barcelona, day two

Barcelona is amazing. Some people suggested that five days here were too many, but we can barely fit in all the things we want to do - even though we are omitting one major tourist attraction and the most popular day-trip in Spain. (More on that later.)

I managed to sleep a little more than usual today, a rare gift, and we purposely got a later start than usual. After breakfast, we took the metro to our first views of La Sagrada Familia. This building, Gaudi's great masterpiece, is truly unique in all the world. It is also famously unfinished, under near-permanent construction, with a projected completion "date" of 2020-2040. (What's a decade or two, mas or menos.)

We weren't going to try to get in today - if you don't purchase tickets in advance, you can wait for hours for admittance - but I wanted to at least see the exterior as soon as possible. It did not disappoint.

What can I say that can possibly describe this strange structure? It is both an homage to the great Gothic cathedrals of France, and an homage to modernisme, and to human imagination, and nature, and according to many people, to Christianity, writ large. It may be most recognizable by its spires, topped with bright orange pinwheels (there will be 12 in all, one for each apostle, when the building is complete), but what really knocks you out is all the crazy detail. The crucifixion, the pieta - all the stories are told - in gigantic form, with great emotion and intensity. There's so much to look at, it feels as if you could come back every day and discover more details you had never seen before. Here's a Google image search of the basilica and here's another of exterior detail. The searches are not very precise but it might give you some idea.

After taking a huge number of photos, we found a charcuterie kind of place doing a brisk take-out business with locals. (Supermarkets are closed on Sundays, so we're still without provisions.) We got some salad and an assortment of croquetas, and were about to leave... when I did one of the stupidest things ever. I'm such a klutz, I don't even want to tell you what I did.

One moment I was walking out of the store, and the next moment I was holding my head and seeing stars. The very nice man from the deli came out with a bottle of cold water and a paper towel, and then returned with a chair. My head hurt. A lot. But it was also totally ridiculous and funny, and we both had to laugh.

We ate our lunch on a bench in the park in front of La Sagrada. Amazingly, my glasses were undamaged, and I don't seem to have a lump on my forehead - only a headache.

* * * *

Next we took the metro to the neighbourhood of Park Guell, another Gaudi gift to Barcelona. It's a long walk from the metro to the park, with increasing crowds and touristy shops the closer you get.

Park Guell is a modernisme paradise. There are crazy wavy buildings and parapets, everything adorned with mosaics. One building resembles a Roman temple that the modernists pulled apart and reassembled. Another one recalls the Islamic-Moorish influence. Everything resembles plants and waves and animals and other forms of nature. From a balcony, you can see La Sagrada Familia in the distance, and beyond that, the Mediterranean.

There's a small museum in what was Gaudi's home. On display there is some furniture he designed in the art nouveau / modernisme tradition, incredibly simple, naturalistic designs that I find stunningly beautiful.

I was thoroughly taken with the whole park, and took a zillion photos. The only drawback was the crowds. As soon as you leave the most famous area - from the entrance gate up the steps and into the Roman temple-like building - the crowds thin out to nothing. But when we were among the park's most famous structures, it was packed. Some details were almost impossible to see. People took each other's pictures with a famous mosaic lizard - a steady stream of posing and shooting, often three or four people at a time, so there was no moment the lizard was left alone for his own photo. The crowds were a little hard to take.

In one of the gatehouses, I waited my turn to shoot from a window at the other gate house across the entrance way. As I began to shoot, I felt someone touch my head and stepped back, startled. A man was extending his arms over my head to take pictures. I stepped aside, glaring at him, but he avoided my gaze. It is a tribute to how I have mellowed with age, and how Canadian I have become, that I stood quietly until he was finished, then went back to the window to continue shooting. A younger, more hot-headed Laura would not have borne that quietly.

So the crowds were trying, but the park is magnificent.

On the way back to the metro, we shared a small plate of paella - the fast-food version, in a quickie cafe - and a couple of glasses of sangria, before heading back to our room. I was making notes for this post when Allan called me to the window. An enormous crowd was marching down the Gran Via! We went out on our little balcony to watch. Although the signs and chants were mostly in Catalan, I could make out that it was an anti-austerity, anti-eviction demonstration. (Allan took lots of photos.) There were drums beating, horns blaring, chants, shouts, and songs, thousands of people taking up the very wide street, completely packed for many blocks. Honestly, I was in tears. The people here are suffering but they are vocal and organized and they are not giving up.

Eventually we went out again, and hunted down El Bixto, a little tapas joint Allan found in our guidebook. It was beautiful - a tiny wooden room with seating for maybe 20 people, including the bar. The menu - tapas offerings, drinks, desserts - are written on separate papers and taped on an overhang. The host (who might have been the owner) seemed to know a lot of the clientele, or else all her friends happened to stop by.

We had a plate of assorted Spanish sausages and cheeses, a potato fritata with smoked salmon, and some other crazy potato dish that we couldn't even finish. The house red wine was 3 euros a glass. I'd like to return tomorrow night - it's more fun when the hosts remember you - but Allan has his eye on another place.

* * * *

The Barcelona metro is fantastic. The stations are clean, the trains are quiet, the signage is perfect. They are all disability accessible. Trains come every three minutes (or six minutes late at night), with a digital countdown to the next two arrivals. On the train, a vertical pole divides in three, so more people can hold on without having to avoid each other's hands, one of the most clever little design touches I've ever seen on public transit. A card buys you 10 trips at less than half price.

Most signage in this city is in three languages: Catalan first, then Spanish, then English. We see Catalan flags hanging from many balconies and windows. Gaudi is described everywhere as "the great Catalan architect," never as Spanish.I don't know anything about the Catalan independence movement, but I wonder if the language primacy is a great concession, meant to placate (or neuter?) the separatist movement. Canadians know how that goes.

* * * *

Random notes:

I called my mom today from Park Guell, to say hi and wish her a Happy Mother's Day. She was so happy to hear from me! I was really glad I called. Happy Mother's Day to all! Hope you had a great day.

Miss Essie Ash tells me that she and the pups go to the dogpark every day! Allan usually takes them once a week. At this rate, Tala and Diego will be sad to see us come home!

We see so many lovely dogs here, as we did in Paris. Many people walk their dogs without leashes.

Motorcycles are very popular. There are far fewer bicycles than you see, say, in Toronto. But motorcycles are always zipping by, and you see dozens of them parked everywhere you go.

We did some work on our feet - I'll spare you the gory details - and they are feeling better now.

I checked Canadian news today for the first time, and read about houses in Manitoba being destroyed by waves of lake ice. While eating paella later in the day, we saw that story on the news.

I am totally loving our new camera and lens. We also have our nice little point-and-shoot with us, but I'm not sure it will see daylight.

* * * *

We have three full days left in Barcelona, and a long list of things we want to see.

One of the main attractions here is Montjuic, a very large park that is home to museums, theatres, and various cultural attractions. There is a "magic fountain" - a sound and light show - and a castle or fortress with a dark past. It was where the fascists tortured, imprisoned, and killed people during and after the Spanish Civil War. Now it's a family playground attraction. All of  Montjuic is considered a must-see for Barcelona tourism, but we have no real interest in it. Allan is great at helping me have the courage to say no to things that is one is "supposed to" do, especially when there are plenty of things we want to do more.

I did want to go to Figueres, Salvador Dali's hometown, and the place of his museum and theatre. It's a day trip from Barcelona, and it would mean giving up too much we want to do here. In addition, Lonely Planet says it is the most heavily touristed spot in Spain. People wait for hours to enter the museum-theatre, then the crowds are so thick they can't see anything. Oddly enough, the best time to go is in the high tourist season, because tour groups cannot book at that time. Between not wanting to leave Barcelona and our fear of those kinds of crowds, Figueres may not be in my future.

Photos of Park Guell are here.

Photos of the demo are here.

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