Brilliance of the Seas crept into Barcelona’s Harbour in the grey light of dawn; an hour later, her passengers were rather unceremoniously evicted as she was due to sail again by 4:30 the same afternoon. Bleary eyed and barely fed, we stumbled onshore and into a waiting taxi headed back to the same hotel we’d stayed in before, the Gruphotel Gravina in the Gothic Quarter. We were grateful to have a place to store our 500 suitcases which were now full to bursting with new souvenirs and dirty laundry.
My husband was on a mission. A holy mission. A devout non-church goer, I’ve never seen anyone more dedicated to peeking inside every church and cathedral in whatever city he visits. However, I could forgive him (almost) his zeal when it came to La Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s bizarre masterpiece in Barcelona.
When Senor Gaudi died in 1926, his vision wasn’t even one-quarter complete. Construction is on target for completion by 2026, the centennial of Gaudi’s death. Too bad cathedrals take so long. Those whose vision they represent never live to see their dreams become reality. Staring up at the bizarre facade, I couldn’t help but wonder what Gaudi would think.
The exterior resembles a sand castle caught in a heavy downpour; the whole facade looks as though it’s melting. The other side of the church is completely different – almost spartan with delicate curved support columns. Above the whole thing are intricate towers that are accessible by elevator and tight winding stairs. In some places, whimsical colourful carved fruits are plopped on like cherries atop a sundae. I think Gaudi must have been fond of rasberries…
Looking at the exterior of the church, one might suppose the interior would be as heavy and molten as the famous facade. At the very least, one could suppose that this European cathedral might be heavy and dark, dripping in gold leaf like so many other European cathedrals. One would be wrong on both counts. The overall impression upon entering is that of light. Soaring, brilliant, giddy light. There are scores of windows, ethereal and slender – stained glass appeared sparingly. The interior soars not only with light but with light coloured stone. Instead of dark and serious, the whole place feels light and joyful.
I am severely allergic to audio tours (or tours of any kind) but if I were to return, I would spring for one. I want to know more. Alternatively, I could just lie on the floor and gaze up for hours. Security might object but I think Gaudi would understand.
All too soon, we had to leave. It’s a hard church to leave – every time we headed for the door, we saw something else. Outside the exit, thousands of carvings held our gazes until our necks hurt. I think every Bible story was carved into the side of the church.
We took a taxi from there to Parc Guell (more Gaudi!). High above Barcelona, the large public park contained Gaudi-esque statues, buildings, and gardens as well as a house owened by Gaudi. It was a whimsical, fairytale place that we were almost too exhausted to appreciate; in fact, we saw only a portion of it. Feet hurt and stomachs growled with hunger. Gazing out across the city, my husband spied his next destination: Montjuic. Groans of despair ensued.
During the 15 minute taxi ride across the city, one little man fell asleep, a young girl stared stonily ahead and my husband engaged in the most bizarre tri-lingual conversation I’ve ever heard. Some English, some Spanish, and oddly, a few words of French thrown in – that’s what my husband does – he throws in whatever language comes to mind. Oddly, he and the taxi driver seemed to be communicating just fine.
Crowning the top of Monjuic is the Catelonian National Museum of Art, housed in a former palace – just what tired feet and empty tummies did not want. Fueled by KitKats and Coke, we sped through this magnificent museum in record time. Frankly, I enjoyed the outside views more than the inside but there were a couple of interesting Picassos to show the kids. Cascading down the hillside from the museum are gardens, fountains, and lovely treed walkways. Montjuic is also the home of several Olympic venues from the 1992 Summer Games.
We returned to our neighbourhood and sought a “non-touristy” place to eat. We failed miserably and endured yet another awful meal. The idea of tapas appealed but we never found the right place. It was the only disappointing thing about Barcelona.
The next morning we woke, hit the local Starbucks (I know, I’m sorry but I was desperate) and headed to the airport. Ironically, the two best meals we had in Barcelona were at a shopping centre and at the airport. As our plane lifted off, I wept as I often do when heading back to reality. My husband, ever-perplexed at the storm of emotions his wife can conjure, looked at me worriedly. “What’s the matter? The plane is not crashing…” “I miss Europe!” I wailed as the landing gear ka-thunked into it’s bay and we turned towards home.
When we landed in Toronto, I was glad to be home but seriously, everything looked too…new. Too…mass produced. The roads and the cars were too big. Later that night, I sat on my front porch with a glass of wine and tried to settle, pondering where I could take Italian lessons and how much real estate might cost in Rome…