Tuesday, September 20 – We awoke to Isaac chattering away in the next room…in our apartment in Spain! We got in some quality cuddling time with the boy, and after a VERY slow morning, finally headed out to explore Barcelona. We walked down the main drag of Gracia with quick stops outside Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Mila (La Pedrera) and Casa Batlo.
We learned quickly that architecture is art in Barcelona, and the city seems to revel in this identity! We were continously surprised when another beautiful and bizarre building came into view around every corner. While we fell in love with Barcelona, Isaac fell asleep in the Deuter. The poor little guy was utterly exhausted after all the traveling, but we were thrilled that he was so comfortable in the backpack!
As Isaac slept, we made our way down to Placa Catalonya and the beginning of La Rambla. This pedestrian boulevard is lined with sycamores and is a total tourist trap, making it the perfect scene for Barcelona’s infamous pickpockets. While we usually run from crap like this, it’s actually very pretty and also happens to be the gateway to many of the sights in Barcelona. So, we decided to bite the bullet and jump headfirst into the underbelly of the city. With our guard up, we headed down the shaded boulevard full of flower shops, kitchy Barcelona trinkets, and street performers.
About halfway down La Rambla, jet lag began to tug at the corners of our eyes, so we grabbed dos cafes solos at a little bar across from La Boqueria (one of the oldest open air markets in Europe) and it managed to perk us up a little bit. Isaac was awake by the time we left and, after a brief jaunt to explore some of the flower shops, he seemed legitimately excited to get back in the Deuter.
Before long, we arrived at our destination: Palau Guell. Count Eusebi Guell was Gaudi’s benefactor – the rich dude that recognized Gaudi’s genius and commissioned him to build several buildings, including this incredible residence for the Guell family. A ticket gets you an audiotour device, which Isaac proceeded to commandeer for use as a phone, holding it to his ear, saying “heh-yo?” and chattering away about who knows what. Palau Guell was our first in-depth intro to Gaudi and I was soon in love with his world of hyperbolic shapes, mosaics, and his brilliant marriage of art, nature, and function. The rooftop is an undulating feast of colorful and bizarre chimneys, many strongly reminiscent of trees. At the very end of our tour, we caught the last few minutes of someone playing the organ in the mansion’s main hall. A very surreal end to our first immersion into the world of Gaudi.
Prior to visiting Palau Guell, I had never before paid much attention to architecture, let alone considered it to be art. Sure, I’ve ooed and ahhed over an old cathedral or castle but I certainly didn’t think of modern architecture as being anything more than functional. Gaudi has made me reconsider. I was totally surprised by his abandonment of straight lines and 90 degree angles because, before Gaudi, I always thought buildings had to have these things. By the end of our visit to Palau Guell, I found myself deeply drawn into Gaudi’s wavy world–where straight lines definitely do not dominate–and questioning everything I had known about architecture.
After Palau Guell, we headed across La Rambla to explore the winding streets of Barri Gotic (the Gothic Quarter) and stumbled upon Placa de George Orwell. In the center of this small plaza is a bizarre memorial that from some angles looks like a bowing figure, but from other angles? Who knows. Regardless, it is an interesting tribute to the author who immortalized the Spanish Civil War through his journalistic account of his time volunteering for the Republican Army in “Homage to Catalonia”.
As we took in the plaza, we eavesdropped on an English speaking tour guide. He explained that only a few weeks earlier the plaza was full of drug dealers and pickpockets but that the city cleaned up the place. A good thing for us, as it has a nice little park for toddlers and Isaac thoroughly enjoyed chasing the “ducks,” AKA pigeons, around the playground.
By this point it was nearing 1400 hours, aka 2 p.m., which, in Spain, is Spanish for “lunch time!”. Of course, anyone who knows me knows that I enter the “danger zone” and transform into a monster when I’m hungry. I was determined, however, to adjust to the Spanish eating schedule, and by 2 p.m. on day 2 I was playing with fire and more than ready to indulge in a true Spanish lunch.
After a tense, aimless search, we stumbled into, rather than chose, our lunch spot. Sukur in Barri Gotic was a super trendy restaurant that lured us in with its “Menu del Dia.” For 10 Euros each we got a three course meal, a glass of wine, and bottled water. A delicious culinary dream come true: freshly baked bread and olives, pasta with Iberico ham and mushrooms; grouper with tomatoes, ginger and asparagus; steak with rice; decadent chocolate cake; and cava – the Spanish version of champagne. Did I mention this was lunch?
After gorging oursleves, we slowly made our way through Placa de Sant Jaume, past the Parliament Building, and poked around the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, AKA La Seu (The See) with its magical fountain straight out of a fairy tale.
Heading back to La Rambla, we did some shopping at La Boqueria. We got some incredible fresh squeezed juices, sausages and veggies. It was all ridiculously fresh and cheap and another reminder of how different Europe’s relationship with food is compared with America.
Finally, after a VERY full day, we headed back to our apartment for a much needed rest. A little later, we walked a few blocks north to Casa Vicens, one of Gaudi’s early architectural designs “before he gave up the T-square.” You can see glimpses here of his future genius but, indeed, everything is still square as he hadn’t yet entered the world of hyperbolics and paraboloids.
Upon returning we prepared and ate yet another yummy, home-cooked meal and then put the little guy to bed (eek 9:15!). Then, Eric and I sat on the balcony drinking wine and watching the bustling street below. We discussed all our various travels and adventures together over the past 14 years and I was reminded again of how much I love this guy…and how perfect we are as traveling companions. At the end of our first full day in Spain, we were both giddy with excitement for our Spanish adventure!