Thursday, February 5, 2009

Today is a new adventure

Wednesday 4 February 2009
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” Jawaharial Nehru

Barcelona is one of those adventures. This is a city that I could easily live in. It is well planned and well kept. Despite the ever present modern graffit, it is almost contained and seems to meet pre-set high standards! While there is nowhere (literally) to park a car, every available space is given over to Moto parking spots. No wonder you see so many around the City! Today we rejoice in the beautiful sunshine and take to the streets and the roads.

We start out by taking the Barcelona Tourist bus. We have found that these are a great way to get an overview of the locale and to get your bearings with regard to where the tourist sights to see are and how they are placed from each other - and therefore how much you can reasonably expect to do in a set time. We pick the bus at stop 16 at the Monumento a Colón (Columbus Monument) which stands dominating the traffic square. Our two day pass at €27 each seems like a good deal. A through journey is estimated to take 2.5 hours and either passes or goes close to all the major tourism destinations in Barcelona. We take to the top deck and are soon pleased that we dressed warmer than not as the breeze is brisk! Interestingly we are 2 of only 3 people on the bus! Ah, winter - the tourist's haven!!

We wind through the streets of Port Vell to start - taking in views of money well spent (?) with sail and dinghy sitting in the sun, lazily bobbing in the water. One has to question how much wealth you have to have before you can afford a piece of this luxury just sitting there! We hear of the industrial past of Barcelona and see this now pristine waterfront area. Turns out that there have been a number of times when the factories were moved away from this area so it could be better presented - the first was the World Trade Fair in 1929 and then the Olympic Games in 1992. An interesting site is the 'Barcelona Head' sculptured by Roy Lichtenstein for the 1992 Summer Olympics.

Then into the centre of Barcelona and the wonderfully planned wide avenues (as a result of the World Fair) with the uniformly 6-storied but beautifically diverse commercial and residential buildings. You would not believe the amount of redevelopment going on here - mostly in the grand old buildings - all with the facades retained. Here they value their history. Even the newer residential blocks have a certain allure. They surround open parks and gardens and do not have that ghetto look that was more evident in some other areas. We travel up the Gran Via Corts Catalanes and the Avenue Diagonal and pass some of Barcelona's wonderful examples of Antonio Gaudí's architecture. More on them later this week!

We turn away from the City centre as the location of Gaudí's masterpiece La Sagrada Familia is explained - land in the centre of the City was too expensive and there was plenty of land available nearby which coincidently was home to many of the factory workers with whom Gaudí identified and was trying to attract with his new temple. It is as breath-taking as I always imagined. At this point, we just sit in awe as we travel past, knowing that we will be back later today for a detailed look.

It is then a climb up into the Gràcia area and tantalisingly close to Parc Güell - though not enough to see. Then over to the home of FC Barcelona Barça - to those who are interested there needs to be no more explanantion - and to the rest of us, it doesn't matter! Then up through the upper class residential area to the former Olympic site and down through the World Trade Centre (don't know why so many of these centres are seen as areas of interest to tourists!) before we head back into the Port area where we began our tour.

As it is the low season and the number of busses operating is limited, twice we are asked to alight and change to another bus or face a 20 minute wait. Yet despite this we never saw more than 6 other people on the bus - apart from the last bus that did not stop for us when we leaving La Sagrada Familia about 5:50 pm - it seemed chockers!

La Sagrada Familia
This iconic representation of the work of renowned architect/artist Antonio Gaudí is just so much more up close. While you either love or hate it's organic facade, the genius of the man cannot be questioned. Ever since I developed an interest in architecture in high school, this building has held a particlar interest for me. Like almost all significant cathedrals, it is taking more than the lifetime of one man to construct it. Gaudí however, possessed foresight that today is helping to guarantee that his vision is met. This was so important for this church in particular because it breaks so many of the previously accepted norms. The first thing that hits you is the immense size of the building quickly followed by the busyness of its facade. Now this is one of the elements that brings people to a love/hate relationship with the cathedral.

Up close and personal however, the biggest impact is from the human elements. Gaudí used local people and his workmen as the models for the faces. This explains why they are so personable. While the facade generally presents an incredibly busy view, the human forms are simplistic and sleek, allowing them to jump out at you as you stand and look. They all present different periods in the life of Christ. Then you look up - the gargoyles are all animals - gastropods, reptiles and the like and the spires hold elements of flowers and leaves.

Gaudí said that his early life spent with his mother studying nature greatly influenced his later designs. And all this before you even walk through the doors.

Once inside you get a better appreciation of the statement that this project is now only 60 % constructed. While the skeleton of the building is complete and you stand within a vast forest of huge trees when in the area of the main nave of the Cathedral, this is very obviously a work in progress. Stone masons and carpenters are busy within arms reach of visitors, just over the barricades that keep us separated. There is fine stone dust filling the air and water continually drips from the yet to be completed roof. And yet . . .

There is a sense of calm, of light, of warmth. The church is filled with space, open and welcoming; with light warm and enveloping; and quiet cocoons you. You instictively join the shush. All around is evidence of Gaudí's attempt to bring the organic life of nature into this rigid process of architecture and I cannot begin to tell you how successful he has been. He was a leader in the application of geometery and othe mathematical processes to te architectural design process. And in order to make sure that those who followed him appreciated his plans (he had no delusions of gandeur - he knew he would not live long enough to complete this project and planned for others to continue after him) he made intricately detailed drawings and scale (1:10, 1:25 and 1:1) models. These practices continue today - leaving a legacy of historic material for posperity.

Don't have the words to explain further, so Ill let some photos tell the rest. BUT, if you ever get a chance to come and see it, grab it with both hands.

Oh - we caught a lift up one of the pinacle towers and then climbed another two stories by way of (yet another) spiral staircase. The views of some of the roof elements can nly be seen in detail from here and the view across the City is wonderful. But the wind is fierce!

Afterwards we go back to the bus stop to get the bus (unsuccessfully), and head back to the Catedral to get a cab. The fare across town is a mere €6.65 and our cabbie is delightful. He speaks far better English than our faltering Spanish and is enjoyed when he learns we are from Australia - he watches many programs on Australia on TV he tells us. And he takes pains to tell us that in Barcelona it is almost always sunny! Now, there was a salesman!!!

No comments: