Saturday, November 10, 2012


A pesky little cold turned up the night before I was due to fly to Barcelona, but a curtailed day at work enabled sufficient midday napping to make the drive to Gatwick and subsequent flight possible (the fantastic wild boar at Jamie's Italian at Gatwick deserves a mention - especially as I didn't have that much of an appetite [OK, that last part is hardly ever true of me]).

I had about an hour that Friday night after finding my airbnb accommodation to have a quick look around the local neighbourhood and grab a quick bite before crashing for the night.  The highlight of that was seeing a mob of Halloween costumed inline skaters - completely bizarre.

Saturday is mostly a bit of a cold-fighting induced daze as I walked around the central area, the harbourside, Las Ramblas and sat in the sun watching Catalonian life go by.

Christopher Columbus set off from this city for the Far East

Cold kicked & just leaving me an irritating cough for the rest of the week ("Would you call that moss green or forest green?"), I was well enough to wrap up too much for a mild evening at Camp Nou.  The home of FC Barcelona, it is the biggest stadium in Europe nudging one-hundred thousand capacity.  It's not exactly new & I was up in the rafters (well I would have been if the section I sat in was roofed).  I was surprised at how good the view was from the top - it was easy to see the skill of the Barca passing as they relentlessly attacked the Celta Vigo goal in front of me during the first half. 

While it was only a La Liga game (the Spanish football league), the stadium filled up to 83000 and it was excellent to get along to one of the great sport venues in the world and soak up the atmosphere - even if I didn't understand much of what was being said; at least football is pretty easy to understand.

I must have been feeling better by then as over the dinner menu, convinced I wanted some lovely chanterelles I thought it would be a good time to try lamb brains for the first time.  Strangely, the brains were the highlight - not that the mushrooms were bad.  One just had to get past the whole zombie eating brains & texture thing.  The pitcher of sangria may have helped a little.

Not quite early & out on the metro early enough to avoid the regular large queue at Sagrada Familia, I climbed from the metro tunnel, turned around and was suddenly struck by a sight I'd waited twenty-odd years to see.  Of all Dad's travel stories from when he was tripping around Europe in his late twenties, the story of Antoni Gaudi who started a huge church in Barcelona and was killed by a tram before it was close to completion & how it was now standing unfinished always did the most to capture my imagination.  I always knew I'd see it one day & I finally did; I was not disappointed - it's a staggering project that is still some years off completion.

Nativity Facade
The intricately decorated Nativity Facade forms the largest & most spectacular part of what Gaudi managed to complete in his lifetime (it also forms part of the World Heritage Site, along with his crypt).  All through it are various parts of the nativity story along with an awful lot of nature - plants & animals abound.

Passion Facade
The more recently completed Passion Facade on the opposite side of the basilica is not just geometrically opposite - there is a lot of bare stone & it's austere & somewhat chilling in its simplicity.

Only very recently has the church part of the complex been enclosed and I'm not sure what is the most impressive thing inside.  For me, it was probably the huge pillars of varying heights and width.  The pillars get more sides the further up you go, so they almost end up being completely round as they branch like trees near the roof.

I paid my extra three euros for the elevator up, walk across and down the towers of the Nativity Facade - well worth it to get a much closer look of the stonework.  The audioguide, for the record, is also worthy of the extra euros.  I'm not sure I'll ever see anything quite like Sagrada Familia - & am already looking forward to seeing it after it's completed (there is a huge tower still to go on top).
Spiral staircases abound - this one in the Nativity Facade
Back to the Nativity Facade
The towers on the Passion Facade
I had been told that Park Guell was also a Barca sight not to be missed.  Post lunch I strolled in that direction - it turned out to be quite a walk up a long hill that gradually increased in steepness.  But it was worth it to see more Gaudi work - the gingerbread-esque houses were quite something.  The park was very popular despite the hill and there were plenty of entertaining musicians around.  It was a little cloudy by then, but the views over the city were still good.

So that was Barcelona, a little less than I perhaps would normally do on a weekend break - but I saw all that I wanted to & loved it.  I hope it's not twenty years again before I fulfil my desire to visit the city.

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