Walking with Aleksandra

The letters spell Barcino, the Roman name for Barcelona

The letters spell Barcino, the Roman name for Barcelona

Something I love to do, in a new city, is to find a local to take me on a guided walk.  I did this very successfully in Porto, where I first came upon the concept of free guided walking tours.  Although I avidly read the guide books before I go, trying to see everything with your nose glued to a book is no way to experience a city.

Nor am I known for my sense of direction. (I’m the one on the street corner, turning the map around and around, with a puzzled expression on my face) So I was more than happy to meet with Aleksandra, on the steps of La Seu (Cathedral) of Barcelona, for a tour of the Gothic Quarter.  A slim, dark-haired young woman, she wore the promised orange vest till we were all assembled, a group of about 10. This included a young Russian couple from Moscow, and an American with his British partner and children.

Aleksandra is originally from Bosnia, but was brought up in Australia, and had spent the past 5 years living in Barcelona.  Her love of this “crazy city” is evident.  Swiftly we dived into the history of Barcino, as it was named by the Romans, and then we were off through the winding maze of streets.

Within the city walls, i looked up.

Within the city walls, I looked up.

The sky was grey and a little threatening, but I was determined not to have my enthusiasm for Barcelona dampened.  Solid slabs of grey wall enclosed me, and then a fairytale “bridge of sighs” appeared overhead.  I seemed to be constantly looking up, even when we delved deep into the amazingly preserved 2000 year old Roman Temple of Augustus.  I had read about this, but doubt I would have found it on my own.

The ancient Roman Temple of Augustus

The ancient Roman Temple of Augustus

We were treated to tales of Wilfred the Hairy, and the significance of the national flag was explained, with it’s 4 red stripes of “blood”.  Casa de l’Arcadia, the Archdeacon’s House, had the prettiest little courtyard, and a legendary postbox.  Placa de Sant Felip Neri was a peaceful spot, disturbed only by its trickling fountain, but the bullet wounds in the walls of the church told a different story.  And then there was the brutal tale of poor 13 year old Eulalia, Patron Saint of Barcelona.  Being rolled down the street in a barrel of knives was just one of the misfortunes which took her to a gruesome early death for her faith.

Wilfred the Hairy, and Jordi, fighting the dragon

Wilfred the Hairy, and Jordi, fighting the dragon

Tiles inside the Casa de l'Arcadia's courtyard

Tiles inside the Casa de l’Arcadia’s courtyard

The Archdeacon's letterbox- stroke the turtle for luck!

The Archdeacon’s letterbox- stroke the turtle for luck!

The battered church walls in a peaceful space.

The battered church walls in peaceful Placa de Sant Felip Neri.

One of many pretty squares

One of many colourful squares

The shrine to Santa Eulalia

The shrine to Santa Eulalia

Fabulously constructed tiered wooden medieval ceiling

Fabulously constructed tiered wooden medieval ceiling

I hope you can tell that I was not bored throughout the walk, and I hope not to bore you.  Placa Reial, with its famous Gaudi lampposts, I could certainly have found on my own, but I thoroughly enjoyed Aleksandra’s take on the city.  Especially I liked the Placa del Rei, the King’s Square, with its imposing medieval architecture.

We ended up back at the Cathedral steps, and were given a list of Aleksandra’s recommendations of places to eat and drink.  Some had been pointed out to us en route, and I knew that a beeline was going to be made for Caelum’s cake shop.  Myself I had a date with El Quatre Gats, imagining Picasso sketching in a back room.  And then a tour of the spectacular Palau de Musica Catalan.

El Quatre Gats

El Quatre Gats

If you find yourself in Barcelona in the near future, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Orange Donut Tours.  The link will take you to Aleksandra’s website, and she also has a Facebook page.  You can tip her as much, or as little, as you like, once the tour is over.  Me, I wish I was starting it all over again!

74 comments

  1. I am a huge fan of local city walks, although I didn’t use one in Barcelona. Enjoyed walking those streets again with you Jo. Don’t remember seeing that cool letterbox 🙂

  2. Wow! So many treasures to see that you may not have come across without a guide. It certainly pays to have a local guide you. I love the turtle!

  3. Great photos, Jo! I love free walking tours also – I just did them in Munich and Budapest and I feel that the guides are much more engaging. I will have to do one when I return to Barcelona. I’m jealous you ate at El Quatre Gats! One of my biggest regrets was not making it there – next time!

    1. If I were just a little younger and living somewhere more exotic, I’d love to do this for a living (not too many takers in Hartlepool, I suspect- I’d die poor 🙂 )
      El Quatre Gats was amusing- my lack of Spanish (or Catalan though I rather liked what I heard of the language) didn’t help. We arrived about ten to 1 and were shown to the fabulous restaurant at the rear which was deserted and asked to wait. We only wanted a snack as we were touring the Palau de Musica Catalan at 3. Meanwhile in the “bistro” at the front people were munching away nicely. We had to come back out and ask for a table there. It’s a beautiful looking place (nice food too 🙂 )

  4. Cake shop–wait for me! I love going on tours with locals. I love learning the history and the myths. Looks like you had a great tour and guide!

    1. Oh, TBM, they were luscious! 🙂
      Been a bit of a mad week and just published a post on fabulous Lumiere in Durham, but will attempt some catching up over the weekend. Zumbathon-ing tonight! Crazy me 🙂

  5. It’s amazing the way a guide can make a place come to life, well worth it, I’d say. I think I would get a crick in my neck in Barcelona, and probably have my jaw on the floor all the time. I love that letterbox.

  6. i miei grandi antenati Romani, hanno fondato molto di quello che c’è in Europa da guardare, lasciando impronte di civiltà e bellezza ovunque, quindi in moltissime città mi sento a casa, sia per la comprensione delle iscrizioni latine, sia per l’orgoglio che tali impressioni mi creano, anche in Barcellona ho trovato questo feeling.
    Hai saputo nelle tue stupende foto ( e non potevo che esserne certa!) cogliere tutto lo spirito, antico e moderno, di questa impressionante e piena di vita città spagnola
    grazie Giovanna!

    my great ancestors, they founded much of what there is in Europe to watch, leaving traces of civilization and beauty everywhere, in a lot of cities I feel at home, both for understanding the Latin inscriptions, both for the pride that these impressions I create, even in Barcelona I found this feeling.
    You knew in your amazing shots (and I couldnt that be certain!) seize all the spirit, ancient and modern, this impressive and full of life Spanish town

    1. I never thought of it like that, Ventis, but it’s very true that you can go anywhere and still understand and appreciate because of your heritage. I can only appreciate what is beautiful to me, like this beautiful day. I’m going out walking. Thank you and have a wonderful day, cara 🙂 Mille grazie!

    1. Thanks, Andrew. That’s one aspect of the walking tours which isn’t so great- not enough time to look for creative shots, but you can revisit (if you can find it 🙂 )
      I often thought of doing the kind of photo books that you do- they’re brilliant- but like a lot of things, getting round to it is an issue.

  7. A walking tour is great, because you get an idea of the place, a bit of history, and ideas of where to return to should you wish… One of the most fun ‘walking’ tours I did was in Madrid on a Segway!! Not free, of course!

    1. I did see those going on, Sue (Segways) but my husband assures me he would need danger money to accompany on one of those tours (I fell over twice in Barcelona, and that was just walking- not looking where I was going- I’m a liability!) 🙂

    1. The one in Porto was exceptional, Richard, but this one was good too. To be fair, it lasted about 2 hours and that wasn’t a big sacrifice of time. We got there early (in spite of getting lost) so had already done the Cathedral and rooftop because we were in the right place for it.
      Aleksandra was fun and interesting, and I do quite like the contact with other people. The young Russians were fascinating, though I don’t suppose they found me so. The pace was too swift for really good photos, but she did allow time at various points, and once having heard the stories and found the places you could revisit in your own time if you wanted. I know what you mean- I always have an agenda, but I booked this online before we went and knew roughly which places she was going to show me. 🙂

  8. That was a very smart idea to get an informed and interesting guide for your walking tour. You could step back from the map reading and spend all your energy taking in such beautiful architectural detail. The photos are really great, too!

    1. It was a great introduction to the old side, Meg. There’s so much I could have missed just wandering. Not great for taking photos though- you have to keep running to keep up 🙂

  9. oh how fun!! not bored in the least! did you get to the Picasso museum too? to me, it’s a MUST. but then I’m a Picasso fan 🙂 can’t wait to see more!

    1. Confessions time, Tobyo! I didn’t do any of the museums though I fully intended to. After that first day the weather was so glorious I just wanted to be outdoors enjoying it. Plus there just wasn’t enough time! Allow yourself a week if you do go. There’s plenty to see! (I nearly made it to the Joan Miro museum but took the wrong footpath on Monjuic 😦 )

    1. Most European cities seem to have these now, Cathy, and it is a lovely introduction to a new place. (and I think you can make an ok living at it too- certainly in somewhere like Barcelona)
      I wish we’d stayed in the centre. It would have made evenings better, because we couldn’t be bothered to go back in. My one big find was Gracia- I would stay there in a heartbeat. Talk about atmosphere and character! Don’t have many photos to back it up but it’ll be in a post some day. (I’m starting to feel like you with the never-ending sagas of Spain/Portugal) 🙂

      1. I don’t think you did. We found it by accident one night when we were trying to get back to the hotel and it was buzzing 🙂 Love ya, Cathy. Take care.

  10. Thank you again for taking me around with you. I have never ‘done’ a walking tour, but did consider one in San Francisco and again in Lisbon. Just never managed it. You have convinced me that it can be worth while. Great photos too Jo!
    Jude xx

    1. The Porto one was exceptional, Jude. A group of us went for a meal together afterwards and I found myself thinking “I could do this!” Somewhere there must have been a career for you and me in tourism 🙂

      1. Yeh, I think I missed an opportunity somewhere – maybe by having too many children 😉 I went on a really good 2 day trip in the Snowy Mountains, Australia once, where a lady took 4 of us around, we stayed in a motel for a night and then finished the tour the next day. It was great and I kept thinking “I could do this”

        I’ve also thought that I’d make a very good estate agent – some people have absolutely no idea how to present their houses and some estate agents have no idea how to present their brochures!!

  11. Great to walk around the Gothic Quarter with you Jo – Barcelona was my first European city and I fell in love, all those years ago. Lots of happy memories of several visits, but very few pictures, so I really enjoyed these. Looking forward to more 🙂

    1. It works really well, Divya. As I said, the one in Porto was really excellent, and we all went for a meal together afterwards, but people have different styles, and that’s nice too. 🙂

  12. What a wonderful idea to have a guide show you the city. In the past I have use a guide book to p
    An my own day trips. It has worked well thus far – but then I was spending quite a length of time in each city.
    I enjoyed seeing your pictures Jo. Barcelona seems to be such a beautiful place – so full of history and beautiful architecture.

    1. Thanks, Colline. It really is a great place, with something for just about everyone, I imagine. I didn’t see everything by any means, and would have liked some time for the museums too. If it had been miserable weather that might have happened but after the first day it was too nice to be indoors. 🙂

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