Bella de Barcelona
Murray’s daughter, Marilee, and husband Rob stayed with us for a few days in October after their Mediterranean Cruise. Our visit to Barcelona started with a bit of late night planning on the patio of notre maison dans le sud de la France, with a bottle of Pastis. It was another warm evening in Saint Chinian.
Lovely as that was, it had to be an early night as we had a long drive ahead of us the next day. It takes about 4 hours to drive to Barcelona, along a multi-lane toll freeway with a speed limit for most of the way of 130km/hr!
Barcelona is quite different from Madrid where we spent Christmas last year. It is in the northeast of Spain, near the French border. Not so much flamenco and bullfighting, but more “modern” and the centre of the region of Catalunya. The influence of the Catalan language is obvious (Catalan is a variant of Occitane – the language of Languedoc). The street signs are bilingual and, like the Scots, the Catalonians want independence from Spain. This is confirmed with a flag which is different from the official Spanish flag and is displayed hanging from balconies and draped around the necks of supporters (easily confused with football supporters).
In November this year, an “unofficial” vote indicated 80% of the voters (2/5 of the population voted) want an independent Catalonia and requested the government to hold a formal referendum. While we were in Barcelona, there were peaceful, but noisy, rallies held in the main square of Plaça de Catalunya and the Catalonian flag was most visible.
The architecture of Barcelona is also different. Madrid has its fine 18th and 19th century buildings but Barcelona was obviously a darling of the belle époque. The new town, the Eixample, was planned in the mid-1800s to move the growing number of residents out of the old town (still set in the medieval era) to the surrounding “countryside”.
And, the old town walls were torn down. The new town was planned by Cerdà, with wide streets in a formal grid pattern radiating north and west from the Plaça de Catalunya. Every block included open space and gardens and the low height (4 to 6 storeys) and wide streets provided light and air to the residents. The city is known for its art deco style and these buildings show the elegant grace of the early days of that style – in the wrought iron balconies and carved elements. Unfortunately, we did not get great photos of the streets lined with the 5-6 storey elegant apartment buildings. These photos are of more commercial-style buildings.
The best known architect of Barcelona is Antoni Gaudi. Working in what has become known as a Modernista style, he mixed the Gothic of the 19th century with the naturalism of the Arts and Crafts Movement (exemplified by William Morris), to produce buildings dripping with organic details and curvaceous elements.
His masterpiece is the monumental work-in-progress Sagrada Familia, the most-visited monument in Spain and one of seven of his works designated as a UNESCO world heritage site. Gaudi started work on the commission for the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família 1883 and over the next 43 years developed his “fantastic” vision. After Gaudi’s death in 1926, his assistant took over the project and since then the project management has pass through many architects. The day we were there, several huge cranes swirled around in the sky and workmen negotiated the scaffolding, which covers about 1/3 of the building at a time, with buckets of bricks and mortar.
Inside, it is even more awe-inspiring. I do not think I was prepared for my reaction to the magnificence – we have visited a lot of cathedrals and have probably become a bit jaded. The focus, particularly in Catholic cathedrals, is so much on the religious icons – the more expensive the better. Not so much a feeling of the faith.
Like the best known cathedrals throughout Britain and Europe, the soaring space here continually requires one to look up, never resting for very long on one detail as something else vies for your attention. The icons are sculptural or architectural and the religious connection is in the space. Still, a lot of money has been spent on yet another church, but this one is definitely more fun…..
The soft, pale colours of the architectural details provide a canvas for, and reflect, an ever-changing light show as sunlight pours through the stained glass, ranging in colour from yellows and oranges to reds and purples, blue, greens. It is impossible to describe. Visitors feel the need to sit and absorb it all and one wonders how amazing it would be to attend a service or a music event in this space. OR, a wedding, which apparently can be arranged.
Completion has been optimistically projected for 2026, to commemorate the anniversary of Gaudi’s death. Some think it will always be a work-in-progress. Gaudi also designed lamposts and newstands, all very elaborate and well executed by the craftsmen of the time. They still look modern and fresh today (although, granted, they probably have had a few touch-ups over the years).
So, what else did you do on our visit? We took the city tour – in both directions
– on the red double-decker bus.
We saw a lot from above but it was almost impossible to take good photos since the bus was either moving or we were in among the tops of the trees lining the streets.
We did drive by the huge Barcelona football stadium. And found the seating plan with the price of tickets for any of you who may have dreams of attending a game one day. Start saving your Euros!
And, we ate: Murray dreams at night about jambon, the delicious ham available everywhere in Spain – by the piece or by the whole leg.
The Tapas Bars are amazing. Display cases lined with every kind of tapas one could imagine (and more). Tapas are like appetizers or aperos, but it is easy to make a meal of them. And, they also come as sweets to round out the meal. Restaurants in Spain (and also in France) do not open until 7:30 or 8pm for the evening meal, so for those of us who like to digest before bed, tapas are the answer. The way it works (for those of you who have not watched Rick Steves do this) is: you take a plate and select the items you want (all are the same price) – each has a tooth pick inserted; when you are finished eating, the waiter counts the toothpicks and charges you accordingly.
And, we managed to find a Hard Rock Cafe right off the Plaça de Catalunya where we found “real” food. Note the knife in Rob’s hamburger! Leftover from the Inquisition?
We walked and walked and walked so had plenty of opportunity to wear off the extra calories. It was a great visit to a very beautiful city and a good time sharing experiences with “the kids”.
To finish off, and return to those of you reading this in North America – this huge monument at the Barcelona seaport is dedicated to Christopher Columbus – he is a special guy in Spain.
À bientôt Deidre and Murray