Today I strolled down La Rambla and found the Liceu Theatre just in time for the next tour. The auditorium is one of the grandest I've ever seen, and our guide tells us it has more than 2,000 seats - the only theatre larger is in Paris. Only operas, concerts and ballets are performed here - no plays - and as it was built by the bourgeois it has no royal box. It is now a public building. Unfortunately I've arrived in Barcelona between runs, so I can't book to see a show. As the stage and hall have been destroyed twice by fire, what we're seeing today is a "faithful copy" of the original.
Plush red seats with oval backs and footrests are arranged in a horseshoe shape, which is good for acoustics but leaves some people with poor visuals. To this end, some seats on the outward curve of the horseshoe were fitted with small screens in the 1994 reconstruction. The amount of gilt in the auditorium is astounding. There is a circular bubble at the centre of the curved, painted ceiling, and elaborately decorated walls with raised, gilt-painted vines.
We move onto the hall of mirrors. This is where guests can get a drink between acts. The ceiling has a lush fresco painted on it, and above the mirrors, the walls hold sepia miniature-style portraits of famous composers, musicians and singers. This is all original, with only restoration work undertaken since the hall opened.
With the tour over, I continue down La Rambla until I hit water. For the first time since arriving in Spain, the sun is too bright, and I slip on my sunglasses. (The Aussie sun is much harsher, and I guess I've grown used to it. I can hardly believe this is my first trip outside the country in nearly two years.) The water is blue, blue, blue, and sailboats are tied up all along the port. I snap a couple of photos of the water, the sculptures, the buildings - and a European woman in a smart sundress asks, "Will you photo me?" I take her picture, and she takes mine. This is the first time I've allowed anyone to hold my camera, but she does give it back.
I am tempted by street vendors with hot dogs and waffles, but I should get actual lunch, so I carry on until I see a cluster of cafes at an intersection further along. The one I choose, Casa Pascual, says it's been open since 1916, and it has a "menu del dia" for 11.50 euros, so I go in an make an attempt to read the Catalan menu they give me. The waitress catches me glancing at the glossary in my guidebook and brings me an English menu. A few minutes later a waiter comes by, and I order as best I can in Catalan. He is especially pleased with my pronunciation of beer - "una cervesa" - and gives me a handshake and a "muy bueno!" The Estrella beer he brings is light-tasting but very pleasant, and the glass has been chilled.
I eat my artichoke and chicken paella, and later a dish of potato and seasoned white fish, hake. We have hake in Australia as well. I'm pleased that many of the other diners have ordered the same main meal, and I can only pick out one other foreigner. For dessert I have oranges with cinnamon, curious whether the translation might have missed something - but out comes a plate of thinly sliced and peeled oranges, sprinkled liberally with fresh grated cinnamon, nothing like the powder I bake with. It's simple but heavenly.
Next, I find the Catalunya Museum of History, and spend quite a long time there - the exhibit is huge. I think Jody would have enjoyed it more than me, because a whole room is devoted to amour and mounted knights. There are a few interactive pieces, like the Moorish water wheel, and a stone wheel for grinding grain. The most interesting to me were all the posters from the 30s through the 50s, and the display of early gadgets, including an Underwood typewriter with worn keys.