Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Magnificent Barcelona

Barcelona was one of the most highly anticipated stops on this trip, and it really didn't disappoint.
We were staying in a hostel half way up a mountain on the outskirts of town, and got our first shock when we were told that it would be impossible to walk into the city centre because of the wild pigs, foxes, snakes and [!] farmers in the bush... interesting.....
But we quickly turned our attention away from the frightening wildlife [got to watch out for those Spanish farmers!], and on to the more exciting, though no less strange, local attractions. First stop was Parc Güell, designed 1900 to 1914 by Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona's most famous son. The park is simply mindblowing, with crazy Gaudi mosaics, buildings that could well be made of gingerbread, twisting tree-like columns... the whole place puts you in a good frame of mind to build up for Gaudi's most ambitious, and as yet unfinished, project, the epic Sagrada Familia.
Though construction started in 1882, even the most ambitious estimates predict that it will take nearly another 20 years to complete. The church is following Gaudi's designs, based on images from nature, and lots of crazy complex geometry... he had a ridiculously intense maths brain, and the designs look visionary and futuristic now... yet Gaudi started the drawings in the 1850s, and died in 1926... So, armed with all that knowledge, we headed for the spires sticking dauntingly up above the Barcelona skyline, ready to be blown away...
.. And it worked. Standing inside the main nave of the church, surrounded by massive towering pillars and columns, astounding vaulted ceilings, and the most intense stained glass windows ever.. it's impossible not to feel moved. The epic detailing on the facades, the amazing colours in the windows, the way Gaudi plays with shadows, with light, with darkness... you can understand how this masterpiece is 130 years in the making. Even though our little camera got a serious workout, it just doesn't feel possible to capture the essence of this place [evidence on facebook of our best attempts anyway...]
We took the lift up and wandered the awesome winding staircases and narrow paths which let you get a close up look at some of the towers, the windows and the detailing higher up.. and it would have been so easy to get lost up there, and spend a whole day [or more!] just being amazed...
But we had more to see and do so had to drag ourselves away. Still, it would be fantastic to make it back one day once construction is completed... put that on the list!
We walked down the Ramblas, Barcelona's main shopping/pedestrian street, and it was one of the more interesting main streets we have seen across Europe for street performers and street art.. so much so that we actually stopped and 'commissioned' a painting, which we then had to lug around France and Italy for the next few weeks... [it was worth it!]
At the end of the Ramblas there were some quite cool market stalls, the waterfront, and the Mirador de Colon - a great big tower with a statue of Christopher Columbus at the top, pointing out over the harbour.
Next on the list was the Barri Gòtic, or old quarter of town, including the church of Santa Maria del Mar, which is a fourteenth century church that was built on the seaside, now hemmed in with narrow streets and is a beautiful, imposing gothic building. The Barri Gòtic is full of tiny, labyrinthine streets, and enclosed alleys that could feel imposing or threatening if they weren't just so beautiful! We also stopped by Barcelona's Arc de Triomf, and had a look at Barcelona zoo, though we didn't have time to visit.
A final interesting landmark in Barcelona's city centre is the Torre Agbar, which anyone who has been to London will probably refer to as the Barcelona Gherkin as it is startlingly similar to the Swiss Re Tower in central London. The Torre Agbar though, is actually a lot prettier than the Gherkin, covered with 4,500 LED lights which are programmed to make some stunning visual effects, especially at night.
Barcelona has so much to offer, the city itself is big, bustling, a pumping big-city mechanism, but the unique sights give it an enchanting feel that few other cities of that size are able to produce. In our limited time we managed to wring a lot of fun out of the city, but it definitely goes on the re-visit list... so maybe if those in charge of Sagrada Familia ever manage to lay the last stone, we can manage to get ourselves back to Spain to see it...

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