Friday, June 07, 2013

Barcelona log (2) - In search of Gaudi

My wife and I woke early - not surprising as we went to bed fairly early yesterday evening. After a full breakfast in the hotel, we walked a few blocks to where the souvenir stores were and bought a few bits and pieces in each, probably being their first customers of the day. The most important item as far as I was concerned was a hat - I had considered bringing my Switzerland hat to Spain, but that seemed a little strange. I certainly did not want anything to do with Barcelona FC - most of the hats and shirts seem to bare their emblem - but I found a nice hat in beige with a tasteful B logo which seems well made.

Our first port of call was the Sagrada Família cathedral, which is only a few blocks away from our hotel (not by coincidence: when booking the hotel, I thought that we might as well be close to this emblem of Barcelona). I had bought tickets for this via the Internet in order to circumvent the huge entrance queue, and indeed we didn't have to wait at all. Looking at the cathedral the previous evening and in the morning, I had felt that this huge edifice (which is only about 60% complete!) seemed to be overdone, with all the ornate decorations. Maybe it's because I'm used to synagogues, which tend to simplicity. But when viewing from inside and especially from viewing the explanations of the two museums within the cathedral - the latter having a twenty minute film about the cathedral and how it was designed - I began to appreciate the design of architect Antoni Gaudi.

My wife had given me the impression that he had been cut down in his prime, when he was killed by a tram, but it turns out that he was 73 years old when he died, and so 'had a good innings'. One of the activities described in my wife's guidebook was visiting destinations connected with Gaudi, so this is what we did today.

Our second port of call today was the Casa Milà, otherwise known as La Pedrera. We arrived there with little difficulty (we got to the correct metro station, and from there we asked random people for directions; the Spanish are very pleasant and like to help, but they tend to speak to everyone in Spanish even though they were addressed in English. This doesn't help very much) only to discover that there was a fairly large queue to get in. I think that we would have waited for maybe 20 minutes before entering, but before we actually did, a nice young lady walked down the queue and explained that the ticket office was having to close as the Casa Milà was at maximum capacity and that they could not accept any new visitors for the next half hour. The poor woman had to explain this at length to every single group in the queue, which must have taken her some time.

After discussing this for a few minutes, we decided to cut our losses and go elsewhere. I suggested that we eat first as it was already lunchtime. In doing so, we discovered the second of our two main problems with Barcelona: the first (as mentioned earlier) is the language problem (more of this to come) and the second is food. We had to try several restaurants and snack bars before we found something acceptable to our palates - unfortunately this was MacDonalds. For myself, I ordered a fish burger; my wife kindly asked for no cheese (which I countermanded) but the sales assistant wrote down both no cheese (I did want cheese) and no chips (probably just as well). My son - who is accompanying us - wanted chicken nuggets, but instead of the nine nuggets which come with the prepackaged chicken nuggets meal, he wanted the six nuggets version. In the end, we received two nine nuggets meal along with a packet of six nuggets. No matter: we ate the lot (although I do not like their chips which are far too salty for me).

Discussing what to do next, we decided to take the metro to Park Güell. Whilst hesitating by the metro station, I noticed that we were standing in front of an interesting building, which turned out to be Casa Batlló (pronounced Bayou), another of Gaudi's works. I suggested that we visit this house instead of Casa Milà: there was no queue. Inside was amazing: as the audio commentary points out, there are virtually no straight lines inside. Here, the geometrical ideas of Gaudi were constructed on a more human scale than in the cathedral and were much easier to understand and appreciate. I really loved this building (my wife thought that I was being cynical when I told her so) and enjoyed the serendipity. I imagine that this is what a house looks like during an acid trip.

Less serendipity on the way to Park Güell: our son took us to one metro station, but there a helpful lady suggested that we return to a station which would be closer. "No need", said the station manager, after the lady asked him to put us back onto the metro without having to pay: "it's just down here - take the second left and go up the automatic stairs". Well, his instructions were correct, but as as result, we came into the park via the back entrance which is extremely steep. No wonder there are several escalators on the way.

At first, we weren't convinced that we had arrived at the correct destination: true, we were in a park, but there seemed to be none of Gaudi's fingerprints visible. After wandering around a bit (the park needs to improve its directions by printing maps), we eventually stumbled onto the Gaudi part.

The picture below is the main entrance, which we, in our idiosyncratic method, used as the exit. The picture doesn't really do the buildings justice as they are more colourful than the picture suggests. As I heard several people mention, the picture seems to be like something out of 'Alice in Wonderland', although I would call it a gingerbread house.

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We had to take a taxi from outside the park to the nearer metro station: by this time, my wife could hardly walk. This metro probably isn't much closer than the one that we arrived at - the distance is quoted as 1220 metres - but at least the way does not include climbing up a hill which would be at home in San Francisco.

Our next port of call had nothing to do with Gaudi - the Montjuïc Aerial Tramway or Teleferic de Monjuic. This is a cable car near the port of Barcelona which takes one to the castle which overlooks the port. The cable car ride was reminiscient of Switzerland, but the castle was something else. Built at a vary strategic site, the castle's cannons guard the sea entrance to Barcelona.

After a pleasant stroll around the extensive castle grounds, we rode the cable car back down to modern Barcelona. We then traveled to a famous fountain for an evening performance (I didn't catch its name) but as it was getting late and we were getting tired, cold and hungry, we didn't stay. We'll go there tomorrow night. Instead, we returned to the the Sangrada Familia, found a suitable restaurant, ate pizza, drunk tea, walked home and into bed.

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