Our first trip of 2010 was to the enchanting north of Spain where we were able to indulge in all our favorite past times, gourmet eating, wine tasting and golfing. The first stop on our trip was the modernista city of Barcelona. We stayed in the funky and functional Casa Camper hotel in el Raval just a few blocks off of la Rambla which is the main pedestrian stroll in the city.
La Rambla is lined with interesting vendors selling everything from food and flowers to canaries. The stroll is also host to a multitude of street buskers all vying for a place amongst the vendor stalls and hoping to attract tourists, their camera and more importantly their euros! It makes for a colorful afternoon to simply stroll along pop into food markets and eye up all the intriguing characters.
We visited two interesting museums in Barcelona, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Picasso Museum. The MoCA was literally at the end of the block from our hotel so we were able to squeeze in a visit on the afternoon of our arrival. It’s not as grand as MOMA in San Fran or NY but some interesting works by Catalonian artists.
We arrived at the Picasso Museum on Monday to find it closed which is not uncommon in any major city. I might lose my tour guide license if my planning skills (or reading skills) don’t improve :). We returned on Tuesday late in the afternoon and after a short wait enjoyed a broad collection of early works by Picasso. One of the most interesting moments for me was a video playing in the foyer before one of the galleries. The video displayed the classic painting by Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas with an overlay of Picasso’s cubist interpretation of the painting. As with most of the trip, I had to backtrack! I watched the video after I viewed the gallery containing the Picasso works so had to back track to see the images again. Oh well extra exercise!
One of our main interests in Barcelona was visiting many of the buildings designed by Gaudi. Gaudi based much of his architectural work on his study of natural forms and functions. A quote from Wikipedia:
“As an architecture student at the Escola Tècnica Superior d'Arquitectura in Barcelona from 1873 to 1877, Gaudí was not particularly outstanding, but did excellently in his 'Trial drawings and projects'. After five years of work, he was awarded the title of architect in 1878. As he signed the title, Elies Rogent declared, "Qui sap si hem donat el diploma a un boig o a un geni: el temps ens ho dirà" ("Who knows if we have given this diploma to a nut or to a genius. Time will tell.")”
Apparently it is the later and the buildings we saw were awe inspiring. On my strict itinerary we were to visit La Sangrada Familia on Sunday morning, our first full day in the city. This cathedral is still under construction and has been so for over 100 years. On our arrival we were greeted by half the city of Barcelona as they were holding a Palm Sunday mass outside of the main doors of the cathedral. No tourista’s in the cathedral during Palm Sunday Mass! I had not considered they would hold mass in or outside an unfinished cathedral. So looks like it will be a return engagement once again.
We did manage to visit the following day and were stunned by the beauty of the interior and exterior of the church. My favorite memory is of the columns that were constructed based on nature’s tree’s branch. Gaudi studied and employed many of mother nature’s mathematics in his work and this amazing structure of columns resembled a forest inside the church holding the roof. Amazing!
The building is a masterpiece and they estimate it will be another 20 years in construction. We are already planning to return to see the final result!
We also visited the Casa Batllo and Casa Miro which are still inhabited by some lucky Barcelonans. Gaudi was commissioned to renovate Casa Batllo but the Battlo’s (of course) in the early 1900’s. The mansion is unique from the outside as well as inside. The facade balconies remind me of venetian carnival masks as they all seem to peer out onto the street daring visitors to take a closer look. In the building the architect used round rooms, colored glass and natural materials to create a soothing and calm interior.
One of the more stunning areas in the home was actually used by the staff for laundry and storage. Horseshoe shaped arches line the halls and chambers in the top floor and create a serene light floating feeling once inside.
He was very innovative in his techniques for creating airflow to bring in fresh air and also cool the house. Casa Milo is an example of this technique used in extreme. The crazy face like dome’s on the roof’s of this building are actually chiminey’s!
Now for one of my favorite subjects – food. The food in Barcelona, and all of Cataluña was delicious! In the city we had taken a couple of recommendations on tapas bars and we were not disappointed. The first was called Ciudad Condal (Rambla de Catalunya, 18) which we visited after we were turned away from Sangrada Familia. Of course I led us on a trek, map in hand, to what we were assured were the best tapas in Barcelona. I was a bit of course and we were fortunate to stop a gracious local who although not speaking a word of English managed to guide us in the right direction – I might still be lost!
It was a classic tapas bar and we ordered up a lunch of piquillo peppers stuffed with tuna, grilled calamari, patata brava, Spanish omelet and some grilled vegetables accompanied by a couple of ice cold beers. Outstanding!
Other other tapas bar experience as equally as good (however I secretly longed for my little piquillos) but in a crazy busy basement bar at Tapac 24. Grilled leeks, calamari, patata brava, lamb meatballs, some strange breaded things Cliff ate and a bottle of cava. Yummy!
We also had some classic paella, which I’ve since learned to make and it is surprisingly easy! Come on over and I’ll make you some to enjoy with a superb bottle of Pirorat. The food was quite good in Barcelona but some of our best meals were to come in Pirorat and surprisingly the Meila hotel.
I am so looking forward to my next trip to Barcelona – I hope I make it back before the Sangrada Familia is finished, 20 years is too long to wait.
Barcelona Casa Camper Barcelona
calle elisabets nº11, 08001 barcelona
tel: +34 93 342 62 80