Carly, Gabi, Justine and I left Padova Thursday evening, taking a bus to Treviso airport where our flight left from. The flight itself was pretty uneventful, except for these obnoxious Italians who didn't understand the concept of keeping their voices down in confined, shared spaces. We finally arrived in Girona, Spain around 11pm and had to catch a shuttle bus into Barcelona, about an hour and a half away. Once in the city, we switched transportation yet again and caught a taxi to our hostel, Hello BCN. As far as hostels go, this one was pretty decent. The ground floor had a cool lounge area with couches as well as a bar, but unlike some hostels it wasn't party central so it was a great place to just go hang out and relax without feeling like you're in a club. The 4 of us had our own room with bunks. Speaking of the beds...they were literally rock hard, like sleeping on the floor! And the first night they forgot to give us pillows, and since it was so late we just decided to go without, which, along with our ridiculous matresses, made for one of the most uncomfortable night's sleep ever!
We finally made it to the final rambla, called Rambla de Canaletes, which ends at the beautiful Plaça de Catalunya. The square was enormous, flanked by statues and absolutely filled with swarms of pigeons! A cubist-style statue bearing the name of the square was there to greet us, and there was also a lovely fountain, surrounded by amazing beds of bright orange flowers! Surrounding the square were a bunch of really unique buildings, too: a castle-esque building with orange spires; a concrete brick building where the name is an optical illusion of the same brick; and a grand white palace which really was just a bank. As we walked to the other side to leave, we saw the Canalete fountain, which legend says that once you drink from it, you will keep returning to Barcelona : ) It looked a little too green for us though, so we passed. But I definitely don't need a fountain to make me return to this city!
Our next stop was the city's gothic cathedral, officially named Cathedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulalia, after Barcelona's patron saint Eulalia. But as we got closer, we were shocked to see the entire church covered in scaffolding! Only a few spires stuck out from behind the ugliness : ( Needless to say, we were pretty disappointed. It was pretty expensive to go inside, too, so we opted out. I was a little sad because in the cloister, there are always 13 geese in its central courtyard, each representing one year in the life of the martyr Santa Eulalia, a young girl tortured to death in the 4th century by the Romans for her religion. I wasn't sure if the geese were real or fake, and I still don't know!! Compare the pics I took with one from the internet to see how the cathedral looks without scaffolding.
At this point we spotted a Starbuck's, so Justine and Carly went to get a pick-me-up while Gabi and I went to get a closer look at a really cool looking building we had seen from the distance. The roof was wave-like with a colorful geometric, mosaic-style pattern. Upon closer inspection, we realized it was another market, the Mercat de Santa Caterina.
Our next stop was lunch! We were lucky enough to come across a restaurant called princess-something with the most amazing thing on the menu....NACHOS!! Having gone without mexican food for 4+ months, we had all been craving it since we got to Spain (for some reason we associated mexican food with Spain...the language maybe?), so we were super excited. When they came out, topped with a mound of guacamole, something we hadn't seen in so long, we just dug in!
Our stomachs no longer grumbling, we headed for the Picasso Museum! The highlight for me, sadly, was the gift shop which had several things, including a t-shirt, with Picasso's peace dove lithograph that I have tattooed on my ankle! The museum itself was interesting, but it only had his work pre-cubism and it didn't have any of his major works. The best part is too graphic for words, but let's just say there was an anatomical comparison that proves right the sayings! Haha.
Next on the schedule was the wonderful Parc de la Ciutadella. The park is home to a zoo (which until a couple years ago had a famous albino gorilla), a lake, a large fountain, and several museums. The Catalan Parliament is also seated at a reddish building in the center of the park, with rows of surrealistic looking trees in front of it. Upon entering the park, we were greeted by 2 tagged green parrots that had flown over from the zoo : ) The lake was beautiful, albeit a little green, with trees growing directly out of the water and little row boats available for rent scattered across it. I had read about a giant mammoth statue in the park, too, so I was eager to find it. When we did, we couldn't resist climbing up onto his trunk, which was curved perfectly for a person to sit! Definitely my favorite part of the park. There was also supposed to be a statue of a metallic cat, but unfortunately we couldn't find it : (
The park also has a famous fountain called the Cascada, an impressive arched fountain complete with waterfall, built for the 1888 Universal exhibition and loosely based on the Trevi Fountain in Rome. But as luck would have it, the Cascada was also covered in scaffolding! We literally couldn't believe our luck, or lack thereof. Despite this unfortunate "blemish", we took pics and climbed the ivy covered stairs on the sides of the fountain for a great view over the park grounds. On our way out, we passed the medieval Castel dels Tres Dragons, which now houses the Museo de Zoologia.From here we were just a short walk from the Arc de Triomf. The stunning red brick arc is situated at the end of a wide promenade lined with palms and these über cool curliqueue lamposts. With its colorful Spanish brickwork design, the arc stands out from other notable arches in other cities like Paris and Rome. The top of the arch is adorned with a stone carving of the Coat of Arms of Barcelona. The other Spanish provinces are represented as well on either side of the crown.
From here we went to find the Palau de la Mùsica Catalana, a brick, multi-leveled, pillared, embellished masterpiece of modernista architecture. From pictures I could tell that the inside was even more impressive, but unfortunately we didn't have the time or money. The facade was truly spectacular, but as it was located in a narrow street, it couldn't be seen straight-on, so my pics are of bits and parts. At this point, I was forced to see the error of my ways in choosing to wear my new boots for a long day of walking; my feet were throbbing like crazy! I took my turn at another Starbuck's to refuel and rest my poor feet.
I had been looking forward to our next place ever since I started planning our trip to Barcelona, and even more so after seeing it displayed on various postcards throughout the city: Casa Batlló, one of Gaudí's masterpieces in Barcelona. Let me just say, nothing else in the world is like it, every detail is inspired and reeks of creativity. I was constantly marveling at his genius, wondering where his ideas could have come from and why I couldn't be like him. Located on the fashionable boulevard Passeig de Gracia, Casa Batlló, is one of 3 consecutive houses in the modernist style, each by a different architect. Gaudí's of course is the most expressive and impressive, and thus has become the most famous. The eccentric facade of Casa Batlló is made of sandstone covered with colorful trencadis (a Catalan type of mosaic), making it look like something from a fairytale. In true Gaudí style, straight lines are avoided whenever possible in his design, and thus interesting shapes are found everywere: the 1st floor features irregularly sculpted oval windows, the balconies at the lower floors have bone-like pillars, and those on the upper floors look like pieces of skulls. As a result of these features, the house was given the nickname 'House of Bones'. The enlarged windows on the first floor also gave it another nickname, 'House of Yawns'.The house's interior is just as fascinating as the exterior. Once again Gaudí avoided using straight lines everywhere possible, leading to some rather unconventional details. There are large oval windows lined with colorful, spherical stained glass, with delicate carved wooden columns in front. Even the wooden doors are one-of-a-kind! One room also has a mushroom-shaped fireplace, complete with benches on either side of the grate! The ceilings are also worth a look, with 3-dimensional textures, like bumps or spirals. Crisp white hallways have consecutive arch-shaped ceilings, creating an optical illusion as you stared down them. The terrace off this floor also has beautiful colorful mosaics mirroring the front facade.
Day 3, 10/25/2008 - Montjüic, More Gaudí, & Magic Fountain
Before going to bed the night before, Gabi, Justine, and I had outlined our plan for the next day, cramming in all the sights we hadn't gotten to yet, leaving us with a very busy itinerary. With so much to do, we got an early start leaving at 9am and heading to Montjüic, a hill near the center of Barcelona, featuring many famous attractions. As our feet were killing us from the day before and we were pushed for time, we bought day passes for the Metro and took that from place to place. We started at the Plaça d'Espanya, the square at the foot of Montjüic. Several interesting sights are located here. The centerpiece of the square is a large modernist fountain designed by several famous Barcelonian architects. Two twin Venetian Towers flank the wide avenue, Avinguda de la Reina María Christina, modelled after the Bell Tower in Piazza San Marco in Venice. At the other end of the square stands the red brick Arenas de Barcelona, originally an arena for bullfighting, it never caught on in Catalonia and thus is now being transformed into a shopping center. In the area behind the arena lies Parc de Joan Miró, a small park named after the famous local artist who left his mark there with a large, colorful, surrealist sculpture, called Dona i Ocell, or Woman and Bird. After seeing all the above, we headed up the Avinguda de la Reina María Christina toward the grand Palau Nacional. Before the palace lies the large Font Màgica or Magic Fountain. The fountain is not active during the day, but several times at night, it comes alive with colorful cascades of water! Of course we made plans to return later that evening forthe show! Although the palace appears very old, it was actually built in 1929 for the International Exhibition. It now houses the National Museum of Catalonian Art. But it's location at the top of Montjüic hill is the highlight; it provides some of the best views over the city.
The best part of the park, however, was this huge, cast iron sculpture called St. George and the dragon which also happens to be a slide! When we got there a bunch of little kids were going up and down it, so we thought we'd give it a try as well... only we are a lot bigger than those kids, so gravity pulled us a lot faster! Although it was a little scary at first (it's much higher than it looks!) it was a lot of fun and exactly the break we needed from sightseeing. Check out the funny video below!
From there we headed back to the modernist Eixample neighborhood where Casa Batlló was located and took some more pics, this time with a nice blue sky backdrop. The house next door, Casa Amatller, by another modernist architect, was unfortunately covered by blue scaffolding, but a few houses down we were able to see Casa Lléo Morera, by yet another architect, with a cute little suspended tower in the midde of it. Together these 3 modernist houses earned the name Mançana de la Discordia, or Apple of Discord, for being so different from the surrounding buildings. Next we spent a good hour looking for a decent place to get lunch near Gaudí's Casa Milá - which, unfortunately for us, is located in a very upscale shopping and hotel area, making it very difficult to find somewhere cheap to eat. Eventually we settled for less than delicious sandwiches, then Gabi, Justine, and I went to get in line for Casa Milá while Carly went to check out the Palau de la Mùsica Catalana. Also known as La Pedrera, the exterior of the house is wave-like, sort of resembling a honey-comb, with oddly twisted cast iron balconies. In true Gaudí fashion, not a single line was used in the design, inside or out. And while much larger and less colorful than Casa Batlló, it is nonetheless an impressive sight to see.
Next up was the most extraordinary part - the roof! Topped with several surrealistic, twisting, colorful chimneys, you truly feel like you've been transported to a fantasy world. The terrace itself is not flat, it's made up of waves, with several staircases connected lower levels to the upper ones. Many of the "chimneys" reminded me of soft serve ice cream because of their smooth, twisted shapes and creamy coloring. We spent about 45 up there, circling the entire terrace and enjoying the views of the surrounding neighborhood and the city. Their was even a great view of both the Sagrada Familia and the bullet-shaped, sparkling Torre Agbar! The roof is an absolute must-see and it will leave you truly inspired.
The rest of the afternon we continued the Gaudí trend, taking the Metro to his final, unfinished masterpiece: the infamous Sagrada Familia. The iconic church, which has literally become a symbol of Barcelona, is two-faced, since the front and back have very different, distinct looks. The so-called "back", from a distance, appears to be melting, but up close, it is ornamented in a baroque fashion with motifs of animals and plants and the famous Nativity Facade in the center. It is topped by 4 tall immensely tall towers on each side, although when finished it will have a total of 18. It is the most unconventional and impressive thing I've ever seen, I could barely take my eyes off it. And once again I said to myself, "Gaudí was a fucking genius."
In the park in front of the church, I took a much-needed break to massage my feet, which had gotten to such a level of pain that I was practically hobbling. When I removed my boots I saw that I had several blisters and a few areas were even numb! If I weren't so determined to see everything on my list, I think I would have called it a day right there because they hurt so bad. So I begrudgingly put my boots back on and we headed toward our last Gaudí work, which also happens to be an UNESCO World Heritage Sight: Parc Güell.
The Metro doesn't take you directly to the park, so there is actually a pretty long walk to get there. We followed some signs which ended up taking us the wrong way and up a virtually 90 degree incline, but we eventually made it. When I layed my eyes on the entrance I actually gasped... I felt like I'd just walked into a fairytale! The 2 pavilions flanking the entrance, designed by Gaudí, seem to be taken out of Hansel and Gretel, with curved roofs covered with brightly colored tiles and ornamented spires. They looked just like huge ginger bread houses! Beyond the pavilions is a double-sided staircase decorated with ceramics, with the most eccentric fountain at its center and a mosaic covered dragon-like lizard further up.
Next we saw the pink colored Casa Museu Gaudí, a pavilion where Gaudí once lived which now houses a museum dedicated to the man himself. Another unique aspect of the park is the decorative "rock" work. Hallways lined by columns of rock were everywhere, some even quite intricate... I'm still not sure what to make of them! We kept wandering the park until twilight, finding new treasures at every turn, and then watched the sunset from a terrace.When it was dark we headed back toward the Metro. I could barely walk at this point, and I actually felt physically sick from the constant throbbing I'd been experiencing since 9am! I pushed on, however, since we only had a couple more things to see. We went back to the Sagrada Familia, hoping to see it all lit up, but were unfortunately disappointed. Then we headed back to Montjüic for the 8:30pm Magic Fountain show! When we came up from the Metro, we heard music and saw the fountain and without a thought Gabi and I just took off running! Oddly, this seemed to help my feet; I think maybe it caused more blood flow? Anyway, when we got there we were speechless. For about 20 minutes we just sat there in awe, watching the colors change from yellow to red to pink to blue and the plumes of water changing from one stunning shape to the next. At the same time, the Palau Nacional was illuminated, providing a beautiful backdrop to the even more beautiful fountain. I cannot think of a more fitting name for this wonder than the Magic Fountain. I might even go so far to say that it has been my favorite thing I've seen in all of Europe so far... Something about the combination of the lights, colors, and music was just magical : ) Check out this link for a clip of the show: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=623351641187
My next shot entailed more pyrotechnics (which the bar seemed to do a lot of)... The bar tender filled 4 shot glasses with alcohol, poured some liquid onto the table in a spiral design, lit it on fire, including our shots, then extinguished everything but our shots and gave us straws to drink them while still flaming! At that point I was finished for the night, but I got to watch some other cool ones: the Watermelon, in which they place a piece of watermelon shaped and flavored gum at the bottom of the shooter to use as chaser; the Harry Potter, in which they light the shots on fire and then sprinkle cinammon over the flames to create "magic sparks"; a nameless one in which the bar tender fills a shot glass, covers it with her hand with a straw peaking out, and then has you drink from it, slams it on the table to create strong alcohol fumes inside, and then makes you drink the rest (Justine made the funniest faces with this one!); and finally the Monica Lewinsky, which is too graphic to describe here! After a while it got super crowded and smokey, so I opted to head back while Gabi, Justine, and Carly, went with their friends to a club.
Oddly, "fall back" occured on our last night there, so we gained an extra hour of much-needed sleep! We checked out of our hostel, got sandwiches on La Rambla, then took the Metro to the Bus Station. Altough I was dead tired and glad to be going home, I was sad to leave such an amazing city. Like I said, my words and pictures do not do it justice, it's a place that must be seen in person. Gaudí's work is truly one-of-a-kind and I envy is creative genius but also love him for it. My trip to Barcelona was really the perfect weekend : )
On the flight back I caught some pics over Girona, and going over the Dolomites there was an eery fog so that just the black peaks were visible. Back in Treviso we caught another bus back to Padova, glad to be home but more than ready to go back!