25 March 2008 (posted 17 July 2008)
Crying out for more than a two day visit, we pencilled in Barcelona against the Easter weekend. This magnificent, cosmopolitan city didn't disappoint, displaying plenty of personality. Arriving Thursday night with Anthony, Chris and Isenia and with Tuesday off work, there were five full days to uncover Spanish treasure.
Barcelona's most famous street and biggest tourist trap, La Rambla, buzzes with both tourists and those that feed off them. So in search of lunch without tourist inflation, we abandoned the grand avenue for the labyrinthine, narrow, cobbled cross-streets of the medieval Barri Gòtic. Here, we discovered the beautiful Cathedral of Santa Eulalia. In a church on Good Friday and no sign of lightening bolts. What gives?
Back in the twenty-first century on Via Laietana, out of desperation for food and conveniences we stumbled into one of the best Italian restaurants of my experience, La Pala Nera. If you're in Barcelona - or even if you're not - go there!
With the shoppers safely ensconsed in retail heaven, I sought out the cucumber-esque Torre Agbar, the latest addition to Barcelona's skyline. Unlike Foster's Gherkin, my first impression of the detailing was negative. This building comes into its own from two perspectives. From distance, its form speaks purely. From inside, in the foyer, you have one of those "Ah-ha!" moments: Yes, stunned by the amazing space, but also understanding the exterior detailing - it's partly about the play of light, both inside and out.
Now Barcelona's biggest drawcard, the broad appeal of Antonio Gaudi's legacy of work is a recent phenomenon. Gaudi was the most celebrated of the 'Modernistas', local exponents of Art Nouveau modernist architecture with a uniquely Catalan flavour. His greatest supporter and benefactor, Eusebi Güell commissioned Gaudi to create an exclusive residential retreat for wealthy Catalans on a parcel of elevated land overlooking the city at Gràcia. Years later with only three lots sold, Güell sold the estate to the city. Gaudi's work remains in the 'gingerbread' gatehouses and marketplace.
I love the Spanish obsession with escalators, almost as much as I hate stairs. Exiting the Metro, we turned a corner into one of the steepest streets I've seen, rivalling those in San Francisco. Incline aside, this was an ordinary residential street but for the chain of escalators up the middle. These bore us up to Parc Güell for a Gaudi afternoon. Sorry, bad cinematic reference, there!
A rumoured bear event was the catalyst for our discovery of the associated Sunday afternoon city walking tour. Led by a local architect whose passion for Barcelona and its treasures infused the afternoon, we took a winding route through the old city, learning about its history via various pitstops ranging from the medieval to the work of the 'modernistas'. Unfortunately, due to a faulty SD card, the images of this very special walking tour were all corrupted :(
Arriving at La Sagrada Familia a little before nine, we were rewarded with some precious breathing room to explore, before the crowds descended. And there was so much to uncover in Gaudi's most beautiful, monstrous creation, still under construction more than a century after work began.
On our final day, with Sen and Chris back in London, we wound down our visit with an exploration of Montjuic, home to Olympic venues, a historic fort, a cable car and funicular, which we rode down the mountain.
PS: Overheard on the flight back to London, the speaker, a San Franciscan expat: "I live about eighty miles east of Barcelona." She must have some serious damp issues!
PPS: "Fondo, Fondo, Fondo!", sung to the tune of "Quando, Quando, Quando" was our catchcry for the Barcelona trip. Whenever there was any question of which train to catch, someone would erupt into song to recommend the Fondo line, our quickest route to the top of La Rambla from our Plaça d'Espanya apartment. Just in case you were wondering about the postcard title...