Day 47 Barcelona

So last night we were lulled to sleep by the sounds of police sirens, helicopters whirring overhead and a cacophony of saucepan lids begin banged together very loudly. This morning all was calm. There was not one sign of the commotion that had gone on just yards from our hotel entrance. Even most of the independence banners had been pulled off the balconies – it was as if we had imagined the whole episode!
We set off early for the Park Guell, one of Gaudi’s famous pieces of architectural extravagance. We were told that since it was the start of a 4 day Computer Conference in the city, with 60,000 delegates, there would be little chance of getting a taxi, so we caught a bus from Cataluyna Square to right outside the gates. I had visited this site before on my previous trip to Barcelona, but that didn’t take away any of the delight in seeing Gaudi’s wonderful creations again. He has taken on the role of architect combined with landscape gardener in this magical creation which pays homage to natural forms and curves. As you enter, you pass by a stunning mosaic dragon which functions as a fountain. You then climb a grand series of steps up to a pavilion, with a strange bumpy roof, inlaid with circular mosaics. But the most impressive site by far is the central plaza which sits over the pavilion, with it’s multicoloured curvy mosaic benches which sit all around the perimeter of the space, and just shout out the architect’s sense of fun. After a pleasant wander round the park, we headed back towards the city, to what is unanimously considered to be Gaudi’s most magnificent masterpiece, the still unfinished cathedral of Sagrada Familial. For those who have seen it themselves, they will understand how difficult it is to describe. The structure and design is so complex, and so totally unlike any other religious building I have ever encountered, that frankly, it is hard to put into words. But it has all the classic hallmarks of Gaudi – lots of parabolic curves and arches, and the landmark towers have an oddly conical shape, topped by characteristic mosaics, in the form of fruits. Inside, the structure is stunning – huge arches and spectacular stained glass windows, which reflect coloured light onto the sandstone and granite masonry. When I last visited, you could climb up the spiral staircases leading up to the towers, but this seemed no longer permitted. You can still take a lift up, but it transpired that our ticket didn’t have this part of the tour included, a disappointment for Howard, since this was the first time he had seen this amazing structure.
With a last gasp of energy, we set off for another of Gaudi’s triumphs – the apartment / office block, La Pedrera. People still live and work here, in this strange Hobbit-like structure. Again there are curves and arches everywhere, the walls of the lobby painted in pastel hues reminiscent of Monet, and a central atrium open to the sky, which radiates light to all aspects of the building. On the roof are a peculiar series of structures, some mushroom like, some frankly phallic, which seem to serve no purpose other than to enhance the aesthetics of the space. The attic of the building is stunning. It used to serve as the utility / washing area for the building, and consists of a repeating series of red brick parabolic arches, all slightly different heights and curvatures. It is said that as a student Architect, one of Gaudi’s tutors stated as he graduated that he wasn’t sure whether they were witnessing a genius or a madman – I think the former. So now we are exhausted and totally Gaudi’d-out. But at least Howard has gone from someone who knew nothing of the man, to being a total convert.
As I type we are sitting on a ferry in Barcelona docks, waiting to set sail to Ciuitavecchia in Italy, which is somewhere near Rome. Having both driven along to French Riviera before, and also travelled around Tuscany, we have opted to save ourselves a drive of many hundreds of miles, and well over a hundred pounds worth of tolls, and nip across the Med directly to half way down Italy. From here, we plan to visit Rome, Naples and then head down to Sicily.
So no blog tomorrow as we’ll still be at sea. In the meantime, though, you’ll be amused to hear that Howard has given his cork hat a name – ‘My Precious One’ – I suspect just to irritate me!

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