outside of
Puymirol’s walls

A site along le chemin de rondes

A site along le chemin de rondes

A horse trough along le chemin de rondes

I rarely find a French tourism website as excellent as Puymirol’s. The site features an interactive map as well an excellent readable history of the village. So, instead of paraphrasing the website’s description of Puymirol’s interesting roots, I’ll directly quote from … 

In 1246, Raymond 7th, the Count of Toulouse, ordered the building of the new town of Grand Castel. But to fully understand the political foundations, it is necessary to step back a few years: 

Our lord ELEONORE OF GUYENNE, heir of the sovereign Dukes of Gascony, had brought the whole of Aquitaine, including AGENAIS, as a dowry to her husband LOUIS 7th the Young.
But after divorcing the prince, she married Henry PLANTAGENET, a lord of Anjou. In 1251, the latter became King of ENGLAND and from then on, we were ENGLISH. 

45 years later, his son RICHARD the LION HEARTED married his sister JEANNE to the Count of TOULOUSE, and gave her Agenais as a dowry. By then, we had two lords: the Count of Toulouse, and his suzerain, the King of England. Richard the Lion Hearted was very popular in our area. He ordered the building of the first bridge in Agen as well the king’s castle, near the Basilica of Peyragude in PENNE d’AGENAIS. 

It was him, and not Philippe August, that our barons followed when they went on the 3rd crusade. And the “CORNIERES” (arcades typical of our bastides) around the market place, have been introduced in our area by the English. The chosen spot was a primitive town, PUYMIROL, which became the borders of his new states. 

Later on, Grand Castel and Puymirol, became one and the same town: bastide of Puymirol. 

Love you, honey. Now, how about that reservation at Trama?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Free to see in Barcelona

Put aside culture, vibrance, beauty, architecture, and atmosphere. What makes Barcelona one of our favorite cities is value. If you know my husband, then you know he enjoys a bargain, and with our first dinner check totaling 13 euros and a 20 euro massage that he describes as the best massage ever, you can see why he loved our recent trip to the capital of Catalonia.

Even without the benefit of a massage, I find much to adore about Barcelona. Here are three favorite fabulous free things we discovered:

Roof of Arenas de Barcelona at Plaça Espanya

I'm not sure I'll be able to find Arenas de Barcelona 
shopping mall, but when we emerge from 
the subway, it's right across the street.

Interior of Arenas de Barcelona
Not much inside the huge shopping center interests me,
but the snack bar at the cinema catches my eye because ...

... this is some colorful popcorn!
View from the rooftop of Arenas de Barcelona

View from of Plaça Espanya from the rooftop of Arenas de Barcelona

Font Màgica de Montjuïc

A magic fountain? Really? I'm intrigued, but skeptical. After our rooftop stroll, we cross Plaça Espanya and pass through the Venetian Towers toward the Museu Nacional D'Art de Catalunya (MNAC). This area was built for the 1929 International Exhibition and is one of the city's main traffic hubs. 

We arrive about 45 minutes before showtime and score two seats at an outdoor snack bar. One cheap wine, a beer and a bottle of water assures us ringside seats for the Magic Fountain show. About a thousand spectators are seated on the MNAC steps and hundreds are milling around, but our view is unimpared.

I anticipate that I'll be able to endure about 15 minutes of watching water, but as soon as the music starts and the lights and water begin their dance, I am totally hooked. 

Believe me, the pictures I post here do not do justice to the spectacle that is Font Màgica. The fountain performs Thursdays through Sundays in the high season, and Fridays and Saturdays in the autumn/winter. 

Font Màgica de Montjuïc

Font Màgica de Montjuïc

 Sunday Afternoon with Pablo: Museu Picasso

Pablo Picasso lived in Barcelona throughout most of his teens, and it is said he wished his museum to be located here. Of course there are Picasso museums in Paris and in the south of France, but nowhere else is so large a collection of his early work. The museum is spread through several Gothic palaces over six blocks in the Ribera district. 

I have done my homework and know the museum is free after 3 p.m. on Sundays (all day on the first Sunday of the month). We arrive around 2:15 and join the line of about 100 people. By the time the clock strikes three, and we are heading inside, the line winds around the block (and still is long when we leave the museum a few hours later).

I can't take pictures inside, so a few photos of the colorful La Ribera district will have to suffice.

Lady in La Ribera

Painter across from Museu Picasso

Architectural detail in La Ribera

Architectural detail in La Ribera

Architectural detail in La Ribera

A sculpture by Julio Nieto at Cathedral of Barcelona