We caught the fast train up the coast from Valencia to Barcelona, which takes about three and a half hours. A word from the wise: If you’re planning to stay in the Gothic Quarter, the old part of the city (which you should), don’t get off the train at the main station, Barcelona Sants. Sit tight and the train proceeds for another 15 minutes to Barcelona Francia. 🙂
Our 16th century apartment, across the street from the Picasso Museum, was a 5-10 minute walk from the station. What an extraordinary place to stay, with 500 year old timber shutters and cupboards, in the middle of a medieval maze of twisting, narrow, cobbled lanes!
Our daughter-in law, Sophia, who’s living in Barcelona at present, had met us at the station. We went for a late lunch at a frantically busy place nearby, where we chose from a huge array of live seafood, which was then cooked and served up within fifteen minutes! After an orientation walk and talk around the Gothic Quarter, we went out in the evening for tapas (and rosado) nearby.
Next morning we found our way to the Sagrada Familia, surely one of the most amazing buildings on earth! Designed by Antoni Gaudi, in a revolutionary combination of gothic and art nouveau principles, construction of the the cathedral began in 1882. When Gaudi was killed in a tram accident in 1926, the work was about 20% completed. At present it’s estimated to be 70% completed. When finished (in 2026, on the centenary of Gaudi’s death) it will be about twice as tall as at present!
The Sagrada Familia, with 3 million visitors per year, is the most visited tourist attraction in the world, so if you want to see it, book ahead! Admission fees pay for the ongoing construction.
Walking around the outside of the cathedral, it’s very hard to take it in; such a massive, towering structure leaping out of the crowded streets below. The stone seems to be alive, the surfaces, spires, alcoves populated by a throng of divine beings, animals, trees, birds, fruit, lizards, vines, flowers all entwined together. Brilliant flashes of colour on the crucifixes atop the spires and on sculpted fruit and other surfaces are mosaics of venetian glass.
To walk inside is to enter the belly of the whale. Again, free-form, irregular shapes abound. Immense columns of stone, designed to resemble trees, support a vaulted roof like a forest canopy (one effect of which is that noise is muted). Stained glass is all around, different hues in the different walls to dramatise the effect of changing light through the day. As Gaudi said, “the sun is the best painter.”
When questioned about how long the cathedral would take to build, Guadi replied “My client is not in a hurry.”
On our last night in Barcelona we took a picnic up to The Bunkers, a high hill on which the resistance placed anti-aircraft guns to defend against Franco’s airforce during the civil war, and watched the sunset. From there, for the first time we were able to get an idea of the scale of the Sagrada Familia.
The culinary highlight of our trip was was being treated to a a spectacular meal at a restaurant called Uma by our son, Ashley and his wife Sophia. Move over El Bulli!
Another treat was going to a tapas bar called Qimet & Qimet, in El Poble Sec. We had to line up in the street for a while, but then scored a place at the bar right in front of the chef, who was a veritable genius, not only in culinary creation, but he was also able to manage the flow of patrons and keep a running tab of what everyone ate and drank. We ate more than we should have, drank a bottle of rosado, and finished off with an excellent sherry, and got out of there for only 57 euros!
Among other places we liked were an enoteca called La Zona d’Ombra, in the Gothic Quarter, and La Cova Fumada, a frantically busy seafood place in Barceloneta
Continuing the Gaudi theme, which, you may have guessed was one of my main reasons for wanting to go to Spain, we also went to Park Güell, on Carmel Hill. Designed by Gaudi and constructed between 1900 and 1914, the original intention was that it should be a garden estate with 60 houses above the city, but the First World War, among other things intervened, and it became primarily a park, though with just a few residences within. The landscape was designed by Gaudi during his “naturalistic” phase, but incorporating elements of Catalan symbolism and mythology, including the Sala Hipostila, reminiscent of a Greek temple. The roadways, colonnades, walkways and terraces are sculpted from stone, to represent trees and birds’ nests.
We also visited one of the private residences designed by Gaudi, Casa Batllo, actually a remodelling of an existing house, in 1904. It exemplifies not only his love of organic forms, but his innovative solutions to such problems as light and ventilation. He also designed the furniture and light fittings, though only a little of this is on display. The tour takes in the communal areas at the centre of the house, but there also also seven private apartments, for different members of the family.
We walked across the street, of course, to visit the Picasso Museum, which houses over 4,000 of Picasso’s works, and occupies five adjoining medieval palaus (palaces). In the same street, Carrer Montcada is a wonderful museum of indigenous art from around the world. We also made an excursion to the Miro Institute (Fundacio Joan Miro), at the top of a hill called Montjuic. Another extraordinary experience!
Well that’s Barcelona in a nutshell, but I still have some nice photos left over, so here they are!
Also, I came across this nice little YouTube clip of the Barcelona Gypsy Klezmer Orchestra. Djelem Djelem is the Romani (gypsy) anthem, and klezmer is traditional Ashkenazi Jewish music. Interesting combo!