Barcelona, Spain – December 13, 2011
As I left Madrid for Barcelona, it was cold and cloudy. I had not taken the time to look at the weather in Barcelona, so I was not sure what I was in for upon my arrival. As it turns out, nearly every day was registering about 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit. It was very comfortable.
Like my other trips on the AVE train; when the ticket says the train leaves at 09:30, the train leaves at 09:30. It is nice that the train can cut a six-hour drive into a two and a half or three-hour ride. Even still, I was a little disappointed that the train I had booked made four stops on the way to Barcelona; Guadalajara-Yebes, Zaragoza, Lleida Pirineus, and Campo de Tarragona. I do not believe we were at any of those stops for more than five minutes. So, if one is getting off or getting on at one of those stops, one had better be ready!
After I checked into my hotel, I went out to see the Christmas lights that were around my hotel. The Le Meridien Hotel is on the street called La Rambla. Loosely translated, that means the promenade. La Rambla seems to be loaded with people always, regardless of the hour or the weather. This evening was no different. In addition to many people, blue Christmas lights strung along La Rambla for as far as the eye could see. On the various side-streets or other streets off La Rambla, one could see different styles of Christmas lights on each one.
Because there were so many people, when I would stop to take a photograph of the lights, I would invariably capture shots of those walking near me.
As I walked north on La Rambla towards Plaza Catalunya, I saw a sign strung across La Rambla. Facing south, one could read the sign; “Associacio d’Amics, Veins, Comerciants.” That translates to the Association of Friends, Neighbors, and Merchants. It just so happened there was a chair near the sign. I decided to sit down and watch the people pass. It did not take me long to notice I was even with the site where many would stop to photograph the sign. In the first photo I took of that area, there were six people in the photograph that were either preparing to or had just taken a picture of their own.
The chair I sat in was direct across from a restaurant, Pizza Marzano. That is one of my favorite places in Madrid. I decided I would take a photograph. Just as I did, a lady walked right in front of the camera. Oh, well, they make many of the photos more interesting.
Since this seemed to be “the place” to take photos, I began to take pictures of the people that were taking pictures. I started with an older man in a green jacket. He stopped, but everyone else obviously kept walking. When I noticed everyone besides the photographer was continuing on their evening stroll, I decided to change the settings on my camera. Most notably, I changed the shutter speed to 0.30 seconds, essentially a third of a second. The first photographer I caught with my new setting was taking a photo looking toward Plaza Catalunya, not the La Rambla sign. Those that continued walking were nothing but blurred images. I liked what I saw, so I continued to experiment.
Sitting there, some people walked directly in front of me. That resulted in some “earth-tones” eerily moving by my camera. Next up were a man and his friend. They were taking a picture of themselves by holding the camera at arm’s length. For me, the fascinating part of the photo is that they are in relative focus while all of the other pedestrians blur by the camera.
One of my favorite shots is the one with the person in yellow pants, kneeling to capture his friends. The friends can be seen on the far-right side of the frame. Another one that struck me was the young woman that was getting ready to take a photograph or had just completed a picture, and her attention was suddenly moved off her subject. I am not sure what caused that. I did not see nor hear anything. Ultimately, she and her friend regrouped for an “arms-length” shot with them and the sign.
After sitting on that chair for about 25 minutes, I began moving myself and my focus toward Plaza Catalunya. One building right on the corner of La Rambla and Carrer de Pelai had some beautiful, blue lights. From there, looking back south on La Rambla, it is always bustling. All the colors certainly add to the festivities. Looking westerly on Carrer de Pelai, the Christmas lights looked like stars that were falling from other stars. Those were also punctuated with the Bones Festes sign, Merry Christmas.
I walked across the street into Plaza Catalunya. It is the same plaza where months earlier there had been some rather rambunctious protests. Now, at night, with the Christmas lights, it looked much more serene. I caught my first glimpse of the ice-skating rink that had been set up. Off in the distance was one of the El Corte Inglés buildings.
There was plenty of holiday activity in the plaza. There was a beautifully lighted Christmas tree in the square, just across from the Bank of Spain. Also, on that northern end of the plaza, there were some fountains and many, many Christmas lights. From one angle, from one of the fountains, a statue is silhouetted against the El Corte Inglés building. Much like Madrid, the El Corte Inglés building has a changing pattern of snowflakes on the building façade. On the top floor of the El Corte Inglés building, one can make out some different looking interior lights. That is where the cafeteria and restaurant are. I ultimately went up there for my dinner that night.
From that north end of the plaza, I was able to look into the skating rink. It did look like fun, but I did not take the time to skate. It surprised me to see the skating rink there, but I was also surprised that the plastic windows for the arena were all open. While it was a chilly evening, it was by no means anywhere near freezing. One of my favorite views of that end of the plaza was the photo of the lighted trees above the Metro station, with the skating rink in the background.
After having a Caesar salad at El Corte Inglés, I made my way south out of the plaza, down the pedestrian area of Avenida del Portal Angel. Like many other times, I have been to Barcelona; there were several artisan booths set up along the street. I was able to find a beautiful ceramic vase for Leslie’s upcoming birthday. The benches one can see at Park Guell seem to be the inspiration for the vessel. That is the park that was designed by the famous architect, Gaudi. I also bought her a small tray, about two inches wide by nine inches long. It holds incense sticks. I bought it because I liked the painted design on the ceramic. It was in this booth area where I noticed it was 16 degrees Celsius (about 61 degrees Fahrenheit) as I noted earlier, a little warm for ice skating.
Making my rounds back to my hotel, I found another sign; Bon Nadal. That also means Merry Christmas.
The next evening, before going out, I stumbled across an area that is part of the Museu d’Historia de Barcelona, the Romana Sepulchral Way. It is in a small plaza known as Plaza de la Villa de Madrid. It cannot be more than 150-meters (about 500 feet) off La Rambla. At this plaza is a “sunken” area that did not appear to be accessible by the public. From the railing, one could see several tombs. I did some research later and discovered these were Roman tombs. The burials dated from the first through third centuries. Apparently, at one time, these were along a Roman side-road that connected the old village of Barcelona with another nearby town.
That night I ultimately ended up at the Arts Hotel. The hotel staff invited some other people from the consulate and me to participate in a Christmas “thank you” to some of their clients. It was a very high-tone gathering. The chef had prepared numerous stations of hors d’oeuvres. The hors d’oeuvres at each station had impeccable presentations. They each tasted just as amazing. There was also an open bar, so I was able to enjoy some very good vino tinto as I wandered around. I have never stayed at that hotel before, but I may try it in the future. It is right next to the casino on the beach in the Mediterranean.
The sign for the Roman Sepulchral Way.