Todo Sobre Mi Madre, Biutiful, and Barcelona

Who here has not been bitten by the travel bug? Everyone must love to see the world. I myself have my own travel goals, drawing them out while in complete disregard of my financial capacity. My wanderlust has become strong as of late that what I wish for now is to see tons of different places for the rest of my life.

Dreaming of Barcelona

In a bucket list that I created a long time ago (and has seen revisions ever since) I included a trove of cities I’d like to see – Berlin, Colombo, Vaduz, and Milan, to name a few – places that I thought I must visit before I bite the big one. Among them is Barcelona, a fascinating city which I had been yearning for a long time. Even if I just realize Barcelona from this list of places, I’d be happy and would gladly have the travel goal in my bucket list crossed out as fulfilled.

Much of my life, however, I’ve been living halfway around the world. And so I always believed that seeing Barcelona in the future, whether near or distant, is quite a challenging, next-to-impossible task. I’m almost resigned to the fact that pursuing Barça will remain as it is – a dream. (Barça is an alternative name popular among non-locals, but the Catalans themselves actually refer to the city as Barna.)

Until it was two years ago when fate decided to intervene in such a way that would abruptly change my life. Everything went fast, and the next thing I knew, I was in Madrid, Spain.

imageSuddenly, I found myself living a new life in a European city – Madrid

I love this Spanish capital! Madrid is the city of promise, and of love and romanticism. It has now become my safe harbor, my source of comfort, my refuge. Madrid is also a city of excesses (but in a good way), a place where plazas, museums, and churches abound. It is the land of countless cafes, bars and restaurants, where people live to eat, and not the other way around (Spaniards do enjoy life – and their Jamon – to the fullest!). Madrid is a city so beautiful that every other place in it is a worthy background for photos and selfies.

Still a world away from the Catalan Capital

But what truly excites me now that I’m in Spain is that it puts me in a situation where I have better chances of seeing Barcelona. I live in the midst of Madrid. Just between this city and Barcelona are a few other Spanish cities and regions. Both are found within the same land boundary. In other words, it’s clear as day that I have moved closer to realizing this particular goal – or so I thought.

As I started to settle in Madrid, what actually became clear was that going to Barcelona will be no easy feat. After being told of the long hours of travel time, it made me realize that I am still a world away from the city. To be specific, travel time is more or less six hours by car, around seven by bus. Time by plane might be less, but with the expensive tickets, it’s out of the question. And so, while the possibility of seeing the Catalan city is greater – doing it is not a walk in the park. That trip isn’t going to happen, not in the near future at least.

Watching movies set in Barcelona

If I can’t go there now, what’s the next best thing to do? See it on films is what I do. Anyway, I love movies, and besides, watching Spanish films about Barcelona, or ones that are set in it, will familiarize me more to the place, a boon once I finally visit it.

Recently, I watched two — these are Pedro Almodovar‘s Todo Sobre Mi Madre and Biutiful by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Two movies that tell totally different stories, yet both are poignant enough to touch my heart. Needless to say, they are cinematic masterpieces of filmmakers respected by their peers. What made them more interesting to watch is the participation of two of Spain’s finest thespian-performers – Penelope Cruz (for Todo Sobre Mi Madre) and Javier Bardem (Oscar nominated for Biutiful). Incidentally, Cruz and Bardem are married, and a couple still to this day.

The City becomes a Film Character

Of course, a big draw to these films for me is the setting. Barcelona wasn’t used as a mere location, and its famous tourist spots didn’t just serve as pretty backdrops that would have otherwise turned the films into well-crafted travelogues. Both directors were careful not to commit such a mistake. In these films, Barcelona proved to be an indispensable character around which the rest revolved.

Toda Sobre Mi Madre

Barcelona’s portrayals in the films were quite contrasting. In Toda Sobre Mi Madre, Almodovar was able to inject, albeit subtly, some of the city’s important sites. In a way, it was like the director giving the city its due recognition, but it was palpable that the focus of the film was on the story. Many categorize Todo Sobre as a melodrama, but there’s no doubt that it’s tame compared to Inarritu’s work.


A brutal tale of woes and crimes, Biutiful has as its protagonist Bardem’s Uxbal, a sick man who accepted every burden throw at him up to the story’s end. He was dying, to his chagrin as it meant leaving his children behind. He calmly comes to terms with his imminent death, realizing that doing so will help him focus more on making plans for his kids. Bardem’s acting was superb and his performance razor sharp that his character – crooked yet innocuous – earned my sympathy. I actually wished that he would survive his ordeal still living, with heart and soul intact.

Along with the tear-inducing story is a raw depiction of Barcelona’s dark side. The movie dares to expose it as a city of old and decrepit, and reeking in poverty.

What places were featured in the films?

Todo Sobre Mi Madre tells about the story of Manuela, a woman in search of her ex-husband, a transsexual, in Barcelona to let him know about his son’s death. Some of the most popular attractions of the city were featured in the movie, like the La Sagrada Familia, Columbus Monument, Palau de la Musica, and Plaça del Duc de Medinaceli.

This photo and the next one are screen shots I grabbed as I watched the movies online. Above, Manuela’s taxi, the yellow-and-black cab that the city is famous for, passes through the roundabout at the Monument a Colom. Also, you can see the base of the monument and the silhouette of one of the lion statues

In the case of Biutiful, it is a dark movie, so naturally, even if the director wanted to, it didn’t feature the fun, touristy places that make the Catalunya capital a top destination of millions. A lot of scenes were dark and filthy, like those at the sweatshop where the Chinese worked and the apartments of the characters. The alleys where the cops and Uxbal met were sordid. It didn’t help that the character of Javier is able to communicate with the dead.

The city’s familiar streets and squares were used in some of the important scenes such as La Rambla, Playa de la Barceloneta, and Plaça de Catalunya.

imageIn the photo is just one of the many cadavers of Chinese workers that got washed ashore at the Playa de la Barceloneta, a popular beach in the city. Let’s try not to get caught up with the dead in the picture, but focus on Barceloneta being one of the popular Catalan beaches. In fact, it was awarded the title of the Best Beach in the World in 1992

Unexpected Invitation

After watching the films, the more that my desire to see Barcelona intensified. It’s like the city itself beckons aloud. It reinforced my resolve to see it, albeit when and how, I have no idea. Little did I know that these films were actually sorts of a harbinger of a good thing to come.

Not everyone gets invited to go to Barcelona, and so I was elated when friends had some business to do in the city and they asked me to come along to keep them company. We would stay around for just a few hours, but they assured it was good enough to see much of the city . The thought of the long hours of travel crossed my mind, but it was fleeting.

“The heck,” I muttered.

Finally, the opportunity I’ve been waiting for is here, I mustn’t let it pass.

Barça – here I come

At 5AM, everyone gathered at the corner of Capitan Haya near Melia Hotel. Paseo de la Castellana is just a block away. It’s an area where many spectators from the nearby Bernabeu Stadium would pass via Rosario Pino every time it´s a game night, and the corners of which the ladies of the night would hang around from late in the evening till the early hours of dawn.

Thirty minutes later, the vehicle arrived. Immediately, we sped off to what would be a great day of adventure.

We expected to be at the city at around 1.30. Travel time could have been cut down by 1 to 1 ½ hours if the car hadn’t stopped for gas, snack, and trips to the Aseos. But doing away with all these activities was quite impossible, wasn’t it?
imageFinally, by 1PM we entered the ctiy. I found myself gawking at unfamiliar sights, and reading street signs written in a language quite unknown. We passed through Passeig de Gràcia and excitedly had a glimpse of Gaudi’s buildings. I perked up, got awaken by the fact that I’m already in the midst of what must be the coolest place in all of Spain. The fatigue that had built up in me from the seven long hours of travel began to fade. I felt my exhilaration turning to a major adrenaline rush – I found myself both inordinately excited and worried over what to do with the few hours of stay there.As it is, the pressure to make the most of the scant time was immense.

We got a parking space near La Rambla, just a few blocks away from Plaça Reial, where you can find the Philippine Consulate. And so, our first activity at the city was walking through one of its most famous (or notorious, if because of pickpockets) streets in the city.

I looked around and noticed a marked difference between Madrid and Barcelona. Madrid is, shall I say, orderly, tame, and conventional. On the other hand, Barcelona is fast-faced, loud, dizzying, and even flamboyant.

And just when you think Madrid is the most beautiful city this part of Europe, you see another place in Spain that bursts with so much art and culture. Barcelona is surreal more than normal, in my opinion.

It’s clear that this city thrives in a culture that’s rich in color, uniqueness, and vibrancy. Thanks to its most revered artist-sons – Antoni Gaudi, Joan Miro, and Salvador Dali, Barcelona is distinctly its own, a world apart from Spain itself.

The Barcelona that I saw

1. La Sagrada Familia

imageThe works of Gaudi that I saw were limited to his world-famous basilica, the Sagrada Familia de Gaudi along Carrer de Mallorca; and the Casa Mila (La Predera) and Casa Battló, both found at Passeig de Gràcia. In as much as I wanted to see the interior of the Sagrada, I had to content myself in taking shots of the façade to save time and be able to check out other attractions. It’s the same case with the Casa Mila – I decided against going up the rooftop to have a closer look at its chimneys and sculptures,

The lines of would-be visitors at Sagrada Familia are notoriously long. Entrance fees are expensive, 15 and 29 euros; the amount you pay depends on how much of the basilica you want to tour. Unfortunately, I only had a few hours and so, I didn’t want to waste it getting stuck in a queue under the hot summer sun. To be able to enjoy the sight of this amazing Gaudi creation from afar is enough for now.

2. La Rambla

imageThe streets and plazas of Barcelona are as fascinating as its beautiful edifices and structures. Finally, I got to experience walking thru La Rambla, a street that’s extremely busy, noisy, and almost chaotic from one end to the other. A road stretch of more than one kilometer, La Rambla is perhaps the most popular promenade in the city. I’d say it was a dizzying trek, with people – tourists and locals – filling with its entire length. Kiosks that sell souvenirs of all sorts occupy strategic parts of the street, along with terrace cafes, and food kiosks. On both sides are historic landmarks such as Reial Academia de Ciencies I Artes and La Boqueria. La Rambla starts at Plaça Catalunya and ends at Monument a Colom and Port Vell. I was advised to be extra attentive of my wallets and belongings — this beautiful, people-filled and fully pedestrianized street is riddled with pickpockets.

3. Passeig de Gràcia

imageEdificio Generali at Passeig de Gràcia 63 Barcelona

You must pass through Passeig de Gràcia if you want to visit Gaudi’s popular edifice-masterpieces, such as the Casa Mila and Casa Batlló. A wide and accessible street, de Gràcia is also famous for its upscale shops and boutiques, like Apple, Rolex, and Gucci, among many others.

4.Plaça Catalunya

imageSituated at the end portion of Passeig de Gràcia is the Plaça Catalunya, which must be the largest and most inviting Spanish plaza I had been to so far

More Barcelona photos

imageLa Sagrada Familia is perhaps the most visited masterpiece of Antoni Gaudi. Tourists go to Barcelona just to see it. This Roman Catholic Church in the midst of the Catalan capital is in a perpetual construction. It is set to be finished in 2026. Direccion: Carrer de Mallorca, 401
imageLong queues of visitors wait for their turn to tour the interior of the La Sagrada Familia basilica. A common sight in the area, especially during the summer season. Basic ticket is worth 15 euros. Tour of the basilica, including entrance to one of the towers, costs 29 euros imageWalk through Carrer de Ferran (the street in the above photo) from La Rambla until you reach Placa Reial by turning right to Passatje Madoz. The Philippine Consulate is found within this area. At the end of Carrer de Ferran is another plaza, Plaça Saint Jaume

imagePlaça Reial, a square at Barri Goti and near La Rambla, is a frequented landmark in the area. Here, tourists love to congregate during nighttime because of the many restaurants and shops found within. It is a major venue for important Catalan events. The Philippine Consulate in Barcelona is also found within the square

imageA performer mimics the look and moves of the legendary actress Marilyn Monroe, throwing kisses to the crowd from the window of the Erotic Museum of Barcelona. Pay 9 euros for entrance, and you will be treated to the fascinating history of man’s sexuality and eroticism. Find the museum at La Rambla, in front of La Mercat de la Boqueria

imageThe main entrance to the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria (Mercado de San Jose), is popularly referred to as La Boqueria. The public market is one of the most sought-after landmarks in Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella District. Direccion: La Rambla 703 to 707, 08002

imageFont de Canaletes (Fuente de Canaletas), the popular drinking fountain at the upper end of La Rambla, and near Plaça Catalunya. Tradition dictates that visitors must drink from the Canaletes fountain to be assured of a safe return to Barcelona Direccion: La Rambla de Canaletes, s/n 08002

imageAntoni Gaudi, the one-of-a-kind Catalan architect and recognized as the Father of Modernism in Catalunya, created the surreal yet beautiful Casa Batlló. This Modernistic building stands at Passeig de Gràcia, and is one of the area´s major tourist attractions
imageCasa Mila or La Pedrera is hailed as one of the best artistic works of architectural genius Antoni Gaudi. Experts describe it as one of the most beautiful edifices built during the modernist times

image This is a creation by renowned sculptor Josep M. Subirachs called the Monument to Francesc Macia (See the name written on the sculpture). Presented to the public on Christmas day 1991, it is located right in the middle of the city – at Plaza Catalunya
imageThe Columbus Monument, or Monument a Colom in Catalan, stands in honor of Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. It is located at the lower end of the city’s La Rambla Street. Its construction was finished in time for the 1889 exposition at Barcelona

image La Reial Academia de Ciencies I Artes building was the headquarters for the city’s literary society, way back in 1764. In 1887, the edifice was dedicated to a Catalan group involved in the study of science. Shortly after, it was renamed the Royal Academy of Sciences & Arts of Barcelona, Catalonia. Direccion: La Rambla, 115

imageIf you walk the length of La Rambla up to its southern tip, you will reach the location of some of the city’s impressive structures such as Mirador de Colom and the Aduana building

imagePeople mill around the huge statues of the Lions found at the Monument a Colom (Colombus Monument). In the background is the Port Authority’s building

imageAn significant landmark in the area, the Govern military (Gobierno Militar) is found at the end portion of Passeig de Colom’s. A red Barcelona City Tour double decker passes by the edifice as it encircles the Monument a Colom

imageBehind me is the Port Authority building, where ply many of the city’s distinct yellow and black taxi cabs

image A couple sits by the Port Vell, Barcelona. At left is the Maremagnum, the mall at the port with its front wall made of reflective glass. Rising on the edge of the boardwalk in its front are thin columns providing support to narrow and elongated panels, convoluted in a way that they resemble waves. It is connected to La Rambla via Rambla del Mar Direccion: Calle Moll d’ Espanya, 5

The Barcelona I’ll see next time

I’m aware the city boasts of many sites and attractions, but I didn’t realize them to be of an immeasurable number. Barely did I scratch the surface, I must say. There are just tons of Barcelona sites that I missed. The famous Cascada Fountain, a Fontsere masterpiece situated within the equally beautiful Park de la Ciutadella; the Olympic Village and the following are but a few:

1. More Antoni Gaudi works of art

Above is a 3-euro framed picture of Gaudi’s Guell Park hanging on my wall. The Guell park and the Palau Guell are important Gaudi works that I must visit next time.

2. Picasso Museum

A must-see. Considered a son of Barcelona, Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga. He stayed there during his early years, and then transferred to Barcelona as a teenager. Many of his works are on display at the Picasso Museum at Carrer Moncada. Unfortunately, a number of his important masterpieces now belong to private art collectors.

3. The Cathedrals
imageThe Church of Bethlehem, built in 1680 and located along Las Ramblas, was one of the only two churches (the other being La Familia Sagrada) I saw in Barcelona

I’m disheartened that I wasn’t able to visit the city’s other important cathedrals. I had wanted to see La Catedral de Barcelona of the Gothic Quarters and Sant Pau del Camp, located in the Bohemian area of El Raval. You can tour the monastery of Sant Pau, the capital’s oldest church, for 3 euros. The cathedral, on the other hand, offers a stunning panorama of the city when viewed from its rooftop, also for an entrance fee of 3 euros.

Hasta luego, Barcelona!

imageI feel frustrated — I went to Barcelona, but hardly saw Barcelona. Truth to tell, it was a big let down for seeing only so much. I was hoping for the Parc Guell at least, a depiction of which in a form of cheap poster I am proud to have hanging on my bedroom wall. It would have been nice if I was able to see it in person.

Obviously, the few hours I spent in Barcelona were not enough to see everything there is to see. This only means a second visit is in order. Still, despite lacking in a significant immersion, I experienced a deep connection to the place. I fell in love with Barcelona all the more because of my own discovery – that it is historic, moving, and in many ways, other-worldly. In all honesty, Barcelona is one place I really couldn’t make of. If ever, I would say it is charming, awe-inspiring, and owns an unfathomable appeal, without trying to be.

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