A magic carpet could have been put to good use in this city; instead, we settled for nature’s transport and the metro. As time was of the essence, we took a taxi from the port. Having visited Spain many times, we always skipped this city but were prompted to visit by reading IgoUgo guide Jose Kevo’s journal If I Had To Live In Europe. I cannot imagine a more exhilarating city than this one, especially the Ramblas, with its long chain of boulevards and broad walkways, stalls filled with flowers, and shaded plane trees, rustling in the Mediterranean breeze while hordes stroll, watch entertainers, or chill out on a café terrace. It’s all here in this vibrant city. In the next five hours, we hoped to peek into its treasures.
Our day began at the Columbus monument at the foot of Las Ramblas. Inside the monument is an elevator that takes you as far as his head, but at that early time, it was closed. The Ramblas was just awakening. Stall holders scuttled around, setting up for the day. Waiters set out tables, and the heavenly aroma of coffee filled the air. That indulgence, though, would come later. We ducked off briefly under a half-hidden arch to check out Placa Reial, an ornate square with Gaudi lamps and an attractive fountain. However, it was clearly not a place at that time of the morning to risk eye contact with the shaven-headed, bulked-up characters, nursing hangovers. They looked like they wrestled vicious dogs for a living. Some sprawled on benches, oblivious to the ragged army of street cleaners bent like chickens, carrying out the interminable task of removing discarded beer bottles, pizza trays, and other remnants of late-night revelry.
Finally, we reached Placa de Catulunya, a large, park-like square with fountains. Already, old men were seated with their friends, deep in chatter, smoking and greeting the morning. We asked directions to the Purple line, and one man walked with us to the opposite corner of the square and directed us with a pointed finger. With a Fins despres, ("see you later"), we were on our way.
La Sagrada Familia
A few stops later, we emerged from the underground, blinking against the light. We turned to our right and audibly gasped at the sight of the church. I didn’t expect it to be so close to the metro. I am not going into its history; we know that Gaudi was the architect, he took over the cathedral, and it is still unfinished. My second reaction was "What was he smoking?!" There were upside-down, ice cream cone-shaped spires, topped with what looked like pale Oreo cookies and chocolate confections. It is startling; the spires rise to the size of a thirty-story building. We had intended to take a tour, but hordes of buses were already there. We had as much chance of getting an intimate feel for the place as a coach load of camera-toting tourists descending upon Niagara Falls; thus, we skipped the tour and walked around the outside.
The scale of unfinished construction is astonishing – motionless cranes, and not a worker in sight – so it’s no wonder that it’s taking so long to complete. Thirty years hence is a pipe dream. I had read somewhere that Gaudi used dead birds for his models and molded them so they would look realistic; he certainly succeeded. The doves, in particular, are very lifelike.
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We crossed to the nearby park to take in a different view; it is impossible to take a photo without including the ugly scaffolds. My third reaction to this monument to God was one of profound humility at Gaudi’s own testament to his deep faith. I will never forget this building.
We enjoyed a snack across from the cathedral and consulted the guide for reaching Parc Guell (courtesy of Jose Kevo’s journal). We followed it step-by-step. Leaving Sagrada, we took the blue line to Diagonal, then the light green line to Lesseps. It was quite a walk (we needed to walk off our cruise diet), and you need to be fit, as it is quite steep, but we found the park easily. Thank you, Kevin.
Gasping for breath, along with alarming noises from crumbling patellas, we reached the park and entered into a hallucinogenic world of dragons, undulating mosaic benches, domes, and grottos with barley sugar columns. One building looked like a real gingerbread house, with a white icing roof and decorated windows. Parc Guell is another of Gaudi’s creations and a delightful people place. Originally planned for use as a private housing estate, the Parc was opened to the public around 1922. It wasn’t possible to explore the park in the time we had; instead, we contented ourselves with a coffee on the restaurant terrace. I am so glad I didn’t miss visiting this unique spot. After the Sagrada, this is a must-see site.
We continue on our whirlwind tour.
At Montjuic, we admired the terraced fountains and enjoyed the view from the top. From its wooded summit, you can take in glorious views of Barcelona. Its long, wooded hillside contains the buildings of the 1992 Olympics and delightful gardens. TheMuseu Nacional d’ Art de Catalunya, inside the Palau Nacional, is the best in Barcelona.
Back on the Ramblas, we couldn’t believe the change. It was heaving with people. Human statues abounded – one enterprising fellow in a tuxedo was seated on a toilet. Each time a coin was placed in the box, he combined facial contortions and rude noises as he mimicked nature’s call.
We walked around the Bari Gotic and its twisting medieval alleys but did not have time to enter the cathedral. Just a quick beer at a small outdoor café. We loved Barcelona and cannot wait to return for a longer visit.
All-day metro and bus/tram pass, 4.60 euros.
Bus Tours, 16 euros.
Sagrada familia, 8 euros; single, 9 euros including the museum, 11 euros guided.
Parc Guell, free.