Wednesday, 17 August 2016

August 8, 2016 – A Very Gaudi Day

We woke up feeling tired today and slowly got ready to go out.
View from our hotel windows in the morning sun.
We left the hotel around 11:00 AM and walked to a café and had a sandwich, fruit salad (excellent and cheap!), and a chocolate croissant.
A hand of Fatima door knocker, a nod to the city's Moorish past.

We walked on a route that Bill had planned in order to see as many of Gaudi’s buildings as we could within a walking distance from our hotel. We saw Casa Calvet and then Casa Batllo, proceeded north to Casa Ametller—the latter two located on some of the fancier shopping streets in the city. We stopped in for a croissant and a cool drink at a café to get out of the hot afternoon sun and then continued along Pesseig De Gracia to Casa Mila la Pedrera.
Streets packed with sightseers just like us.

Unusual and ornamental balconies are a Gaudi trademark in Barcelona.
Giant eggs seem to feature in architecture in Barcelona (Dali's museum just up the road in Figures has giant eggs all along its roof).

And now for something completely different . . . a random modern building with the strips of a modernist zebra.
Gaudy balconies.

The day became steadily hotter as we climbed toward the north of the city in search of Casa Vicens. We stopped for a couple of cool drinks at the metro station and soon thereafter found the building, however it was undergoing restoration and only the façade of its side was visible.

Casa Vicens.
We then lost ourselves in the hills, climbing steadily along narrow streets and turning back every once in a while the see the city fall away at our feet.
Another beautiful door we found along the way.
Nintendo graffiti.
Zebra butts.
Looking down towards our first  Barcelona hotel, W Barcelona, by the sea as we climbed the hill.
When we finally found Parc Guell, it was surrounded by a throng of tourists, most of whom were as chagrined as us to find that tickets must either be purchased online ahead of time or at the door, but only allow you to enter at a particular time. When we arrived there at approximately 3:00 PM, the next available entry time was 8:00 PM. We didn’t remember reading that there was an admission to Parc Guell and others did not seem to be aware either. Also, we were surprised that admission was 8 euros per person. Others were also shocked by this and we overheard them muttering as we took in the visible buildings from the street before descending the narrow streets towards The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia.

Looking from the outside is free and you don't have to wait until they happen to find time in their packed schedule to let you into Parc Guell.

We had purchased online tickets to La Sagrada Familia earlier in the day for entry at 4:00 PM and entry into the Nativity Tower at 4:30 PM. It was a system similar to Anne Frank House and it is a really great idea to keep the line-ups smaller and give as many people as possible as best a viewing experience as they can (although it was still very busy). April observed that the church is much much busier than when she was in Barcelona 20 years ago (this may have something to do with Pope Benedict XVI declaring it a minor basilica in 2010).

The church was started in 1882 and is still unfinished. Gaudi died in 1926 and it is estimated that the church won’t be completed until 2026, the centenary of his death. The church has largely been built up from plans left by the architect and not during his lifetime. However, most of the church is quite true to his style and therefore is visually arresting, spectacular, unique, and remarkable.

A stone forest that seems to be alive with all of the light that filters into the church.

One side of the church is done in cool colours where the sun rises and the other side is done in warm colours where the sun sets. 

The inside is meant to look like a forest with columns that bear weight instead of buttresses. He designed the "trunks" to have light come through them so the church would have as much light as possible. The effect is spectacular.

Panorama shows the warm colours on one side and the cool on the other side of the church.
The Nativity Tower (the one he oversaw in his lifetime, unlike the Passion Tower which was done by someone else not in his style and is the other option for a tower visit on the ticket) has an elevator. We took this to the top and then we walked across a bridge to another tower. The view was spectacular and both Bill and April felt very nervous as they observed the tiny ant like forms of the people far, far below. We had to walk down a twisting spiral staircase all the way to the bottom of the other tower as they don’t have an elevator that goes down (unless they have to use the one we came up in, they did offer it to a woman who was terrified of heights). The views of the city are worth the extra money for the tower access ticket in our opinion, although if you have a severe fear of heights, perhaps give it a pass.

In the elevator up the Nativity Tower.
The view down was terrifying. We were really, really high up and people below looked like ants.

Doves on the tower look down on Barcelona.
Old styles mix with new in Barcelona's skyline.
The shadow of La Sagrada Familia falls on the ground below.

Fruity decorations on the church.

We walked all the way down a spiral staircase to get to the bottom of the Nativity Tower.

We wandered around the main part of the church when we arrived back down on the ground with our audio guides on (the ticket that gives tower access includes an audio guide- 29 Euros per person at the time of writing- steep but this is also a contribution towards the church being completed). All of the columns on the inside of the church that support the weight of the structure instead of buttresses look like a forest with bewitching light falling on them from the many varied stained glass windows. The ornate carvings and decorations were in stark contrast to Oude Kerk in Amsterdam (old Protestant church) which looked dower by comparison.
The church was packed with sightseers.

It's impossible to catch the light and the colours of the stained glass properly. The church is stunning.
The exterior of the church.

Cranes working on the unfinished church are visible.
Can't capture how ornate this church is.

The last time April posed in front of this church, she was 16 years old. 20 years has gone by very fast. And the church is more complete than it was last time too.
When we arrived back at the hotel, we were feeling exhausted after walking about 11 km in the hot afternoon sun and being out for 7 hours. The hotel hallways reeked of a sickly sweet perfume and when we entered our room it was rank with it. April felt nauseous from it and it aggravated her headache. Bill called down to get someone to open up our windows, so we could air out the room. They had to send someone up, as the windows are normally locked. We have stayed in hotels in Las Vegas where perfume is pumped into the casinos to cover up the scent of tobacco products, but we never have been affronted by a smell like this that permeates the entire hotel so thoroughly including the room where you have to sleep.

We decided to go up and check to see if we could sit by the rooftop pool to have dinner. The rooftop pool area was much smaller than the pictures on the internet and in our room led us to believe and all of the spots were taken. We retreated back to our room to order room service.

We ordered a Caesar salad, two mini Club sandwiches, fries, and ice cream off of the limited menu. It took a while for the food to come and the fries and sandwiches were almost stone cold (toasted variety). We called back to room service to inform them of this and they promised to send up “hot” fries and sandwiches in about 15 minutes. In the interim we had our salad and the potato chips that were provided as sides. In about half an hour the redone fries and sandwiches arrived. They weren’t hot, but they were slightly warmer than before and as we were very hungry we just sucked it up and ate them.

The club sandwiches were not at the level that we had come to expect from this hotel (the lunch yesterday was very good) or Europe in general (Costa cruises excluded). We surmised that the cheese was of the ilk of Kraft Singles or some other reasonable facsimile. It was like eating at Denny’s, but it took forever and the bill was 68 Euros.

Halfway through eating the sandwiches that we had to slather with mustard to disguise the taste and texture, we realized that we should check on the ice cream that we had put in the mini-fridge. Given the length of time that had passed in waiting to get a warmer version of dinner, the ice creams had melted in their tubs. We called down to get them to replace the ice cream. When the server eventually came to the door with new ice creams (that were different than the ones we handed back, because they had run out of that type) and spoons (because they didn’t give us those before), he told us that the meal would be free of charge.

Until then, we had been sitting on top of our sheets. As April began to pull down the covers on her side of the bed, some odd looking marks appeared. They resembled blood, fecal matter, or dried up nasal mucus, but the fellow at the front desk explained to Bill that it was probably grease from under the bed as they often put two beds together . . . right. Anyways, within 5 minutes, a duo of cleaners arrived and replaced the sheets.

We then got ready for bed, worked on blog posts, and listened to Harry Potter as we drifted off to sleep, eager to put this day and, in particular, this evening’s events behind us. Tomorrow is our last full day in Europe and our anniversary.

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