Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Barcelona - La Sagrada Familia and a nice walk

My adoring public (or just Mary Kay) has been clamouring for a post from Barcelona, so here goes. Always eager to please, I present you with a bumper post packed full of activity and photos!

Things started off badly yesterday when I got on the train to CDG airport and found out that there was someone already in my seat. We compared tickets, and we did, in fact, both have the same reservation. Well, she was already there next to her friend, so I found the nearest vacant seat I could and waited to ask the conductor what was up. Turned out that my ticket was for the next day, d'oh! One would think this would be a case of 'well, no harm done, train wasn't full anyway', but no, I had to buy a new ticket, which including a penalty for paying on board was 20 euros dearer than the original ticket (I did manage to get the original one reimbursed when I got to the airport, at least). Well, as Led Zeppelin would say, ain't nobody's fault but mine, so what can you do but pay the stupid tax?

At any rate, things went okay after that. The flight over the Pyrennees (not much snow mostly) and into Barcelona was stunning - we followed along most of the length of the city, out in the Mediterranean, and luckily I was on the right side to get an amazing view of the city spreading out from the sea. I got a crick in my neck from looking out the window, but totally worth it. I didn't make it in to my hotel until about 5 pm though, and then I had a couple of hours of work that I urgently had to get done (I know, seems like I never do anything, but occasionally even I have to pull my finger out), so between that and being really tired from waking up at around 5, I only had the energy to go and grab a quick dinner on La Rambla before bedtime.

Ominously, my camera has been acting up - turning on and off by itself. It can't be just the battery dying, because it will mysteriously turn itself on with no prompting too. Whyyyy do things always have to break? Fingers crossed I have figured out that pushing down on the battery might make it work? I say fingers crossed because I didn't think of doing that all day today, I only came up with it when I plugged it in to transfer my photos to the computer. If that does work, then I suppose I can live with it, although it's still a pain since I had to keep popping the battery out to stop it turning on again when I didn't want it to. As long as it holds up for at least the F1 testing tomorrow!!

This morning I woke up again at around 5 (dammit) and did a couple of hours' work before heading out to the Sagrada Familia. I had actually planned on going to the art museum today, but thought that I might as well take advantage of the early start to beat the crowds. It was a pretty good decision, as there were definitely loads more people around by the time I left c. 11 as at 9 am when it opened. I first came to it by the West (Passion) Facade, and I've got to admit, I thought "eh, it's alright, but I'm not blown away".

The Passion Facade - deliberately more sombre to portray Jesus's suffering

Judas betraying Jesus. An interesting point is the puzzle next to them - any way you try (up, across, diagonal, even divided into squares) it always adds up to 33, the age of Jesus at death

However, when I went around to the East (Nativity) Facade, I began to see what the excitement's all about. Then went I went inside, I was converted. I don't know if I've even seen photos of the inside before, but it's just wonderful. Like being in a magnificent enchanted forest.

A not-very-nice photo of me

An anarchist getting ready to throw a bomb after being tempted by the devil

I went for the whole shebang - entry, audioguide and tower access - for 20 euros. Honestly, the tower access is probably not worth it (4 euros). Or at the least, had I known that the tiny platform you get out of the lift at is basically your only chance to properly enjoy the view, I would have stayed there longer than about 30 seconds and a couple of photos. I had assumed there would be some way to walk around to the other side or something, I don't know, but there's not, and there's just a few small openings in the sides of the staircase after that, where you always have people on your heels so there's a limited amount of time you can spend. If you do still go up, definitely walk down the stairs the whole way instead of taking the lift back down, otherwise you really are seeing not a lot.

Views from the tower

Another not-very-nice photo of me. This time, I'm blaming the bright sunlight

Closeups of some of the capitals on the towers

The audioguide didn't go into an amazing amount of detail, but was quite interesting, especially in picking out details of the facades and so on. Unfortunately, by the time I got over to the east side (in the grounds rather than before when I saw it from the street) the sunlight from one side was really bright, so it was actually kind of hard to see all of the details, but you can obviously tell there are all sorts of little hidden creatures and plant details and amazing carving all over it. Of course, it's still very much a construction site, and it was quite noisy on this side as well, but the guide informs me I should feel privileged to see it under construction, and I suppose they have a point. The great medieval cathedrals took hundreds of years to complete too, and that must have been an awe-inspiring sight to see, so it is kind of cool to think that maybe this church will still be there in 600 years or whatever, but the people who see it in the future will never be able to have the experience of seeing it half-complete.

The Nativity Facade

Rooster detail

The slaughter of the innocents

Jesus as a carpenter

After the Sagrada Familia, I basically followed a walking tour in my guidebook through the Eixample area, where many other works of Modernist architecture, including some by Gaudi, can be found. I foolishly stopped for lunch on the flashy Passage de Gracia without checking the prices - turns out a "pizza" on a half-baguette costs 8.50!! I'm trying to focus on the fact that it was actually very nice and I got to sit outside and people-watch in the sunshine, rather than a pizza bread costing 8.50 though. The time I paid 8 euros for a glass of Sprite in Paris still takes the cake though. Seems I haven't learned the lesson of checking what things cost before ordering.

Some of the buildings I saw today:

Adolf hairdressing. Possibly also moustache trimming

La Pedrera, a block of apartments designed by Gaudi

Detail of one of the balconies

Casa Lleo Morera by Domenech i Montaner

The Casa Amatller built by Puig i Cadafalch in the neo-medieval/modernista style

Details from the facade of Casa Amatller

Doorway of Casa Amatller

Another Gaudi work - of course! The Casa Batllo represents the legend of St George (Jordi in Catalan) and the dragon. The roof is the dragon's back and the balconies are carnival masks representing the victims. The colours are more vivid in real life than this shows.

The block with the preceding three buildings is known as the "Mansana de la Discordia" or "Block of Discord" because of their clashing styles. Casa Battlo and Casa Amatller are right next to each other and definitely each have a very distinct look:

I continued following the walking route down to the Parc de la Ciutadella, where I had an icecream and read my book in the sun. It was still only early afternoon, seeing that I had started my day so early, and it was lovely and warm - probably about 18 degrees I would think. Quite the change from -11 the other week!

Barcelona has its own Arc de Triomphe leading to the Parc de la Ciutadella. My guidebook says it was built for the 1888 Exhibition, but not what kind of triumph it's meant to represent.

Inside the park is another Gaudi work - the Cascade Fountain

Fountain detail

From there, I continued on down to the sea. I grew up in Auckland, which has the sea on all sides, but I didn't really realise it was important to me until I moved away from there. It is definitely something I miss in Tours - I haven't seen the sea properly since the Black Sea last August (the Irish Sea in December not being much of a thrill). So it was very nice to go and sit by the sea for a little bit. There were even people surfing, although the waves looked a little small to me (I don't really know though, that's my brother's department). I finished up by continuing along the sea front and then heading back up La Rambla to my hotel for a break before dinner.

At the end of La Rambla, a statue of Christopher Columbus faces out to sea


  1. Wow - great photos. What lovely winter weather! As you say, quite a contrast to your minus 11 degrees. M x

  2. Oh man, your trip got off to a rocky start but 20 euros isn't too bad. Annoying? Yes, but not awful. It looks like it was all worth it. Your photos (comme d'hab) look great!

    So you take the TGV to get to CDG? I was wondering about you guys who live outside of Paris and how you get to the airport. I guess I was hoping that there was a smaller airport that I didn't know about for you to fly to major cities in Europe, but I guess not.

    You're definitely a trooper, Miss Gwan!

    Enjoy the rest of your vacay! Get into some trouble for me! ; )

  3. Thanks Mum and Ella.

    Tours does have an airport but it only flies to a couple of places (I flew from Tours on my last trip to England). There are other smaller regional airports around as well, but same deal, although there are usually more options in season. Going through Paris is not too bad when you can get the train direct to CDG (although as you know I'm spending the day in Paris on my return trip because my flight gets in quite early).

  4. It was such a treat to come home late last night and read your post - I started to write a comment but decided to wait until this morning when my head is clear of wine and my older eyes can make out the characters of the darn security code, which is a challenge at the best of time.

    The photos of the inside of the Sagrada Familia are great. I don't think that I've seen any before and it really does look like an enchanted forest. You picked just the right moment to visit with the sun streaming through the stained glass. Beautiful! I also liked seeing all of your photos of the architectural details of Gaudi's buildings.

    With you in Barcelona, Ella in LA and Mike & Peter in NZ, I'm really enjoying my armchair traveling this week. But after seeing your photos, it makes me think that it's time to go back to Barcelona - it's close, warmer than Paris and there are palm trees. Plus, it would be marvelous to sit by the sea.

    Have fun at the T1 trials today.

  5. What a lovely comment MK, thanks! I'm getting the codes in Spanish here, now that's tricky! I know what you mean, I was just thinking "what sort of lifestyle adjustments do I need to make to spend my winters somewhere like this and my summers somewhere not as hot?" If you are keen on visiting, there's another round of F1 tests soon to tempt you ;)


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