In my forty-five years I haven’t travelled that much especially abroad. So far I had been Berlin, Rivoli/Turin, Prague, Barcelona, Essen, Dublin and Madrid. Thats one trip abroad every 6.4 years. So imagine my surprise that already in 2013 I have been to two foreign cities Barcelona and Amsterdam. In addition, I went on a rare trip to London, which seems like a foreign location itself.
So this is going to be a ‘ Tale of Three Cities’ or alternatively ‘Up and About in Barcelona, Amsterdam and London’. Part 1 is Barcelona.
Steph and myself had been to Barcelona about 6 years ago. A touristy trip that had started with an upgrade in hotel and included an epic stormy trip around unfinished Gaudi architecture, a giant rug at Miro gallery, a fab vegetarian curry house, scary circus pictures at Picasso gallery, tons of record shops, discovering how useful tourist buses are and a gig we accidentally got tickets for and didn’t go (!!!). We loved it. So when it was suggested this year with a number of beery mates to go again to find craft ale, I was delighted.
That first trip we spent most of our time around the Ramblas. The ultimate touristy street bedecked with cheap gift stores, random musical acts, expensive cafes and numerous human statues. Occasionally we had meandered out into the gothic quarter or seemed sanctuary on Montjuic finding galleries. This time (with the wonderful Spotted by Locals as a guide) the districts were our domain with time seeking out places of interest, travelling down backstreets with stunning architecture many times with an amazing perspective view. From small quiet living areas, to wide open boulevards, from gothic side streets to open squares, and from unique shopped backstreets (full of record emporiums) to hilltop panoramic views, we sought out bars, art, food and some of the best architecture in Europe. We explored the fortified walls of the Castle of Montjuic with added cable car trip, we saw the sleek (cleaned) walls of the Mies Van der Rohe Pavilion and met many times outside the fabulous Barcelona Cathedral.
The most touristy thing we did, was in my book one of the must do’s, a trip around Antoni Gaudi’s fabulous creations. The walk that takes in firstly the Casa Battlo, a stunning house which crosses between the organic and art nouveaux styles. The windows, a number of ovalish outlets with circle designed stained glass are amazing. All the while surrounded in fluid sculpture. Above mosaic tiles fills the wall space leading to the dragons back on the roof making this a stunning and bizarre building.
A little along from this is the large waves of the undulating stone facade of Casa Mila (or La Pedrera). An amazing set of living apartments incorporating courtyards and living balconies and topped with large stone guardians (actually chimneys). The building also incorporates a great bookshop which sold a number of paper engineering publications.
A short eventful metro journey leads to the queue outside the Sagrada Famila, Gaudi’s lifework and unfinished symphony. From the outside, the church is imposing with its many spires reaching for the gods. The facades add to this, with the Nativity facade acting like an overpowering subterranean gothic mural with imagery which seems to meld with almost cave like columns and arches . Meanwhile the passion face, is more rigid angular, very modern almost very Science fiction and it dominates this side of the building. The doorways are particularly excellent, carved verses like huge wooden typefaces.
So far the building had not changed from my last visit, at that time the stunning outside led to a building site inside which had some finished columns but also a very unfinished interior with holes in the infrastructure and running rain water… oh and there was a dumper truck in the middle of the floor. I expected a similar situation but as I ventured in, the shocked look on peoples faces told another story. I couldn’t believe it myself. The inside now nearly completed was now light, glowing and sublimely finished. Stonework now clean and smooth reflected the bright colours of the many beautiful stained glass windows. Finished columns spiralled upwards like trees intermingling almost impossibly with balconies and stairwells, like an Escher picture. Everywhere you looked another structural gem awaited, whilst all the time it felt minimalist and so calming. Gaudi really showed in this construction, an understanding of organic and structured forms and how to combine them with sublime effect.
After a quick Tapas break, we travelled to Park Guell, to take in the hills, parklands and the many tiers of seating areas. Exploring each area gives a different feel. The first terrace is stunning with the amazing waved mosiaced seating area which glints in the winter sun giving stunning views of the city… the only problem is its full of tourists. It is equally great underneath in the cool dark with the series of columns and sun like roundels on the roof. These little gems make Gaudi’s structures even better. As I posted on Facebook, Gaudi is a genius and an artist.
Art is everywhere in Barcelona. On the previous visit we went to the amazing Miro, Picasso and modern art galleries but there is an abundance of art out on the streets. Look under your feet at Gaudi’s tiles or in public squares for some stunning creations. Just around from our hotel, in a square a huge steel chicken wire sculpture created a cone as it entangled upwards to a point. In another public area, a huge steel framed cube appeared with the shiny silver glinting against the deep blue sky. On the seafront, there are yet more examples of fabulous public art. When not official there are great examples of some amazing murals and signs usually in the districts or living areas.
As with the Sagrada Familia above, the craft ale scene in Barcelona seemed to be under construction the last time I was here. This time, we had all done a bit of research and we knew of a number of options, but I wasn’t expecting the quality of the venues and beer choice we would find.
The opening welcoming bar, The Cat bar became a regular meet/start off point. It mainly had beers from Spain including Fort beers. Their porter/stout became a staple in here. It also served tasty vegetarian food (great for Steph) and had free Wifi which was so useful to connect back with home.
‘Ale and Hop‘ would grace any city as a top market craft ale hostelry. American in style with long bar, chromed taps and a blackboard declaring some of the best beer the USA and Europe has to offer. When we were there beers were on from To ol, Stone, Mikkeller and Moor as well as a couple of local ales. If the beer on the board was not enough, tall fridges contained some bottles adding to the quality. A fab relaxing bar.
A similar bar in terms of draft selection was Cerveseria La Resistencia, a bar found in the university area. The main difference was no-one spoke English but from the selection it was clear they spoke beer. I had a pretty awesome Texas Ranger in here and it had a great fab seating area where we enjoyed our drinks and sampled some food.
A bar called ‘George and Dragon‘ sounds like a standard British bar abroad, full of drunken lads from the toon watching premiership footy on a big screen drinking Carling. It did have football on a large screen but this was something different, taps of quality ales and a book full of bottled ale. Mainly american and all great.
Finally there was ‘La Cerveceria‘, a bar / bottle shop with a dizzying array of beers from around the world. Like kids in a sweet shop we scoured the shelves, (especially the one wall which seemed to have every Rogue Ale in existence) and of course this turned into an impromptu bottle club. Brilliant bar but far too dangerous
We did go to a number of other small and quirky bars/restaurants which were worthy of note. La Pesca Salada was like sitting in the belly of a fish or in a cabin of the Nautilus. So much fishy decoration in this tiny gin bar. I hate gin with a passion, but become absorbed with a lengthy detailed approach used which became an art form in itself . Luckily they made a mean Margarita.
Bar Pastis, was even smaller and more crowded. A bar decked with collages, posters, artworks and an array of scary drinks. It also had one of the grumpiest barmen I have ever seen, who argued with band trying to play on a stage (a tiny raised corner) and then refused to turn the music down. The atmosphere was very bohemian and the local delicacy Pastis (an aniseed liquor) fitted in perfectly. I really liked this place.
Bon Vins Bar Electricatat was one of the best finds for food, a Vermouth bar that serves tapas. When we entered it was packed and we thought there was no hope, but the staff squeezed the occupants on the tables and created a space. The man from the bar looked disturbingly like Robert De Niro and spoke Catalan. After finding someone to translate, a huge amount of seafood tapa’s was brought out (and some vegi stuff for Steph), all of which was fab. Every dish brought out was given a hearty shout of Attencion by Robert. 3 bottle of Vermouth were placed beside us and we were told to count glasses. 2 1/2 bottles later and after much food and deserts consumed, we asked for the bill, fearing the Worst. Only 12 euro’s each. If you like seafood, vermouth (or Robert De Niro) , this is a must go to.
Another great venue was the Pipa club. We find an anonymous doorway in a central square, push a buzzer and we are let in, a staircase awaits and then a closed door. With a little hesitation and baited breath we slowly push the door to reveal a multi roomed venue including a british style bar themed with one of my heroes. Sherlock Holmes. Walls are covered in pipes, movie posters and photographs mainly of Basil Rathbone. In the back room a band play jazz/blues with flamenco influences.
So a fab trip full of amazing art, culture and craft ale. I learnt this time Barcelona is a great city to meander around not only going to the tourist hotspots but also into the suburbs where some of the local gems are. You could do this by yourself but it is far better with friends. And my travelling companions really made this trip, eight different people with different needs catered for, we all got something from the trip and compromised so that all enjoyed it fully. So take a bow Chris, Gill, Andrew, Emma, Sarah, Paul and my wonderful Steph. Lets do this again sometime.
So the eternal question, what has Billys pop-up got to do with this story? As always it is not an obvious one. I thought of an easy option to create a pop-up Sagrada Familia, problem was it wasn’t that easy. I really wanted to do something which linked the photographs taken, my friends and paper engineering I had seen. In a city as big as Barcelona, you will find it if you look. Lots of pop-up books (I bought a fab Spanish pop-up history book not realizing that I would get it later in English), the fab paper plate fish scales at La Pescada, some lovely little pieces of artwork found in the George depicting architectural scenes (with cutout elements) and some bizarre street art, by an old fella creating a domed structure out of toilet roll held up by the hot rushing air of Metro vents (see picture of Paul in the sculpture). But in the aforementioned Pastis bar, there was so many elements, the walls were one constant collage, on the ceiling huge paper mache sculptures loomed over the intimate space and floating over the bar, there was one solitary paper crane.
A simple origami crane, a symbol of peace and wishes seemed an apt object to make for such a calming visit. Very early on I decided I should make 8 – one for each of the participants and would use photographs which would appear in the blog or look interesting. Each photo was printed onto standard paper, and then turned into a 9.5cm square . A simple youtube video was used as a guide the process, as there are a couple of killer folds which take time to memorise and practice. Once in your head, production is fairly easy and quick to achieve. The finished small cranes are great and I especially love the unpredictable patterns created.
But most of all, each crane tells an element of the tale of when eight went to Barcelona and they each hold a wish to go back.