[I am posting this a few days late, I haven’t had Internet access since]
Antonio Gaudi is a genius, and La Sagrada Familia is the greatest structure ever built.
That is all.
I had to let that out! I was bottling in all my excitement and needed to share it with someone. Later in the post, I’ll try to describe the stupendousness of what I saw (and yes I insist on using such a big and weird-sounding word to make my point). But let me tell you beforehand how poor of a job it will be. I doubt great writers could describe the experience faithfully (because it is an experience), so don’t expect a computer engineer to come close it.
Let’s wind back time to when I arrived in Barcelona. Welcome to the Mediterranean, where the sun shines, the seaward wind blows, nature abounds, roads are chaos, drivers honk and curse left and right, the heat is exhausting, and I’m smiling. I feel at home!
I decide to take a small detour while heading to my hostel to walk along the sea and a few major streets. Along La Rambla (the Champs-élysées of Barcelona), I come across an open-air market with lots of locals as well as tourists, Mercat De La Boqueria. You’ll find almost anything to eat here: meats, seafood, fruits, vegetables, spices, sweets, etc. It’s all very appetizing, and I decide to pick and choose a few foods to eat on the spot. I start off with a freshly cut coconut from a fruit vendor, then have some grilled prawns at a grilling stand, and finished it off with a weird looking dark purple fruit that looks nicer than it tastes, a pitahaya.
La Rambla is a very lively street with lots of restaurants, cafes, tourist souvenirs stands, caricaturists… and scammers. I almost got sucked into one of their games. They are very adept at making you feel you can easily beat the game and make money fast. They even let you win the first few rounds so that you gain the confidence to throw in more money. Then somehow, you’re loosing everything you put in and more. Don’t worry, I didn’t play, I just enjoyed watching others getting duped. At that point, I remember having read many times that Barcelona has a lot of scammers and thieves running around. And I was even reminded on several occasions by waiters not to leave my stuff laying around on the table. This made me a little paranoid, I’d catch myself checking my pockets and bags every few minutes uncontrollably.
I walk down to Mirador Del Colom, a monument dedicated to Christopher Colombus. then along the port Vell, and into the winding roads of Barri Gotic and El Raval regions in central Barcelona. The interiors of central Barca alternate between very charming, and dirty and sketchy. As a tourist, you have to hope you end up making all the right turns to find yourself in a beautiful plaza with nice fountains and restaurants with outdoor terraces. One such plaza is Plaça Reial where I had dinner in a good seafood joint. As I sat on the terrace, I was treated to some live street performances of music, magic, and acrobatics. Really, you can’t ask for better than delicious fresh seafood and free entertainment.
I also visited Mont-Juic. This little hill at the west of the center has a great view of the whole city, and houses a majestic castle of the same name. Looking over the tall walls surrounding it, I found it funny to find climbing bolts drilled into the stone. Now I know there are people out there who understand me and my need to climb any structure I walk in front of! And, of course, how can I experience Barcelona without heading to the beach. I walked along the coast on the sands, going across one public beach after another (and an outdoor gym?) until I stopped and had a dip in the sea. I then laid down to rest for a while and roast evenly on both sides.
The highlight of my visit, as you’ve probably guessed, was Gaudi’s masterpieces. Understanding Gaudi is easy, he grew up very close to nature. During childhood, he was sick for long periods of time and instead of playing with kids he would spend his time observing others and nature. The latter was his muse. You won’t find any straight lines or angles in his buildings. Everything he designs is functional, nothing is superfluous, just as in nature. The first of his works I enjoyed was La Sagrada Familia, an unfinished cathedral. And for a first experience, it was a mind blow! This structure is the culmination of all his previous works and learnings. As I entered the cathedral, I had this eerie feeling of entering a forest. And that’s how he intended it to be. Columns remind you of trunks as they branch out into smaller and smaller columns and their shape shifts. The ceiling is made of leaves-like moldings that let’s in the right amount of light. You can see that he hasn’t left any part of the design untouched, from railings designed to mimic climbing plants to staircases spiraling like a shell, or honeycomb like pavements. La Sagrada Familia is still being built a century after it started according to Gaudi’s plans. Construction is expected to end in 2026, the date at which I’ve already booked a flight back to Barcelona.
After spending 2 hours admiring the cathedral and learning about Gaudi’s techniques, I was hooked. I planned to visit as many of his works in the next two days: Casa Milà or La Pedrera, a beautiful apartment building converted into a museum that boasts a winding attic with arches reminding of the skeleton of a large snake (think of the hollow interior of a thoracic cage). Cascada De Gaudi, a magnificent fountain in Parc de la Ciutadella. Parc Güell, the best city parc design in my opinion. It doesn’t stand awkwardly in the middle of the city, but really feels like an extension of the forest, blending with its surroundings, as if it were dug out of the grounds. Here is a quote by Gaudi himself that summarizes his vision: “Originality consist of returning to the origins inasmuch as original is that which, with its means, returns to the simplicity of it’s early solutions”.
As for local delicacies, there wasn’t anything as extravagant as my previous episodes, except maybe for a grilled whole calamari. The whole thing, including head, midsection, and tentacles, was grilled and served plain with 3 lettuces for decoration. This was the chewiest meal I’ve ever eaten. I might instead add this to my short list of workouts because by the end of the meal my jaw was sore. I also ate fresh grilled fish, a paella (that I will have to try again in Seville, its birthplace), and tapas, a Spanish culinary invention that is perfectly designed for my eating habits. Those fortunate enough to have had a meal with me can testify of my habits of tasting from everyone’s plates to “sample” the restaurant’s food. (some may argue that they are unfortunate, ignore them).
On my last day, trying to figure out the next leg of my trip, I looked at a map of western Europe and noticed three green patches at the border of Spain and France… I like green! It is the Pyrenees, the great mountains of the south of France. Suddenly, I start imagining myself driving along winding roads in the mountains, hopping from one village to another, and hiking on peaks. And just like that I decide I will be going to the Pyrenees. I search for the next train out of Barcelona to a city on the border of the mountains, Toulouse. Early next morning, I hop on that train with no plans other than: in Toulouse, I will rent a car and drive “somewhere beautiful”, then find a place to sleep.
What will transpire is a little different…
[This post is part of a series on my 2011 eurotrip, check out the whole series here]