A melting pot of culture and fun
15.10.2011 30 °C
I was planning to visit Barcelona since the 1992 Olympics. Some of us might remember the archer firing the arrow to light up the flame cauldron during the opening ceremony as well as photos of some of the most impressive architecture by Gaudi. I arrived at Barcelona on a train from Marseille in the late afternoon. It was interesting when I switched to the next train at FIGUERES VILAFANT station the Spanish came up speaking their language loudly startled me since I spent a few days getting accustomed to soft French. I quickly checked into the hostel and move out to visit the famous Sagrada Familia. The queue in the late afternoon was not too bad and I managed to get in with ease. Bought a combi ticket for the Gaudi’s Museum at Parc Guell so total of €14.50 for both entrances. The construction for this building is still ongoing and according to what’s written on the ticket, the monies collected from ticket sales is donated to see the project into completion because this project is not funded by any private or government institutions. The ground breaking ceremony started in 1882 and the expected date of completion will be 2026 and was recently consecrated by the Pope in 2010. Photos of it are on display in Sagrada Familia’s lower ground museum. I am very impressed by Gaudi who was inspired by nature such as flowers, buds, bees, honey combs and incorporate them into his designs of buildings and capturing natural lights coming into his buildings. Unfortunately, Gaudi died in a tram accident in 1926 when less than a quarter of this building is completed. He also included many sculptures around the façade such as Jesus’ birth to His passion as well as scripture verses on the entrance of Sagrada Familia. I took extensive amount of photos within this temple and then took a long deserving rest seated at the pews to enjoy the calm, beautiful and charming interior design. It is said that upon completion of the spires, Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church building in the world at 170m in height. If you want to have a nice view of the city, there’s a lift access to the towers at €2. I suggest you to skip the view if you have already had your share of paid tower views and head on to Park Guell for the same view at no charge.
I took a train to L3 Lesseps station and walk to Park Guell, another Gaudi’s design. You can find the signs at the road posts and start walking. It looks really close on the map from Lessep station but I had to walk for 1.2km to reach the Park! Later I realized there’s a better way take the metro L3 get off at Vallcarca-exit Hospital Militar which is only half the walk away compared to Lessep station. Better still if you want to appear right at it’s grand entranceway catch the bus 24 (direction: Carmel). From, Plaça Catalunya, Diagonal or at Plaça Lesseps. The park was really gorgeous! The 2 buildings at the entrance reminded me of some fairy tale candy houses. I climbed higher and deeper into the park to Gaudi’s museum before it closes and saw some collectible furnitures from Casa Mila. It’s small and nothing to shout about. I would advise you to skip this part if you are thinking to save some money. I loved the park and spent almost 2 hours hiking up and sitting at the open area watching other tourists relaxed as well as performers, souvenir peddlers going about their own thing. I almost fell asleep as the sun sets and a cooler breeze follow suit, definitely a must visit place and have I told you it’s FREE?
Eating out in Spain is really cheap. I was advised to have some tapas, paella and cava(sparkling wine). I went into this restaurant called Pollo Rico at San Pablo 31 which is next to La Rambla and had a sumptuous meal of paella and cava for a very reasonably cheap price. I ordered the cava which was priced at €4.75 and I thought it was only a glass, but they gave me a bottle for that price. I almost could not walk straight after having a whole bottle of that.
The next morning, I have decided to join a Free Walking Tour of the Barri Gothic and Picasso. At least I get some good history lessons around that area which most told me they easily get lost inside the Barri Gothic. It seems Barcelona was a dark area full of drug users and others before 1992 Olympics changed the face of the city. The guide told us that Barcelona’s sand on it’s beach has been bought from the Sahara Desert for the sake of beautifying it in preparation for the games as well as clean ups on other areas to attract tourists. Back in Roman and Catalonian history, Barcelona was called Barcino and at Placa Nova you can find school of Architecture where a simple stickman mural was painted on it. The Mural was captured by Pablo Picasso impersonating Joan Miro’s work after he had some absinthe and drew on a table cloth in the midst of rage. Someone submitted the table cloth to the Institute as an entry piece for the mural competition and it was selected. Later when the city restructured itself when government wanted to group people of the same profession to live together, this had great protests from the rich ones as they wanted to stay with other rich people so I was also told the origins of Passeig de Gracia street was a place where rich and famous of that time wanted to stay with each other and they needed to break the aqueducts to make way for it. Some of the buildings inside the Barri Gothic had stones that were taken from the Jewish cemetery at Montjuic with some Jewish writings on it which you can see at Victory Square. Bull fights was passed as illegal in Spain after the last fight on 25th Sept 2011 however, you can still go up to Placa Espana to have a look at the bull fighting arena.
The resident saint at Catalonia is St. Jordi (or St. George) who is depicted as slaying the dragon to save the princess and after slaying the dragon, the dragon’s blood spilt over the land and produced nice roses which he offered to the princess. Hence thereafter, 23rd April has been declared Barcelona’s Valentine’s day where men will give their lover roses and the ladies in return give their men a book (maybe it coincides with William Shakespear’s death or International Book Day). You can find some carvings in the walls that depict this mighty Saint slaying the dragon, just look out for it around Barcelona. Also you can find the Barri Gothic is Bishop’s bridge right next to the Bishop’s house. Long time ago, religion governs everything including law and order, so the Bishop’s house is connected to the government buildings for easy access and a bridge connects them. Mythical belief is that if you walk backwards under the Bishop’s bridge while making a practical wish, it will come true. Also there are some old churches inside the Barri Gothic which have survived the Spanish war and the fascists regime. Example of one is at Pza St. Felip Neri which was used as an execution square for Jews and you can still find bullet holes on the walls of the church as they used it as an execution wall.
Picasso studied at the school of art which is in Barri Gothic as well. His earlier works reflect some of the places and people he met while loitering at Carrer De Avinyo, especially the prostitutes there. Next is Placa Reial where many restaurants are at and you will be able to find two lamp posts designed by Gaudi stands in the square. We were also told to beware of the nude old Elephant man walking around if we decide to go to the nude/gay beach. I headed down to 1.6-kilometer-long Barceloneta Beach (not a nudist beach, yes they have a pure nudist and gay beach in Barcelona) for some sun and sea after seeing much of the city. The beach was full of people sun bathing along the beach rather than swimming in the sea. Saw some peddlers walking around selling cold beer and offering massage for a fee. Since I am Asian and came from a place full of sun whole year long, I found a nice beach bench and hid under an umbrella for some rest, not wanting to get too much of the sun. I think I rested there for almost an hour until a man came around my bench and asked if I have paid for the bench and umbrella usage. I told him I didn’t know it was charge-able as there was no sign written at the beach area, he showed me the tickets for about €11 and he asked me to leave if I didn’t want to pay and I happily obliged to his request to just leave. In the evening, I went to Montjuic and managed to catch the sun set view over the city, however I was waiting for the magic fountain’s performance every half-hour between 9:00pm and 11:00pm but was told by another traveler that the performance doesn’t operate on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays during May to September while October to April it only takes place on Fridays and Saturdays every half-hour between 7:00 and 8:30pm. So I was disappointed at Montjuic because the fountain does not operate and also because the Montjuic Art Museum was also closed for a private function. Then later in the night I took a train to see Casa Batlló (Gaudi’s work) at night, which was very beautiful.
The next morning, I enjoyed myself strolling along Passeig de Gracia window shopping until I have reached Casa Mila (La Pedrera – Gaudi’s work). Both Casa Batlló and Casa Mila is on the same street but bear in mind that Passeig de Gracia is a very long street. I lined up and paid €11 for my visit to Casa Mila, you can get 20% discount if you bought Barcelona Card (€27.50 for 2 days & €33.50 for 3 days valid on all transports, some free entrances and discounts on museum visits). I didn’t get the card because I didn’t think I will get to visit so many of the listed items and most of the places I wanted to visit are free anyway. I bought a T-10 ticket at the machine instead, which valid for 10 journeys with 1 journey calculated as within 1hours and 15 minutes on any metro lines or changes to a bus. A T10 costs only €8.25 and will save you the trouble of buying individual tickets for each journey as well as saving you money. A normal single journey ticket costs you €1.45 so with a T10 you save 6.15 Euros for 10 journeys! Let’s get back to my visit to Casa Mila, it was quite expensive but worth your money because the roof top has wonderful designs by Gaudi. Do take the lift up to the rooftop if you want to save your energy or not wanting to do any climbing, you will also get to go into the attic area where It is now a small museum for you to understand more of Gaudi’s architectural designs. After that, DO NOT take the lift downstairs to the lobby, if you just use the stairs down 2 levels, you will enter one of the apartments and get to see how it was like as Gaudi designs with it’s complete furnishing of that time. I recommend about 1-1.5 hours to walkthrough everything. There are some nice restaurants along Passeig de Gracia as well but the prices will be a bit steep compared to elsewhere. After this trip to Barcelona, I have concluded that it has something for everyone. From beach bummers to architectural enthusiasts, food and party goers to history lovers, art enthusiasts to couples looking for a simple romantic getaway, it is truly a place which I will re-visit in time to come.