Our third day began with us going to Sagrada Familia, the amazing cathedral Gaudi devoted the majority of his later years to and another World Heritage site. With sculpted vases of sculpted oranges, grapes and strawberries at its tops and the makings of stained glass windows showing fruits from different seasons on the four different sides and the stonework dripping stable animals a la donkeys and lizards off its nativity side, the place is truly joyous. The spires have Sanctus and Sursum Corda emblazoned across their sides (I know this sounds tacky, but somehow it's a triumph). The spires look somewhat like huge upside down ice cream cones plopped down at numerous different angles. Now I don't want to overstate how amazing this place is, but it should be a Universe Heritage site. Still being constructed, it felt like ruins in reverse.
Next we took the subway out to the 'burbs to Palau Reial to continue our Gaudi treasure hunt. We found the Guell Pavilions, which were the stables for the patron's horses. There is a famous huge Gaudi-designed iron gate made to look like a dragon there that made the trip completely worthwhile. Plus, we were the only tourists out there, which made us feel peculiarly smug.
We then had a quick lunch in the Eixample area (near the Passeig de Gracia Metro stop) and trekked up to see Casa Vicens, the first house designed by Gaudi. It is chockablock with colorful orange tiles, interspersed with ironwork and bricks. Really fun! It best exemplifies the Mudejar style, which combines Moorish with Spanish influences. We sat and admired it for a while, imagining the closed residence's ceilings, which we'd seen pictured with sculpted bananas and oranges.
We then took a subway at the Gracia stop (different from the Passeig de Gracia one) to Placa del Catalunya and found Gaudi's Casa Calvet. Next up, we moseyed up to the Passeig de Gracia area and went into the Fundacio Antoni Tapies. Probably Barcelona's most famous contemporary artist, I found his pieces with soil smeared on them in rainbow-like arcs successful, but much of his art is pretentiously laden with banalities like "A=A." Video artist Steve McQueen had an exhibit there too, which was laughably bad. We then subwayed back to Placa del Catalunya and wandered down La Rambla, checking out everyone on parade, including the many motionless mimes dressed in outlandish attire (i.e., a cowboy, a very earnest looking gypsy gazing yearningly into her crystal ball).
Our last day, we started out by taking the S4 (after almost taking the wrong train and questioning strangers for the right one) from the Espanya Metro stop to Montserrat, Spain's second biggest pilgrimage destination after Santiago de Compestela. About two hours out of town by train and in an odd, small mountain range that sprouted out on its own, we got off at one stop and found ourselves completely alone because it still was so early. Fortunately, the wait for the cable car place to open wasn't too long and we were able to buy a ticket up as well as a train ticket back to Barcelona!
We took the scary cable car ride way up to Montserrat, where we toured the basilica, reconstructed in the mid-19th century. Feeling a little underwhelmed in spite of its somber beauty, we quickly looked in at its extensive art collection (a la Caravaggio, El Greco, Manet and Renoir), much of which unfortunately was under wraps for renovation.
Training back in to Barcelona we switched from S4 to R5 (not realizing we could have switched to S8 too) to visit the Colonia Guell, an elaborate crypt designed by Gaudi. At Sagrada Familia, he designed everything but the crypt. At Colonia Guell, only the crypt was built. The tilework around the stained glass windows Gaudi designed are dazzlingly buoyant and bright. We had the place to ourselves, except for a renovater or two and a quirky French employee of the site who parleed with me a little, giving me her address for me to send her postcards of Chicago!
We then trained back and subwayed to the Lesseps stop, where we stopped for a quick lunch and walked up to Guell Park. Think Central Park in scale but note this too is a World Heritage site designed by Gaudi and outlandishly fanciful with sculptures of dragons and walkways created to look like they were atop natural caves. Andrew kept using the word magical as we walked through. We then went back to our soup place and went for chocolate ice cream and gofres before our magical trip to Barcelona was done.
© Allen Smith 2004
Originally from Durham, North Carolina, Allen Smith is the editor of the Americans With Disabilities Act Compliance Guide. He has had poems published in numerous literary journals, including Chicago’s Off the Rocks, Crucible and Maryland Poetry Review, and has published an essay in the Urban Hiker.