June 5, 2012

Spain Part 1: Barcelona

Ten years ago, I spent a summer in Madrid on a study abroad program. It was the first time I had ever been to a completely foreign culture, and it always stayed with me. It has been a dream of mine to bring my parents to Spain – the country that I fell in love with.

In St. Andrews we said goodbye to my Dad for a week. He’ll meet up with us again in Southern Spain, but for now he’s staying in Scotland to play golf with his friends, and we flew with my Mom to Barcelona.

This was my third trip to Barcelona in the last two years, and it was by far the best. My other trips were for work and they were very hurried. This time around we had 3 days to really explore the city and we loved every minute of it.

Barcelona is so artsy. It’s the only city I’ve ever been to where large public art installations actually look cool instead of weird and of out-of-place. Buildings on every block are infused with colors, mosaics or just something funky.

We stayed along La Rambla, the large pedestrian boulevard that is the pulse of the city.

Shooting off from La Rambla are the endless narrow winding streets of the Gothic Quarter. Each street is a surprise…you never know what kind of hidden gem store or restaurant will be around the next curve, and it’s always a delight when a quaint plaza suddenly opens up before you. The Gothic Quarter is the perfect place to throw your map away and just get lost.

The first time I visited Barcelona, my friend Matt Cowling took me to see Sagrada Familia. I left in absolute awe and I was most looking forward to bringing Steve and my mom to see it. After a second visit, I still maintain that Sagrada Familia is the most incredible man-made anything that I’ve ever seen. If you can think of something that tops it, please let me know so that I can go see that too.

Sagrada Familia is a church which began being constructed in 1882. Today it’s a live construction site and is slotted for completion in 2030.

It was designed by Antoni Gaudi, the architect who also designed most of Barcelona’s famous buildings. Living inside the church, Gaudi dedicated the last years of his life solely to Sagrada Familia, which became his obsession. Today he is buried in the crypt. Gaudi always knew that he would never live long enough to see the church finished, and when he died it was only about 20% complete. He left behind drawings and scale models to help today’s builders finish out his vision.

It’s hard to explain in words…you just have to go see it for yourself. At first the sheer size of Sagrada Familia makes your jaw drop, and the largest towers haven’t even been started yet. You never really get over how big it is, but once you can temporarily set that aside, it is the painstakingly designed and constructed details that leave you mesmerized.

Gaudi methodically planned every detail. There is not a single facet that doesn’t have meaning…much of which was inspired by nature and science. My favorites are the columns inside the sanctuary, which look like trees branching off at knots.

Even since I saw it two years ago, so much has changed. The entire inside was a construction zone before, and now it appears nearly finished. I can’t wait to come back to Barcelona to check in on the progress. It keeps getting better every time!

Sagrada Familia is so wonderful that we went to a few other Gaudi sites as well. Parc Guell is a park set up high in the city. It’s where Gaudi had his house before moving into Sagrada Familia and also where he created sculpture gardens.

Casa Batllo is another creation of Gaudi's – a residential home along one of Barcelona’s major boulevards. It was inspired by the sea and is designed in beautiful cool colors like blues, greens and purples.

Inside the home there were countless other inspirations, too…dinosaur vertebrae, dragon skin, underwater worlds. Everything about it was a fantasy.

Once again I left a Gaudi building thinking that he is one of the most ingenious and creative people of all time. I typically am not a fan of modern art or architecture, but I’m completely enamored with his work. Instead of the straight and sharp lines you normally see in contemporary art, Gaudi exclusively used curves…nature is organic. It’s amazing to think that he designed these forward-thinking buildings in the early 1900s.

We saw other things in Barcelona, too, like the Picasso Museum (boo), the 1992 Olympic Stadium (shockingly tiny!), and the bustling La Boqueria food market (eye-opening).

Speaking of food, we transitioned quickly from the pub food of the UK and never looked back! We have a whole country of tapas to explore, but so far our favorites have been serrano ham, fried eggplant with honey, grilled artichokes, tuna-stuffed peppers, croquettes, olives, and gazpacho. We’ve developed a theory that a bottle of wine or a jug of sangria is perfectly split between three people. We are working hard every day to make an official determination.

I have developed a new love for Barcelona. What a way to kick off two weeks in Spain.

1 comment:

  1. I think I just added Barcelona to my list of places to visit!