Barcelona, Take Two

Just a few weeks after Gail visited we had two more visitors in Toulouse, Jim’s sister (Kirsten) and her husband (Eric).  Kirsten & Eric’s trip started in Paris then they met flew down to Toulouse for a few days of relaxation & laundry before jet-setting with us down to Barcelona.

Jim and I took our first trip to Barcelona with our neighbors (Alexander & Jacira) back in May and LOVED it.  As such, it was an easy decision to return when Kirsten & Eric would be in town.  We drove for our first trip, but opted to take the train for the second.  The train ride is a little over 3 hours (maybe closer to 4), but it flew by, even with a couple of train changes (one in Narbonne the other in Perpignan).  The train ride to Narbonne is quite pretty and runs through a nature preserve full of flamingos (yes, flamingos), which might’ve been my train highlight.  I’m a little sad I wasn’t able to capture one in a photograph.

We arrived in Barcelona a little after lunch, checked into our hotel and then set out for tapas before starting a tour of our favorite destinations in Barcelona – starting with a tour of Park Güell.  During our first trip we didn’t realize you needed to purchase tickets in advance (to see the house and get in the main portion), but on our second trip we were prepared.

Park Güell is one of our favorite spots in Barcelona as it’s a marvel of architecture as well as a shining example of Gaudí’s work and his relationship/friendship with Eusebi Güell.  At the end of the 19th century, Güell had purchased a large plot of land with the interest/intent to develop a residential neighborhood for well-off families in Barcelona in the beginning of the 20th century.  What you see in the photos above and below is what was completed by 1914 before work was stopped by Güell for various difficulties (exclusivity, lack of transportation, etc.).  After Güell’s death, his heirs offered the land/what was completed to the Barcelona City Council and in 1926 it was opened up as a public park.

It is worth the planning and cost to buy the ticket to tour the inside, as it allows you to get up close and personal with the buildings and see the intricate detail of Gaudí’s work.  Above you can see a photo of the “Monumental Flight of Steps” leading into the “Hypostyle Room” or “Columns Room.”  The steps are crammed with details (and tourists) including the dragon/salamander sculpture (below), a Catalonia shield, and some of the most comfortable seats (lumbar support for days), ever with a view of the whole design including the steps, entrance, and Porter’s Lodge.  Once up the steps you come to the “Hypostyle Room” where the roof is undulating and held up with 86 (!) columns which was set to serve as a market space for the estate.

From there we walked on top of the “Hypostyle Room” to the “Nature Square.”  This space was designed for open-air shows, but today seems to be the best spot in the park for a photo.  Those benches I mentioned above surround the perimeter and are gorgeous.  I didn’t get a good photo of the 4 of us, but Kirsten & Eric did (photos were at a premium and you were definitely waiting in line to get it).

Next we wandered through the “Austria Gardens,” “Portico of the Washerwoman” and back to the top for some sunset snaps. This garden is gorgeous with loads of plants/flowers/vegetation.  Originally this was the residential area (two houses were built/still stand –  the show house (also where Gaudí lived until his death) + one more), but turned into a garden once the Barcelona City Council took control.  The Portico is one of the most interesting aspects of the architecture/building as it looks unlike anything else I’ve ever seen (or will probably see again), blending art and nature.

That evening we walked through Las Ramblas, stopping to rest our feet and sips some beers and tapas at Maestro before dinner.  We each split a sampler, some padron peppers (my favorites), patatas bravas (Jim’s favorites), as well as a cheese plate (paired with our beers).

After that decided we’d take Kirsten & Eric to Bar Celta Pulperia, one of our favorite spots from our trip in May.  I was a little impressed we were able to remember how to get there.  We loaded up on seafood (shrimp, octopus, razor clams, etc.), patatas bravas, and padron peppers.  Probably the best, though, was the octopus.  If you go, order the giant octopus.  I accidentally asked for another octopus dish, first, which ended up being tiny octopus with heads (I still ate them, happily, but I can’t say the feeling was shared) and then asked for the octopus on the counter where our waiter said, “It is the best – it’s what we’re famous for.”  You can thank us later.

The next morning we had tickets to Sagrada Familia.  I’ve said this before, but the more we travel the more I am in awe of this cathedral.  The relationship between nature and structure is unbelievable.  This trip I was most taken with the light from the stained glass windows (below).  We were in the cathedral from 9:30am until a little after noon.  The way the light changed in those three hours was astounding.  I fell in love with the blue, green, orange, and red light that was cast…dreaming of what it’d be like to see how much the colors change throughout the day from sunrise to sunset.

This trip we also toured the museum (didn’t do that last time), which is also worth it.  Probably my favorite was seeing the designs/mock-ups for the Glory facade (below).  I have a hunch the Glory facade will be the most impressive and awe-inspiring of the three.  The museum also gave us a chance to get a better understanding of Gaudí the architect, as it highlighted his love of nature and how he’d incorporate that into his architecture.  I often think of Frank Lloyd Wright and how he has built so many iconic homes in the USA and wonder what it would’ve been like to live in a home built by Gaudí.  Amazing.

We also had a Passion Tower tour, which always affords gorgeous views along with a little exercise even if it might also induce a little vertigo.

Jim found a great lunch spot (though I cannot find the name of it again) not too far away. The restaurant was humble & small, but run by a husband/wife team (the husband painted and the wife cooked).  The chef greeted us at the table and began making recommendations for what we should be eating then moved to the kitchen to make it.  Everything was delicious and she was absolutely adorable.  She’d check on us after every course to see if we liked it and then would literally jump up and down with a huge smile on her face when we told her it was amazing.  I’d definitely go back, as it was tasty and they were quite possibly the nicest restaurant workers, ever.

After a brief siesta (though I didn’t take a nap) we decided to explore the Picasso Museum down in the Gothic Quarter.  Photography was not allowed inside the museum, so I’ll just rely on memory.  My largest takeaway from Picasso was that he was a bit of a child prodigy when it came to painting, as he could mimic just about ANY other artist’s style (want a fruit bowl like Cezanne?  He can do that), but it wasn’t until later in life (post Spanish Civil War) that he started to blend all of these styles together and into his own style (cubism).  Unfortunately, the area where (we think) his cubist style was developed was not featured in this museum (the only downside).  Easily my favorite part of the museum was his take on Las Meninas, a 58 portrait collection focusing on his interpretation and reimagination of Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas (below left).  What an incredibly interesting idea – what an incredibly interesting thing to study as an art student or historian.  Look at the princess below – I’m almost positive I had seen Picaso’s Las Meninas before, but I had never known the name or made the connection.  We were fascinated by Picasso (and later Dalí’s fascination with Diego Velazquez’s work…and decided we need to visit the Prado in Madrid.

After the museum we stopped by the Barcelona Cathedral (below) before settling on a spot for dinner.  With a more traditional gothic design, this reminded me more of the cathedral in Milan…and Sagrada Familia is still my favorite in Barcelona.

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The next morning we woke up, ate breakfast with Kirsten & Eric (I had more churros than I should have) before they set off for additional exploring of the city via a tour bus and we jetted off to Figueres to tour the Dalí theater and museum.

It was a lovely visit and always a pleasure to return to Barcelona.  Now to start planning our trip to Madrid

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