We hardly noticed that we had crossed into Spain (another one of those freedom boundaries) we were so busy being impressed by the viaduct and the scenery of the foothills of the Pyrenees, as we rose above Rhone valley and headed south – again in glorious albeit cool day. Martin got a bit panicky as “we had no Spanish money” and had to pay the toll on the road. I reminded him we had lots of Spanish money – it was called the Euro (more freedom of movement and the ability to know how much things cost comparatively) and could pay the toll and buy lunch. We stopped on the way and had break in Figueres (birthplace of Salvador Dali), admired some its interesting public art and carried on to Barcelona as we wanted to get their relatively early.
Arriving in Barcelona around 3:30pm we were able to navigate to our hotel (despite a very poor GPS) through the eight lanes of up and down street called the Ave. Diagonal into the down town area. Traffic was not too bad but later we discovered we had arrived in siesta time. As a treat we stayed in a nice hotel called the Actual Hotel (which was one of the few dog friendly hotels we could find in the city). After a panicky arrival (booked on the wrong day), dodging the traffic trying to park our plucky little car, crossing the road and depositing of our goods we looked out the window of our non-view room to find that just behind us was an Antoni Gaudi building – we were staying next to Casa Mila aka La Pedrera.
After settling in a bit (long drive from France and feeling a bit in awe of this enormous city of 5.4 million people), we took the dog for a walk. Needless to say the city had woken up and the streets were packed. The poor dog found the traffic and the hundreds of noisy scooters quite scary and it took us quite a while to find some grass for our cross-legged dog to pee on. Scooters are certainly the preferred mode of individual transportation around Spain – agile, speedy, economical, easily parked, and really loud (which is good because then you can get out of the way the Evil Knevils driving these machines).
We then went out for tapas and wine – very interesting food – lots of variety. We sat outside as we had Kerry with us. Spain is not very dog friendly (especially compared to France, the Netherlands and Germany), and dogs are not allowed into any store, bar, restaurant or on public transport . However you can sit outside with your dog – so we sat in the busy sidewalk tables, underneath a heater ( as it was not especially warm) and chatted to our neighbours on the next table. They introduced us to a delicious tapa called alcachota frita (thinly sliced fried artichokes) – yum. The mother and daughter table neighbours were very interesting as they too were going to the Ablaicin in Granada as part of a movie making crew. The subject of the movie was a bit ghoulish – cannibalism, but the history of Granada has lots of blood and guts. They start shooting at the end of January so we will see.
Back to Barcelona and the sophisticated downtown full of high-end shops and seemingly dripping in money. We were also living next to the Stella McCartney outlet (easily as prestigious the Vitton shop and other well know fashion icons)with some interesting window displays.
As an architect Martin was very excited at the idea of being in the only city ever to win the International Architecture award (usually given to individual architects), so after dinner he went off with Kerry (to find another piece of grass) and seek out the Sagrada Familia by night. He found it and came back awestruck.
Back to Casa Mila – this beautiful building on the corner of possibly the busiest street in the city was so soft and so organic it was a contrast to the modern world. It was constructed in 1907 as an apartment building and has two courtyards. The exterior is sculpted with wrought iron and the interior is painted like an Impressionist’s garden with flowers and leaves climbing the walls and ceilings. It now housed a museum full of drawings, models, furniture and artifacts. There was also an exhibition from other famous contemporaries of Gaudi including Horta, Guimard, Mackintosh, Hoffman, Loos and of course Frank Lloyd Wright. It was like walking through a history of architecture course.
We were there in the morning and then set off on the Metro real electric trains that ran underground) to the Temple of the Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family). This building was started in 1893 when the Nativity Façade was constructed and completed by 1936. Gaudi was able to see most of this phase completed by the time he died in 1926, but the bulk of the work had yet to be done. Today most the façade architecture has been completed on all sides only the central spire is left. This however will not be completed until 2025/26. I guess in terms of building cathedrals, 133 years from start to finish is quite quick. However, in our world where towers are constructed in the desert in a few years, it seems incredible that an architect and builder would not see their work completed.
If the exterior of the Sagrada Familia is very impressive, adored with sculptures, words, mosaics and symbol four point crosses, while the inside, which is finished, was absolutely stunning.
We paid our €18 to go into the temple, museum and up the Passion tower and walked through the security gates through this magnificent entrance into the church. Once inside, we stopped drew breath and let a tear roll down as we were completely over awed by its beauty. The massive towering pillars, the stained glass windows, even the non stained glass windows, the altar, nave and cloisters were all a marvel to behold. Some places in the world put the fear of god into you, this place put the love of god into your heart. If I had just come down from space with no knowledge of our world, and walked into the Sagrada Familia, I would immediately become a Catholic, because this church was the place for a god of love and beauty. We, like other tourists, took lots of pictures, but neither pictures nor words come close to the reality of the experience of the Templo of the Sagrada Familia – you have to be there!
We took the tour up to the top of the tower. I am not very good with heights but I do make my knees stop shaking when it is important that I experience a place ( like the Eiffel Tower). The viewpoints were amazing, looking over the city and looking at he construction work still in progress. This stone basilica will stand for a thousand years and it was constructed for that purpose. We walked down the spiral staircase which was a display of one of the many organic forms Gaudi used to design his buildings.
We also went down into the museum where you can see the crypt in which Gaudi is buried. This visit took us through the processes that builders and artists, architects and project managers had gone through to create this wonderful basilica. After a short recovery period and a beer (being mind blown and being gob-smacked requires a little recouperation) we sent on the Metro to our third Gaudi of the day – Parc Guell.
I was surprised that Gaudi had time to do anything else but the Templo de Sagrada Familia , but apparently he did. The Parc Guell is located on a steep hillside in another part of the city. It was a private commission that allowed Gaudi to indulge in a little whimsy. The hillside was so steep that we needed an escalator up to the park, which had no entry fee just a good walk.
I was knackered after all the exercise and emotion, so we walked down to the Metro back to the hotel and had a rest. In the evening we took to the Metro again down to Las Ramblas where we ate paella in a restaurant called Los 7 Ortes. We enjoyed delicious food in a place full of loud hungry people speaking a variety of languages. We ended our long incredible Barcelona day with a short hike up the Las Rambles and then back to the hotel on the metro.
The next day we set off on the first part of our 830km journey to Granada. We took the coastal highway (with some hefty tolls of up to €30) driving south to Valencia and then to our over night stop in Denia. The highway was quite boring really, although the views of the Mediterranean were quite magnificent as we drove towards another mind-blowing architectural experience – the Calatrava arts centre in Valencia. Martin was just thrilled to see this incredible building and surroundings. This Calatrava was much more appropriately located than the railway station in Liege.
We drove passed the orange groves (it is harvest time) to the coastal resort of Denia. This pretty little place has a Moorish wall, an interesting pedestrian old town, ferry links with Ibiza and Mallorca and a thriving malecon. We stayed in Hostal Loreta in the old town area of Denia. Douglas (Scottish) and Mattie (Dutch) fell in love and bought the Hostal about 10 years ago. They explained that the hostal is a specialized type of hotel accommodation in Spain and the name had confused non-Spanish holiday-makers. Hostal Loreto had a very nice restaurant that offered a decent meal for €12 and great accommodation for €45.
The final leg of our journey was from Denia to Granada . We drove almost 350 kms at a higher altitude passed tracts of arable land full of orchards and fruit groves. We arrived in Granada about 4:50 in time to meet the agent for our landlords. The narrow streets were a bit scary to drive, but the Albaicin is a pedestrian area as a result of history rather than town planning. We parked the car on the narrowest street I have seen in years and walked five minutes through the cobbled streets to our new home and a new city for the next ten weeks.