September 09, 2003


Friday found us up reasonably early to give us enough time to get to the station and our train to Barcelona. The area from Madrid to Guadalajara is mostly light industrial sprawl, as the outskirts of Madrid are a suburban sprawl fo medium rise apartments.
From here the train went north towards Zaragoza through quite hilly country, very scenic barren and rocky. But from the train went east instead of north to Illeida. We have no idea why this was, but it did make for a much slower journey as it was all single track and we had to keep waiting to pass other trains. Luckily there was airconditioning.
Arrived 40 minutes late to Barcelona after passing up the coast from Tarragona.
Our room is one let by just one guy, whose apartment is adjacent. The room has a view straight across Placa Gaudi to the Sagrada Famila, his triumphal cathedral. Even though it is still a work in progress ofter more than a hundred years, it is certainly a thing to behold. I can stare at it and never be bored.
We went out for piza (very good) and a drink, after a well needed rest. To bed and sleep!

Up by 8am. I believe my tummy to be better! First on the agenda was a trip to the station, Sants to change our tickets for Nimes, as I had inadvertently booked for Wednesday not Tuesday!! Then on to the Chino district in Raval, adjacent to the old city. This area was and still is to some extent the seedier side of Barcelona: arrow streets and working girls even in the mid morning! Hans insisted on having his picture taken in Jean Genet Square. Had a beer in an Irish bar full of football fans. Back down the Ramblas to the Palace of Palau Guell, designed by Gaudi. I felt this was well worth while, a very interesting insight to how people lived at the end of the 19th century. Well, that is to say the wealthy ones who could afford to patronise the arts.
A short walk away is the old city where we wandered until hunger got the better of us and we took lunch on the terrace of a cafe just outside the cathedral. I had tropical salad (kiwifruit, mango, lettuce and a good dose of dressing) followed by pork in a lemon and cream reduction accompanied with rice, yum! Hans had spag followed by sole meuniere. All washed down with chardonnay from Valencia, not at all fruity like the NZ ones. Now replete we caught a bus back to base for a kip.

Our last night in Barcelona tonight, tomorrow we are heading for France. Sunday was a real quiet day here, not many people about, just tourists like ourselves doing the tourist traps. Barcelona is of course Gaudi City, and he really takes a bit of getting used to. Every morning we wake up with a view of the Sagrada Familia Temple, and every night it´s lit up like a fairground. Ewen likes the building but I find it a bit too heavy going, all that squatness and heavy bottoms, I thought Gothic meant light and defying gravity visually, but that is not the case here, especially on the outside (the church is basically still a shell with the nave under construction, they reckon they´re about halfway finished now, you can give donations by credit card). The architecture inside is much more interesting, with the pillars branching out like trees at the top. Gaudi is pretty much an organic architect, taking forms and mathematical expressions from nature. He invented a clever way of calculating the load bearings needed using lead weights and mirrors to see whether a construction literally would stand up. A bit complicated to explain precisely here how he worked but you get my drift.
We went to the Parc Guell, a subdivision in the hills north of the city, designed as a property speculative venture, but that went rather badly. It´s now a park only with some typical Gaudi designs such as the snaking park bench made from shards of pottery and porcelain along the rim of the hillside. It´s very much postcard territory, and I think it looks actually better on postcards than in real life (we were there in a thunderstorm, and everything was muddy and wet).
Down in the Eixample district, an ostentatious 19th century middle class urban planned part of town, strictly rigid but with flights of Gaudi´s and other modernist architects´ fancy, we went into La Pedrera, a block of flats designed by Gaudi but the owners had second thoughts about the finished product. It looks very much ahead of its time but sure is a fine place to live in today, with very spacious apartments, light and airy, broad doors and plenty of rooms. The locals hated it (hence the name Pedrera, or stone quarry) because it looked unattractive on the outside. The walls are not load bearing, instead big pillars do the trick, so the flats inside can use all the space rather than having to build big walls 5 floors up. One of my favourites!
We had lunch on the top floor of the El Corte Ingles department store. Fine dining it was more like, heaps of waiters and bone china dinner sets. Ewen had lobster and chicken and I had salted cod with roast spuds. We truly have not had a bad meal in Spain (bar the unfortunate tuna sandwich) but it´s not very cheap. But hey, it´s a holiday: can´t go hungry! What they really do well here is coffee. So smooth, I could drink cortados all day long (that´s a short black with a little bit of steamed milk).
After lunch we took the bus to the Catalonian Art Museum, but I misread the guide book and it was closed on a Monday. We went further along to the beach instead. A stretch of sand abutting the city, and it´s not very attractive. Imagine a beach next to Auckland´s Viaduct Harbour 10 years into the future, and you get the picture of a faded urban redevelopment that has not aged well.

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