On Monday we didn’t make the same mistake, with ensaïmada’s from Crusto in hand, we were queuing for La Sagrada Família before 9am, ready for a day of Gaudí. With audio guide hanging around our necks, top notch headphones sitting uncomfortably on our ears, and Canon camera primed for photo opportunities, we dialled 1 and started the tour. “Welcome to La Sagrada Família…”.
In front of us was a façade depicting Christ’s death, barren and bone-like. The sculptures highlighted events leading up to the crucifixion, our personal in-ear tour guide pointed out the important details; alpha and omega over the door, Peter and the cock crowing, a hidden snake and a fossilised palm leaf in the stone. Looking up, a great bronze statue of Christ sat between the spires, resembling his ascension to heaven, amongst the cranes at work - still building this magnificent place.
Inside we were amazed by the ceiling, huge pillars rising to the roof and opening up like a canopy, light streaming in through newly set stained glass.
In the lift, up the rightmost spire, then out onto the roof, with its fabulous views across all of Barcelona. The sun was low enough to cast interesting shadows and the sky was dotted with the odd, perfectly fluffy, cloud, as if from a Thompson’s ad. The foundations for the central spire were laid, and realising the height this would reach, I was awestruck by the magnitude of the project.
We took the spiral staircase down, past Jesus on his ascent, and the balls of shiny fruit. Our tour continued, explaining the design of the windows to bring in the most light, and the differently coloured tree-like columns that support different weights. “The cathedral will seat a choir of over 1200”. It might be completed by 2040, we could come back when we’ve retired. A small exhibition explained how Gaudí used aspects of nature in his work.
Outside again, into the heat; basking in the sun stood the second façade, dedicated to Jesus’ birth and a celebration of life. With the tree of life above the stable scenes of Christ’s birth, the façade was overflowing with flora and fauna, from turtle and tortoise at the base, to flocks of birds at the top. Too many details for our audio tour guides to point out.
Beneath the cathedral lay the museum. Sketches show the masterpiece completed, but even the model replica was still being built. Gaudí’s tomb lay at the very back, in the dark, with a single spotlight pointing it out.
All told, we spent four hours here, and our audio guides were all out of breath and battery by the end. Sam couldn’t get enough, and whilst she explored the old school with its beamed roof, I sat on the dirt and found some nature to fascinate me; red ants and their desire to steal my sweet sweet pastry. I’m sure I could point out something poetic about big things and small things, as I sat beneath the spires watching insects, but I can’t think of anything right now.
Why do Spanish supermarkets all ask you to put your bags in a locker before shopping? Ours didn’t fit in. Meaning Sam shopped whilst I sat too close to the automatic doors and got my shoulder routinely bashed.
With picnic in tow, and cartons of tropical juice to refresh us (or make a mess of our clothes as we try and open them too forcefully ahem), part 2 of Gaudí day commenced: a trip to Park Güell.
The L3 metro line took us to Vallcarca, then a hill with lovingly built in escalators took us to one of the park’s side entrances. Now desperate for food, we etched out a shaded place to eat, it just happened to have spectacular views of the city and live music, like ska or reggae, but better, “we have a CD, it’s really good”, Microguagua they were called.
Packaged olives, brie, olive-bread and another healthy dose of saucisson perked us up. A pigeon circled us, never quite brave enough to nip in and grab anything. An American on the phone tried to explain how to find this place, but his group had climbed another hill entirely. Sitting beneath the pine tree, the odd bug falling on us, we stared out across the city. When we left the pigeon swooped in and hoovered up our crumbs.
Trekking up and down hills during the hottest part of the day, we still hadn’t learnt, and sure enough, we were exhausted again. Down the hill and towards the main entrance we found a broad open space. Street musicians with their hang drums created an air of tranquillity. We rested on the curvaceous bench and looked towards the city and two gatehouses. The smoothly tiled design sat perfectly against the curve of our backs; a cool surface, a view and ergonomic lumbar support – I could sit here all day.
The huge open space was built on a forest of columns, originally intended as a market place, and is guarded by a famous mosaic salamander. Rain water is collected and channelled to the creature, creating both a fountain and a drainage system.
On a quiet grassy verge we slept, this time beneath an olive tree. I read more of “One Day”, and gave Sam the chapter summaries, as if catching up with her old friends Dex and Em.
Inside Casa Museu Gaudí we explored rooms where Gaudí had once lived, though unlike Dali’s place, it was only a collection of furniture he had designed, scattered wherever it might fit, some original tiles and patterns had survived. Small cat and rat sculptures poked out from ugly red chairs, and a replica of La Sagrada Família’s keystone hung over the stairs. With our backpacks sitting uncomfortably on our front, the inviting ergonomic wooden chairs mocked us.
With the sun setting, we left the park to explore the streets of Gràcia and find one of the recommended eateries. Either we were too early or they were closed, but none of them appealed. We ended up stumbling on La Rita, a place popular with locals, where the food was hearty and looked fantastic. Going with a peculiar but regular Spanish menu item, we had meat and pasta as a starter; bolognese and cannelloni.