On our Day # 3 in Barcelona we went on our second Rick Steves walk. This time we explored Old Barcelona, better known as the Barri Gotic (Gothic District). All of Rick’s walks start at the Placa de Catalunya and so we set out from our hotel and walked down Carrer de Fontanella until we came to the east point of the Placa where Carrer de Fontanella intersects with Avinguda del Portal de l’ Angel. You can’t miss the Portal de l’Angel. One of the first buildings you encounter has a seven story thermometer.
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Avinguda del Portal de l’ Angel is one of the most expensive streets in Barcelona. It’s also wide and full of tourists but only for a short while. Then it splits in two and invites you to wander among the narrow twisted alleys until you come upon the rear of the great cathedral. You can also just walk down the Via Laietana to Avenue de la Catedra and there you are at the cathedral’s front steps. But what fun is that when you can also explore some alleys that open up to either other alleys or to pleasant little squares with music in the air?
Most of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s characters in his Cemetery of Forgotten Books series live in the Barri Gotic. One of the first twisted alleys you come across is at the corner of the Corte Inglis building. It’s called Carrer de la Santa Anna and if you are in the proper frame of mind you might find Sempere and Sons Booksellers. Down the street for a block and then a few steps east will bring you to Els Quatre Gats (The Four Cats) restaurant where Daniel Sempere and his friend Fermin often dine. The restaurant is still there! As you get closer to the cathedral you will undoubtedly pass one of a half dozen or so smaller churches that pop up in the maze of alleys behind the cathedral. Each church has its own little square. Daniel’s friend Nuria Monfort lived off the Placa de Sant Felipe Neri.
Zafon isn’t the only writer whose characters live in Old Barcelona. Irish writer Colm Toibin’s first novel is called South. It’s about an Irish woman who leaves her family in County Wexford and heads south to Barcelona where she rents a room in the Barri Gotic and walks every day to that same little square outside the church of St Philip Neri. One day she meets a rather rowdy Catalan artist in that square and the story takes off from there.
After a half-hour or so of walking and browsing we finally came to the cathedral’s cloister where we paid our admission and listened to the honking of the 13 geese who inhabit the cloister. Why 13 geese? Well, the cathedral’s real name is Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulalia and Saint Eulalia was 13 years old when she became a martyr. Most Barcelonese, by the way, call the cathedral La Seu and the square in front of the cathedral is called Placa de La Seu.
After visiting the cathedral we rounded a corner and came across a charming little square called Placa de Sant IU where a couple were dancing to the music of two flamenco guitarists. Then we wandered around some of the nearby old buildings most of which have been turned into museums. We walked down a few steps to the Museu Frederic Mares courtyard and found a group of Scandinavians singing a capella. We wandered around some more glancing at souvenirs and stopping once in a while for snacks. We came across Barcelona’s City Hall at one of the larger squares we encountered that day. It was a couple of blocks from the cathedral.
By this time we decided that we should turn around and head back toward our hotel. So we picked another network of alleys that eventually poured us out close to Placa d’Urquina which is only a couple of blocks from our hotel.
So that was our Day # 3 adventure in Barcelona. On Day # 4 we took an all-day bus trip to Montserrat but didn’t get there until about noon. More about that day in the next few postings.