Barcelona is Gaudi
Gaudy is defined as: extravagantly bright or showy, typically so as to be tasteless
….and not to be confused with Antoni Gaudi. The word gaudy is not derived from him but instead is much older. But with that said it certainly coincidently reflects his style. And so when asked to describe Barcelona, Spain in one word I said “Gaudi!”
After a 13 hour train ride all my two friends and I wanted was daylight. But my first impression of Barcelona, through the glare of the beautiful warm sun, was clouded with a smelly fusion of smoke, sewage and urine as we exited the train station. But with Barcelona being my pick for this Europe trip, my hope lingered. We were tired, hungry and between the three of us, knew not a word of Spanish (except Si), and we wanted to get to our hostel and refresh.
We found a taxi and showed him the address to our hostel, he ushered us and our bags into the car. Though he didn’t speak a word of English it was becoming evident he didn’t seem sure about where to go, but he set off. After a rapid fire of loud, cruel sounding Spanish that got louder and louder as we sheepishly shook our heads with a lack of understanding he handed us a newspaper and pointed out the window to a variety of stunning sculptures. We all smiled. He was trying to explain to us that this was a special time to be in Barcelona as a show of this art work was on display on the street we were driving on, Las Ramblas. From thinking he was mean and shouting insults at us for being ignorant tourists to realizing he was trying his best to be nice and play tour guide, I realized not all is what it seems, especially in a foreign place and foreign language.
We finally arrived at a non-descript building. How would we have ever found it? This was not the first nor was it the last place I stayed that did not have a name on the building. With bags in hand we shuffled in where we located someone who took us in an old rickety, pull-door elevator that I’d only seen in movies. Our hostel made up the second floor of the building and after a tour of the common room and computers we were lead to our room. Behind that door – lo and behold – was by far the smallest room we had EVER seen. I’d be more apt to call it a glorified closest. Somehow this “room” had a small bunk bed, plus a small single bed and a large window with a view of more windows of the building’s inner courtyard, and a man’s tightie-whities hung out to dry. There was also a door leading to an en-suite bathroom that was the size of our sleeping chamber. To get into the bathroom we had to push the small single bed up against the small bunk bed, so we could crack the door open enough to get in. Awesome! We all had a good laugh. I knew it was no big deal as we’d only be sleeping and washing here. If but nothing else these close quarters would literally bring us closer and give us yet another travel story.
On our second day we had our first introduction to Gaudi when we visited La Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s unfinished work. The original gothic church was designed by Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano but was taken over by Antoni Gaudi in 1883 when he was 31. He went on to completely change the design and put his distinctive style into it. Born in 1852, Antoni Gaudi had three main passions, architecture, nature and religion but was also a vegetarian, and he certainly left his stamp on Barcelona.
Ground broke in 1882 for the construction of the Basilica i Temple Expiatori de La Sagrada Familia. And after 131 years this still uncompleted building is the most fascinating church of all time, thanks to Gaudi. This building is probably the strangest one I’ve ever seen. From the grandiose outside to the cavernous inside, your senses are overwhelmed by Gaudi’s minuet attention to detail. Not only is it a breathtaking experience but make sure to book a neck massage for afterwards, as you’ll be craning your neck all day so as not to miss a thing. I couldn’t believe it, I even giggled as I caught sight of the rear of a spotted cat poking out of the ceiling. Seriously! Who thinks, ‘ya, lets sneak a cat’s rear into the building and see who spots it? Who? Gaudi, that’s who. From atop the Basilica there is a beautiful view of the city. But, a note to visitors, be sure to watch where you step as there are purposely placed holes in the floor looking into the church below.
Another must see Gaudi attraction in Barcelona is the Park Guell. It is said to be one of Antoni Gaudi’s most outstanding masterpieces. Park Guell is a public park full of colour through its plentiful mosaics, and fantasy through its fusion of nature and architecture. The park was built between 1900-1911 on the hill of El Carmel, overlooking the city, and covers 17 hectares – making it one of the largest architectural works in Southern Europe. This is by far the most interesting park I’ve ever visited and I feel like I could have spent all day exploring its hidden oasis’ and precious gems. There’s a large stone bench that curves around for a great view of the city. All along the bench were beautiful mosaics in a variety of bright colours. The pathways covered in what looked like chiselled rock appear ancient and the park’s buildings, of which one was Gaudi’s home turned museum, looked like something out of Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. With the emerald green lorikeets in the palm trees and the brilliant bright white pigeons with their tails fanned out, everything gave an air of a fruitful fantasy. If I had to describe Park Guell in two words, guess what they’d be. Gaudi Paradise!
Our day at Park Guell was cut short by my foot, more precisely my blisters. Any traveller can relate, when walking for hours upon hours, for days and days it is inevitable. The blasted blister! Even with a good pair of sandals and duadurm, my mini-blister had somehow grown two more blisters on top of itself. Even my friend, who I was with, a nurse, had never seen such an epic blister! So after the Park we took it easy for the rest of the day with a great dinner and our first taste of papaya. Afterwards we did a little much needed retail therapy and found some of my favourite stores in Europe, here in Barcelona.
After a lot of walking and exploring it was great to spend some time relaxing on a Mediterranean beach, soaking up some rays. But I realized there are sites to see everywhere. Here on the beach among the beach bums was a middle aged man standing, facing everyone. He was beyond tanned and probably spent the days he wasn’t tanning, weight lifting. And he was proud. He stood there, smiling and flexing and posing. We laughed and couldn’t help but take a picture of this Barcelona site!
Our last visit was along the famed street – Las Ramblas, which is actually a succession of short streets with different names hence the plural – Las Ramblas. At the bottom end by the sea, Barcelona’s port, is the Colon Monument dedicated to the explorer Christopher Columbus, and reaches up towards Plaza de Catalunya. Las Ramblas at first glance appeared to be a beautiful street, the center and beating heart of Barcelona. And it partly is. But on one of our walks along this bustling street we came upon a stretch that was filled with street vendors, but not your typical food and tourist ones, these sold live animals.
At first I was in shock as we casually checked out these wee precious creatures. There was everything from common pets like bunnies and birds, but also more exotic natural wildlife like chipmunks as well as reptiles like baby iguanas, and turtles and tortoises piled up in tanks. They all were in horrible conditions! It was clear their care and health wasn’t even an afterthought. I was disgusted and became mad and emotional. It sadden me so much so that my friends had to pull me away, quickly ushering me down the street. I later learned that in 2003, 4 years before we visited, the Animal Protection Law of Catalunya prohibited “the public exhibition of live animals for sale” to prevent their abuse or neglect – but it is not uniformly enforced.
Las Ramblas wasn’t all bad, other than the stretch of animals it was actually a quite picturesque tree-lined street. During the time of our visit there was an open air exposition on Las Ramblas of some of Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj’s great bronze sculptures (the ones the taxi driver was trying to show us) inspired by man and his past. I’m not an art efficinato but I know beauty and inspiring pieces when I see them and I was completely transfixed by these massive pieces. Some brought a smile to my face and a giggle like the “thinking” bull, while others left me breathless like the winged, headless body.
Barcelona was an intriguing and complex city. To me it exudes beauty in edginess with the help of Antoni Gaudi.
Have you explored Gaudi’s Barcelona?
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