11 December, 2009
So, I haven’t actually written anything on this blog in, oh, let’s just say forever. But, I just got back from a trip to Barcelona and thought I’d share a bit. If you want to read about all the fabulous food I ate or the fun shopping I did, this isn’t the place. I just eat what’s convenient and rarely go shopping on vacation. Yeah. I’m weird.
Why Barcelona? Well, I’ve wanted to go there since I saw my first picture of a Gaudí building. Okay, but why Barcelona in December? Davis Cup! Yep, my tennis boy was going to be playing on red clay for his country. And this was happening on my birthday. So, I figured, happy birthday to me!
I’ve already blogged about the first few days on my Rafa site – you can read those here:
My first truly solo day of sightseeing. I’d planned my day out the night before. I wanted to get to Park Güell very early. People had warned me that it’s a long trek uphill from the metro stop to the park, so I’d done a bit of research and found a bus that goes further up the hill and actually drops you off more in the middle of the park. If walking uphill hurts your hip (well, and heart) as much as mine, bus #24 is your friend. I walked to the L4 metro stop closest to me and took it to Passeig de Gràcia. From there, I just had to go about half a block to the bus stop – it was right across Casa Batlló, so I got my first glance of that. My mouth started watering anticipating visiting it the next day. The bus was very crowded and it’s a long ride, but so worth it. It drops you of towards the back of the park in the more “natural” area. It just a bit uphill to see the wonderful natural looking arch supports and get great views of the city. Towards the top is a lovely white house. Then you walk across the back of the park and up a bit to the hill with three crosses on the top. The cross area was so very crowded, I didn’t go up. Then, it’s all downhill to the real treat.
You end up on a wide path lined with lovely palm trees that take you to a large flat plaza lined with the famous tile covered serpentine benches that surround the plaza in a large U shape. There were so, so many people here. I had no chance to get any decent pictures of the benches, but they were everything I’d hoped they’d be. I went down to the end to look off the front and see the park entrance – with its two charming houses and fountain. Then, since I’d already been roaming around for a few hours, went back towards the palm area to get a sandwich and some water. I enjoyed sitting at one of the little tables and just soaking in the unique beauty around me. Again, the back “wall” that looks like a natural hill, is instead comprised of supports for the path/road I’d just walked down to get here. There are stone like supports with lovely flowering plants spilling out between them. The plaza is teaming with energy and people enjoying the day.
Next, I went down a path that leads to the supports for the wide palm lined roads. The uniquely shaped arches (straight on one side) are fascinating. Who thinks like this? I’m sad that I can’t get a picture of the lovely arches that isn’t filled with people, but I continue to walk and turn a corner to find more arches and much fewer people. Yay! The arch patch ends with what seems like a three story rounded porch addition to a house. Three stories of pillars, plants and stone. So lovely. I make my way down to the first level and am now even with the park entrance which I head towards. First, the wonderful underside of the big open plaza above. It’s filled with huge columns. The ceiling is covered with Gaudí’s trademark broken tile mosaic, but most of it’s in white. Every now and then, there’s a colored mosaic in the base or in between the bowls. It’s quite lovely and impressive at the same time. I bet it makes a wonderful retreat from the summer sun. After enjoying it for awhile, I try to make my way down to the fountain and famous lizard statue. It’s total chaos there. People everywhere and everyone wants their picture with the lizard. It takes a while, but I finally get a picture of the lizard’s head without someone in it. And by “a while”, I mean at least 20 minutes. Sorry all you people who have a picture of the lizard with my fat ass in it.
Next up were the two little houses that sit on either side of the park entrance. They look like something out of a fairytale, but I bet are filled with the same kind of practical innovations that I’ll see in Batlló the next day. I take photos from every angle I can think of and would have stayed and tried to think of even more, but the size of the crowd was getting to me. Plus, I’d gotten to the park at 9am and it was now 2:30…perhaps I should move along.
I will say this, for how crowded the tourist places are in Barcelona, I’ve never had people try to be so polite to stay out of your picture before. So, thank you fellow Barcelona tourists for that.
I walked down the big hill to the metro (no way I’d have been in a good mood after walking up that to get to the park – so a big “yay!” to bus #24). I took it over to the Paral-lel stop and then got on the funicular that goes up to Montjuïc. Yeah, I’d been on Montjuïc for the tennis, but my goal was to get the stuff on the edges of the city done today and then concentrate on the middle of the city the next two days. And there was a funicular. I had to ride the funicular! This one was very different from the one Lucy and I rode in Montreal. It was very modern and looked like a metro. In fact, part of it was underground like a metro too. Once that ride was done, I took a cable car up the rest of the way – so, that made my forth mode of public transportation in one day.
I had wanted to go up to the old military fort at the top of Montjuïc for the views, but by the time I got up there, my beautiful day had turned cloudy and flat. Oh well. Can’t control the weather. I walked around the fort – not very interesting in and of itself, but it was quiet and had lovely views of the city and the ports below. After strolling around for awhile, I was pretty tired and it was starting to get dark, so I did a reverse cable car, funicular, metro and bus route to get back to the hotel. On the way, I stopped at a place where I thought I’d find a grocery store, but I couldn’t find it. Since it was supposed to be a huge one, I’m guessing I just took a wrong turn some where.
Also, the most negative thing I have to say about Barcelona so far (besides the location of my hotel) is the occasional whiff of sewer that wafts over you from time to time. It’s very potent and can almost stop you dead in your tracks if you let it.
My main goals for this day were to finish my Gaudí tour. I ended up deciding to leave Sagrada Família for the next day, however. Turns out, that was probably wise. @AnaTennisGirl was going to join me first thing in the morning at Casa Batlló. I wanted to get there right when it opened so I go upstairs to the loft and roof to get pictures without people in them. She was running late, so I went on in and went up something like 5 flights of stairs to the roof. (That should tell you how much I wanted to see it – I’ll usually do anything to avoid stairs.) The roof only gives you a hint of the whimsy you are going to get inside, but it does start to clue you in on how Gaudí manages to combine whimsy and practicality. The chimneys from the apartments inside the building have all been gathered together into a few bunches and given interesting shapes and decorated with colorful tiles. These are no ordinary dreary and ugly chimneys, and yet their design is practical – they have pointed “hats” that help keep birds, dirt, etc from entering the chimneys and the smoke from the house vents under the hats.
You can also see the back of the wonderful front façade on the roof. People wonder if the shape and scales are meant to represent the dragon slain by Saint George (patron saint of Catalonia). Perhaps, I can see where one would get that idea especially given Gaudí’s religious bent and the lovely cross that stands next to it. The cross grows up out of a base that looks like a garlic bulb and is covered in white tiles. The dragon is covered in tiles that go from earth tones at the bottom up to wonderful blues towards the top. The spine is periodically capped with what looks to be pots cut in half and laid over it. The whole thing undulates and curves – much like the rest of the house.
After spending quite a while enjoying the roof, I go down into the loft. In some ways, it’s the opposite of the roof. Gone is the lush color palette. It’s been replaced with stark white and Gaudí’s famous arches. His arches aren’t a boring upside down U, they are narrow at the top and wider at the bottom. He felt these were stronger and meant larger buildings could be built without cumbersome flying buttresses. The loft almost feels like you are in a giant rib cage – perhaps one that belongs to the beast whose spine you saw on the roof.
But, as always, there’s practicality in with the unique design. The walls include vents that allow light and air to enter. They give the area an airiness and openness you might not expect in a smallish loft. They also helped laundry to dry as this area contained the laundry rooms for the apartment owners.
Next, I went back down the stairs, this time taking the time to enjoy the lovely embracing and relaxing blue that surrounds them and the courtyard in the center of the house. The courtyard has a sky light at the top (you could see it on the roof) that allows light to filter down the staircase. The blue tiles at the bottom of the courtyard are lighter than those at the top to help achieve a uniform shade of blue as the light dims towards the bottom. Everything is full of curves – the banisters, the doors to the apartments – even the letters above the apartment doors. The curves give it energy, but the soothing blue calms it all down so you are left feeling soothed, but not sleepy.
Now, I started the actual tour at the base of the main stairs up to the Gatllo’s apartment. This is a much darker area, gone are the blues and whites and now everything is rich wood. Still warm, but more settled feeling. The banister on the stairs fit my hand perfectly as I held onto it on my way up. Once upstairs, I was gently poked on all sides with examples of whimsy and practicality. Those wavy ornaments on the doors? They hide vents that you can slide open/closed to allow air to enter the rooms. Gaudí was not a believer in things being sealed up. He wanted rooms to breathe and talk to each other and the world outside.
The apartment has a very nautical feel to it. The walls are painted in a way that could represent scales. The wainscoting on the dining room isn’t straight along the top – it rolls like waves. The ceiling looks like a giant nautilus or perhaps a whirlpool swirling into an amazing chandelier. There is a room with huge windows that look out onto the street. But to keep them from lighting the room to starkly, the top thirds of the windows are full of heavy leaded colored glass – each round of glass looking like its own little whirlpool. The edges of the windows undulate – no straight lines here – and again I had the feeling that maybe I was in an underwater cave, but not a dark depressing one; one full of light and color.
Next, I went though a few more rooms and walked out onto the family’s balcony- a large tiled plane that ends with a bit of decorative tile work in that famous arch shape. I looked up at the back of the building and saw the curved wrought iron balcony railings and the back of the roof – again, no straight lines – everything looks rolling and soothing yet lively.
Wait, did I really just write that much about a house? You, the only person who will ever read this, are most probably bored to tears. Sorry, but I loved this house so much and could have stayed in it all day just staring and trying to let it sink in. As it was, I’d already been there well over 2 hours. Ana had arrived and so I met her outside and we went off to Casa Milà (La Pedrera).
I probably should have seen this place first, as anything would have felt like a bit of a let down after Batlló. It’s an extremely lovely building – the outside looks like a cliff edge with many nooks carved into it and wonderful wrought iron sculptures that form the balcony railings. The murals on the ceiling of the main floor are subtle and make it look like you are under cover flowering trees. The rooms you are allowed to see are interesting, but nowhere near as striking as the ones in Batlló. The roof, however, is another thing all together.
Instead of the nautical them of Batlló, the roof of Milà feels like an alien desert landscape. There’s a rumor that some of the chimney shapes here inspired the design of the Storm Trooper helmets in Star Wars. To me? They looked more like Sand People and looking down the main courtyard from the rood, I could see Tatooine. The chimneys here are pure sculpture in a wonderful variety. Some are covered with white mosaic tiles, but most are just the same natural stone color of the front of the building. Some are filled with sharp (yet curvy) lines and some just seem to undulate up from the roof. Ana and I wandered up and down the steps feeling like we were walking in an alien landscape filled with stone giants. I would love to be up there at sunrise or sunset to see the types of shadows these giants cast.
Next, we wandered around a bit. I’m not quite sure exactly where we went since Ana was taking me to a restaurant she likes and I was just following along and enjoying the views without paying attention to direction. The streets were filled with people as it was a holiday. We went through the square by the cathedral and it was jam packed. There was a giant Tió de Nadal that kids were hitting with sticks and singing to in an attempt to talk it into pooping out presents. There were balloons (seems that Spain is also infected with Sponge Bob Square Pants) and just a huge jumble of people. We find the restaurant jam packed, but spy an empty table at the back. The place reminded me of DimSum, but instead of a cart going around, you take a plate up to the main bar where there are a variety of goodies stacked on large platters. Each item has a super-duper sized toothpick stuck in it. You use that to kind of pick up and slide the item onto your plate. Each item costs 1 Euro and they tally up your bill by counting your toothpicks (which you put into a rectangular vase thingie on your table). I really liked the stuffed red pepper I got…until I the red pepper fell off the toast and onto the floor. The tuna was also very yummy – I should have gotten more of that as I wasn’t too enamored of the rest of the things I picked up. It was all very interesting, however, and I’m glad I tried some new things. Most of the time when I eat by myself, I just want to find something quick and easy where I’m not sitting in a restaurant alone. So, thanks to Ana for this experience!
Since we weren’t too far from the Picasso museum, we strolled over that way next. It’s very nice, but a bit difficult to find. It’s in the old (Barri Gòtic) part of town and housed in a series of converted houses/apartments that are hidden away on a narrow street. You go chronologically through Picasso’s artistic life and it’s interesting to see how his art evolved. None of his super-famous pieces are here, so don’t go expecting to see them, but if you want to get a better feel for how his art changed from a very traditional style to one that broke all the rules, you’ll enjoy this museum. Plus, the buildings it’s housed in are wonderful. (Too bad they don’t allow photography.)
Next, we wanted to go the Palau de la Música Catalana, but one can only visit that via a guided tour and we’d just missed the last one for the day. I put it on my list for tomorrow, but didn’t make it there. I’ve seen pictures of the inside and it looks astoundingly beautiful. Next trip.
After that, we just roamed the streets a bit until we sat down in a sidewalk café and chatted about pretty tennis boys while people-watching. We did this until dusk and then I headed back to the hotel.
My main agenda item for my final day in Barcelona was Sagrada Família. I wanted to get there early so I wouldn’t have to wait in long lines to take the elevator up to the top of one of the towers. @iheartbcn had warned me to be careful not to get stuck going down the steps…little did I know how easy that was.
But, that’s getting ahead of myself. I got going by walking to what I was now thinking of “my” metro stop, but this time took it in the opposite direction to get switch to a line that went right to La Sagrada. By the way, the metro in Barcelona is very clean, efficient and easy to use. Each station has clear signage to help you figure out which track you want to be on. Once down by the track, there’s a sign to let you know when the next train is due. On the train, there are indicators at the beginning and end of each car that let you know which doors will be opening at the next stop and above the first and last doors, there’s a time-line that lets you know what stop you are approaching and what ones come after. So it’s very easy to know when your stop is coming and what door you need to be standing by. Many, but not all stations, have elevators and up escalators for those who are stairs adverse, so getting around is pretty easy. You will, however, be going up and down some stairs.
The metro exit opens up to reveal the east (Nativity façade) side of La Sagrada. This is the side that most probably truly reflects Gaudí’s design as it was completed before his death. It’s a busy and somewhat confusing façade that made me feel like I was looking into some sort of grotto with overgrown moss and other bits hanging down from the top. The sculpture style of the figures on this side are very traditional. The other side has sculpture done by Josep Maria Subirachs and their sharp angular style seems, to me, to be in conflict with Gaudí’s curves…and yet, I think I preferred to overall effect of that side of the church.
The church is huge. Monstrously huge. And, of course, is still under construction. They hope have the inside completed for worships next year and the whole thing done by 2036(?), but I just can’t see how it’s going to happen. Going inside, it feels and sounds like a busy construction zone and the outside is covered with cranes and workers. I can’t imagine how the people living in apartments right across the street deal with the sound.
Even though the inside is far from complete, you can see the beauty it will be. Columns rise up and change shapes as they reach for a ceiling far above them. They branch off to join the ceiling and that helps give an overall impression that you are in a huge forest of trees. Shapes in the ceiling look like either suns or nighttime starbursts depending on your frame of mind. Stained glass windows throw oddly shaped and beautifully colored spotlights onto the columns. This is a building to inspire awe while, at the same time, reminding you of shapes, colors and forms you see around you ever day.
There’s just a small line for the elevator, so I stand in it and am soon shoved into a very small elevator with a small group of mushed up people who are handing over their 2.5 Euro for the trip up. There’s a small map on the wall that seems to indicate you should go up once you get off the elevator. You can then go across, down and across to get back to the elevator. Okay, that’s my plan. The door opens into an even more claustrophobic place. There are people directly in front of me waiting to get onto the elevator. There are people on the “up” stairs waiting to come down and get on the elevator. In either of those directions, there’s no room for someone to go – especially someone with a big ass and a big camera bag. I take two steps down hoping they can sort it out and I can go back up…but no. Once you have taken a step in either direction, that’s the way you must go. People were behind me saying “go, go.” I had no choice, I went. Very slowly. Down a dark steep spiral stair case with stone walls on both sides. It was just about an inch wider than my ass. I had nothing to hold on to – a must for me going down stairs – so I would just kind of grab at the wall and lean into it as I stepped down. My right hip/knee already hurt so much from all the walking and without a rail, I didn’t trust that I could catch myself if the right knee collapsed going down a step. So, I was going left leg only. Very slowly. The people behind me were impatient. But what could I do? Finally, there was a small alcove and I stepped into it to let everyone pass. Hoping that now the top would be clear again, I go back up order to do things the proper way, get the view from the top and take the elevator back down. But, by the time I get back up, another load of people are coming off the elevator and they don’t believe/can’t understand me when I say that they really want to go up, not down. I can’t get by them and they insist on going down. *sigh* Down we go. I stop in my alcove and try and decide if I want to risk going up only to have the same thing happen again. I’m already shaking like a leaf and sweaty and fear I won’t make it back up again…so down I keep going. One step at a time. Very slowly.
Little did I know it would get worse. After a while, the wall on the right (inside of the spiral) goes away. You get handrail on the left, but the right feels like it’s a gaping hole into a pit of doom. Looking right just shows….down, down, down, down. Did I mention I don’t like heights? How am I ever going to make it? I guess I’m lucky that no one else was stupid enough to get stuck coming down behind me and I didn’t feel any pressure from impatient people, so I just went slowly. Step by step. Shaking and on the verge of tears thinking that I was never going to make it. There were a few alcoves to stop in and I did. I was afraid to sit down for a bit, though – fearing I wouldn’t be able to get back up. Each alcove let you glimpse down and the ground always seemed so very far away. Again, I was overcome with doubt and just wanted to sit and scream for help, but I knew no one could hear me over all the construction noise. Finally, via one alcove, I realize I’m just a few floors up! I make it down the rest of the way and immediately find a cool stone bench to sit on….at the end of the elevator line. I sit until I stop shaking – about a half hour. Then I get some water from a vending machine and sit some more. I’m spent. Totally spent.
After a while of enjoying the cool stone, I finally get up and hobble around to see the rest of the interior and exterior as well as the museum in the basement. I’m moving slow – for me. That means, I’m going slower than a snail. I’ve now given up on the idea of doing much walking for the rest of the day. I figure, I’ll take the metro over a few stops, get on the Bus Turistic and ride it around – at least that way I’ll see more of the city than just sitting on my cool stone bench.
Up I go. There’s a nice looking café next to the bus stop, so I pause for a sandwich and then ride the bus around until I’m frozen. (Yes, those who know me well can laugh. But you don’t often get full sunlight in the city because of the buildings and the narrow streets and it was in the low 60s, upper 50s.) When we get down to the port, I get off and waddle slowly around the Port Vell area and end up walking to Barceloneta. By then, however, I just can’t take it anymore. My knees are so swollen that not even an ice cream cone can cheer me up. I’m next to the metro line that goes near the hotel, so I nab it, waddle back to the hotel and collapse onto the bed. I end up the evening by alternately icing my knees and soaking in the big tub. I think if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have been able to walk today!
Now, while it may sound like my trip ended on a bad note, it didn’t. After all, I was forced to do something I never thought I’d be able to. I learned a bit about myself. And, now I know: go up when you get off the damn elevator! I’ll just have to do that and visit the Palau de la Música Catalana on my next trip.
There’s so much of Barcelona I didn’t get to explore, but I’m okay with that. I prefer to see a bit slowly rather than try to frantically take it all in. I’m happy with my trip and hope that I can return soon – because Barcelona is a very lovely place.