We started our day with a free walking tour. It had been a while since our last walking tour so we were excited. The tour focused on the Gothic old city of Barcelona. The Barri Gòtic is the centre of the old city of Barcelona. Many of the buildings date from medieval times, some as far back as the Roman settlement.
The Barcelona cathedral is the typical gothic cathedral we’ve come to associate with every city in Europe and was also our first major stop. The church is dedicated to Eulalia of Barcelona, a young virgin who suffered martyrdom during Roman times. According to Catholic tradition, she miraculously survived two attempted murders after failing to betray the church. And when she was finally beheaded a dove rose from her neck towards heaven. These three miracles were enough for the Catholic church to make her a saint. Today she is one of the patron saints of the city. We didn’t enter the cathedral, but the exterior was quite lovely…even with the scaffolding…
We visited Plaça Jaume where the Barcelona town hall and headquarters of the Catalunya government can be found facing each other. Barcelona is located in the Catalunya region of Spain. We learned that there is much tension between this region and the rest of the country. Recent elections further enforced this, and with economic distress in the near future there has been an increased push for Catalunya independence. One humor anecdote we heard here was that this spring public nudity was outlawed. Up until then people were free to wander about Barcelona in their birthday suits as long as they were wearing shoes…because apparently shoes make all of the difference…? The following months saw many naked people standing in this square protesting the new law to these two government buildings, neither of which actually had anything to do with the national law.
Next we set off on a hike to the highest point in the old city. The remains of the Temple of Augustus can be seen at this highest point, 20ft above sea level at most. A museum has been built around the remaining columns. The temple used to be part of the old roman forum…aka they are super old!
Winding through the streets we reached the Jewish Quarter, aka the Ghetto. The streets were tiny and the houses slanted. Interestingly enough, they were built this way. To make the houses larger they keep getting wider as they get higher. When all of the old houses still stood you coukd actually get around using the rooftops! The Jewish population was not alowed to openly practice their religion so synagogues had to be hidden underground…literally. We were taken past one of the two oldest synagogues in the world, the other we saw in Prague. This one was completely the opposite and instead of being in a old historic looking building it was hidden below ground and we could only get a glimpse through a low window.
By the time our tour finished it was well past lunch time and we were starving. After wandering back to a more central location we chose a random restaurant. Kristin had quiche and Justine had ravioli. Our meal choices weren’t exactly Spanish, but they were so delicious that we kept bringing them randomly up throughout the rest of the day (and the next day). It was the type of meal you dream about that night. And to make up for the lack of Spanishness we paired it with half a liter of sangria! Sangria is a most wonderful drink! It’s like wine but sweeter & fruitier, which are the flavors we like best with wine. And then, as an added bonus, you get to eat wine soaked fruit when your done!
On our walking tour we had passed by an adorable Christmas market outside the cathedral. We returned here to see what was for sale, check out the traditional local decorations and listen to Christmas music for awhile. It’s so hard to be in the right mind set though when you’re not wearing pants (we were in shorts 😉 ) and you have to block the sun from your eyes…not that it’s not sunny in the winter at home, but the negative temperatures make it impossible to go outside.
Seeing as Barcelona sits directly on the Mediterrannean, we thought a visit to the beach was in order. It still seems odd to us that there can just be a beach in the middle of a large city, but the weather at home right now makes the idea seem like an impossibility. The nice, sandy stretch was teaming with people, but no swimmers. It was seventeen degrees out, but for the people of Spain that is cold weather. We keep laughing to ourselves as we walk by people bundled up like it’s -30C and we’re in our shorts & tights. The beaches of Barcelona are world renowned. National Geograhic and the Discovery Channel declared it the best urban beach in thewordlessd, and third best beach overall.
We returned to our hostel to take part in a time-honored Spainish tradition, the siesta. For Kristin this involved sitting in the common area with IgPat, while Justine took advantage of the time and spent it wonderfully in her bed. She thinks every day should have a mandatory lay down :). Kristin thinks that sounds like torture.
We had supper in one of Barcelona’s many lamp-lit squares. The restaurant felt rather reminiscent of our favorite eatery in Venice…the waiters had the same jovial spirit. We shared a gigantic chicken & seafood paella that makes our mouths water to think about now it was so good. Paella is so much fun when you’re both dishing up out of a huge pan that seems to have had a mish-mash of meat scattered throughout. And to go with our meal we had our second half-liter of sangria for the day…that stuff is just so freakin’ good!
Things We Learned Today:
– In mediveal times people had very awful hygiene and were very dirty…with the exception of nobility. The members of the monarch were so clean that you could see their veins, where the blood appears to be blue. As no one understood how blood becomes red when oxygenated, they believed the kings & queens actually had a different colored blood from the commoner who bled red…and here is the origin of the term “Blue Blooded”.
– The main patron saint of Barcelona is St. George. This is odd considering he is mainly an English saint, but there is a story behind it. Legend tells that after losing a battle for the city, one of Barcelona’s enemies left a dragon outside one of the towns gates. The people allowed the dragon to remain there (as they had no way to get rid of it) until it became just too disruptive. The king went out to speak to the dragon and reached an agreement: the dragon would behave if the city provided it with one virgin per month. The young girls caught on to the fate of a virgin pretty fast & did what they had to do to prevent it. Soon there was only one virgin left in the whole of Barcelona: the princess. But before she could be sacrificed St. George arrived. He lived up to his name as “the dragon slayer” and did away with the dragon, thereby saving & winning the love (& virginity) of the princess.
In honor of this event the people of Barcelona don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14th. Instead they celebrate St. George Day on April 23rd. It is traditional for men to give their woman a rose and women to give their man a book…but as sexism dissolved it became that you give either a book or rose to someone you appreciate. Because so many books were being bought & exchanged on this day, UNESCO declared April 23rd International Book Day for the entire world!
What We Miss:
Phineas & Ferb…Oh Family Channel, we can’t wait to lay on the couch & view you!
Love, Luck & Lemons soaking in red wine,