October 15, 2015
We have left the lazy south. Barcelona is quite the contrast. It seems people get up early and go to work here — our hotel puts out the coffee and muffins at 7:00, unheard of before. We splurged to some degree on a sweet hotel here, very conveniently near all the main sights, a so-called boutique hotel of 8 rooms in an 18th century building on a street of similar buildings.
When we drew up in the taxi we could see no reason to think it was a hotel, the taxi driver’s GPS having declared that this was the spot we all got out and looked, and sure enough, beside the bell was a discrete sign declaring the name of the place. We rang and a young woman came running down to show us the elevator at the back of the nondescript lobby, up we went to a landing, then up a few steps, she opened a door and we stepped into a minimalistic tiny lobby with abstract and whimsical art on the walls, distressed furniture, brightly coloured lighting fixtures, in complete contrast to the heritage building and the antique elevator.
Our room is huge, very modern, and we have casement doors that open on to our own wrought iron balcony overlooking the street. At night we pull wooden sliding doors over the windows which keep out most of the street sound. Quite cool! and such friendly, kind of unhotel like young women running the place. The 8 rooms occupy only two floors of the building so we have a key to enter the building, go up the stairs and use a scan card to get into the hotel, then our own door key!
The city is very large, and very very busy. Somehow just so many more bodies than we are used to. The Barcelonians must get so sick of the throngs of tourists in their midst. We are definitely sick of them! Much different culture than in the Andalusia area. People are up and off to work here at the early hours we are used to at home, and although the evening meal is not happening before 8 or 8:30, it is not 10:00 like in the south. Also Catalan is the first language, and all the signage is in Catalan, so much for my (slightly) improving Spanish! Found out that nearly 40% of Spanish people smoke, hence my previous comments about smoking. However, years ago the government began raising the price of cigarettes and they have banned smoking inside bars and restaurants, though the patios are still fair game. So things will no doubt change here too.
We have been walking and touring sights, and despite feeling overloaded with sight seeing we have enjoyed some special ones here. Many of the most lovely old buildings, including the area of our hotel, were influenced by a movement called Modernisme, its most famous architect being Gaudi whose buildings with their hobbit house like curves and crazy wrought iron railings you may have seen in pictures. Modernisme was a reaction to the industrial age and borrows its themes from nature, with lots of curves and floral embellishments, with especially lovely ceramic work and mosaic tile covering everything. The aesthetic is similar to the Arte Nouveau movement in Britain I think. We toured an apartment building built by Gaudi in 1914, really interesting structurally as well as in terms of the thought that went into the comfort of the inhabitants, unusual at that time.
However his most famous creation is an enormous cathedral called La Sagrada Familia which has been under construction for more than 100 years now and is slated to near completion by 2040 if they are lucky. It is astonishingly innovative, every piece of it is its own work of art, and even though we are quite jaded by cathedrals now, we found it fascinating. It would be so interesting for an engineer like Jeremy to see how the plans and models were done, as the forms were invented as Gaudi was conceiving the visual design. Nowadays a team of people on computers is transcribing blueprints from his original ideas but they still do a lot of models. Cranes are operating, machines grinding away, and literally thousands and thousands of people are touring the site every day, while in a couple of (fairly) quiet chapels people are worshipping. Quite a unique place. Gaudi is buried in the crypt.
A contemporary of Gaudi’s Montaner, designed the so-called Palace of Music (Palau de la Musica Catalana) which is in its own way, similarly stunning. He sandwiched this vivid but elegant building, decorated with ceramic mosaic and sculpture in between tenements and factories in 1914 because he wanted to build a structure to house a choir of women who worked in the textile factories of the neighborhood. When we found it, with some difficulty, in a small street crammed between buildings, we thought they had encroached on it, not the other way around. To view it you had to be taken around by a tour leader, which was great as we got into all the parts of the seating and he explained the symbolic intent of the decor. The intent was to give equal emphasis to the folk art of the people and the classical roots of music. It has been upgraded for better acoustics and ventilation by adding a glass envelope to part of it, but the original structure and decor preserved. They clearly have lots of money for upkeep as they run concerts 300 days a year, and I don’t know how many tourists go through each day — admissions here are startlingly expensive too.
We have enjoyed other things too and walking from end to end of the old city and around the port. Our little hotel is just sweet and the “girls” who work here are so helpful. Time to go home! Adios to Espana.