After a few hectic days in Lisbon, we were very happy to arrive in Barcelona and just spend a quiet first day. We arrived at our hotel in time for a late lunch of Tapas on the roof top terrace near the pool. We just stayed put and enjoyed a balmy day for the rest of the afternoon.
Our hotel was on La Rambla, a very popular street in central Barcelona, It is a tree-lined pedestrian mall and stretches for a little over a kilometre to connect Catalan Square, in the centre of the city, with the Christopher Columbus Monument at the port. Our hotel was the 1898 Hotel, named not for its street address, but for the year that Spain lost the Philippines as a colony. This very nice (and expensive) hotel was the previous home of the Philippines Cigar Company. There was plenty of brick, aged wood, rich leather, and a colonial theme throughout the hotel. The beds were very comfortable, the food was excellent and the staff were exceptionally good at providing a high level of service.
We began our second day with a walk up the street to the tour company that ran day tours around the city. We had booked a full day tour which turned out to be two half day tours combined together with break for lunch in between. In keeping with Spanish culture of having a mid day siesta, late lunch, afternoon tea at the time at which we would normally be eating dinner, our afternoon tour didn’t finish until after 7.00 pm, by which time it was dark and our energy levels were flagging. We were also getting hungry but the earliest restaurant in town didn’t even open until after 8.00 pm..
Our morning tour took us to some of the historic sights of old Barcelona – starting with the original Roman wall and old cathedral. For some reason, recent historic sights such as the more recent Barcelona Olympic Stadium were included in the agenda. That must say something about how quickly events become part of history in this country.
I enjoyed the opportunity to catch a cable car up to the top of Mount Juis (Jewish) (named after the fact that there once was a Jewish cemetery on its slopes) and get a view across ht city. Unlike the large sprawl of Australian cities, Barcelona is quite compact and densely populated. Another very interesting place was an obviously ‘touristy’ centre that contained a recreated Spanish village. Each street in the village was colour coded on the map to show different forms of architecture throughout regional Spain. As a result, our one hour visit enabled us to see a sample of the entire architecture of the country in an hour. Each building housed a shop of some kind and sold some form of artistic product or food. The village was quite authentic – even to the deliberately cracked concrete in the main square.
After lunch with a couple of other Australians from Perth, we headed out for the afternoon, but this time with a maniacal guide who spoke both rapid English and French incessantly – even when he had unknowingly got so far ahead of the group that the French speakers were caught up at the last red traffic light, or the English speakers had wandered away to get a break from his excessively detailed commentary.
Our afternoon tour focused on the work of the Spanish architect, Gaudi. His most famous work is obviously the Sagrada Familia Church (Church of the Holy Family) This huge church is not, like popular opinion believes, the cathedral of Barcelona. That is in the old town, a kilometre or so away. This is the work of an architect who was able to to find sufficient private funding to build a creation of his own vision. Work began in 1862. Gaudi was killed in a pedestrain accident in 1926 while he was in his seventies and the church is now scheduled to be finished on the centenary of his death in 2026. We were quite disappointed we would only see this church from the outside. We chose this particular tour as it included a visit to the church and we assumed that meant the inside as well. I doubt that I will ever get Jill back here tom see it again.
People obviously have an enormous respect for Gaudi’s work but he strikes me as a man who was off with the pixies having read too many fairy tales. His work is inspired by butterflies, animals and all sorts of etherial shapes and things. After the church, we visited a park that he also designed. His vision was to have people living in the park but he was only able to sell two of the fifty potential house designs that he created. These two are now open for inspection and the queues to vist were exceptionaltely long. The best view of them was from the central area of the park where a 160 metre long beach decorated with cracked tiles and mosaics extends around its circumference. To my mind, it’s quite bizarre.
The tour concluded with a walk along some of the city streets were buildings that Gaudi designed can be seen. By this time, we were tired of our guide and just wandered along the street as it was the most direct way back to our hotel.
The next chapter of our trip will continue after we take a train to the French Mediterranean city of Narbonne where we pick up a car. We will then drive around 300 kilometres north to the area of the Dordogne River valley and its quaint and historic villages.