Walking Tour in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter

There was some commotion here late last night, so my plans for an early night and morning were dashed. I got up around nine and by the time I’d done my morning online stuff and dressed, it was time to head out for my tour at eleven. I hadn’t had coffee since I’m out of powdered milk and it didn’t make sense to buy a litre of milk for the short amount of time that I’m here or drag a container of powdered milk around with me. So I budgeted to have my coffee out this week and therefore, that was my first stop this morning.

My street terminates at Avinguda del Paral·lel (Parallel Avenue), so named because it is parallel to the Equator. Remembering that this is my nearest major intersection would have saved me a lot of grief yesterday as I would have just needed to make my way back there and then look for that café where I had breakfast! But anyway, I knew it today. I walked along it for about a block keeping my eyes peeled for a “cafe para llevar” (coffee to go) sign and spotted one quickly. A delicious Americano with a splash of milk was 1.50 euros (2.30CAD). Ridiculously expensive by Balkan standards, but still slightly better than I’d pay in Canada.

I was doing the Old City/Gothic Quarter free walking tour with Runner Bean Tours. We met at the Plaça Reial by the fountain. This was the first such walking tour for which I was strongly advised to book in advance. While I liked the “just show up” format in the Balkans, it sometimes made for very large groups. By booking in advance, Runner Bean Tours knew to have a few guides.

This plaza made me realise where Mexican colonial architecture comes from!

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There are two of these lamp posts designed by Gaudi. There were originally six, but four were stolen. Our guide, Ruth, couldn’t come close to positing a theory as to how anyone could manage to steal lamp posts!

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Ruth, who is originally from London, UK, majored in Hispanic studies and really knew her stuff. There is no way I can come close to recapping her tour or sharing everything that I learned today. I did jot down a few notes on a map she gave us, so I will have the odd tidbit.

Just some general notes in no particular order:

  • Barcelona dates back to a Roman settlement from 15BC.
  • Catalonia was one of many kingdoms that eventually joined together to become modern day Spain and it was once a vast Mediterranean trading empire. The Catalan language is spoken as far as Italy (Sicily or Sardinia). But Catalonia declined at the end of the 15th century when another part of modern day Spain started trading with the New World and Catalonia was forbidden from doing so.
  • April 23rd is the Catalan “Valentine’s Day,” when it is traditional for a man to give the woman she loves a rose and the woman to give him a book. This stems back to St. George (yes, the same St. George of England), who supposedly slew a dragon and where its blood fell, a red rose grew.
  • The flag of Catalonia is yellow with four red stripes. The legend of its origin is that a hero without a coat of arms was mortally wounded. So a leader who wanted to honour him plunged four fingers into the wound and then dragged the four bloody digits down the yellow shield to create a coat of arms or insignia for the hero.

Off we went to our first stop, the Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi. You don’t have déjà vu, I shared photos of this one yesterday. So Saint Maria of the Pines. A fisherman in this region lost his boat and felled a pine tree to build another one. In the tree, he found the face of the Virgin and so he built a shrine to her.

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This is the flag of Catalan independence. Yes, that star in the blue triangle is a nod to Cuba, with which Catalonia has strong relations.

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We continued on to the medieval Jewish quarter, El Call, where the ancient synagogue was found in the 1980s. A tiny portion is available  to visit below street level in the building in the background with a lamp sticking out of it.

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The streets here are so narrow that there is a one-way system. Exit…

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And entrance.

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We learned all about how the Jews were massacred and driven out of Barcelona by a mob who thought the Jews had caused the bubonic plague. We were asked where they went and the answer was.. the Balkans. It was kind of neat to get this side of the story I heard over there. There was a lot more about Jews and the Spanish Inquisition, but I can’t do justice to Ruth’s narrative.

In the Plaça Sant Jaume, you find Barcelona city hall and…

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the Palau de la Generalitat, which is the seat of the Catalan government.

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We moved on to the rear of the cathedral.

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Next, we went to the cloister of the cathedral and Santa Llúcia’s chapel.

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Santa Llúcia was a 13 year-old-girl who refused to renounce her faith and was subjected to 13 tortures as a punishment. This is why there are 13 white geese (symbolising her purity).

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Next stop was the Plaça Sant Felip Neri. This is one of those stops that was really interesting and that I would never have known about without a guide. The church is original to this place, but the building beside it was moved there brick by brick.

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This building was also moved brick by brick to this site. You can see from the shoes that it used to house a shoemaker’s workshop.

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The church still shows damage from the Spanish Civil War. Ruth gave us a really good primer on that, but I couldn’t even begin to sum up that convoluted history, so reminiscent of more recent Balkan history…

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I saw this style of church a lot in the American Southwest, including the Alamo.

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I appreciated this design on the underside of the balcony.

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This is one of the rare places in Barcelona where you can see remains of the original Roman walls. There were 76 of those square towers.

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This would have been the original gate into the Roman settlement.

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This building is arguably the ugliest in Barcelona (and ironically the seat of an organisation related to architectural design), but the point of interest is the murals by Picasso showing important parts of Barcelona’s culture. These giants and the people are castellers and form a tower. It sounds a lot like cheerleading pyramids, but more insane, and is a major deal in Barcelona.

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Here’s another thing I would never have found on my own, original Roman columns.

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“Centennial of the birth of the outstanding folklorist Joan Amades i Gelats. To all the lovers of the traditions and customs of Catalonia. The president of the government of Catalonia.” Two days in Barcelona and I’m already translating from Catalan! 😀

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Now, we’re at the Plaça del Rei (not to be confused with the Plaça Reial) These are medieval ruins of a palace and watchtower. It was also the site of a cemetery for not only people who were executed, but also their executioners.

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This basket would have held firewood for nighttime illumination.

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We moved into a more working class neighbourhood with the street names telling us what businesses were on that particular stretch. This is the street of the silversmiths.

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I don’t have any decent shots of our final stop, Fossar de les Moreres, because of the throng of people. It actually had nothing to do with this church. Instead, look at the bottom left, with the red thing arching up. That is an eternal flame symbolising a crushing defeat of the Catalonians in the 18th century.

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It was almost 2PM at the end of the tour and I was beyond ready for lunch. Off I went to find a menú del día. I must not have been in a good part of town for that as I saw few signs for them and what I saw was expensive or poor value. I wandered for a bit as the sky started to spit and then it began to properly rain.

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The store of miracles.

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Just as it began to rain hard enough to be annoying, I found lunch! Or rather, lunch found me. I normally avoid touts, but when I was approached by one at the end of a narrow alley who said that they had an English menu inside, I ignored my rule as they weren’t trying too hard to bring in tourists and the restaurant was practically invisible. Their menu was 11 euros and did not include a drink, but the options seemed hearty.

It had been almost six hours since a meagre breakfast, so I decided to have the most substantial option for each course. I was brought a lovely portion of fat green olives to nibble on as I perused the menu. I’m so glad I like olives now! I started with a decent spaghetti with meat sauce. The second course was two small grilled sausages that were amazing and served with a side of cannellini beans cooked in garlic. So simple, but so delicious! The food was definitely a step up from what I had yesterday. They had more options for dessert and I asked for something with chocolate, getting a small square of thin layers of chocolate cake alternated with thin layers of chocolate mousse. I was happy with my lunch.

Next, I decided to wander by the waterfront. I will go to a proper beach tomorrow!

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The Mirador de Colom, a monument to Christopher Columbus.

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Customs.

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Park of the three chimneys.

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Vicki, I found your purple scooter to go with my pink one!

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Here’s the bar/café where I had my coffee in the morning. Molino is a windmill.

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I had to take a picture of this Burger King offer just to show that the U.S. does not have the monopoly on over the top fast food options!

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I got in around four and had to do a couple of hours of work. To my surprise, I got peckish around eight, so I decided to go check out the pedestrian street a block from my flat. It was starting to get quite lively with the bars serving tapas and pinchos, both being small snacks. I’d like to eat tapas at some point, but they are an Andalusian food, not a Barcelonan food. So I’m happy to wait until I get to Almería (which is in Andalusia) to try them, where they should be cheaper anyway.

After wandering the street for a bit, I decided after passing a kebab place that a doner was exactly what I was in the mood for as I could take it to go and at 3.50 euro (about 5CAD) it wouldn’t be too much of an indulgence. The guy making the sandwiches was moving at a quick pace until my order, but there was no one behind me. So he stopped for a bit so we could chat.

This is something I missed so much in the Balkans, those superficial quick conversations with the people I met during my day. It was definitely better when I left Bulgaria and met so many more people who spoke English but here, I know I can walk into any business and be able to read the menu and talk to people without having to ask first if they speak my language. Like in Mexico, I’m fully aware of how much work I have to do to reach fluency, but my oral comprehension has improved exponentially since the fall of 2014.

It was a very lovely second day in Barcelona! I was looking at the long lines outside popular museums, like the Picasso, and really not feeling cheated by my not being able to treat Barcelona like a vacation. I am getting so much out of the city by living like a local, taking it slow, and just walking around.

I have a largish job to do tomorrow, so it will be a shorter final day exploring the waterfront. I’m leaving at 11AM on Friday to go to Alicante, which is a bit more than halfway to Almería. The train there, while cheaper and faster than the bus (!), is more expensive than my flight was from Skopje! So in hindsight, I realise that I would have been better off financially to stay in the Balkans longer and fly straight into Almería. Live and learn. But would I have gotten to Barcelona otherwise after my Almería stay? Not likely… Alicante will thankfully be much less expensive (25CAD a night versus 43 for a private room in a hostel right downtown). After that, just one more expensive bus or train ticket and then no housing or transportation fees for seven weeks. Phew!

(I can’t believe it’s 12:30 and another super late night for me. I really don’t think that the Spanish sleep…)

8 thoughts on “Walking Tour in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter

  1. Rae, what a great post… A-gain! You remember so much & share it with us. It’s almost like I’m there with you. I enjoy the street views, buildings, food, the history… and my scooter! That would be the color.
    It sounds, although you might be getting tired, you are enjoying yourself again where you can talk to the locals & give directions! 😉
    Hope you sleep well.
    Thanks! 😀

    • Thanks, Vicki! I was so tired and kept getting interrupted as I wrote it, so I’m glad it worked for you. I laughed so hard when I saw your scooter!

      I am exhausted. This is a very punishing pace of travel. I’ll be so glad to land.

      And not only can I give directions, I can receive them! 😀

      Sleep is interrupted here. Noisy building. 🙁 But at least I get a couple of long stretches, so it’s better than nothing. And the bed is COMFY. 😀

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