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Sunday, September 4, 2011, still in Barcelona, Spain

Hi everyone, and happy Labor Day. Hope you still have some summer left after this. We’re still in Barcelona, and the crowds don’t yet seem to know that summer is supposed to be over. Here’s what we’ve done this week.

It was Sunday, and we had two more free-on-Sunday museums on our list. We thought that the City Museum would be a history of Barcelona, with its various conquerors and its stature as part of Aragon, or its role in the Spanish Civil War that brought Franco to power. It isn’t. It’s actually several grand buildings surrounding a plaza, where the medieval royal palace stood. The old 11th to 14th century palace is now part of the museum, as is a 1555 watch tower, a 14th century church, and a 16th century palace that was originally somewhere else, and was moved stone-by-stone to this location. But these buildings aren’t really part of the tour, because they��re too new. The time represented by the museum ends in the 8th century AD.

In fact, the museum is underground. You enter the door and then you take an elevator down, down. To the fourth century BC, right here in Barcelona, a Roman city. Careful excavations have left in place the remains of Augusta Barcino, the Roman settlement. To your sides are displays of artifacts found in the excavations. In front of you, there are panels describing the layout and daily life within the Roman walls. Underneath you, below the Lucite floor, are the rocks and pots and actual artifacts in place in this gigantic house. Some of the rocks still in place in the walls are carved with Roman letters. Others, higher up, are carved with Hebrew, from the Jewish neighborhood that existed in the city before they were expelled in the 15th century. Even if you’re not particularly thinking about Barcelona on its own, this museum provides a microcosm of Western history. You leave the premises alongside some remaining Roman walls on the street that you probably didn’t notice on your way there.

In a different museum, we then visited a small exhibition celebrating the Inca trail that runs down the western coast of South America. But you don’t need to visit museums to visit history in Barcelona. You walk down the streets and see the architectures of multiple eras and myriad levels of grandeur. We continued to follow some walks we found on Internet travel sites, just to give us a guided excuse to visit neighborhoods we wouldn’t necessarily notice. Each time we wandered a different route, there was a gem of a church or an over-carved home or some ancient remnant that the residents have long since stopped noticing.

Art was having a minor crisis of achievement. We’d arrived in town and were already in Barcelona for the better part of two weeks, yet his to-do list wasn’t much smaller than it had been when we arrived. We’d already searched high and low for an errant electrical connector to connect our 32-amp boat power to the ubiquitous 63-amp dockside electric. The people who were supposed to fix our watermaker (the one that they attempted to fix in Atlantic Spain and then tried again to no avail in Portugal) didn’t seem to be eager to schedule an appointment to visit. Some work was in progress but couldn������t be crossed off the list until it was finished.

Then, in a matter of days, there was a rash of success. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that the timing of things getting done matched the return of Spain from its August closure. The dinghy was painted and returned. A line that was being made for us was finished. The watermaker people awakened. We found someone to renovate the canvas bimini cover improvement that had been incapably designed and sewn in Valencia. Our local contact suggested by Hallberg-Rassy arranged for some workers who capably climbed the mast to fix a broken bracket.

We’d been expecting delivery of a large box from Malta (springs and webbing for bouncy Mediterranean docking.) Art had been following the package on the Internet, and on Monday, saw that the driver had tried to deliver it at 9:03 at our marina, which, in theory, opens its office doors at 9-oh-oh. We were happy to see that it had arrived, but Art wasn’t happy when it wasn’t delivered to the marina on Tuesday, or even attempted again. So we walked across the street to the main post office, and there was the box, retrieved by the helpful, English-speaking customer service person. But that was a bonus sightseeing trip, because the post-office building is yet another grand edifice, this one built between 1926 and 1929. It’s an example of the Noucentisme cultural movement, which was apparently a backlash against the Modernista movement sweeping the area. Advocates claimed that this was entirely different from the Modernista structures; apparently I’m no expert, because I like them all.

Until this point, we’d expended quite a few metro rides and some hours to finding both the dock adaptor and some Volvo oil that no Volvo dealer from Barcelona back to England seemed to carry. But we had help from our Hallberg-Rassy representative in town, a young man named Jack who had organized some of our onboard work, and promised to find the items that had completely eluded us. We talked about his family in Fort Lauderdale and our travels through Spain this season. We talked about travel, and using Skype to stay in touch; he told me he uses another web-based service. But that turned out not to be quite accurate; he doesn’t just use Magic Jack; he is Magic Jack. A few days after we spoke, he showed up at our berth with the right dockside adaptor, a gallon of Volvo mystery oil, and a recommendation for finding the antifreeze we couldn’t locate anywhere (actually, we’re still looking for the antifreeze.) But we went from unsuccessful after two weeks to largely successful after two weeks and a few days.

Our sightseeing was slowing down, although Barcelona still had a few surprises for us. We visited the portside mall, a floating shopping haven that had been built as part of the huge redevelopment of the derelict waterfront district in anticipation of the 1992 Olympics. Just ashore of the mall, aquarium, and theater complex stand the lovely Customs building and a monument capped with a statue of Christopher Columbus pointing out to sea, as if to predict his departure and discovery. Just behind him is the famous Rambla boulevard. Barcelona is one of the many cities across the Mediterranean that claims Columbus as a native son. It’s one of the less-convincing arguments, but it makes a nice statue.

Another mall beckoned us, at the square called Plaça d”Espanya. This square and surrounding development was constructed for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition. The square is enough to be a destination of its own. The fountain in the center is several stories tall, carved, and designed in the Modernist tradition of the time. Down one parkway stands the palatial National Museum of Art of Catalonia. The mall to which we’d been recommended is on the other side of the fountain, and on another side is the convention center. But the mall doesn’t look like a mall from the outside, because it was built inside another building that was preserved around it – a bullring. The mall is called The Arena, and everything on the inside was apparently designed to showcase the brick bullring.

The shops encircle the bullring’s interior, leaving a large circular stage on one of the many levels of the ring. Nearly everything on the inside is made of Lucite, so wherever you are, on an escalator, or walking by the shops, or in the elevator, you’re always keenly aware of the height and breadth of the building. The metal structures that hold everything in place are painted bright yellow. The top is dedicated to restaurants, where you can sit outside with a summer drink and take in the many delights of the square, including the Magic Fountain beneath the Palau National (National Art Gallery). The balcony is also mostly transparent and is a little bit unsettling.

Part of the reason that the fountains are magic (also part of the 1929 exposition) is that they are the seat of a light and water performance. The show begins at dusk. Small fountains line the parkway leading to the palace. A large fountain in front of the palace is the center of the show. By alternating which jets are flowing, how high the fountains toss water into the air, and colored lights changing the look of the water, the fountain appears to dance to the music, which generally consists of muffled songs from Disney musicals. Sometimes the water appears to be a giant cloud hovering over the fountain. We were there on a warm, still night, but it wasn’t hard to imagine that the experience could be a wet one if there is a strong breeze. You can watch the fountain from the bars atop the bullring mall, but it’s a more intimate experience to be right there, getting sprayed and being part of the crowd. And even on the Thursday night we attended, in September, the place was crowded. We were lucky just to find a rail to lean against, as all the concrete steps and benches were lined with onlookers from end to end.

Next week, we’ll find more things to do here, and prepare for company coming soon. Hope you have a great Labor Day weekend.

Love, Karen (and Art)