I enjoyed Barcelona, in Spain’s autonomous region of Catalonia. I prefer smaller towns, but the old section of this city feels very town-like, not a place with a population of 1.6 million. It is very walkable but don’t get too close to the street – buses and taxis whiz by within inches of your elbow. Luckily, it’s easy to find plazas and streets with only pedestrian traffic. On foot is the best way to see what the city offers – a whimsical sensory-rich vibe.
At the heart of that vibe is the architecture of Antoni Gaudi and his fellow Modernistas from the early 20th century, using new materials and structures. Gaudi was one of the first, and his style is unmistakable. Here’s a sampling.
The Casa Batlló home already existed when the owner, Josep Batlló, asked Gaudi to tear it down and build him a new one. He wanted something different, something new and risky. Gaudi convinced him to remodel the structure, which he completed in 1906. The roof looks like the back of a dragon and the railings look like masks to me, though they are supposed to “evoke the surface of a lake with water lilies.” I recommend seeing this in the morning when it will be lit by the sun from the front.
I love Gaudi’s fluidity with solid structures; Casa Milá, a few blocks down the street from Casa Batlló, is a great example. Also known as La Pedrera, or “open quarry” for its rough-hewn exterior, it was Gaudi’s last project on a residence; he completed it in 1910.
Park Guell started out as a business venture by Count Eusibi Guell for the development of luxury houses within a park setting. Gaudi was the architect. The business venture failed, and Guell donated the site to the city. But before that occurred, Gaudi designed a few buildings and created the infrastructure for the roads to service the houses.
The latter showed off his ability to unite artificial structures with the nature around them by raising the roads and using tree-like forms to support them. This was radically new in the early 20th century. He even incorporated bird nests into the structures.
But Gaudi’s greatest work remains the Sagrada Família, the minor basilica of the Church of the Holy Family. He began work on the church, already under construction in 1883, and made it his own. He spent the last part of his life dedicated to this work; it is still not completed and was only consecrated as a minor basilica in 2010.
Along with the cool architecture, or maybe because of it, street artists add to the whimsical vibe.
Then there’s the sensory stimulation of the fresh markets. It hits you in the eye, nose, mouth, even ears. In the din of the marketplace, you will hear Catalan, the co-official language of Catalonia, alongside Spanish.
And choices! I’ve never seen such beautiful Easter eggs, and I never saw a market that sold ostrich eggs before this. Oh, and the Tortilla Española! It’d the Spanish version of an omelet with onion and potatoes, but so much better. If you don’t know how to make them, you can buy them ready-made.
And when you are worn out from the sensory overload of this vibrant city, there’s always a quiet café where you can escape to enjoy a café con leche. Or duck into a cool dark pastry shop and indulge at a little table in the back. We even found a rooftop garden for freshly-squeezed orange juice.
If you prefer sun, find a plaza and enjoy the street musicians along with sangria. There’s a spot for everyone’s kind of relaxation in Barcelona.
It looks like I’ll be going back to Barcelona: I drank from the Font de Canaletes on Las Ramblas, the tree-lined pedestrian boulevard in the heart of the city. There’s a legend that if you drink from that fountain, you will fall in love with the city and return. Yes, definitely.
For other essays from my trip to Spain, see:
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