Having studied the famous architect Antoni Gaudi at university, I was very much looking forward to visiting his home city, Barcelona, and seeing his amazing designs first hand. Before leaving on our trip, we had planned two days of Gaudi and two days of other sightseeing and activity. Due to a misunderstanding on my part, our Gaudi days ended up being a bit more intense than planned.
On our first day, we familiarised ourselves with the city by using the hop on hop off bus routes. We arrived at Pl. Catalunya at 09:00 for the first red line bus departure with our first stop at the cable car to the top of the hill that accommodates Montjuic Castle. I took us a bit of time to find the cable car terminus because the bus didn’t actually stop there – for such an important tourist spot, this was a bit surprising.
Anyway, the trip to the top gradually opened up views across Barcelona and gave me my fist sight of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in the distance. We elected not to enter the castle, mainly dure to time constraints, so we walked around the outside of the walls and enjoyed views of the docks, including four massive cruise ships and other aspects of the city.
Our next stop was at the Gallery of Modern Art that looks down a grand vista to Pl. Espanya. By this time the tourists were out in force as were the street traders selling all sorts of trinkets (that’s putting it politely!). We walked back up the steps behind the gallery to get a view of the Olympic Stadium that we had passed in the bus before turning round to catch the next bus back to where we started and the hotel for lunch and a rest.
By mid-afternoon, we were on the green line bus that covers the east side of the city. This takes in a few Gaudi highlights including Sagrada Familia Park Guell and La Pedrera, all of which we were planning to visit during the next few days.
I had booked a ticket to visit the Crypt at Colonia Guell the next day at 10:00. When we sat down to plan our travel there, I rather embarrassedly discovered that it is not located in Park Guell as I had anticipated, but 23 km out of town.
With the help of the hotel receptionist, we worked out how to get there by underground and train – a bit of a journey, but it turned out to be well worth it.
We gave ourselves plenty of time to negotiate the transport system and arrived in Colonia Guell in plenty of time.
(As an aside, the weather in Barcelona was very warm, topping 30 degrees so far.)
Colonia Guell is a heritage village that was constructed under the sponsorship of industrialist Eusbi Guell. During the 1890’s he relocated his textile mill to the area and built the village that comprises all the amenities that one would expect, including a school, theatre, shops gardens and a church (similar in concept to New Lanark in Scotland that we had visited a few weeks before). Some leading architects of the era were appointed to design the village, resulting is an amazingly diverse range of styles within a very spacious setting.
One of these architects was Gaudi, commissioned to design the church. Unfortunately, only the lower nave was completed when the Guell family withdrew funding. Nonetheless, the crypt at Colonia Guell is a fine example of Gaudi’s approach to design. He suspended hemp ropes with lead filled sacks from a ceiling to generate the curves. Once he was satisfied with the results, he would photograph the upside down structure and turn it over to result in the design of which he built a 1:10 model on the site. As an aside, he used exactly the same approach for the design of Sagrada Familia. If you are interested the resulting shapes are known as hyperbolic paraboloids.
The result is a totally unique building that reflects his design philosophy based on religion, nature and local culture. my first ‘up close and personal’ experience of his work made the journey there more than worth the time.
After a walk round the village and the cheapest coffee ever at the local café, we navigated our way back, lingering at Pl Espanya to have a look round Las Arenas, a shopping centre constructed inside what used to be a bull fighting arena. Apart from the shops, its main feature is the 360 degree walk around the top giving panoramic views of the city.
Our next activity for the day was a pre-booked visit to La Pedrera, a short walk from our hotel. La Pedrera, or Casa Mila, after its sponsor, is one of Gaudi’s residential masterpieces. The audio tour was very well executed, even though we were part of the constant stream of tourists. The crowning glory of the property is the roof top that features the sculptural shapes of the tops of the six stairwells, ventilation shafts and chimneys.
Back at the hotel, I felt my throat becoming a bit ‘raspy’ – unfortunately by morning, I had another head cold and a bit of a temperature.
I suspect much to K’s relief, this was a Gaudi free day with an organised tour to Montserrat. After a half hour walk to the bus depot, we boarded a large coach along with 40 other tourists (two groups of twenty) for our one hour drive to the monastery on Montserrat. Montserrat is translated as the serrated mountain, when you see the photos, you can understand how it got its name.
Accessible by cable funicular, cog railway and a very winding road, the monastery is a very popular tourist destination. It comprises a number of different buildings including shops, cafes, a hotel, hostel, boys’ music school and, of course, the monastery itself. The basilica houses the Black Madonna, the statue at the centre of the spirituality on the mountain and the reason the monastery was built there.
Our visit comprised a one hour walking tour led by our guide, Ursula, followed by one hour free time to wander round.
At midday, we boarded the coach and headed for one of the local wineries at the base of the mountain for tapas and wine tasting. The winery that looks more like a fortified castle has been in the same family since the 14th century. The wines were delicious, but, with the top of their range selling for 250 Euros, we declined to purchase.
The hinterland behind Montserrat was once an inland sea and as a result one of the main industries is salt (where have you heard that before?). Certainly, we saw a couple of very white hills in the distance.
The coach arrived back at the depot at 15:30 and, after a very slow walk back to the hotel on account of me not feeling the best, I collapsed on the bed for hour or so while K wandered down La Rambla.
The last day of our adventure! In a way, I kept the best till last, for me at least – a visit to Sagrada Familia. We had planned to have a quiet afternoon, but on account of the mix up with Colonia Guell, we had to fit in our visit to Park Guell in the afternoon.
We had pre-booked a ticket for Sagrada Familia for 09:00 with a climb up the Tower of the Passion at 09:45. Arriving at the allotted time, we joined the crowd at the entrance and climbed up the steps to the front door of this magnificent structure.
As I stepped into the cathedral and for the second time in a week, I was hit by a totally unexpected emotional response that brought a tear to my eye. The height and volume of the space was almost overwhelming with the main dome appearing to reach into heaven, as it was clearly designed to do.
I could have spent the whole day there, everywhere I looked there were amazing design details and when I looked again there were even more. After sitting for ten minutes soaking up the atmosphere, we joined the queue to the lift that whisked us to the top of the tower from where the views were simply spectacular, not just of the city but also of the external detailing and decoration of the adjacent towers.
This must be one of the longest project periods in history with work still continuing to complete the vision of Gaudi all those years ago – I hope that I am still around to see it finished
There were 400 steps back down the tower! By the time we left, it started to rain as we made our way to catch a bus to Park Guell. After misreading the Spanish directions, we eventually found the bus stop and reached the park entry in time for our booked timeslot.
The omnipresent crowds of tourists seemed to have congregated at the park, taking away some to the enjoyment of the experience.
Sponsored by Eusebi Guell and designed by Gaudi, Park Guell was originally intended to be a collection of 60 residential plots for the well-off families of Barcelona. Construction started in 1900, but, by 1914 only two of the plots had been sold and houses designed by Gaudi built. The lack of public transport and high exclusivity of the park meant that the park became a large public garden which eventually passed into the ownership of the city in 1922 and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
After getting on the bus in the wrong direction, we eventually made it back to the hotel and dinner at one of the al fresco dining options on La Rambla just outside our hotel.
As our check out was not until midday and, with a late afternoon flight, we left our packing to the Thursday morning, but which time I really wasn’t feeling well at all.
The flight home took forever, but we landed in Melbourne at 23:30 on the evening of Friday 7 July.
By Sunday, I was not improving and, on taking RAT test, discovered that I had Covid. So, the usual downer of getting home after such a great adventure was doubled by having to isolate until I tested negative on Friday morning. It has left me very tired, but I am sure that will gradually improve. In the meantime, I have one more post to write – a bit of a review of my thoughts on aspects of the trip.
The following is a scan from a leaflet about the Kutna Hora Ossuary (the Bone Church) mentioned in my last post.