I don’t oversleep this morning so I have a very filling breakfast at Blanc Guest House. Homemade Muesli, fresh buttery croissants, bananas, and cheesecake. What a way to start the day! Oh, and fresh OJ and coffee too!
I meet the Runnerbean Tour guide along with about 12 other mostly American tourists at the water fountain in Placa Reial. It’s a beautiful day, which is normal I guess for Catalan Spain this time of year. Though it’s cool, there’s no humidity. Everything feels fresh and bright.
By the way, if Spain is in economic trouble, you couldn’t prove it by the hum of activity in this city. People bustle to and fro jostling for position on the excellent Metro. Workers are everywhere, repairing roads, hauling packages, carrying briefcases. Everyone seems to be in a hurry, and there are very few bums lying out on the sidewalk.
We start our tour with Gaudi’s first commission, a light post that I must say is gaudy Gaudi. He’s a fascinating man, one who showed signs of genius at a very young age and managed to work his way into high society projects by playing the role of a dandy. He must of hated it because he was a deeply religious man who never married yet attended church twice a day for his entire life. He eschewed creature comforts and had no use for money.
Except to fund his projects, which are whimsical creations right out of a children’s fairytale, like gingerbread houses. Or maybe not. Look closer, and some of the structural elements resemble bones or tree branches. He always said he got his inspiration from nature, and it shows in the organic flow of his buildings that belies the very strong cut stone facades. There is an incredible attention to detail right down to the individual wrought iron balcony designs, each of which is unique. Delight in the strange helmeted chimneys that were the inspiration for George Lucas’ Star Wars characters of Darth Vader and his Imperial Troops. Be dazzled by the use of brightly colored tile so intricate that the building becomes more of a piece of mosaic art than a home.
I love Gaudi’s work, and during this tour you get to see plenty of it. Start with the Guell house, Gaudi’s first, which broke the owner due to cost overruns, an unfortunate habit of the famous architect. Move on by subway to the Casa Butilo and, right across the street, the Casa Milo. Gaudi’s patrons had a love/hate relationship with him. Often they weren’t pleased with the result or the budget busting, and eventually Gaudi gave up residential construction altogether. Yet what remains is like something out of a Jules Verne novel, a vision of the future that still has not arrived 140 years later. Ahead of his time? Yes, absolutely. Genius.
But as I mentioned in yesterday’s post his biggest project is the gigantic Sabrada Familia, a masterpiece in the making since 1882. When completed in an estimated 13 years, it will rise over 500 feet tall and have 12 bell towers of 300 feet each. This is an awe-inspiring work of art. The foundation seems to have roots of solid rock stretching up to support the towers at radical angles. Statues depicting Christ’s life adorn every side of the building, and, in typical fashion, no detail is too small. Sprigs of wheat, grapes, and other fruits top some of the spires of the church, each done in bright tiles. This building looks like it grew out of the ground like a mighty copse of trees rather than being man-made.
The tour guide is great, giving out plenty of amusing stories about Gaudi’s life. For instance, one of his clients was known to be an adulterer, so the pious Gaudi placed the statue of a bird on top of the roof that was known in Spain to create its nest from its own shit. Clever.
I pay him 15 Euro for his effort and think it was well worth it. I talk to some Israelis in our group who said they would give him between 5 and 15 Euro. Figures.
After, I take the Metro back with one of the tourists in our group. She’s at most 21 and looks 17. I can’t imagine why parents want to send their female children out alone using their money into foreign countries.
I dine at La Flauta, which is kind of a bar/restaurant. I have the cuttlefish (calamari), and it tastes like it was swimming around in the ocean earlier that same day. It has been lightly sautéed and I savor every bite. Next I have a Greek salad and am glad to see it is the genuine article, with big chunks of feta cheese, some olives, and some pickle slices covered in olive oil. Good, good, good. The white wine isn’t as good as what I’ve become used to. I suspect it is some kind of Blanc grape varietal, but again, at less than $3.50 a glass, who’s complaining? My tab out the door is $17. That’s city center, more or less. Slam-dunk bargain.
Tomorrow I’m all day on a train for Sarria to begin my Camino. I will miss Barcelona. This is a world-class city. Labyrinthine streets steeped in mystery like Venice, great art nouveau architecture like Paris, tree-lined streets and parks like all great pedestrian cities…but Barcelona doesn’t need to be compared to anything. It stands on its own. Unique. Proud. Catalan.