Saturday, February 7, 2009

A day with Antonio!

Friday 6 February 2009

Gaudí, the architects pinup - not Banderas!

This morning has broken slightly overcast, but not wet!

Following our visit to the unforgetable Sagrada Familia earlier in the week, today is the day we have set aside to discover the best commercial examples of Antiono Gaudí's works of art. And we are not to be disappointed.

We leave the apartment and walk the six blocks to the closest Metro station heading for Casa Batlló. This building (colloquially called the house of bones due to its external facade supports) faces the Passeig de Gràcia - one of the wide promenades through the centre of Barcelona.

The first thing you notice as you near Casa Batlló is the exterior of the building. It is covered in a surface that irradesces as you walk toward it. Colourful glazed ceramics and broken glass give the building its distinctive outer shell. But this is only a taste of what you will see once inside. At €16.50 each to go through the public spaces, it is not a cheap visit - but once inside, who cares! This building was a remodelling of a building on the site as the home and office of a wealthy businessman. Through the use of external strong skeleton, Gaudí was able to remove many of the internal walls, and make use of large windows and an internal courtyard to ensure that all rooms received natural light.

As previously highlighted, Gaudí took his inspiration from nature and this buildings source of insight was the sea. Every little detail from the colours of the stained glass to the strange wall finish, to the use of undulating shades of blue is reminiscent of the water world. And where it was not appropriate to use ceramics he used the warm hues of polished timber to highlight.

Many of the features in this unique building are cutting edge today - like the use of cantilevered large windows that open into wall recesses above, like shaded glass to temper the amount of light entering a room, like adjustable louvred slats to control the movement of air from the outside into a room (built into the timber window frames) and even from room to room, like the use of graduated colour to ensure that in the courtyard the blues look even when viewed from below or above (taking into account the effect of light on colour). And to think that this renovation was undertaken in 1904. AND with no plans - just sketches and a plaster model Gaudí created to show the tradesmen what he wanted the finished product to look like.

And with his background in metalwork, he was ever present while most of the building works were being undertaken. The whole building is a joy to discover. We learn not only of the remarkable genius of this man before his time, but also gain an insight into the world of the privleged society of the time. The little details give as much information as does the scale of the building itself.

The incredible beauty of the fittings. The inclusion of vestry chambers for a priest to change before and after saying a private mass in the home (by the way, the altar survives and is being kept for inclusion in the main altar of the yet-to-be-completed La Sagrada Familia!

Once we finish in the house proper, we head for the roof courtyard and the continuation of the use of ceramics, timber and light! Here on the roof level he has used a clever combination of open vents and unsupported arches to hide the day to day grind of a well to do house - the laundries (one for each apartment) and the chimneys and water storages.

And then it is over and we wander back into the hustle of the Barcelona lunch rush. What a contrast to the measured calm we have just left! Just a few blocks away is another of Gaudí's masterpieces - Casa Milà, better known as La Pedrera. We get lunch on the way - long rolls of ham and salad with hot coffee in plastic cups - Barcelona natives obviously dodn't buy coffee to go - they have used two plastic cups one inside the other - and the inner one almost melts with the hot liquid!

Again facing Passeig de Gràcia, as soon as you see the La Pedrera building you recognise it as a definite Gaudí - and yet it is totally different to the one we have just left. It is organic in its facade and looks very austere when compared with Casa Batlló. The building presents as a work in concrete and ironwork. BUT . . .

once inside it is a thing of beauty - reflecting the world of flora. The first thing that you notice is that there are darker spaces in the inner courtyards of this building - but no less light or air! The walls are covered with murals that initially just seem to be splashes of colour designed to brighten space, but on closer reflection reveal the life in the forest or the flower glen complete with nymph like figures.

This building, rescued from the ministrations of modern taste in the 1980's and restored to its former glory, was built against many of the city's codes (including breaking height restrictions!) and completed 1912 for a wealthy widow and her second husband. It was designed so they could live in part of the building and rent out other apartments. Like so much of Gaudí's works, this one broke new ground in architecture and construction.

Much of the building is still used as residences and offices. The attic floor, the roof and one of the apartments is open for inspection. The attic houses a museum to the man and his work and includes wonderful audio-visual presentations not only on Gaudí's works, but on his childhood, his education and the social history of his day that must have left its mark on a young man who was to become to care deeply for the masses and who developed a deep religiousness. Gaudí not only designed buildings, but everything that was to be used in them - right down to window handles and pieces of furniture. Examples of all this, plus examples of his genius exhibited in his models are laid out under 200+ caterany (unsupported) arches that Gaudí perfected using mathematical modelling. Bit before his time wasn't he!!!

The apartments are huge. Multi-bedroomed, they included rooms such as sewing rooms (functional ones) and sectioned kitchens as well as more formal and informal family rooms - all receiving the same attention to detail - whether the room was to be functional or formal. The apartment on show is fitted out with true to the period furniture and effects, though pain is taken to explain that none of these belonged to the original apartment. I guess that like us today, those who went before did little to appreciate what was beneath their noses!

But the crowning glory to this like many other of Gaudí's buildings is the roof where fantasy flies in the face of function and his whimsical side is allowed full rein. He clustered chimneys so that he could group them and crown them with tops that organically twist just like a column of smoke will. He also grouped other functional needs here such as the water supplies and ventilation for all the apartments and the roof accesses and covered them cleverly with these fancies of art.

So, these two wonders of the architectural world done, and my immediate need to see the works of this genius sated, we leave and head for the harbour and a aerial gondola ride across the bay. But all the best laid plans of us are thwarted, not once, but twice. A cab ride gets us to the pylon okay (at the business end of the docks) only to be informed by a man on ground level that it is not operating today, but will be open tomorrow. We can see that they are indeed running, but he insists that this pylon is closed and with no other person around and the gate indeed down, we head back to the street to find another cab to get us around to the Marina and the next pylon. Yep, they are operating! Yay.

€9 each way or €11.70 return so the return is far more economical. We climb up three flights of the pylon - akin to climbing into the girders of the Sydney Harbour Bridge or even up the leg of the Eiffel Tower. At the ticket box we are informed that they are selling single tickets only. And for only one leg of the trip! Not only do they lose our sale, but that of a large group of young Americans as well. Guess customer service still has some way to go for some operators. So back down we all climb.

We head back towards the Port on foot and near the Columbus Column we see a fleet of boats getting ready to head for a harbour cruise. THAT sounds good. It is sunny with a slight breeze, so it should be great out on the water. Ha ha - famous last words! Michael books us on a 1.5 hour cruise. On board I am reading the little brochure as we pull out from the dock and (much to my slight horror) discover that this cruise, unlike the 35 minute harbour cruise, includes a journey out on the open sea down the coast! Yikes! I am not a good sailor at the best of times. We near the head of the harbour and open water and there we go - Davy Jones' locker one minute and the moon high in the sky the next. Is it possible to be tossed on 3 or 4 axis - I am sure we are!

I am glad that we put my scarf in the backpack to protect the camera this morning as the 'slight breeze' is now a nautical gale of some knots. Yep - the return of the Ewok as I hunker down and try to keep warm. Of course, I could go downstairs and into the cabin of the boat - but that would mean a need to stand and negotiate the way downstairs while rocking and rolling, so I opt to stay in the 'breeze' and tough it out.

Still, once we are out of the harbour and away from the wash of the boats entering and leaving, the tossing abates somewhat and even I get to appreciate Barcelona from a different view. We watch as a fishing trawler heads back for the safety of port, trailing a huge cloud of sea birds ever watchful and hopeful of tasty detrius being thrown overboard. We watch as wind surfers race along the peaks and troughs of the sea, going hell for bent in the pursuit of fun (yeah, right). And we get a chance to see more of the southern end of the city as it sprawls along the coastline - reminiscent of the Queensland coast. In the Port area and around the city centre, the building height limit serves to keep an ordered look but as we head away, there are more high apartment blocks, but still they look neat from here. Once we are a fair way down the coast, we turn and head back for Port Vell. And then all hell breaks loose.

We are of course travelling back across our own wash - and in to a headwind. That rocking and rolling starts all over again, but this time with a renewed fervour and it seems, with a will to see me empty my stomach. Close the eyes, creep further down into the scarf and into the pockets of my jacket and try to ignore the laughing coming from Michael next to me! No need to open my eyes - seen it all on the way down! Finally, we cut across all the rough and reach the calm of the harbour again. And just when I thought it was all over, we turn into another arm of the harbour and head to have a look at the industrial area, going past two huge Mediterranean cruise liners on the way - the Norwegian Jade and the Brilliance of the Seas - google them if you want info - they are expensive and expansive and there are lots of people on board, some getting their instructions on how to don a life vest - not my idea of a holiday!!!

Back on dry land, we want to get up Columbus - right up him in fact! We have learned that there is a lift that ascends the column to a height of around 60m (if you can call a contraption just large enough to hold two passengers and an attendant a lift). But the view is superb out over Barcelona and the Port - even if the space is very cramped. So our day is done.

Tonight we will treat ourselves to dinner out. There is a nice little restaurant just down from the apartment - the Sedna. Dinner choices primarily revolve around the sea - which is to be anticipted in a city that embraces such a nice spot on the coast. They serve champagne as an apperitif (which Maria toasts with the maitre'd) and bread spread with the juice of crushed tomatoes and drizzled with olive oil. Choices tonight are excellent:
Octopus a fiera (octopus slices on potato slices and liberally doused with paprika) Michael
Sopa de Pescado y Mariscos con Jengibre y el Cilantro (fish and seafood soup with ginger and coriander) Maria
we share a Paella mixta (mixed Paella - seafood and chicken)
Sable avellana con Carmelo y Peras al horno (Hazelnut Sable with Caramel and Baked Pears) Michael
Chocolate Belga con fondant de chocolate blanco y reducción Moderna (Belgian Chocolate Fondant with White Chocolate and Moderna reduction) Maria

Followed by espresso, it finishes a great day beautifully! Back to the apartment to begin packing for our departure tomorrow to Madrid.

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