Suddenly we’re awake! And a little late again at that (start of a trend?). Breakfast on day 3 included excellent Iberico Ham and sheep’s cheese from La Boqueria, bread from the bakery a block away, and super-strong percolated cofee. Yum!
We were settling quite comfortably into Spanish time so it wasn’t until around 12 that we finally got moving. We ran into a couple of Americans on the bus who are living in Oregon, but who are from the east coast. When we told the woman we’re from Maryland, she asked if we live near Gaithersburg. I told her I grew up there and, being Thelma Rubinstein’s grandson, I asked who she knows in that area. She gave a doubtful look and said, “do you know the Stauffers?”
“I know an Adam Stauffer. Do you know him?”
“Why yes, yes I do! I went to college with his parents!”
“Well, I’ll be…”
Man. Traveling sure does have its crazy synchronicities, eh? Anyway, we marveled over this bizarre coincidence for a bit, swapped stories of what we had seen so far of Spain, and finally attained our shared destination: Parc Guell (gallery).
As we disembarked, we realized that we didn’t have a map of the park, and kind of aimlessly wandered towards a path flanked by dense vegetation. We passed through a huge gate and then saw a crazy pink house set back among some trees. This is the house in which Guadi lived for most of the last 20 years of his life, and which is now a museum. It was a bit of a let down for 5 euro and we didn’t spend much time there, though we did enjoy the sampling of Gaudi-designed furniture.
The park, on the other hand, could hold your attention for hours on end.
Parc Guell is Gaudi’s dabble in landcape design and another work commissioned by Eusebi Guell. In this case, the goal was to build an upscale neighborhood for Barcelona’s wealthy citizens. Commercially it was a failure, but artistically, it is totally fascinating. His ability to fit architecture into its environment–to make architecture feel natural–really shines in certain areas of the park, and foreshadows things to come. We spent a good deal of time here, exploring crazy walkways with pillars like tree trunks and others with sloping columns that impossibly hold up stone archways. At times, it was hard to separate man-made from natural forms. And at every turn, some other strange architectural feature greeted us. Seeking shade from the intense Mediterranean sun, we hung out for awhile in an area meant to be an open-air market. The ceiling here was riddled with gorgeous, colorful mosaics and Isaac enjoyed chasing around all the pigeons.
Eventually we made our way up to a vast terrace (the “roof” of the would-be market), surrounded by more pillared walkways and Park Guell’s famous serpentine mosaic bench. From up here, there is a fantastic view of Barcelona and the Mediterranean. We wandered around a bit, dodging vendor’s blankets, taking in some fantastic live gypsy jazz, and snapping photos of the panoramic vista of city and sea. Erika nursed Isaac while another woman nursed her 15 month old son. They communicated in broken Spanish, broken English, and motherly smiles as the kids ate crackers together. Its moments like this that make traveling with a kid so fascinating and special. These experiences with other parents became a theme on our trip and, through the simple act of parenthood, we bridged language, culture, and nationality while our kids played together.
Time seemed to stand still up on that terrace but soon enough it was time for another Spanish lunch. We jumped back on the bus and headed to Gracia, hoping that we might have another lucky day of stumbling upon a random restaurant with a fantastic Menu del Dia. After 20 minutes of fruitless searching, we put eyes on a place called Tapa i Apat (clever, eh? ) about a block from our apartment. Erika vaguely recalled the place having good reviews in a guide book so we walked in and took a seat in the back. This time lunch featured salad with salted cod, Andalucian Gezpaco, fish filet and potato salad with tuna and olives, sausages and potatoes, cherry tart, strawberry mousse, and a cold beer. Wow! Another fantastic (and ridiculously cheap) meal to match the days’ walking.
During lunch we realize that Isaac calls spoons “mambos.” We have no idea why or from what this could possible originate, but it’s his word for spoon and another theme soon emerged. For the rest of our Spain trip, and still today, mealtimes are dominated by Isaac’s search for a mambo.
After lunch we took the metro over to the unfinished Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, AKA, Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family, AKA La Sagrada Familia (gallery) . Un. Be. Lievable. As you walk up to the Passion Facade, you are struck by the massive scale of this improbable building. Yet somehow, despite its size, it appears light and sinewy.
As you get up closer, the countless sculptures that adorn the walls on the Passion Facade appear to angle out and hover over you. Its an intense feeling. Eventually you are drawn inside where the real magic happens, and absolutely nothing can prepare you for this encounter. As with any huge cathedral, the scale has an immediate effect; however, with Sagrada, there’s much more to it than high ceilings and impressive stained glass. It really is like nothing else in this world and is literally breathtaking. Erika had not looked at any pictures of the cathedral before arriving and was so overwhelmed that she actually started crying.
The arboreal columns in Parc Guell were impressive for how they fit in with their environment; in Sagrada Familia, the columns are the environment. As if to highlight this, when we first got there, Isaac was sound asleep. After awhile, he woke up, looked around, pointed at the columns and said “t’ees!” (AKA, trees). Couldn’t have said it better myself, buddy! The columns that support the roof tower above you, rising at least 50 feet before branching off into smaller supports and then meeting the ceiling. The shapes at the top are meant to emulate the patterns in the canopy of a forest, and the stained glass constantly throws patches of mottled light against the pillars. The overall effect is powerfully reminiscent of being in a forest with light beams breaking through the leaves and alighting on tree trunks.
A fascinating exhibit in the church illustrated how Gaudi was inspired and influenced by the forms, shapes, and functions of nature. He did all kinds of research on this topic, studying and testing the strength of tree branches and how a tree supports its crown, the spiral fall of a maple seed pod, the formation of crystals, the symmetry of pine cones. His research prompted him to move beyond right angles and straight lines and the exhibit highlights examples of the natural inspiration for Gaudi’s works, many of which appear in the Sagrada Familia.
We risk overselling this place, but it just totally took us in. It may be the most incredible, vibrant work of art I’ve ever experienced. If you ever go, spend hours here watching the light change, taking a ride up the bell tower for incredible views of the city, walking back down the spiral staircase, and checking out the boiling, organic, neo-Gothic shapes of the Nativity Facade. Also, don’t miss the museum in the basement, which displays some of the incredible devices Gaudi used to find plumb lines throughout his undulating structures.
After several hours of exploring and photographing Sagrada, we finally headed back to the apartment, getting there around 8. I went out on another snare-laden grocery shopping misadventure, and, after going to three places, I arrived back at the apartment at 9:15 with half of the items on the list. Nevertheless, we had another great dinner and late night with Isaac finally settling into bed at around 10:00 (wow!) and us at 1 am. Another wonderful, exhausting day in Barcelona was in the bag!