Barcelona

My equation for Barcelona:
Santa Barbara + Paris = Barcelona

Barcelona, Spain has one of the coolest blends of culture and architecture. It’s Catalonian/Spanish history, location on the beach, and proximity to the border with France gives this seaside town a unique atmosphere. Even the Catalonian language was difficult to nail down; Spanish in origin, Italian sounding, and spelled with a French flair.

After a close encounter with a pick-pocket on the subway (we later learned that Barcelona is the pick-pocket capital of Europe) we learned the ropes and kept our bags even closer to our sides then we do in Italy. We visited some great architecture, I gained an even greater appreciation for architect Antonio Gaudi, and ate the best seafood paella ever!

24-27 November 2011

Thursday.

Happy Thanksgiving! Though Thanksgiving in an American holiday, we were still given a long weekend to celebrate. I’m in Barcelona with JC, Sar, and Madel. We found a great hostel to stay in and we have one other roommate, a 20-year-old, Australian girl on a 4-month trip through Europe.

Today, we walked to the seaside and enjoyed the sunset and the beautiful silhouettes created by the buildings and mountains. Since Barcelona is on an eastern facing coast, it was so cool and different to see the sun set over the mountains and not over the sea.
We walked up Las Ramblas, the main shopping street, to a fantastic restaurant. La Fonda was the best place to have a Spanish style Thanksgiving dinner. We enjoyed seafood paella (yes, I ate a muscle) and a pitcher of Sangria. We were so happy and full after!

Friday.

This morning we set off to explore the land of Gaudi. Antonio Gaudi is the favorite child of Architecture. His raw, organic forms bring architecture to an entirely new level. Before arriving, I was not a huge fan of Gaudi architecture. I thought it was too gooey, too much stuff on it. But now, I love it. His buildings have no sharp corners and they fit perfectly into the already strange urban context.

We started our day by hiking up the hill to Guell Park. We entered Guell from the top, with an amazing view of the city and sea below. Guell was first designed to be a housing complex and two of the small houses stand by the front gate with their spiraling “ice cream cone” roofs. There is a covered pathway that leads to a covered patio filled with columns (designed to be a market for the housing complex). We hiked through the trees and winding paths that jetted out over the trees. It was such a cool place. Now open to the public, the entire complex was teaming with people enjoying the warm 70 degree weather (so amazing compared to the 50 degree weather we have in Firenze!).

We took the Metro back down into the city and enjoyed amazing sandwiches and pastries at Mauri tea shop and then made our way to Casa Batlló. A private house designed by Gaudi, this home has gained many other names due to the interesting façade. Also known as the bones house, or the dragon house, Gaudi creates fantastical imagery through the organic forms and brightly colored tiles. Designed with the sea in mind, the walls flow seamlessly around corners and up to the ceiling. The roof takes the form of a dragon’s back and the tower becomes the sword of St. George striking the dragon.

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Tonight we had tickets to see a flamenco show. It is so amazing to see how quickly they move their feet to the drums and Spanish guitar!

After the show, we went to a small café on Las Rambles for Hot Chocolate and churros. The thick chocolate is not just for drinking, but also for dipping the churros. Yum yum yum!

Saturday.

This morning, I went to the building I have been waiting to see! Bauhaus professor, Mies van der Rohe, designed the Barcelona Pavilion as Germany’s entry for the world exhibition. It is one of the most beautiful pavilions I have ever seen! This building does not really have a function, aside form being a pavilion, but its purpose shows a rebirth of architecture; simple forms, material, connections, and the movement through a space. Mies created floating planes of marble that become disconnected from each other through the large rows of curtain wall windows. The morning sun was streaming in and the lighting was perfect. We had some great conversations with the docent, Marc, who knew everything about the building and could answer the most difficult questions we had.

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The Barcelona Pavilion is located at the entrance to Olympic park where the 1992 summer games were held. Situated on a small hill, there was yet another great view overlooking the city.

After a quick bikini for lunch (bikini is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich) we took the train to Monserrat. Monserrat is a small monastery, now kind of touristy, that was built into the cliffs overlooking the Spanish countryside. I cannot get over how beautiful Barcelona and the countryside around it is. That is why I compare it to Santa Barbara. Just stunning! We took a cable car up the cliff side to explore the monastery. This small basilica has become a pilgrimage site. Inside the church is a statue of Mary and Jesus, and you are to rub the orb the Jesus is holding.

For dinner we has tapas. Eating tapas involves restaurant jumping. For 1-2 euro each, you can select a portion of… anything; either a piece of bread with seafood, a small bowl of soup, a dessert. We visited a few different places and everything tasted so good!

Sunday.

Our last day in Barcelona. We went this morning to La Sagrada Familia. Gaudi’s cathedral of the Sacred Family has been under construction for the past 100 years and is to be finished around 2050. This cathedral really blew me away. Though the towers are not finished, the nave is. A combination of nature and religion, Gaudi has created a heaven on earth. The tall nave and tree-like columns continuously draw you eyes towards a skylight above the alter. It is so hard to describe the sun shining through the colorful stained glass and the light dancing on the walls.

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I think what impressed me the most was how Gaudi got this building to stand! He designed the building upside-down using sandbags as the loads. Using just string, he adjusted the loads and worked them into the forms we see being constructed. I was reading that they have recently run a statistical analysis on the Gaudi’s calculations, and they are spot on! Amazing!

After grabbing a quick lunch, we took a short walk along the seashore, absorbing the last bit of sunlight before heading back to Florence. A great trip with some great architecture.

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