Out the front door of the condo walk to the harbour catch a float plane lands near the Seabus terminal where you get on the new subway that goes under False Creek underground up Cambie up and over the Fraser right to the airport. Next stop London and a connector to... Barcelona!

...now where was I? You've heard I think that we sold the business. Did I mention I turned 60 this year?

So it was quickly organize the trip to Europe while the proverbial iron was, you know... hot. Carne Diem as we say from an old sitcom and the other guy says uh... that's meat day.You have to pause to fully appreciate the pair of us outfitted in the full-Rick-Steves nevermind the full-Nanaimo. Bags that turn into geeky backpacks designed to be small enough for carry on no waiting at the turnstiles. Full of Rick Steves guideboooks or chopped out parts of them, paraphanalia for rinsing your socks and undies and hand sanitizers and handy travel gadgets. Out the front door of the condo walk to the harbour catch a float plane lands near the Seabus terminal where you get on the new subway that goes under False Creek underground up Cambie up and over the Fraser right to the airport. Next stop London and a connector to...

Barcelona! Havana's wonderful pedestrian Prado from the harbour up to the Telegrafo - an interest in city public space San Francisco, Portland, Havana, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara leads to Spain especially Barcelona's magnificent Ramblas never mind Barcelona's not Spain it's Catalonia speaks Catalan signs are in Catalan is an autonomous region that keeps threatening to separate from Spain. One of their beefs is that it's a very prosperous part of Spain that contributes more than they think they should to the confederation. Still mostly Spanish speaking tho with lots of English in the hotels tho schools and courts and official business is in Catalan... and you can always manage to get a vino tinto or americano con leche... Ya can walk and walk until ya drop. Rick Steves offers some good tips... tapas bars, Basque style pintxos. We happened on the annual Mercé festival. Giants parading around firecrackers and flares in crowded streets quite wonderfully insane...


Plan was a full week in Barcelona on foot and transit then pickup the rental car, a week + a bit in Languedoc b&b in a market village - Espéraza - in the Pyrenees foothills south of Carcasonne - with a couple of nights in Collioure on the Mediterranean - (yer Matisse and his fauvist buddies painted Collioure in the early 1900s) - on the way there - then back to Barcelona to take the AVE bullet train to Madrid - the Prado, Guernica at the Reina Sophia... home from Madrid via nuthouse that's Heathrow...

Speaking of Picasso he spent early years in Barcelona and contributed a lot of work to the then new (1963) museum in his honour... Goofy obsessive taking apart and putting back together dozens of versions of Las Meninas... good fun. He never saw the museum tho because he refused to set foot back in Spain as long as Franco was alive and the old bastard outlived him by a couple of years.

When Louise was out here a few years ago we saw some Picasso etchings (adventures of his rascally, randy Minotaur) at the VAG which struck me as having a formality of composition - something really proud and confident about them. They were what the VAG archives call a "rare complete set" of the Vollard Suite of 100 etchings from the 1930s and some original Vollard Suite copper plates with exquisite drawings were on display at the Barcelona Picasso Museum.

Back to ArtNews in a minute but first a word about things urban and architectural. Barcelona it turns out is on the Mediterranean (!) -- imagine my surprise -- and less than 2 hours by car to the South of France. The core of the city is ancient i.e. Roman and medieval with atmospheric neighbourhoods of narrow winding pedestrian streets. 150 years ago city planners got approval for a new grid surrounding the old city. Called the Eixample (eye-sham-blah, extension), it had a distinctive intersection pattern in that each corner building had to be angled to create a hexagonal pattern opening up air and light at every street corner for hundreds of blocks. Fairly rigid height restrictions of 8 - 10 stories stores and offices at ground level and apartments above. Original idea was to use the interior space of each block for public space, gardens... There were to be set number of markets, schools, clinics etc within a certain number of blocks. Mostly ignored when building began but the airy intersections are really quite cool. The angled area in each though is used for parking not open public space. Cafe's (at least one on every block) are French style patisseries and boulangeries unlike in Madrid. More on Madrid later.

Art Nouveau found a home in Barcelona and Antoni Gaudi went your hogwild. Picasso said the Sagrada Familia cathedral and Gaudi himself should be sent straight to hell. Art Nouveau had lasting influence on graphic art and typography but not so much on architecture. Gotta love those whirling decorative iron canopies over metro stations in Paris you see pictures of but spare me the Sagrada Familia. And while you're crating it up for its trip to hell you can send along Parc Guell at the same time... There would be an acceptable level of tourist collateral damage but whaddya gonna do?. Google architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner especially his Catalan Concert Hall (Palau de la Música Catalana) for the best examples of Catalan modernisme. Interior: 360 panorama

We spend an afternoon lost in appreciation of Catalan art treasures at the National Museum and all is pretty much a glazed blur by the time we hike to the Joan Miro Museum.

"Ah, you're from Canada", says our Indian waiter at the courtyard eatery Taller de Tapas where we spend the evening instead of rushing to the symphony at the Palau de la Música Catalana. "How is Ruby Dhala?" When we left much later I caught his attention to tell him we'd remember him to Ruby.

A Barcelona footnote and a delightful one at that is Jessie McNeil. The irrepressibly social John Thompson when he hears we'll be in Barcelona calls his friend painter Ewan McNeil to set up contact with his daughter who's subsisting her way through Europe and is currently living in Barcelona. Ewan's an Emily Carr grad, Brian might remember him  -- he remembers brother Mark. Jessie's putting together call centre gigs and the like and exploring Barcelona which has become apparently high on the list of especially good places to be in your 20s. Inexplicably, Jessie thinks herding these geezer hicks around for a couple of days is a fabulous idea and she's full of effervescence and insider neighbourhood tours.

You may know that Myra has joined a cult. Turns out this Tai Chi thing is huge, they have covens all around the world and Myra knew the secret sign and got to participate in one of their rituals in Barcelona. You can see in the photo slide show some of the demonic characters she met there.

For the most part unremarkable, perfectly drinkable generic tinto or blanco always with food. But there was the very fine small wine bar near the Boqueria Market. Featured wines each day knowledgeable servers in a neighbourhood boite atmosphere.

And a new appreciation for cava. Spanish champagne style by the glass in bars and restaurants and on our last night in Barcelona we ordered a whole botella at one of thousands of neighbourhood bars and polished it off sitting in the sidewalk patio as modern Barcelona sped by on a warm October evening.