Barcelona

Barcelona – a great city

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Our week in Barcelona is at an end, Spain was a total unknown to us when we decided to come here – so how has it compared to Italy our previous holiday location of choice?

Well to be fair, pretty well! Barcelona is a great city to spend a week in, there is lots to see and the food and shopping (for the ladies) is excellent. Something for everyone probably describes it best.

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I loved the Gaudi and other similar architecture, Sagrada Familia was for me an amazing experience and has made my week. But Barcelona is so much more; The people are really friendly and helpful, the Metro system is fabulous. It is spotlessly clean (like the city), and there is a phone signal throughout the system – will London ever achieve this? The carriages are also air-conditioned – pure bliss on a hot day.

The cable cars to the castle and the views from there across the city are spectacular, as is the view from Parc Guell.

I have loved the Tapas – a great way to eat, so sociable and relaxed. A real discovery was the Vegan restaurant, the food was amazing (and no I am not a vegi).

The kids loved the ‘one off’ shops – like Happy Pills, and wandering through the old parts of the city. The late lunch also works well with teenage kids who don’t want to get up early in the morning!

Any downsides? No not really, although I just don’t ‘get’ the Ramblas, it’s too busy and totally touristy – perhaps I am just getting old!

So all in all a very good week, a thoroughly recommended city.

We are off to a villa on the coast for the remainder of our break, we have a pool but may not have wireless internet, so there may be a short break on blogs (or at best they will be sporadic) until we return to the UK. Some enforced R&R which can’t be a bad thing!

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A final ‘hit’ of Gaudi

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Last day in Barcelona, so time for a final Gaudi ‘hit’ to keep me going. I don’t believe I have saved the best to last – but this is an amazing development in it’s own right. We are talking about La Pedrera.

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Completed in 1910, this fantastic, undulating apartment block, with its out-of-this-world roof and delicate wrought ironwork, is one of the most emblematic of all Gaudí’s works. La Pedrera, also known as Casa Milà, was Gaudí’s last great civic work before he dedicated the last 40 years of his life to the Sagrada Família (as described in a previous blog).

Restored to its former glory during the 1980s, La Pedrera now contains a museum dedicated to Gaudi, a furnished museum apartment, as well as private residences.

What makes La Pedrera so magical is that every last detail, from door knobs to light fittings, bears the hallmark of Gaudí. Where Sagrada Familia is Gaudi to excess, this is ‘everyday Gaudi’ as it is designed to be lived in. Don’t imagine this waters down the effect though! It is still stunning and totally worth a visit!

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It is the outside that drives this building, the roof and it’s chimneys and rising and falling areas leads into the swooping lines of the upper Walls and inner courtyards (there are two).

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Internally the apartment is surprisingly normal – the doors are not square, but the rooms themselves lack any major Gaudi features. What is very noticeable though is that none of the rooms are square, all appear to have been ‘fitted in’ to the external dimensions as an after thought.

So a worthwhile visit, but it is the externals that are most impressive here.

Gaudi’s Failure? (still amazing)

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On the Northern edge of the city of Barcelona stands one of Gaudi’s least successful projects Parc Güell. We decided that this would make a nice quiet afternoon visit – not quite true as it was remarkably busy and very warm for the 20 minute walk uphill from the metro!

Park Güell is where Gaudí turned his hand to landscape gardening. It’s a strange place where his passion for natural forms really took flight – some of the structures in the landscape are very large, but strangely appear natural. Its other great offering is the view out across the city towards the sea, it is frankly wonderful – well worth the climb!

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Park Güell originated in 1900, when Count Eusebi Güell bought a tree-covered hillside (then well outside Barcelona) and hired Gaudí to create a miniature city of houses for the wealthy in landscaped grounds. The project was however a commercial flop (it was too far outside the city) and was abandoned in 1914 – but not before Gaudí had created 3km of roads and walks, steps, a plaza and two gatehouses (which look like something from Hansel and Gretal). He also built a house for his own occupation which he lived in until his death in 1926 – which is now a museum in his memory.

The park is now public – and free – which is perhaps why it is so popular. It is worth a visit however if only to see the gate houses with their multi coloured tile roofs and the structure just to the rear of the main entrance (built as a market area (but never used).

I am not sure it’s failure as a commercial venture can be laid at Gaudi’s feet! The design is remarkable, it was down to location – as important then as it is today in property decisions!

My highlight of the year (so far)

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So I have finally done it (after two failed attempts) – I have been into Gaudi’s amazing Segrada Familia. I expected it to be stunning, but was not prepared for quite how stunning! I will admit to being a bit of an architectural bore (my family we confirm this) so my expectations were high – but the scale of the building and the use of light and colour just takes your breath away!

I took rather a lot of photos which I will upload on my return to the UK – the attached are from my iPhone so are not the best, but give an idea of the interior. The reason for the failed attempts was going at the end of the day only to find the lift tickets (to go up the towers) were sold out – so a morning visit was called for – 8.30 did it (luckily we are 5 minutes walk away).

Tickets obtained (with timed lift passes – very sensible) we entered the building. Even my wife who if honest is not keen on the exterior was rather complementary about Gaudis interior!

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What is so impressive is the space formed by the huge pillars that spread into ‘branches’ as they soar into the roof.

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The use of so many curves and lots of windows – both clear and coloured, also creates a feeling of light and space. Yes it is huge, but it is not an intimidating space like an old style cathedral, it’s actually rather friendly!

Wherever you look there is something that draws your eye – curved balconies with iron work, spiral staircases, pillars (so many) and then the stained glass which is modern and beautiful casting coloured patterns over the stonework.

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The myriad curves also allow the light to cause various shades and shadows across the walls, it really is one of those places that photos really don’t do justice to – a visit in the flesh is really called for.

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Going up one of the towers is also an excellent way to get close to the features on the tops of the towers – vividly coloured fruits and sculptures, all stunning in their size and colour. A lift takes you to the top, but it’s stairs all the way down, this offers great views of the building and it’s environment.

The target for completion is 2026 – the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death, I don’t imagine for a moment that they will hit that target as there is still a huge amount to finish. But, I do hope it is finished in my lifetime as I really would love to see the finished building.

If you come to Barcelona it is the one thing you really have to see, it really is that special!

And yes, I did like it!

The ultimate vending machine?

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So this is a blog entry requested by my son, Sam. He is like any male, easily impressed by ‘tech’ – especially if it delivers food and drink!

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We came across this machine in a Metro station in Barcelona – it is a monster version of the small platform based ones (and I have to say rather impressive). It has an arm that sweeps across to gather your choice and delivers it to the door on the right – pure poetry in motion!

Sad to say we did not get to play as we were on our way back to our apartment and rather weary! If we pass it again tomorrow it may have to be used!

Tapas – Vegan style

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Yesterday we found what can only be described as a very individual eating establishment – a vegan restaurant in the Arabic area of Barcelona. What grabbed our attention was the rather colourful decor to the Walls and ceiling!

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Using the old adage ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ we decided to give it a go. There was a variety of food on offer but we decided to go for the tapas – all vegetarian and as it turned out all very good.

I am not (and never will be) a vegetarian, but I am not adverse to some good vegetarian food – and this was excellent.

Juicy Jones is highly recommended if you fancy a bit of an ‘off beat’ lunch in Barcelona – and the clientele are quite interesting as well!

Small shop – great idea!

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I am a big fan of the European retail scene – yes they have huge retailers just like we do. But there always seems to be space for the small independent retailer with a great product or idea. The majority of town and city centres consequently have a much more varied retail offering than we are used to in the UK.

This is exactly what I have found in Barcelona, not just a great idea, but use of a unit that would prove almost impossible to let in the UK.

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The retailer in question trades as ‘Happy Pills’ – it’s basically a sweet shop, but the choice you make is packaged up in pill bottles (of various sizes) with a choice of labels for giving as gifts as ‘happy pills’. It’s frankly brilliant – and was very busy when we went in. In our PC world it probably wouldn’t be acceptable – but that would be our loss!

The other aspect of the shop was the unit it was in – basically a single storey infill between two buildings – less than 6 feet wide but probably 40-50 feet deep. Who could use such a unit in the UK? Well here in Barcelona it works perfectly – room for thought?

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Long and narrow!