Barcelona, A journey through a Modernist’s dream in Spain: Sept 2016

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Our train trip to Barcelona was a long one that took an hour longer than scheduled with lots of stops in the middle of nowhere but it was Ok and we both arrived feeling pretty good. We were last in Barcelona 15 years ago and were really looking forward to returning after having such a great time and emersing ourselves into the history, architecture and all over fabulousness of this great city. We took a taxi into town and checked into our apartment that was located in a fantastic central location with shops and restaurants a plenty. It was set above a bar and cafe on a corner of Rambla de Cataunya and had a separate bedroom with good bed and a kitchen and living room so the space was very welcome. There were two little balconies and a pleasant view into the trees.

 

We had a rest and did some supply shopping before getting ready to meet up with Amy & Tim at their hotel for a pre dinner drink. We walked up past Casa Batllo and Casa Mila on the way which were literally just around the corner so it was a great introduction to one of our favourite cities in Europe. The funky hotel Amy & Tim were staying in had a great rooftop bar that looked out over the roof of Casa Mila and up to Sagrada familia and it was great catching up and finding out about each other’s adventures.

 

We then grabbed a taxi down to The Bari Gothic for a dinner reservation at 4 Gats, a Restaurant that we ate at all those years ago and as an historic site it was a classic that needed revisiting.

 

The atmosphere and setting were still intact but it has become a bit of a tourist Mecca now after being more of a minor celebrity status before woody Allen featured it in his movie Vicki Christina Barcelona, so big groups filled the place but it was still a great experience and it needs to be experienced for its eclectic original style.

 

On our first full day we decided to hit the big ones and revisit Casa Mila, Sagrada Familia and Park Guell. We booked them all online in the morning and were armed with a schedule to jump the queues.

 

We walked up to Casa Mila and it was all very smooth and an amazing experience with more to see than last time and so glad we experienced it again as it is such an iconic, amazing building and everything about it is either innovative, creative, crazy or just fabulous so it warrants a good amount of time to take it all in.

 

You start on the roof and work your way down to the attics and the amazing ribbing of the vaults where there is a fabulous Gaudi exhibition as well as models of how the structures were created and built.

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We then went down into the display apartment and down the stairs to the entry areas.

 

 

The ground floor of Casa Mila is now a cafe so we decided to have lunch there on Amy’s recommendation and it did not dissapoint food wise or design wise

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We kept walking and arrived on time for our scheduled Sagrada Familia entry at 2pm which again despite the massive, manic crowds was easy. Nothing can compare to this insanely amazing dribble castle of a Basillica as from every angle it challenges the senses and you discover element after element in the facade that could keep you amused and intrigued for hours even before you go inside.

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The fact that it will be finished in time for the 100th year anniversary of Gaudi’s death in 2026 will mean that we will have to return for that Occasion and it certainly has progressed enormously in the past 15 years so I think they will get there.

 

 

Once you get past the Nativity or original facade into the main apse it just opens up and you see before you something unlike anything else ever built.

 

It is more awe inspiring than you can imagine and is up there with Hagia Sofia, St Peters and the blue Mosque for sheer awesomeness.

 

Every angle , every view point opens up minute details, idiosyncrasies, design and engineering elements that astound and when combined with the purpose designed coloured glass the effect is mesmerising.

 

 

We wandered into every crevice and viewed every angle for nearly 2 hours before checking out the craft basements where an incredible display of Gaudi’s plaster models were set up so that you could understand how he designed and how he tested his designs.

 

He worked mostly from drawings and models so that his builders and engineers worked vitrually in 3D form and not plans.

 

He considered himself as a craftsman just like his stone masons, sculptors, ceramics, carpenters and engineers and treated them all as equals as well as giving them many freedoms of expression so long as they understood his ways.

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The next stop was the amazing Park Guell and a quick Taxi ride was all it took to arrive at the gate with plenty of time to spare for our Park Entry ticket for 5pm.

 

We checked out the public park area first as it is now divided into the Museum section and the bigger public section and due to its popularity it seems to work well.

 

The whole concept of an exclusive housing estate away from the smog and density of old town Barcelona was Gaudi’s vision for the Guell Family and other wealthy Barcelonians with over 60 lots planned on the hill with fabulous views back to the city and ocean with a stunning open common Park area for the residents to enjoy but the idea was too far ahead of its time and it was not popular with Barcelona’s elite as they saw it as too far out of town and with the advent of WW1 it came to a halt with just 4 houses built. Gaudi lived in one for 20 years until he moved into Sagrada Familia for the last 2 years before his death.

 

The ginger bread entry houses for the Porter lead to the stunning steps and the wonderful mosaic tiled salamander, one of the symbols of Barcelona before entering the columned chamber which was designed to hold markets and for the residents to enjoy the coolness on hot summer days.

 

Above this is the massive terrace with its Mosaic tiled seating and those fabulous views , this leads off to the washer woman’s walk along the wave shaped curved walkway with its unique sloping columns and double terrace levels at the end.

 

All in all an incredible place unlike anything else in the world, like all of Gaudi’s creations.

 

We were still in awe of it all, even though we has seen it all before, which made it even more inspiring.

 

We then had a visit arranged to Gaudi’s house that was designed by his main draftsman for him and as the man was not a registered architect Gaudi registered the plans but it has Gaudi’s stamp all over it, all be it in a less flamboyant yet still the modernist art nouveau style we love.

 

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Gaudi was such an enigma as he designed flamboyantly yet lived frugally with the most simple of needs without any decoration but he loved the natural world and wanted to recreate it in the built world as that is where he saw the beauty for people to enjoy.

 

It was a taxi back into town and after a short rest we discovered a sensational restaurant just 50m away called Restaurant 2254, it was a Sicilian chef who travelled the 2,254 km to Barcelona from Palermo and picked up his culinary ideas along the way. We ordered the Palermo street food tasting menu and it was sensational.

 

There is so much to see and do in Barcelona and we wanted to make sure we did not overdo it in our 6 days so today we thought out what we wanted to do each day and put the plan in action. We had booked a number of things in advance and today was two of them, first a walking tour of the Architectural highlights of the Examplie modernist area took us to some new insights into Gaudi and his contemporaries and after 2.5 hrs we were foot sore and better informed as well as armed with more sights to see.

 

next was a cooking course with a local in Bari Gothic. we met Angles from foodiexperience.com Barcelona at her amazing kitchen and dining room at Placa Reail with the other 7 participants and headed off along the la Rambla to the the La Bouqueria for some shopping passing along the way some iconic barcelona sights such as the umbrella dragon and te Art Nouveau bakery.

 

 

It was so crowded with tourists of course and despite it still being a full working market it was too intense and glad to get out but Still worth experiencing.

 

The cooking class was fantastic and Angles was a terrific hostess , we prepared and drank wine and laughed a lot and in the end created an amazing meal. We started with sangria and then tomato bread followed by Tortilla of egg and potato and then our fabulous main meal of Paella. we had a hand in various elements and Angles finished it all off. The dessert of Creme Catalonia was also a highlight.

 

Our next day was also action packed but we took it easy in the morning and walked up to a nail place for Ann to get her nails done and then walked to the Diagonal and took a taxi to see some more Gaudi Magic at the Finca Guell, the Pavillions and stables he designed for the Guell Family’s Summer estate that at the time was just 6 km out of town up the hill away from the stench of summer. the Guell family were one of his major clients and were close friends and benefactors of the then young Architect. They even allowed him to build their city house in the Bari Gothic, The Palau Guell an amazing structure that broke new ground when built in 1886.

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The gate at Finca Guell is famous for its mythological Dragon and its references to various religious beliefs.

 

We took a good look at the gatekeeper cottage and the stables before walking up the hill to the Monestia de Pendrables and enjoyed a lovely lunch at a restaurant opposite the Monastery.

 

The 14th century structure was massive with a three level cloister and adjoining church. It is now set up as a museum and the nuns moved just 20 years ago to more modern premises.

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Tonight we dined at a stunning terrace bar/restaurant that Beth and Drew recommended called Batuar at the Cotton House Hotel a super snazzy establishment that combines it Art Deco origins with contemporary funk and elegance.

 

The meal was delightful and set us up us for the big event of the evening, a virtuoso guitar concert at our favourite Barcelona building “The Palau de la Musica de Calatana”.

 

We have always wanted to experience a concert here and once we toured around the amazing exterior and unbelievable interior snapping left, right and centre to capture how amazing every element was of this Art Nouveau masterpiece.

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The staircase, the galleries, the Cafe/bar/restaurant and the concert hall with its inverted stained glass dome ceiling all amazed and delighted us as we prepared for what was a stunning performance by a true virtuoso.

 

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To continue our Barcelona experience we booked into a hamman which was located in the El Born district within the old Medieval town precinct. We had experienced the same set up in Sevilla some 9 years ago and the Aire de Barcelona was the same company. On the way we stopped in at the beautiful Gothic Cathedral and it’s amazing cloisters which we had fond memories of but boy oh boy the crowd situation compared to 15 years ago was insane.

 

 

We then took a look at the extended excavations of the old roman town under the city which continue to grow deeper and deeper into the 2nd, 6th and 12th centuries as they continue to dig under the foundations of the Gothic buildings. We saw a laundry set up and also a fish/ garum operation as well as a full villa layout so really worth checking out. A 10 minute walk to the hamman and we emerged ourselves for the next 2.5 hrs in blissful relaxation in the baths of various temperature that included a very relaxing 60min massage and we came out floating on air.

 

On our way back we took a look at the Mercat de Santa Caterina and despite it being all closed up and finished for the day at 3.30pm we mainly wanted to see the new roof that had been installed in the 90’s. The floating curving lines pay homage to the modernist Art Nouveau style and the multi coloured tiled roof fits the Gaudi tiled mosaic effect perfectly. We had a fabulous lunch/ early dinner at a restaurant opposite the Mercat so were able to get a rest in later.

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We were booked into another Barcelona must do experience with a night visit to Casa Batllo another of the genius Antoni Gaudi’s masterpieces.

 

This was not a new build but a refurbishment but it might as well have been new as he totally changed the floor plan and created a curvy almost perpetually moving creature of a building with one apartment on the principal floor and just two on each of the subsequent 5 floors.

 

The principal floor being for the owners own use and the other levels for tenants to produce income. The scale of fanciful lines was incredible with curvy staircases, doors Windows and fireplaces. It immersed the senses into another world and almost like the hobbit town it threw away normal concepts of the time as to how space was used.

 

The massive terrace at the rear was a refuge with greenery and arches and the idea of a family gallery living room was revolutionary. The amazing bone structure and dragon scale references throughout as well as the stunning big windows in the principal front rooms were something that had never been seen before and the balconies with their mask like appearances were theatrical in appearance. We finished the tour with a few drinks up on the roof terraced where Gaudi’s signature chimneys were, the star of the show along side the scaled Dragons back in the facade roof.

 

We kept thinking…how can we top what we have just seen but there was still more to come as every day delivered a new sensation and our last day in Barcelona was no exception. We dropped in to see Carmel at her hotel to pick up some gear that John will take home with him to free up her luggage for Ann & Carmel’s next two weeks in France and suggested we visit the Art Nouveau site at the Hospital de San Paul, it is not well known but is the largest Art Nouveau complex in Europe and had been perfectly maintained and now restored since it stopped being used as a hospital in 2009 when a new hospital was built on the remaining area of the site. We met Carmel at Sagrada Familia after her Tour had finished and arranged a guided tour of the hospital.

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It is located at the end of carrer de Gaudi a fabulous pedestrian street running between the two edifices. the hospital site was out of this world and a great way to spend our last day.

 

The magnitude of the set of 12 buildings all in art Nouveau style designed by the same architect as the Palau de la Musica along with a further 4 in blended Art Deco or more austere style designed by his son made this the most amazing and advanced hospital in the planet at the time.

 

The site and the construction were funded from the estate of a wealthy banker who left clear instruction on how the hospital was to operate and over a period of 15 years the plan unfolded although only half of the original plan was executed due to world war 1 and then the civil war later it operated as a functioning hospital for almost 100 years.

 

It’s design was to embodied in the belief that a pleasant environment with fresh air, trees, flowers and garden as well as plenty of natural light and sunshine would be beneficial to patients recovery was ground breaking and when you see the amazing execution of all of that plus the stunning design inside and out that has to be seen to be believed you realise that the dream was realised.

 

The buildings are now used for medical research and for foundations that exist for the betterment of mankind as well as for public viewing so that funding can continue for the constant upkeep and ongoing restoration.

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We went down the Carrer de Gaudi and had a nice lunch at a cafe before walking a while down to Sagrada Familia and take a closer look at the amazing detail of the new exteriors.

 

Our last excursion other than dinner was to the Modernist Museo that was located just a block from where we were staying so we kept going and so glad we did.

 

The permanent exhibition was stunning and just as good as what we had seen in Budapest 4 years ago.

 

 

Our last dinner was an absolute delight and we took Amy & Tim’s recommendation and tried a meal at Tragaluz with an open roof dining space and the food was fabulous and the atmosphere refined yet casual, just right for our last night.

 

We said our Fond yet emotional farewells the next morning as Ann and Carmel get set to venture forth into the wilds of France on the river Rhone for the next two weeks

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