The Geese That Guard the Cathedral

Well I had failed to gain entrance to the Picasso Museum, even on “free day” (the first Sunday of each month). I had arrived half an hour before opening time and the thin line of people queued up in front made me hopeful that I would be soon looking at Picasso’s early works from his blue period.

When I entered to get a ticket, they informed me that the next available time to gain entrance was 3:45 in the afternoon. It was now just after nine and I had to transfer to my airport hotel to start the birding part of my trip.

And here is the problem with Barcelona: 30 million tourist visitors a year makes getting into the major sites a hassle, even in early April. I had not pre-booked a ticket (who knew you could book a ticket on “free day”). So I left the museum and contemplated my next move over a cafe con leche and a choclate croissant at a local cafe.

I figured I would head over to the Barcelona Cathedral, which Rick Steves notes, “doesn’t rank among Europe’s finest (and frankly, bare cracks the Top 20)”. This was the cathedral where Antoni Gaudí’s funeral was held in 1926 but he was buried in the crypt of his La Sanganda Famila.

It was a short walk through the ancient and very maze-like streets of the El Born neighborhood to the cathedral. And with my luck today, the cathedral was closed to tourists. Well it was Sunday morning after all. And all I wanted to do was see some geese!

So again, feeling defeated, I sat down and sketched a Roman arch near the cathedral which had a calming effect on my not-so-successful morning.

I decided to at least walk around the cathedral where I was surprised to find free access to the cloister. I’m sure the interior was awe inspiring but I really just wanted to sketch some geese and then watch some Catalonian dancing.

The thirteen white geese of the cloister have been at the cathedral for about 500 years, well not the same thirteen geese anyway. They have become symbols of the Cathedral and are considered guardians on the structure, a bit like the ravens at the London Tower.

After sketching the geese and exploring the cloister, I headed to the front of the cathedral to witness one of the displays of Catloniaism in Barcelona. And it starts promptly at 11 AM every Sunday morning.

As the hour of eleven neared, a band assembled on the steps to the cathedral bearing instrumentals that would not look out of place in an illuminated medieval manuscript on music. This was the band to start off the Sardana, the traditional dance of Catalonia.

This dance is a symbol of Catalonian unity and pride. Once the band starts up four dancers place their belongings in the center (an antipickpocket maneuver) join hands (boy-girl boy-girl) and proceed to cut a rug.

Well perhaps cutting a rug is a gross overstatement. They really tap there feet lightly and slowing move in a circle while more and more couples join the circle. It not unknown for travelers to join the dance but was happy to just to watch the dance before for I walked back to my Gràcia digs and caught a taxi to an airport hotel where a new birding adventure was to begin.

But I would not be looking at captive geese but wild and exciting birds!

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