In March I started waking up early . . . like, 4 AM early . . . and then staying awake. Not by choice but from some scrambling of my circadian clock. Perhaps due to travel? To my intermittent fasting or an excess of Vitamin D supplements? To pandemic-induced or politics-induced stress? Whatever it was, I found that I liked having some time in the morning when the house was still quiet and it was dark outside. Time to think, to have some coffee, to write a little. By July I had time-shifted forward a few hours, and now I usually wake up at 6 AM. That feels more comfortable, and I can still watch the sky turn black to blue.
After coffee, after an hour or so (or on schooldays after breakfast and school departures), I take Stella and go out for a walk. On weekdays there is hubbub around the many nearby schools as students arrive or sit on the curbs and benches and play on their phones and smoke and talk, but on the weekends I have the streets almost entirely to myself. Stella and I stay mostly in our neighborhood of Pedralbes, which runs uphill from Avenida Diagonal, one of the main commercial thoroughfares of Barcelona, all the way up into the Zona Alta and the foothills of the Serra de Collserola, the Catalan coastal mountain range. Eighty-two square kilometers of the Collserola (with a border that abuts our neighborhood) are designated as parkland, making it one of the largest metropolitan parks.
Starting from the bottom, on Diagonal, we wander through the grounds of the old royal palace that are now a public garden and sometimes a site for music or film festivals. The palace itself has been converted, in part, into a ceramics museum that seems to be open rarely; it also features the Tinell room, in which the Spanish king and queen welcomed Christopher Columbus on his return from America. The photos below show some statuary from the gardens and one of the paths through stone pine trees. Officially, Stella is not allowed in here.
Also at and above Diagonal is the university zone: IESE, ESADE, the Polytechnic University, which has its own park and a giant replica Olmec head that sits behind the super-computing center and that was a gift from Mexico, and the University of Barcelona. The University of Barcelona has facilities along and off of Diagonal and scattered throughout the neighborhood, and if I walk (laterally) north past more of them I come first to an iron dragon gate designed by Antoni Gaudi, which guards the entrance to what used to be the estate of Gaudi’s patron, Count Eusebi Güell, and then after five more minutes to Jardins de la Vil la Amelia, another park with a fountain and palm trees.
Oh, and just south from the Polytechnic University is an entire block with barracks and parade grounds for the Guardia Civil. We can hear the drums and martial music from our house; the photo above shows a statue in front of the commander’s quarters.
Just a bit higher up is our street. In the photo of it, below, you can see the plane trees that arch over it. I love that canopy. I often walk down the slight hill and over to Carrer de Bosch i Gimpera, which has 4- and 5-story apartment buildings with balconies and shared pools and often shared garden space as well. One block down from there is the Real Club de Tennis and the enormous Lycée Français. But I turn uphill and after one block come to the Plaza de Pedralbes, which looks like a perfect spot to put out a few tables and have a coffee or vermut — and fortunately there is a cafe being fitted out on the corner that will provide this service soon.
Back south along the Avenida Esplugues, past the Plaza and past the old convent that is now referred to as the Monastery of Pedralbes, there are beautiful houses, an old church behind a high stone wall — now partly occupied by Opus Dei, partly by the British Council, and partly by some loud dogs and very active roosters — and also the Parque de Cervantes which has a zipline and at least one magnificent hedge and pleasant pathways under Aleppo pines.
But back to the monastery . . . it was founded by King James II of Aragon for his wife Elisenda de Montcada in 1326. Was that a thing, to give your wife a convent? Would the gift of a convent spark joy? [Research Update: Apparently it did spark joy!]
Walking through the archway that leads onto the cobblestone street in front of the monastery is like stepping back a few centuries. On the downhill eastern side, the wall is covered in bougainvillea with a nice dirt path that Stella likes to visit for its many smells.
Climbing up the steps past the monastery we turn southward and into the Zona Alta, which is nestled right up into the foothill. This area has a crazy patchwork mix of houses: some sitting tightly together on winding streets in what feels like one of the white villages, some large and fanciful and designed by Gaudi contemporaries, and some on modern estates with electric gates and pools and padel courts behind manicured shrubbery.
And finally, passing through these streets, we can walk up onto the trails that lead through woods and into the Collserola park, with views of the other hills that ring Barcelona and then finally out to the Mediterranean.