Museu de l’Eròtica

The Top Ten (Alternative) Best of Barcelona!

Barcelona Port Dawn, #1. Barcelona, 2015
Barcelona Port Dawn, #1. Barcelona, 2015

 

A caveat…What this is NOT: A list of must-see tourist sights as you pass through town on your way to your 3,000 passenger Mediterranean cruise ship. No…Sagrada Familia, the Picasso Museum, and Park Güell will not be mentioned here.

You can get plenty of information about these and other popular and well-known sites and sights in Barcelona simply by asking la Sra. Google.

Instead, what follows are places you could visit once you have ticked off the standard tourist attractions–or, if you are simply interested in seeing Barcelona one layer down, a bit below the obvious and well-trammeled.

These are some of the unusual little places, most not-so-well-known that, for me, give Barcelona such depth of personality. Most will not be seen by your average tourist unless they happen to serendipitously bumble upon them…

In no particular order, we have:

Pastisseria Barcelona, Aragó, 228 (original) and a new locale at Via Augusta, 166 – The desserts here are authentic works o’ fine art which you will definitely want to photograph before you bite into them. You might even find yourself getting a little teary-eyed and emotional as you watch the running videos above the counter of the talented Josep Maria Rodríguez Guerola as he creates them, so delicate and sensitive is he with his myriad specialty tools and delicious materials. He won the World Cup Pastry Competition in 2011 with his dessert art–the first time anyone in Spain had ever earned that award–and he was a mere 25-years-old or so when he did it. He is now a new and proud father.

El Ingenio, Carrer d’en Rauric, 6 – This unique place was almost no more in 2015/2016, but managed to survive thanks to last-minute efforts by a family member. Their website says: “El Ingenio (the “Creative Genius” maybe?) is an icon of popular culture. It is an establishment with 179 years of uninterrupted history in the heart of the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona dedicated to creating and selling giant heads, masks, stage props, circus articles, and a long list of products related to play, games, and the dramatic arts.” Go there and buy something–keep them in business and revel in the Catalan “Big Head” tradition! 

Casa Beethoven, La Rambla, 97 – This small store has been selling sheet music, musical scores, musical instruments, and other related gift items since 1880. A must-visit for the musician in the family. You’ll find it right next to the Palau de la Virreina / Centre de la Imatge (worth visiting in its own right), between Metro stops Plaça de Catalunya and Liceu as you stroll back and forth among the hordes, flowers, and human statues along La Rambla.

Granja La Pallaresa, Carrer de Petritxol, 11 – Established in 1947, they have the best chocolate and churros in town! On a chilly winter’s eve, this is mo-definitely the place to warm up! The chocolate they give you for dipping your churros into is so luscious and creamy-thick the spoon darn near stands up vertical in the cup all by itself…and whipped cream on top o’ that…aaahhhh, this is definitely the place for the choco-cream addict! There is another, similar, place just down the alley at Petrixol, 2. It’s called Granja Dulcinea, established in 1941. It is probably just as good but I can’t personally vouch for it. So, hey…maybe try them both!?

Gavineteria Roca, Plaça del Pi, 3 – Since 1911, this shop has offered up all manner of cutting tools, knives, scissors, shaving gear, and so on, as well as other kitchen gadgets. If it cuts, they have it. If they don’t, it doesn’t exist. Their storefront catches the eye of nearly every passerby and this facade alone is certainly worth a long pause, perusal, and photograph or two.

La Basílica Galería, Passeig de Gràcia, 26 – A new location–they were in the Gothic Quarter until recently. This shop is basically a museum of contemporary art. As their website says: “The Basílica Galería is a cabinet of curiosities. In addition to contemporary jewelry, photography, art, and accessories…it is also the largest perfume exhibit in the world with more than a thousand fragrances.” A unique and sometimes bizarre display of pretty things that is worth a long browse.

Museu de l’Eròtica, La Rambla, 96 bis – This one is actually fairly well-known, so maybe it should be on some mainstream tourist list rather than on my “alternative” list? That is, unless you are a frigid and guilt-ridden Puritan…or Catholic…or Jew…or Muslim…or adherent to any number of the world’s guilt-inducing philosophies or religions. OK, rant over. Since you will likely visit the wonderful and way over-crowded market, La Boqueria, along La Rambla anyway you might as well stop in here, too, as it is just across the street. From their website, the museum is… “a passionate voyage through the world of eroticism and its representation in art, as seen in the 800 plus pieces which make up our collection. Sensuality, sexuality, provocation… Fun! The museum you can’t miss.” 

The Ice Bar, Paseo Marítimo, 38 A – This is right on the beach. Take the Metro, yellow Line 4, and climb out at Ciutadella/Vila Olimpica, then walk 5-10 minutes toward the sea. Bring your jacket–or they will hand you one! It’s like walking into the guts of a glacier, but with bartenders and lots of the beautiful people. Currently, it will cost an adult 17.50 Euros to get in, kids between 5 and 12 are 8 Euros, and tots under 5 are free. This price includes jacket and gloves. Check out some of the pics and their FAQs at their website: Icebarcelona.

Montjuic Cemetary, on the SW side of Montjuic, the hill by the port – A most interesting place to stroll and pensively peruse the tombstones and plaques. There is no cost to enter. Photography is technically not allowed, but it is hard to resist when no one is about and you come across a gloriously ornate and decorated gypsy tomb. Some famous folks are buried here, like the artist Joan Miró, the urban planner (Eixempla) Ildefons Cerdà, and the politicians Francesc Macià and Lluís Companys (and my mother-in-law, Carme Fusté). Check in at the information station at the entrance for advice on what to see. You can peruse more info, cemetery hours, and so an at their website HERE

The Bunkers of Carmel, in the hills above Barcelona – Dating from the Spanish Civil War, this is the place to go to see the remains of an anti-aircraft site and troop barracks, as well as to get a wonderful and romantic panoramic view of the city and the sea. Movie scenes and commercials have been filmed here (Tengo Ganas de Ti). It certainly won’t be as crowded as Park Guell. In fact, you might find yourself surrounded by more locals than tourists. Bring a sandwich (entrepà), a camera, and have yourself a sunset picnic with your significant lover. To get there, you’ll need to hike uphill a few minutes in the vicinity of the Parc del Guinardó. Let Google Maps be your guide and search for “Búnquers del Carmel Barcelona“.  There is no fee or entrance station of any kind–it is always accessible.

Two bonus sites to make this an even dozen, if you have the time: the Chocolate Museum/Museu de la Xocolata and the Hash, Marihuana and Hemp Museum. For lovers of these kinds o’ things, or the merely curious.

Things I like about Barcelona and Catalunya

Floating Leaves #2. Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013
Floating Leaves #2. Montjuic, Barcelona, 2013

Ten “Likes”

1. Great food…variety, taste, quality, very natural…Sea food, mountain food. Even “fast food” is great–unless you do the unthinkable and go to Burger King or MacDonald’s. They value the food experience here and take the time to enjoy it. Too often, we seem to think of food as a nuisance that has to be ingested periodically on our way to our next appointment.

2) Great bread. Sort of a corollary to #1. Why can’t we get good bread in the States without paying five bucks a loaf? Yes, the bread here will turn hard in a day–but that’s because it is real bread…you buy it fresh for each meal!

3) The mass transit. No need for a car here and that is quite liberating. You can get most anywhere using the metro, buses, trains and taxis. No need to worry about parking or maintaining and feeding that ball and chain of an internal combustor. For photography, I love the freedom this gives me to move about the city.

4) Culture…business is important, but not at the expense of losing the culture. There must be at least one hundred different museums in Barcelona, ranging from the Museu Picasso (possibly the one with the longest lines at the door), to more esoteric ones like the Museu de l’Eròtica and the Hash Marihuana, Cáñamo & Hemp Museum. Then you have the Liceu for theater and opera…and hundreds of other musical and theatrical venues. And, of course, the many Catalan traditions… the human castles, or Castellers, the Tió de Nadal that “shits” Christmas gifts, the Caganer,  the shitting shepherd in the Nativity scene (a scatological trend here?), the sardana, a traditional dance, the many festivals…and on and on…

5) The history…2000+ years old. For us, anything over 100 years old is “old”, so this is quite a challenge to our brains! There is plenty to explore here both intellectually and photographically.

6) The cycling. The city itself can be a challenge for a cyclist trying to train (although it is very possible), but it is quite cycling friendly for simply exploring and for recreation. Outside of the city, you’ll find some of the sweetest, smoothest cycling terrain around–from the sea coast to the mountainous Pyrenees. No wonder many pros make Girona, just northeast of Barcelona, a key training base. Stage 6 of the 2009 Tour de France finished on the summit of Montjuic and there are plenty of amateur races to jump into if that is your thing.

7) Languages, I have always loved learning languages and here you have two to learn: Spanish (Castellano) and Catalan. A couple of hours north and you can practice your French. Und achtung, mein Freund…on the beach, in the summer, you can also practice your German to your heart’s content.

8) The balance between work and play. They work, but their play (vacations, tourism, etc.) is also very important. I think they have the balance about right. My experience: in South America (as an example) a little too much play (mainly on the part of their leaders) and not enough work…in the U.S. too much work (on the part of everyone) and not enough play.

9) Their health system. Yes, it may have its issues but, to me, these problems are–by far–preferable to the problems we have in the U.S. We spent a year here dealing with doctors for my wife’s mother and the experiences were nearly always very positive. (How often have you had a nurse, doctor and psychologist visit your home–all three at once–to see how you were doing caring for a dying relative?) When I would ask the doctors their opinion of the U.S. system, most would express a combination of pity and disbelief.

10) Their sex-violence philosophy. We in the U.S. think it’s OK to show films of spurting blood, chopped up gore, explosions, killings, beatings, shootouts and such–yet we get all beaked when nudity (especially male nudity, oh mah God!) and sex are depicted. To European sensibilities we have things backasswards (so to speak), That is, sex and nudity are quite natural, while violence is to be abhorred, not admired and taught as it seems to be in the U.S.

Here is a fun, violence-related, note: my Catalan in-laws think it is completely ironic and other-worldly bizarre that no one is allowed to smoke anywhere in our Boulder, Colorado apartment building–including within our own flats–but we are free to own as many firearms and boxes of ammo as we want and store it all in under our beds. A weird definition of personal freedom, they thought (they are almost all non-smokers, by the way).

Another fun nudity-related note (and leaving the many topless and nude beaches aside for now): At a traffic light in downtown Barcelona, with masses and multitudes of pedestrians rushing all about, I once found myself standing next to a nude guy–well tanned all over–on his way to the beach. I saw no outcry from anyone. It was basically a non-event. Can you imagine the reaction in the States? “Honey, the kids! Cover their eyes!” I have seen no evidence that being “exposed” to such things has corrupted the Catalan kids in any way–in fact, their attitudes seem quite healthy, generally.

Finally, a bonus “like”:

11) Chocolate croissants and xuixos (the latter a crème filled pastry of about a gazillion calories). Yes, I know I talked about food at the beginning, but these need to be mentioned apart.