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 🙂

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