Feb 242011

Day 20 (February 21, 2011)

Itinerary: 9am Gaudi Tour including Park Guell and Temple de La Sagrada Familia, buffet lunch, Museu Musica, siesta in hotel room, dinner at Xaica Petit

I’m not sure what made us think that booking a 9am Gaudi tour after a late futbol game last night was a good idea. We had to be up earlier than we wanted to meet our group at Plaza Catalunya for our Gaudi tour. After seeing so many, what we called “umbrella tours” in Italy, we are finally on one. Our tour guide had a bright orange umbrella which she held up so we could find her. We had a whole coach bus for the tour, but only about 10 of us were on the tour, so it felt more private.

The bus drove us along Carrer Gran de Gracia, one of the more expensive streets in Barcelona, and also one of the longest. We passed by two Gaudi apartment buildings. Casa Batllo was our first real introduction to the architecture of Gaudi and we were impressed at his style. Gaudi uses nature as his inspiration for architecture and therefore his buildings do not have many straight lines. Instead the buildings look as if they’ve grown out of the ground and sprouted windows and doors. Pillars are not always vertical and very often look like branches or trees. We moved on to Casa Mila (La Pedrera) where we learned that Gaudi was not appreciated in his time. His architecture style was considered to different and weird until probably the 1990s when people started to flock to see his buildings.

I fell in love with Gaudi’s work when we stopped at Park Guell. Here was a little mountian than Guell purchased with the intent of selling hundreds of plots. He commissioned Gaudi as the architect for his home and the park areas. Well, no one was interested in moving this far from the city, nor were they interested in living near Gaudi’s work, so only 3 plots were sold. Guell lived in one, Gaudi in another, and Guell’s lawyer in one more. The park itself is very interesting. The roads were built so that the walkway was beneath the elevated road for carriages. With the Gaudi architecture, the park looked more like a fairy land almost. Certainly the walkways seemed to grow out of the ground like trees. Gaudi was considered ahead of his time because he used somewhat environmental concepts when building the park. Most of the stone was taken from that very mountain. Also, large areas would collect rain and store the water inside of pillars and tanks underground. Gaudi used a lot of mosaics in his work as well. Many of the materials in the mosaics were recycled broken bottles or dishes and glassware.

The main entrace to the park held two houses that looked like they belonged to the story Hansel and Gretel. The lighting was all wrong for my photos, but I did pick up a postcard that depicted the houses in the right light.

Our last stop was at the Temple de La Sagrada Familia. Honestly, Mark and I hadn’t even put this tourist stop on our radar when we looked at things to do in Barcelona, but here we were and we were impressed. Firstly, and probably most impressive is that the church is still under construction. Work started in the 1880s and most likely will not be completed until 2026. Today all the money going towards the construction is from donations and ticket sales, so the finish date adjusts according to visitor projections. If you are ever in Barcelona, I would recommend visiting this monument to Gaudi. Gaudi was the second architect and main architect on the project. He worked on it from the 1880s until 1926 when he was killed in a tram accident. (We found it ironic that at this point in his life he decided to dislike and never use public transportation and that’s what killed him.)

The main entrance isn’t even built yet and the interior was just finished in November of 2010. The Pope came and the scaffolding inside was taken down. Today we were in awe. We entered through the side entrance which depicted the birth of Jesus through it’s very ornate entry. On the opposite side was an entrance depicting the story of the death of Jesus. The distinct differences in not only birth versus death, but also sculpture and artistic styles on either side were dramatic and hard to describe.

Inside the church, the pillars seemed to be modeled after trees and rose 45 meters high. When the structure is completed, the highest point inside will be 75 meters tall, the tallest interior. Since the interior was essentially just completed, it looked more modern and new. The stained glass especially looked very new and very different from the Italian churches we’ve been to where most buildings have been restored. Really the only way to describe it is to tell you to come visit. Photos will never show the grandeur of the place.

Our tour essentially ended here and afterwards we ascended up the elevator into one of the 8 towers. There will be 18 towers when the church is finished, but only 8 stand now. From the top we had an incredible view of Barcelona, the tops of the Sangrada Familia and it’s fruit sculptures, as well as the construction work in progress. Certainly we paid almost equal attention to all 3 views, but probably a little more attention to the construction than a normal visitor. The fruit bunches at the top here are certainly very different from any Italian churches we’ve been to. In order to descend, there was a series of spiral staircases. In fact, I would call it a maze of staircases since many times we had options to either continue down the stairs or to cross to a new tower and continue down those stairs. We may not have taken the only route down, but just going down was an adventure in and of itself. There were lots of very tiny and narrow viewpoints along the way.

We found a very decent buffet place for lunch outside where we could get a salad and several servings of vegetables. It always seems to be harder to keep up with our vegetable intake while on vacation. Then, we headed off in the direction of the Museu Musica, or Music Museum. This museum is not very popular, or at least not on a day like today in the off-season. We felt as if we had the whole museum to ourselves. The layout was done very well. Glass cases from floor to ceiling created walls for many rooms in which the music of the instruments on display were playing. This allowed us to listen to many different pieces of music throughout our visit. There were several hundred instruments on display showing a general history of evolution of the instruments used for music. The names were only listed in Spanish, so some of the more obscure instruments are still unknown to us. It was indeed very interesting to see so many types of instruments, however.

The last exhibit in the museum was supposed to be a room full of instruments for us to try. However, the room was mostly empty. We did each get to play the harp, an electric guitar, and a very small and manual operated organ. It was still fun. Throughout the exhibits we were trying to guess what instruments might be in the last room since we’ve both played a variety already.

At this point it was early evening and being Monday, many other museums in the area were closed or closing, so we went back to the hotel for a little siesta before dinner. During our break we did some research and found both a place to eat tonight and a flamenco dinner show for tomorrow night.

Tonight we headed towards Xaica Petite where we had a long almost 2 hour dinner. I had their pollo asado after a very different shrimp cocktail starter than I’ve ever had before. Mark ate a steak after an avocado salad starter. We both enjoyed dessert as well as part of the menu.

Tomorrow is our last day in Barcelona and we’ll see how much we are able to see.

Park Guell

Hansel and Gretal house in Park Guell

Example of saucers used in mosaics in Park Guell

Inside Sangrada Familia

Side of Sangrada Familia

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