We were so fortunate recently to have the opportunity to take a trip to Barcelona and Lisbon. We hadn't been to Spain or Portugal before and given that these days we live on the opposite side of the globe, the temptation to cram a few more places into the available fortnight was great. However we managed to resist in the interests of really getting a feel for the two cities and not racing round like mad things. Some of the time in Barcelona was taken up conferencing for Peter, which was another reason not to try to visit Seville, Madrid, Cordoba, Granada or the host of other possibilities.
We're so glad we didn't try to spread ourselves too thin.
I'll post here on our highlights of Barcelona and leave Lisbon for a separate post.
We stayed in an Air BNB apartment in the old city area of El Born and I'd really recommend that area. We could walk to pretty much everywhere we wanted to go- that said, be aware that we love to walk and walked a pretty long way on several days. Walking and soaking up the sights is pretty much my favourite way to get a feel for a new place.
On our first day just after arriving we just took a short walk in our local area to orient ourselves. Although that was easier said than done. The area is a maze of laneways which is fine except that at times the grills are down over the shopfronts and then later it feels entirely different and can be difficult to get your bearings as chic shops and cafés are revealed behind. The hours of operation took a bit of getting used to with everything closing during siesta time from 1-4pm
It's all very pedestrian friendly and the narrow atmospheric lanes open out often onto little squares
There are medieval and gothic churches
And many many galleries to explore.
We went to a great guitar concert one evening in the Palau de la Musica; and given the state of our jet lag it was just as well the concert included some lively Flamenco and the ceiling in the hall was a famous art nouveau/ modernist sensation!
I bought an art passport online which gave me discounted entry to several of the highest profile galleries
and that's worthwhile if you want to visit more than three I think I worked out.
Barcelona is both a very modern, efficient well planned city and an ancient historical place.
On our first full day we grabbed a ticket on one of the three hop on hop off tourist open top bus routes to a get an overview of the city. We found that a great way to get more widely oriented to the city. We took the red route that went around Montjuïc to the West
We passed by several sights that we returned to later, including some of Gaudi's apartments, Miro's massive mosaic clad
phallus sculpture and several museums and galleries on Montjuïc itself as well as the Olympic stadium and things which we felt we saw enough from the bus.
Our Barcelona highlights for the week were without doubt gaining insight into Gaudi's amazing creative genius.
La Sagrada Familia is the cathedral which is still being built. I expected it to be striking, but I was completely blown away!
The facades are one thing... I thought the one above looked at first glance like a cake extravagantly and slightly wildly iced with Royal icing. It depicts The Nativity and has lots of amazing detail to examine; but my favourite was the Passion Facade which is in an altogether different style and very evocative and symbolic.
Take a look at Judas' kiss of betrayal on the bottom right below. You can see the serpent curling out from behind his robe...
(The audio guide is fantastic for understanding the work and focussing on all the different aspects of the whole building.)
But the interior moved me to tears! Even as a work in progress, I was entirely flabbergasted. Photos cannot do it justice. The quality of the light from the stained glass windows and the scale, but most of all the extraordinary creativity and imagination realised here has to be seen to be believed!
You can ascend the towers and see the extraordinarily detailed work continuing on the roof
and get some stunning views of Barcelona too.
The school Gaudi designed for the workers children demonstrates on a smaller scale how he used curves in all his designs to great effect.
Don't miss the crypt where workshops are still located and the museum gives insight into many aspects of Gaudi's design for the cathedral.
We wandered back to our apartment (a bit tired and footsore by the end we have to admit) through residential suburbs, past more Gaudi and other modernist designs; top end shops; markets; cobbled streets and squares.
Another day we visited the Picasso Museum which was outstanding. Buy your tickets online and skip the loooong queues. Don't expect to view his most famous works, but rather a journey through his development as an artist from a very talented youth through his boundary breaking adult life. Fascinating!
We took the metro one day most of the way out to Parc Guell, another of Gaudi's amazing undertakings, this was intended as a private residential estate for several well to do families. It never got off the ground (no pun intended!), but they built several of the public spaces before it failed, including a school and the gatehouse and porters lodge
and an amazing space intended for communal markets with leaning pillars and a domed mosaic ceiling
With a terrace above affording stunning views back towards Barcelona
There is beautiful organic landscaping throughout the park.
After this Peter was conferencing and I took the opportunity to go to many wonderful art galleries and learn about Spanish art from Gothic through to modern in several stunning galleries also reflecting different era.
In the evenings we wandered and ate tapas and people watched and came across several events associated with La Mercé festival which began while we were there. There was this procession of giant figures
and free concerts at several outdoor venues.
I happened across traditional dancing in the square near our apartment one morning
And the brick pattern on the wall behind the dancers was not lost on me for quilt inspiration!
All in all a fascinating and vibrant city, to which we hope to return one day. There are many more layers to explore.