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Barcelona

Six Days

Some of the neighborhoods have held onto that turn-of-the-century architectural charm

Possibly it's a legacy of Antoni Gaudi, a spirit of tasteful creativity that began to inhabit these legacy buildings: the modernista ghosts come to reside here and there.

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This is one of those lovable cities ...  an odd phrase from someone so generally unappreciative of masses of people bustling anonymously about, day after day after day. Yet there's an energy evident on every avenue

And because one gets here to Carcassonne by rail from our earlier week (which is in any case a major feature of traveling from one locale to another

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In French it's gare, in Italian stazione, in Spanish estación. Always, though, these are exciting buildings to wander through. Your suitcase ever reminds you that this isn't simply aimless roaming; there is purpose for it and a need to get to the exact correct track at the right time. People bustling past, silent mechanical beasts lurking on their inexorable rails, purring in quiet energy.

To emphasize that it matters, two and a half hours are spent in that rumbling-along seat, in travel from Girona to Carcassonne (three and a half hours on to Avignon a week later; another hour to Aix-en Provence yet a week after that. Train to Marseille airport for a flight across to Barcelona, but still.

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There's a torture museum, if such thoughts seem interesting. For me that major slice of the medieval era is utterly repulsive.

To explain it: the Cathars (or Albigenses) lived and prospered hereabouts during about the 12th century. they were, by any measure, a major Christian heresy — a species of eastern Gnostic dualism that somehow merged with and then altered orthodox beliefs. There was a good god (found in the New Testament) utterly opposed to an evil god (lurking in the Old Testament). The former was identified with the purely spiritual world, the latter with base and utterly unclean material existence. Because these adherents proved resistant to reasonable, doctrinal persuasion, the Church resorted to force. Ruthless, deadly and later sinew-stretching and member-maiming and worse, um, persuasion. Historical fact: unlike what some of today's Bible handbooks have put out there, these were not proto-protestants being persecuted for clinging to noble Biblical principles. By any measure, this was heresy.

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At last a voyage home after three stops at Spanish and two Portuguese ports, aboard the

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They're Going Again!