After two overcrowded and unpleasant Lufthansa flights, we arrived in Barcelona and were met by Marta who showed us to the apartment we were renting in El Raval.
The apartment was clean, comfortable and quiet. Its only drawback was the absence of any view as it looked onto a blank wall opposite, but since we didn't spend much time there except to sleep, it hardly mattered.
El Raval is an old part of the city with a lingering unsavoury reputation, but we found it safe, quiet and populated by friendly locals. (By contrast, Barri Gothic, the adjoining area favoured by guidebooks to the city, seemed dark, edgy and teeming with a mix of tourists and shifty-looking individuals.)
One of the more interesting sights in the neighbourhood was the proliferation of TV aerials on every roof.
Throughout our walks around the neighbourhood, we were intrigued by the impromptu art everywhere, from some very accomplished trompe-l'oeil to brightly-coloured graffiti.
Every door provided a canvas for a youth with a spray can of paint.
One of our first destinations was the old cathedral, a popular place as it turned out for tour groups to gather.
The interior of the cathedral was the usual awe-inspiring, soaring vault.
Side chapels displayed richly gilded altars.
The cloister was closed, but we went back towards the end of our stay and were able to see its famous geese and the beautiful fern-encrusted fountain within their enclosure.
Naturally, we visited the significant sites designed by Antoni Gaudi, including Parc Guell, a kind of Disneyland theme park of weird and wonderful structures.
I thought the mosaics of broken tile were very attractive...
...but my favourite piece was an elegant fence inspired by palm fronds.
On a different day we lined up to see the interior of La Sagrada Familia, the cathedral designed by Gaudi and still undergoing construction, much of it controversial.
The interior was an interesting contrast with that of the old cathedral we'd visited earlier.
I loved the effect of sunlight falling through the stained glass windows, blue on the dawn side, red and gold on the western side.
Exquisitely-crafted irises and small creatures on the heavily ornamented metal doors spoke to Gaudi's fascination with natural forms.
One day we took the efficient but busy Metro to Plaza Espana and climbed the grand boulevard to the Museum of Catalunyan Art, pausing to admire the view over the city from its high vantage point.
Inside, the collection of icons and Romanesque art rescued from crumbling churches all over the province was a highlight.
I particularly liked a carving of Adam and Eve looking appalled after eating the forbidden apple ...
... and a lady who might have been on her cell phone.
Of the hundreds of madonnas this one appealed to me for its facial expressions and the elegant swirl of the cloak.
but I also liked the animation of some more modern works, like this frightened woman...
... and this man caught in mid-throw,
which reminded me of this
more recent, well-known artwork by Banksy.
Another day we visited the MACBA, Barcelona's Museum of Contemporary Art . If you like conceptual art, this is where to find it, but it leaves me unmoved. I was more interested in the skateboarders who have made the entrance to the museum their particular hangout.
Apart from these visits we simply wandered around the city, admiring everything from the distinctive architecture...
... to the way greenery was flourishing in quite challenging conditions.
There was even a green wall brightening one dim corner.
We saw few dogs in the city, but a significant number of cats, most looking fairly well-fed. So it was not surprising to discover that a certain amount of public art was also cat-themed.
Bats also had a place.
In one of the larger parks, there was an interesting lath house. We peered through the slats at a collection of palms but the place was shut up tight and deserted.
In the surrounding park, as well as elsewhere, we saw many orange trees in fruit, so many that no-one seemed interested in harvesting any of the fruit. In some cases the ground around the trees was littered with fallen fruit.