Visit to the Sagrada Familia

August 18, 2015 - Barcelona, Spain

I don't know the location of the soggy plain in Spain where the rain mostly falls, but this morning it was tipping it down on Barcelona. So what to do except the laundry! I had discovered on the internet a Lavandaria just around the corner from our hotel where the owner would wash, dry and fold your clothes for EUR15, so we took umbrellas and raincoats and two large, full plastic bags and dropped them there. The cheerful owner gave us a ticket to which he pointed urgently and said 'benno'. Benno? Spanish for ....? So Max smiled genially, and turned away with the ticket. 'No, no .. you benno!' Ah! 'Pay now'. So we did.

We had decided to go to the Picasso Museum, so retraced out steps from the Calle Rauric to the Calle Ferran but no sooner had we turned the corner than Max spotted a really nice-looking cafe advertising an English breakfast. Naturally, not to be passed by. He fortified himself with bacon and eggs and toasted baguette (not quite as successful for nesting a runny egg as a flat piece of toast) and I had a croissant. Good coffee - the way to go here is Cafe Americano with a separate jug of hot milk, but the cups aren't as big as you get in France.

The Calle Ferran is full of Gifte Shoppes, and leads up several blocks to the Picasso Museum. The queue was so long we decided to give it a miss - oh well, can't see everything, as Max always says. Instead we had a look at the Gothic Church of Santa Maria del Mar, to which, so I read, the faithful of Barcelona flock on a Sunday. Very Gothic. Then we wandered through the streets of the Gothic Quarter, enjoying the narrow, bustling streets, until we came to Barcelona Cathedral. More Gothic. This is where geese have been kept in the cloisters for centuries, the reasons now lost in the mists of time. We paid our Eur 7 each and went into the beautiful cloisters. The garden in the centre is very lush, with palm trees, lots of other greenery and fountains, and of course the geese, about a dozen of them, honking away to the delight of assembled children. The cathedral itself is very beautiful; very Gothic.

We wandered some more, past the impressive Council Chambers, the Parliament Building and the splendid Post Office, set in its own large square. As you wander the narrow streets (moving out of the way of cars which almost touch the sides of the buildings), you turn the corner and come into yet another lovely square, with umbrellas opened against the sun - which had now almost come out - shading tables around which tourists and probably also locals sat eating, or just drinking coffee. We found George Orwell Square where I guess he stayed while he was writing, or thinking about, 'Homage to Barcelona'.

By then it was time to collect the washing, which had been beautifully folded, stow it away and have a short nap before venturing out on the Big Event of the day.

We had decided to try out the Metro as it would deliver us right outside the Sagrada Familia. The ticket machine at Liceu took a bit of research, and we did initially get on a train going in the wrong direction and as the line to Universitaire was closed for reconstruction had to backtrack (ha ha) but the Metro is amazing. Very crowded, wide carriages with minimal seating along the sides, like the London and French metros, and very, very efficient very, very clean, and with no graffiti. The population of Barcelona is about a million and a half, Greater Barcelona brings it to about twice that, compared to Sydney's about 5 million, so I don't understand why our city rail system has to be so abysmal.

I had read my Viator ticket carefully, so knew that the meeting point for our tour was across the other side of a lush green park from the Temple (this is the word our guide used. We don't tend to think of Christian Temples, I suppose, so the word sounded a little off-key to our ears.)

Our guide was Vincent, who told us with pride that he was a Catalan, and who was very jolly and informative. Our first stop, from the other side of the street, gave us a view of what we later discovered was the Crucifixion Facade of this incredible building. When we had passed it on the Big Red Bus, and again now, I thought it looked like a birthday cake made by a Guilty Mum (viewers of The Checkout will understand). Tall, very tall, skinny towers, spires topped with round, coloured mosaic tiles (I think) sort of like flattened Chuppa-chups. The whole facade is covered, and I mean COVERED, with carvings and sculptures.

I won't go into the history of the architecture and building, although it is fascinating, and I will certainly do more reading about it. Suffice it to say the first stone was laid in 1882, with the intention of building a grand traditional Gothic Cathedral. Following the resignation of the first architect after a year, the brief was given to Antoni Gaudi, then aged 31, who set about, tactfully but with great passion, redesigning Gothic to Modernist - his version of Art Nouveau. Gaudi was run over by a tram (I was strongly reminded of that great novel 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being') in 1926, so building virtually came to a standstill; some of his original drawings and models were destroyed in the Civil War. It wasn't until the 1950s that building started again, and still continues. It was consecrated in 2010 by Pope Benedict, and the crypt, which was Gaudi's home and office, is used for Mass. Current predictions say the whole 'Temple' will be finished in 2026. In the meantime, cranes hover over the top, and even the main entrance still has to be built. There will eventually be 4 equally impressive facades, but we entered through the Nativity Facade, again covered with appropriate carvings. Amid Mary, Jesus, Shepherds etc are sheaves of wheat, mice, beetles, and a donkey called Marguerite after a real donkey with whom Gaudi was apparently acquainted.

We entered through massive doors covered with green enamelled leaves amongst which lurked yet more beetles, and emerged into an absolutely breathtaking space. I humbly retracted all my superior sneers and cheap jibes. Gaudi apparently saw the interior as like a forest with the light pouring through it, and you can see why. The white fluted columns are topped with what look like stylised branches holding up the vaulted ceiling,the walls filled with the most amazingly beautiful stained glass. The colours are brilliant, grouped in blue/green or yellow /red, and throwing huge arcs of colour and shadow across the ceiling, floor and walls.

Vincent showed us various highlights, gave us useful bits of information, and generally sounded like a proud Catalan national who had thought it all up himself. Rightly so. It's a building you would certainly be very proud to have in your city.

Outside the main building is a replica of the school Gaudi established, and completely paid for himself, for the children of the workmen on site, and the poor children of the neighbourhood. Altogether an extraordinary man considering the commission he was paid and his estate when he died under the wheels of a tram which amounted to a few peseta and some bread; all that he had in his pockets. as the rest went to the school and the building.

After we had thanked Vincent vociferously, and remuneratively, for the tour, we went into the museum and looked at some of the early or reconstructed models made by Gaudi to explain his geometrical design ideas and how to translate them into stone. Then we went back for a final look at the Temple. Without wanting to be unduly cynical, if that is what I am, I wondered aloud to Max whether, since this is not to be finished until 2026, it will represent the last gasp of Christianity. Whatever, I'm sure people will continue to visit and marvel for millennia, as they do at Angkor Wat, Easter Island or Machu Pichu.

We came back on the Metro, heads still in the clouds, then, as it was after 7, decided to walk up Calle Ferran again and make up our minds on the spur of the moment which of the restaurants we had fancied on our morning stroll we would favour with our custom for dinner. Our decision was made for us by a young man with a fistful of brochures from My Way, one of our possibilities, who rightly predicted that as discerning travellers, we wouldn't want to go to any of the touristy places on the main routes (hard to believe, but Starbucks, McD and KFC are fairly prominent) and hence should demonstrate our superior tastes by going to My Way. Where, incidentally, if we took one of his brochures, we would be treated to a free glass of cava, the local version of Champagne. We were totally convinced.

My Way was on the corner down one of the side streets, an elegant cafe advertising local food with a twist, or some such. We were greeted with handshakes by let's call him Juan Manuel (Max's name - Argentinian. racing driver), very handsome with an exquisite curled and waxed moustache, who showed us to a romantic table on which he placed our cava with a flourish.

Well. What to say about the menu. Tapas. Specialty Tapas, Entrees, Mains, Desserts. To hell with the 5/2 diet; we ordered two of the special tapas - aubergine slice, with pesto, and deep fried camembert with caramelised onion, followed by slow cooked lamb and mashed something or other (not potato) for Max, and stuffed chicken thigh for me. The stuffing was delicious, more aubergine, zucchini and I forget what else. We also ordered a jug of the sangria cava made with cava rather than the traditional red wine, with strawberry pieces, lime and lemon. I asked Juan Manuel (who did indeed turn out to be Argentinian; Max is uncanny about nationalities and accents) whether I could have a photo of him with Max and he graciously agreed. We would have had sweets, but really, enough greed is enough greed, so we contented ourselves with a very strong and very tiny espresso. Luckily neither of us is kept awake by coffee.

Food here is unbelievably cheap if you choose the right places - all that (sorry, my Mum, I know we don't mention money at the table) for EUR67.

We wandered home about 9.30 through the almost impenetrable crowds on Calle Ferran and La Rambla, very satisfied with our day.


Santa Maria del Mar
Santa Maria del Mar
Santa Maria del Mar
George Orwell Place


Judy Crewe:
August 20, 2015
Lovely, I too was fascinated by the Sagrada Familia, on my Spanish trip last year. Talking of coffee, I discovered on my recent French trip that if you order a cafe alonguee (sorry can't do the accents on the iPad) you will generally get a good approximation of a long black, more so than if you order Americano.
Cheers, Judy x
August 24, 2015
Very funny :-)
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