To start, Barcelona has the best public transportation system that we have seen in Europe; even better than the much praised Paris system. We started our time in Barcelona with a double cab ride (no cab in Europe holds five) from the train station to the apartment which was a relatively well upgraded (Ikea style again) two bedrooms and a living, kitchen and dining room combo. Two things though, the air conditioner unit was sitting in the room, taking up very valuable space and most of the building was under renovation. It wasn’t noise from renovations that was annoying but the dust! Everything in Europe seems to be built of stone or concrete so any kind of renovation results in a significant amount of dust… our entire apartment would be dust encrusted in a day which would make your feet feel dirty when you first got to the apartment after kicking your shoes off Canadian style at the front door.
Back to Barcelona… It was hard to find anything remotely economical in Barcelona on VRBO/airbnb, so we decided to stay there for only three nights. We spent our first night wandering the neighborhood and found an awesome local grocery store where we got everything we would need for the next few days. In the end, the owner, who I spent a few minutes talking to about our adventures, gave the boys some juice boxes to enjoy in front of his store and provided us with chairs to sit on. Here’s a shameless plug for our friend if you ever are in Barcelona.
Next morning we headed to the Sagrada Familia which is a Catholic cathedral that is still under construction and shows what modern design and construction techniques using traditional materials combined with vision, creativity and inspiration all can become. The cathedral was designed by Antoni Gaudi who lived from 1852-1926. Gaudi took his inspiration from nature saying “Those who look for the laws of Nature as a support for their new works collaborate with the creator.” He took over the Sagrada in 1883 and worked on it continually until his accidental death in 1926 when he was hit by a street car. All over town one can visit or view buildings of his design, most of which are non-conventional and will challenge your traditional view of what architecture should be. I’d never heard of Gaudi before we got to Barcelona, but he is somewhat a local hero, and now I have the utmost respect for his abilities and vision after viewing the Cathedral. Not everything attributed to him I like and but I appreciate the vision and daring to build things that stretch the boundaries of what is normal.
The cathedral was started as a modest project which was transformed with hiring of Gaudi to a magnificent building to honor our Lord. Gaudi used plaster models instead of drawings to convey his ideas to others and in the museum attached one can see the iterations of his design as he developed it. My favorite part of the design is the use of the branches of a tree as inspiration for the design of the main columns of the building. They start at ground level but rise and branch off to support individual vaults with trunks continuing to rise through the ceiling visible at ground level to support upper arches and vaults.
Iconography… We don’t understand it all, we don’t always appreciate it fully due to its complexity, we question the need for it but we do appreciate the artistry, effort and devotion it would take into developing, translating and constructing. Segrada, like most cathedrals has its share of iconography, but the passion facade in particular is far more simple – likely because it is more contemporary – and more powerful to us than most other passion scenes we have seen.
Once inside the cathedral there is a innovative use of light which slowly transitions from reds to blues and greens which because it was a sunny day were brilliant inside the cathedral. When compared to the Gothic cathedral of Toledo the interior of the Sagrada is airy and bright, a massive space that is more glass and air than stone. Despite having five audio guides we eventually ran out of morale and needed to leave… I wasn’t ready but it was time. We crossed the street and had lunch in view of the cathedral which was tasty pizza and then back on the subway to get home.
Europeans go to the southern coast of France and Spain for vacation on the beach so we had to check it out, too. First we headed out to the central market called La Boqueria which was a feast for the senses. This market is not primarily a tourist attraction but an active market where the best restaurants pick up their produce early in the morning and a large number of the booths close at 2:00 because they have done their business for the day. Seafood dominates a large portion of the market and is fascinating to us land-lubbers. The variety of familiar items and the plethora of unfamiliar items makes for an interesting visit. The sights, sounds and crowds combined with the fish smell, make the market almost overwhelming for adults – it definitely was for Ethan.
One of the “to do” things at the market is to get a smoothie from fresh fruits. We all got one, strawberry/banana, mango, fresh orange and any other combination you can think of are available for a euro each. We each got one and tried them. Some were more popular than others with Matthew coming up a little short with nothing we had tickling his fancy – poor guy. On the way out we hit the candy cart and got two good sized bags of candy, one filled with the boys picks and one of black licorice and droppies for Leah and I. We walked from the market down a main street called Las Ramblas which is filled with tourists, Gaudi buildings and if you walk far enough leads back to the Sagrada. We stopped half way and got on the Metro to the beach.
After three or four months living in the Bahamas, most beaches disappoint due to rockiness, water temperature, weeds or slope of the ground into the water. Barcelona was a little disappointing in that at the shore line the beach was very rocky and the water a little cooler than our preference. Once I was in it was okay but it was more like an Alberta lake swim than a Bahamian dip. What was awesome was the sea glass on the beach which kept everyone busy for a while. Most of it was pretty small but we found a few great pieces.
Because we only had a few days in Barcelona we pushed a little harder than normal make the best use of the days so the next day we got up and cleared out of the apartment. We didn’t have a train until 6:00pm but the the stations all have luggage lockers so the luggage, Leah and the boys took a cab to the station and I walked, beating them by 2 minutes. We dropped the luggage after having some trouble with the lockers and hit the Metro to go to the children’s technology museum. Unfortunately we ended up at the wrong place. Instead we ended up at a the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and La CiaxaForum whose main exhibit was for an architect and designer named Alvar Aalto. Next time you go to a mall, check out the stools at the Apple store, they are designed by Alvar and are called the Stool E60.
He designed and developed the technology that I associate with the Poang chair (bouncy char) from Ikea though isn’t directly credited for its design. Some call Ikea’s design a rip off having debuted 40-ish years after the Armchair 406 was designed. This designer also used nature for inspiration and was a visionary in the way he considered how the users of a space would use it. Halfway through the exhibit there was a side room where visitors were encouraged to take pieces of nature like the cross section of a shell and trace them onto paper. There you could decorate and draw them as your chose. We all did a few which Leah kept for use another day.
After the museum and lunch we Metro-ed toward the Transbordador Aeri del Port an aerial tramway (or cable car) that crosses the Harbor. It was hard to find any information on this attraction or to find out how to get tickets or even where to go to get a ride. We were persistent and managed to find it with some difficulty as we initially were headed to Barcelona’s gondola not the tramway. A gondola has one cable that is continuous that both moves and supports the cars while a tramway has two cables, one for support and one to move the cars. To the uninitiated this is very confusing, who would have thought that a city would have two cable based transportation systems both of which originate in the same location. Along the way we got to take a funicular which is a train that has two cars connected by a cable that pulls one car up the hill while lowering the other. The boys though it was cool how the floor of the train car was not parallel with the rails and how at the bottom there is only one set of rails even though there are two traincars.
The ride on the tramway was totally worth the effort to find it! The tramway connects the beachfront area with Montjuïc hill crossing over the harbor and has with two large support towers one in the middle and one at the end right by the beach. We started on the hill and rode to the beachfront where we got out of the car. Once at the tower near the beach you can go down to ground level or wait in line to ride back across the harbor. The tower is quite far from the nearest Metro station so we opted to stay in the tower, enjoy the views and wait our turn cross the harbor again. The view of the city from the tower was great but it would have been nice if they had cleaned the windows at least once since the tower was built in 1931. After about 20 minutes we rode back on the cable car and then walked to metro to get to the train station via funicular and metro.
Our train to Toulouse was uneventful and we found our new apartment equally easily with the help of a taxicab. Thanks Barcelona, Spain for a great few days! On to France!