Barcelona, Bilbao, Basques, and Biarritz

May 2003

We start Saturday with a late-morning visit to Antonia's friend Karen, bringing with us a bottle of cheap cava and a jug of citrus juice. Mimosas ahoy!

Karen's an ex-pat Brit with the bubbly personality of a cruise director (she was one). Her sopra attico flat (super-attic, or above the top floor -- these apartments are actually built on the rooftops of many buildings) is on the flanks of Montjuic, the hill near the sea where many of the olympic venues were. In fact, as we sip our mimosas we have a clear view of the olympic diving pool just up the hill.

Eventually I resolve to actually be a tourist, and Antonia walks with me to Palau Guell, a Gaudi building that can be toured. She leaves me there. After the tour I visit the cathedral, which I missed on my last trip. I have to pay four euro admission, which I later learn from Antonia is quite new, but I am able to take a lift to the roof, which is quite something.

So is the cloister with its flock of 13 geese and tranquil fountains -- tranquil except for the small children who are being allowed to run screaming. Flashbacks to the US.

From the cathedral I wander through the Barri Gotic to the Picasso museum. I figure this is my hear for learning to appreciate modern art. It started at the Tate Modern in London, and in April I went to the travelling Picasso/Matisse exhibit in New York. With the Guggenheim Bilbao on my itinerary, I figure I should throw in this museum along the way (which, of course, means I absolutely must get to the one in Paris soon).

A couple hours of Pablo's works, from childhood to death, and I'm saturated. I point my weary feet toward the nearest subway, only to realize that the system Antonia lives on all originate at the Pl. de Catalunya. I'm too tired to walk that far, so I plot out a route that includes two transfers. With visions of Paris's Metro dancing in my head I ride, and walk, and ride, and walk, and get confused, and finally find the train that takes me home. Except that I have neglected to note landmarks coming out of the subway at Muntaner and I wander the nearby blocks until I get my bearings, passing a Volvo dealer and looking longingly in the window at the silver verIsion of my car (I only need to go a couple blocks -- can't I borrow it?).

I rest up and we go back out in the evening to join Antonia's friend Jujo for dinner. We go to his local restaurant where he orders me steamed clams along with the bread, ham, and cheese. Then we get three enormous steaks with potatoes and chiles (known as "lottery" chiles because about one in ten turns out to be spicy). Near the end of our meal a young British couple take the adjacent table and Antonia and Jujo are clearly shocked.

"How," Antonia finally asks, "did you find this place?"

She explains that she works with Spaniards in London and they recommended it. They don't speak Spanish, let alone Catalan, which is the language of the menu. So Jujo orders for them, too -- the same meal we had minus the clams. Their eyes pop when the enormous, sizzling steaks arrive (we take home one of the three that we ordered).

Antonia and Karen on Karen's terrace (looking north across the city).

Cathedral altar -- upstairs and down.

Worn chapel door.

Three of the cathedral's 13 geese -- something about the local saint being martyred at age 13.

Portal in the cathedral wall, from roof to street.

Demonic little candle holder in the cloister.

Copyright 2002 Mia's Mar Vista News. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction by permission only.