We’ve barely unpacked from our tour of southwestern France and we’re off again, this time on the fast Renfe-SNCF train out of Gare de Lyon. We decided to go to Barcelona in mid-October 2021: our friend Sergio’s band was performing and we’re always eager to see more Art Nouveau architecture and consume more tapas! In addition, the Barcelona weather in October is delightful.
COVID is still on our minds so we’re wearing our masks on the train, though few others are. The seats are spacious and comfy, and the views out the windows of our upper-level train car seats are a treat. We’re whisked to Barcelona, non-stop, in six and a half hours. We brought our own lunch, including a nice Rioja and wine glasses. Very civilized.
We were lucky to be staying at the four-star HCC St. Moritz hotel, near Placa de Catalunya. We have a friend, Paco, in hotel management there and so we got the “friends-and-family” rate.
Our room was large and well-appointed. After we checked-in and got settled, a bellhop delivered a chilled bottle of champagne to our room, courtesy of Paco. I was so flabbergasted I forgot to tip the guy. What a nice surprise!
Our room window looked down on the ceiling skylights of a huge brasserie called El Nacional. It’s so large that it has different “neighborhoods” for different food and dining styles. As you can see, the place is opulently decorated. We ate there one night and we weren’t disappointed.
A Visit to Parc Güell
One beautiful day, we decided to visit Parc Güell, an enormous garden in Barcelona, with stunning and distinct architectural elements designed by the renowned Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí. The park is named after Count Eusebi Güell, a rich entrepreneur who was Gaudí’s promoter and patron.
Park Güell is a reflection of Gaudí’s artistic style, from his naturalist phase (the first decade of the 20th century). During this period, the architect perfected his personal style through inspiration from organic shapes. He put into practice a series of new structural solutions rooted in the analysis of geometry. To that, the Catalan artist added creative liberty and an imaginative, ornamental creation.
The park was jammed with people and some of the crowd traffic-control mechanisms seem to have backfired. So, we didn’t get to visit some of the iconic features and we left sooner than we might have on less-popular day.
The Schizophrenic Spacers in Concert
Marti’s, and now my, Spanish friends, the Martos clan, welcomed us to town. Sergio fronts the Schizophrenic Spacers, a great local rock band, and it’s no exaggeration to say that the group puts 110% into every performance. We scheduled our visit specifically to attend one of their performances, at a local club called Sala Upload.
Sergio is not only a gifted musician and performer, but he’s also a well-respected music industry journalist and critic. And that’s on top of having a real job. He comes from a musically-gifted family and is a warm, generous, funny guy. We always have a great time when we come to Barcelona and get together with him.
Alice Cooper ranks as one of his favorite acts and my ancient history working with Frank Zappa and others let us quickly bond. Marti’s late husband was also a music journalist; he and Sergio spoke the same professional language.
There is a vibrant local music scene in Spain, supported by numerous venues. Even COVID couldn’t shut it down and so there are lots of opportunities to see homegrown and pan-European talent.
Armed with what Marti dubbed “Barcelona-grade earplugs”, we attended the Spacers’ top-of-the-bill October 23rd performance. When I was in Barcelona in 2019, I mentioned to several very pierced-and-tatooed young waitresses at a bar I frequented that I was going to see a show at Sala Upload. I could see my “street cred” with them go up several notches just at the mention of the place. It’s definitely not for the James Taylor/Carol King crowd!
With eight fully-produced albums, the band draws from a range of material in their shows. Sergio really knows how to work a crowd and the band is musically very tight. The songs are often punctuated with dramatic, beautifully-coordinated stops and starts. It’s something to experience. And, of course, it’s loud.
One of the band’s hallmarks has been their incredibly good graphic designs, on everything from album covers to merchandise. It’s very creative, professional work and well above the amateur efforts one so often sees. To see more examples, go to their bandcamp website.
Sadly, the band recently announced that, after 25 years together, they’ve decided to bring down the final curtain. They’re planning a farewell tour and that will be the end of the Spacers. I’m pretty sure we’ll be back in town to see them one more time before they’re done. The decision is an interesting example of how a really good group can produce great music for years yet, in the final analysis, it’s not enough to “break through” to the Big Leagues and, sadly, time takes its toll. They will be missed.
Monastery of Pedralbes
OK, so we’re not really as into late nights at ferociously loud clubs as we used to be. We decided a visit to the Monastery of Pedralbes, a Gothic monastery, the next morning would be therapeutic. No, we weren’t there to repent and join the order. The monastery is certainly one of the most beautiful gothic buildings in Barcelona and very soothing. It’s now a museum, housing permanent exhibitions of its own art and legacy holdings, as well as third-party special exhibitions from time to time. It was cool and quiet and we met some friends for a nice visit and, afterwards, coffee.
Our friends Bill and Toni, who moved to Alicante, Spain, last year decided to drive up to Barcelona to meet us while we were there and we enjoyed seeing them. We met at Cuitat Comtal, truly “Tapas Heaven” in Barcelona, and then we joined them as they did some shopping. They regaled us with tales of the challenges they faced in their international move, including setting up house and living without their household goods, which were stuck on a freighter, for seven months.
Our week-long visit to Barcelona over, we took the train back to Paris. It’s always nice to experience Spanish culture and foods, and we look forward to returning again in the future.