Tuesday was a day of artistic wins and logistical misses, confirming the “it’s complicated” status of my relationship with Barcelona. We started off by more thoroughly exploring La Boqueria, where we ran into a mob surrounding Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Norman Reedus. I know, so random, right? Then we meandered by the Barcelona Cathedral:
Next we hopped a tourist bus (yes, one of those double-decker ones. But we had free tickets, so why not?) to the Sagrada Familia. Here began my logistical frustrations. We had previously booked a tour of Sagrada Familia + Parc Guell, only to find out that the tour did not take us INSIDE Sagrada Familia. (You will see shortly why this is a problem.) So we had to scramble to change the tour to a guided inside tour, and book separate tickets to Parc Guell. But we sorted it out, and it was fine. Then, I thought the tourist bus tickets were good for 24 hours from the time we hopped on, so I had plans to use it the following morning to see more of the city. Once we hopped on, we found out it was only good for that day. Then, once we got to Sagrada Familia, we ended up not having time to go up in the towers because we had to hop the bus again to get to Parc Guell to meet my host parents. But once we got to Park Guell, we couldn’t find my host parents because it turns out there are multiple entrances, and my phone wasn’t working, and gaaaaaah you can see why I have been so frustrated! But everything turned out ok in the end, so that’s the end of my complaining for now.
The genius of Gaudi
The Sagrada Familia is truly one of the architectural wonders of the world. Gaudi’s use of natural forms and light were beyond his time. He knew his masterpiece would never be finished in his lifetime, so he created many drawings and scale models so that it could be finished after his death.
On one of the facades, you can see that the structure resembles human bones and ligaments.
But the inside, that is what took my breath away. The columns are like trees, narrowing and branching towards the top. Natural light comes through the ceiling, mimicking the effect of light streaming through treetops. And the windows! OMG, the windows turn the inside into rainbows. I’m sure these photos won’t even begin to do the experience justice.
The Sagrada Familia was truly my favorite thing in all of Barcelona, and the wonderful thing is that since it is not finished, we can come back in 5, 10, 20 years and it will be a different experience each time.
We continued the Gaudi experience at Parc Guell, which, like Sagrada Familia, was never finished. It was intended to be a private space, but funding ran out, and now it is a beautiful public space with incredible views of the city. An incredibly kind park worker helped us locate Francoise and Daniel, and we explored the park together.
Gaudi often used chameleons in his work, and this guy is one of his most famous. Chameleons, like buildings and parks, must adapt to change, to continue to be relevant.
That evening we had our final dinner with Francoise and Daniel. I had hoped to dine outside at Placa Real, soaking up the ambiance of the Spanish plaza and eating amazing Spanish food. Once again Barcelona thwarted me, and we had wholly mediocre food indoors. But no matter where or what we ate, reconnecting with my host family was a joy. It is incredible to me that 10 years ago – a lifetime ago, really – I lived with this family for 4 months, and have remained connected to them ever since. I met up with Francoise in Paris 5 years ago, with both of them in NYC almost 2 years ago, and now in Spain. We have tentative plans to see them again when they come back to North America, possibly in Canada and hopefully in Philly. I did not make many French friends my own age when I studied abroad, but I am so grateful to have connected with Francoise, who still calls me her “fille adoptive.”
On Wednesday, our last day in Barcelona, we headed to the old port part of the city, and the beach. Keith found a beer and liquor store where some of his favorite things were almost half the price they are in the US (thanks, EU!), and he drank a beer on the beach while I treated myself to an ice cream cone.
Then we hopped into a cable car to go across the port to Montjuic mountain, for a stunning view of the city.
Lunch was in a perfect hole-in-the-wall Restaurante Montolio Can Maño, where they charged for the house wine based on how much you drank of the bottle. The waiter would pick up the bottle, examine the contents, and then determine a charge based on his estimation of how much was left. The wine was actually awful, but the simple dishes we ordered were so good we didn’t care.
Finally, we wandered back to our hotel through the neighborhood of El Born, with tiny dark streets and artistic shops.
Our last meal in Barcelona was easily the best – a casual modern restaurant, La Llavor des Origens, in the Gracia neighborhood. One of my former international students, Gemma, had suggested it, and she joined us there along with another former student, Aida. It had been years since I had seen either of them when they were both visiting students at Barnard, and it was such a joy to find them again on their home turf. I’ve connected with former students a few times when traveling – in Cape Town, Beijing, and Shanghai – and it is always one of the highlights of my trips.
Ciao Barcelona! It’s been challenging, but I’m glad I came.