19 November 2012

the spain series: episode two

Once I'd alighted from the overnight train from Madrid, I was off in search of another train to ride.  The little Spanish I've learned was a bit useful but I quickly discovered that in Barcelona, in Catalonia country, the main language on all the signs was Catalan.  It's a tad similar but not the same.  Thankfully most tourist-using signs had Spanish as well and sometimes even English (like at the major train stations).  And even though most people seemed to be pretty decent at English, they at least knew Spanish so I could usually manage one way or another though I still think my Spanish is very limited.  Anyway, with a change on the Metro, I was just one block from my hotel.  I was excited about being able to sleep sprawled out in a bed when night time came again.  For now it was about 8:30am and I couldn't check in yet.  I locked my luggage away and accessed the internet to email Natália, whom I met on our Madrid bike tour and arrived in Barcelona the night before.  I then headed out to Mirador de Colom which is a tall monument somewhere nearby where she was staying.  I stopped by a little take out and got a sandwich and cup of tea for breakfast.  They serve big teas and put in warm milk.  Cool.  I sat on the steps of the monument enjoying the sunshine while I waited and hoped she'd read my email.

I waited round longer than the time I mentioned though I didn't end up giving that much time before meeting.  I'd forgotten my phone was still an hour behind on British time.  She found me though and she bought a couple of Portuguese guys she'd met at the hostel who were wanting to look around the city as well.  It ended up being a great sight-seeing day because they had plans about what they wanted to see and the only thing I knew about Barcelona and had planned to see was La Sagrada Família.  And of course, exploring with company is more enjoyable.

First stop was one I would have happily skipped but Natália is a bit of a die-hard fan.  We went to the FC Barcelona Stadium.  That is, home of the Barcelona soccer team.  We roamed the store for a while.  Mainly just waited for Natália to decide what she wanted and could afford to buy.  The label hikes the price indeed.

From there we went to my one planned-to-visit landmark--Sagrada Família.  I'd seen it in photos and it looked interesting.  When I saw it in person I was truly amazed.  It's a church--a landmark, heritage church.  In Europe.  But it's not gothic style.  It is soooo different from anything I've seen.

The style is one of it's own.  The cone peaks alone make it stand out but the sculpture style is interesting as are the various shapes used in the construction.  This is the side we saw first.  The sculptures depict the crucifixion of Christ.  Below, between the cone peaks, you can see the golden resurrected Christ.  This side is the newer side.  It's the side I like best.  We went around the other side too where the beginnings were sculpted in.  Creation I think and the birth of Jesus and such.  It's highly detailed and a bit more gothic like.  I think I like the newer side better because it's different.  Unlike so many of the other churches around Europe that I've seen, the scaffolding and building site accessories here were not because of restoration or cleaning.  This church, begun in 1882, is still under construction.  Estimated finish is still 20 years away or so.  I was greatly impressed by this structure and I was yet to find out it was part of a running theme in Barcelona.

After some lunch we headed off to see some houses one of the guys wanted to see.  Apparently designed by some Antoni Gaudí who's a bit of a Barcelona celebrity.  We went first to see La Padrera which leaves an impression with it's wonky, wavey exterior.  I also liked the cast iron squiggly balconies.  At 16 Euros, we decided not to go inside.  We went instead to Casa Batllo.  Now Casa Batllo stood out even more.  This Gaudí guy was definitely catching my attention.  This one, Natália told us from her guidebook, was the most interesting inside.  So we decided to pay the 20 Euros to go in this one.

But, my word!  It was worth paying for.  I was astonished and intrigued by every corner or...well,... every inch anyway.  There's not a straight line in the house.  This place was phenomenal.  It wasn't long before I decided I liked this Gaudí guy.  In fact, he greatly impresses me.  Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) was a Spanish Catalan architect whose big passions were architecture, nature and religion.  It astonishes me that such designs as I saw in Casa Batllo and round Barcelona are so modern and different and out-there even for our day and age. And this man's life wrapped up in the 1920s!!  He was a man ahead of his era.  His designs, which are largely drawn from his study of nature, are amazing and structurally futuristic for his time.  Some of the techniques he applied--drawing from the Master designer's work--were used more widely and commonly decades later.

The house, just looking at it, is outrageously eyecatching.  Just looking at the outside leaves one exclaiming they've seen nothing like it.  There are multiple interpretations of what it resembles but I simply couldn't get over the fact that it looks like there's a dragon on the roof.  Inside there are curves everywhere and the whole place resembles nature in some way, shape or form....or all three.  The fluidity of water, the tortoise-shell or glimmering water surface pattern painted subtly all over the walls, the colours, the banister on the spiral staircase that looks like a spine, the use of wood and patterns carved into the doors...  His use of light and space were extremely well thought out.  The central lightwell inside adapts well with the skylight.  The windows get progressively larger as they get nearer the ground so as to let more light in to the lower levels and the dark blue tiles are condensed at the top and thin out toward the bottom making way for the pale blue tiles to better reflect the light.  The banisters around the lightwell were also made of glass with a wonky effect to it so that as you walked by the blue from the tiles in the lightwell wavered like the surface of a lake.  He was into recycling too and there's lots of colour mosaic decorations, especially in the outside areas.  He designed the house with the housekeeping rooms at the top (laundry and such) and you can see the arches in the pic below that support but also create the illusion of more space than there actually is.  There's also slats in the wall that let the light in but keep the rain out.  We even got to go up on the roof which I didn't expect where we could see the sleeping dragon.  The chimneys he clumped together to create a more visually appealing roof top.

So many amazing, wonderful, intriguing aspects to it.  Too many to remember or rave on about right now.   Fantastic use of light and colour and line and practicality.  If you're ever in Barcelona, you really should take a look inside Casa Batlló.  We were all glad we paid to look inside.

Before it got dark we headed to Park Güell to see the 'gingerbread houses', so labelled by one of the Portuguese guys, and the lizard.  He was right too.  There was two houses by the main gate and they looked like gingerbread houses.  This park has Gaudí all over it.  Also another of the Barcelona landmarks--more Gaudí of course--is the mosaicked lizard sculpture, the salamander.  We didn't see too much of the park really but the area we entered was artful and colourful in a fascinating, eye-capturing style.

After a few quick photos we headed up to the highest point where the light shifted from the natural glow of the sky to the man-constructed twinkle of the city below.  It was nice to look across Barcelona and take it in on more of a whole.  It was easy to spot la Sagrada Família jutting up from sea of buildings.  Bit of a stand out. After a while we went down again to the terrace above the salamander.  The terrace, one of the main features of the park, has a massive Gaudí-designed bench that snakes like a sea serpent creating the fence.  When built it was known as the world's longest bench.  The view was nice from here with twilight in full swing.

From here my day pretty much ended.  When we got back to the train station I headed off to my hotel to finally check in, prepare for the next day's adventure and go to bed--to a nice big bed--to rest up for the early start of my next adventure.  It had been a good day, a full day and lots of great sight-seeing.  More than I would have seen on my own I reckon.

No comments: