38 Chapters
Medium 9781628870725

2 BARCELONA & MADRID IN CONTEXT

Patricia Harris FrommerMedia ePub

2

barcelona & madrid in Context

Different as they are, Barcelona and Madrid are both products of a land that the rest of Europe once considered beyond the pale. One of the few things that the French and English used to agree on was that “Europe ends at the Pyrenees.” Those mountains kept Spain in splendid isolation, where it developed along its own path. Consequently, Spain has evolved customs, art, architecture, and even cuisine that owe as much to Islamic North Africa as to its onetime sister provinces of the Roman Empire. The country does not look like, sound like, or even taste like the rest of Europe. Nowhere else is quite as rich, or quite as demanding. When you go to Spain, you must surrender to Spain.

You must accept the rhythms of daily life—so unlike the rest of Europe—and think nothing of going to dinner after 10pm and then closing down the flamenco bar after the 3am final set. You must spend the evening in a seafront promenade, walking and talking and nodding at the other walkers and talkers. You must not be bashful about elbowing your way to the bar, pointing at the tapas to order, and having your fill. For that matter, you must resolve to eat something new every day that you would otherwise spurn: blood sausage, roast suckling pig, squid in their own ink. In many places, shops and museums close in the heat of the afternoon, and you must be patient and while away the hours with lunch in a cool, shady courtyard. Do all that, and you will be ready for everything Spain will throw at you.

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Medium 9781628872163

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Patricia Harris FrommerMedia ePub

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Patricia Harris and David Lyon have journeyed the world for American, British, Swiss, and Asian publishers to write about food, culture, art, and design. They have covered subjects as diverse as elk migrations in western Canada, the street markets of Shanghai, winter hiking on the Jungfrau, and the origins of Mesoamerican civilization in the Mexican tropics. In the name of research, they have eaten hot-pepper-toasted grasshoppers, tangles of baby eels, and roasted armadillo in banana sauce. Wherever they go, they are repeatedly drawn back to Spain for the flamenco nightlife, the Moorish architecture of Andalucía, the world-weary and lust-ridden saints of Zurbarán, and the phantasmagoric visions of El Greco. They can usually be found conversing with the locals in neighborhood bars while drinking the house wine and eating patatas bravas and grilled shrimp with garlic. They are the co-authors of Frommer’s Spain Day by Day and Frommer’s EasyGuide to Madrid and Barcelona.

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Medium 9781628870046

6. BARCELONA

Patricia Harris FrommerMedia ePub

6

BARCELONA

The Catalan language has a verb that must have been invented for Barcelona. “Badar” translates (more or less) as to walk around with your mouth wide open in astonishment. You’ll be doing a lot of that in Barcelona. The city’s artists have always had a fantastical vision—from the gargoyles along the roofline of the cathedral, to Antoni Gaudí’s armored warrior chimneys on La Pedrera, to the surreal amoeboid sculptures of Joan Miró. (They’re on a roof, too.)

Barcelona really is an original, with its own unique history, language, gastronomy, and overall sense of style. When Madrid was still a dusty fortress village on the Río Manzanares, Barcelona was already a force to be reckoned with on the Mediterranean. It has been at the intersection of cultures—Iberian, Roman, Visigothic, Moorish, French, and Aragonese—for 2,000 years. Today it is the capital of the autonomous region of Catalunya, forever chafing to leave the federal fold of Spain but enjoying near-country status within the European Union.

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Medium 9781628870046

4. MADRID

Patricia Harris FrommerMedia ePub

4

MADRID

You’ll never forget your first sight of Plaza Mayor. As you emerge from a shady stone portico into a vast sun-struck plaza, you are greeted by a very large and very royal equestrian statue of Felipe III. Surrounded by three-story buildings, Plaza Mayor seems the grandest imaginable stage set, where more than 200 balconies become regal box seats on the scene below. The perimeter is marked with the umbrellas of cafe tables that lure people to while away the afternoon over cold beers or strong coffees. Children race back and forth across the paving stones, flushing pigeons into flight. Travelers with backpacks lean against the plinth of the equestrian monument, eating ice cream. Plaza Mayor may be important—just look at its name, the Major Square—but more than that, it is alive.

It is Madrid in a nutshell. Spain’s capital is at once real (“ray-AL,” as the Spanish say “royal”) and real (as English speakers put it). Families row on the lake in Parque del Retiro where kings once staged mock naval battles. When football club Real Madrid wins a cup or league title, the players wrap their team scarves around the elegant Cibeles fountain. People recline in the grass on the green center strips of the paseos, the boulevards built to the king’s order. Dog-walkers with packs of canines strut past some of the greatest museums in the world. Tapas-hoppers make the rounds of bars beneath the sculpted visages of Spain’s great playwrights. And, yes, Felipe III continues to ignore the backpackers eating ice cream beneath him.

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Medium 9781628871326

5 The Best of the Outdoors

Patricia Harris FrommerMedia ePub

Bicycles lined up in Parc de la Ciutadella.

Montjuïc

The largest green space in Barcelona, this gentle hill overlooking the city and out to the Mediterranean is treasured by families for its serene parkland as well as its museums and cultural attractions. First settled by Iberian Celtic peoples and then used by the Romans for ceremonies, Montjuïc has continued to play a central role in modern celebrations, including the 1929 International Exhibition and the 1992 Olympic Games. For other attractions in Montjuïc, see “The Best in Three Days,” p 18, and “Barcelona with Kids,” p 50. START: Aerial cable car or funicular to Montjuïc.

Transbordador Aèri del Port. The best way to get to the green expanse of Montjuïc is to soar over the city in this aerial cable car that travels from the harbor up to the hill—and drops you off near the spectacular cactus gardens of Mossèn Costa i Llobera (Ctra. Miramar, 1), the largest of their kind in Europe. See p 89, .

Castell de Montjuïc. Pass the Plaça de la Sardana (marked by a sculpture of the folkloric Catalan group dance) and continue through the Miramar and Mirador gardens in Parc de Montjuïc. Then head up Carretera Montjuïc to Mirador de l’Alcalde, a viewpoint overlooking the sea. Just beyond is a castell (fortress) built in the 18th century to defend Barcelona. The courtyard is open to the public, and inside the castle is a modest military museum. The views of the sea, though, are the star attraction. Ctra. de Montjuïc, 66. 93-256-44-45.

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