Some cities occupy a special place in your heart and Barcelona is one of those cities for three very important reasons. Firstly, as soon as we arrived we did a full load of washing. After a month travelling out of a suitcase the feeling (and smell!) of properly cleaned clothes is truly magical (this is not to say that we’ve hadn’t washed before but it was certainly time for a proper wash). Secondly, we posted some surplus baggage home. Some of this stuff was souvenirs foolishly purchased without considering weight and packing implications, while the rest was Shelly’s ’surplus’ clothes. On day two of the trip Shelly made the ominous observation that she ‘may have bought too much stuff.’ Well, yes. So it was a blessing to bid adieu to 7 kilos of extra weight and free up some space in the bags for more shopping!! And thirdly, Barcelona is a fun and exciting city.
We stayed at the excellent Hostel Downtown Paraiso in the middle of the Gothic Quarter, a twisting warren of medieval laneways that forms the heart of the old city. It was one block from The Ramblas, the great pedestrian avenue that sweeps up from the port to the centre of town. At every hour of the day there are hordes of people walking the Ramblas enjoying the various sights and entertainments going on there. Of course most of them are tourists and the others are the scum that feed off them - street mimes, living statues, spruikers, junk peddlers, pickpockets and beggars. I saw my first living statue on the Ramblas eleven years ago and was quite fascinated. Since then they’ve sprung up everywhere around the world. Some are good, some are bad, some are just plain bizarre. I often find them quite annoying but at least they are trying to do something entertaining in order to make a buck. Although I am usually very compassionate on many social issues, I cannot abide the beggars who flock around tourists. I particularly hate gypsies, who were ever present in southern Spain and extremely aggressive and in your face. They congregated around every church or monument (and let’s face it most monuments in Spain are churches) and thrust twigs of spruce or rosemary at you “for blessing, for blessing!” and demanding money. I know that the Romany gypsies are discriminated against and marginalised wherever they go but do they really want to be part of wider society or do they prefer living on the fringes? In eastern Europe there were lots of old women begging around railway stations and churches and I can certainly believe that life is tough for pensioners in eastern Europe, but the drunks exposing suppurating flesh wounds that were so putrid that you wanted to wretch, that’s too much. For God’s sake that’s no way to make a buck, get to a doctor before your leg drops off!!! Drugs, booze and mental illness - it’s pitiful the depths they plunge people.
Although they can be annoying, I do feel sorry for the African guys selling the knock off bags, jewellery and other Chinese made junk. It’s not their fault that they’re selling useless junk, but at least their trying to make an honest buck and are generally polite. Okay, so I’ve had a bit of a rant. In Barcelona the beggars and swindlers were just an annoyance but in Madrid I was pick pocketed but caught him in the act. I didn’t lose anything but it did p*ss me off.
So we walked the Ramblas a few times and took in the sights. We also visited the port, the Cathedral, went underground to see the remains of the Roman city, walked for miles to see the Arc de Triumph and exhibition park and did some shopping - Barcelona is a shoppers paradise. But our time in Barcelona was mostly spent tracking down the Gaudi sites. Antoni Gaudi is responsible for some of Barcelona’s most impressive Modernist architecture including the Batllo House, La Pedera, Park Guell and the Sagrada Familia cathedral, all of which we visited. Gaudi’s buildings give form to eccentricity. They are devoid of straight lines and seem almost organic. Walls curve and flow like water; doors and windows form odd, eccentric shapes. They are more sculptures than buildings. Gaudi exerted obsessive control over every aspect of his buildings, from the brickwork, carpentry, tiling and paint - which means he was crazy as a loon and must have been a nightmare to work with. He never worked from detailed plans; only high level sketches and sometimes a plaster model. At the magnificent Batllo house he stood in the street, yelling instructions up to the carpenters as they worked on each element of the façade. In 1926 while supervising work on his masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia cathedral, he stepped backwards into the street and was killed by a bus. By that stage only the crypt, one apse and one tower had been completed. It was a controversial project - Gaudi was rumoured to have used animal and human bones and even the plaster cast of a foetus in the decoration of the façade - and for many years it stood abandoned. Eventually it was decided to complete the construction, which is expected to be finished now in 2020. Gaudi however left no plans and only a few sketches of the completed project, all of them different, so the new builders are having to ‘interpret’ his intention. Personally I’m not a fan of the result. As bizarre as Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia is, he clearly intended it to be part of the grotto tradition, albeit on a gigantic scale. The new construction looks like a Disney version of Gaudi, copying many of the features of his other buildings and seems to miss the point.
We also went on another bar crawl in Barcelona. It seemed that each crawl was getting later and later. Berlin’s started at 9pm, Riga’s at 11pm, but Barcelona’s didn’t start till 12am and even then the guide was half an hour late. There were some raucous Aussies from Melbourne, two quiet Germans and three French Canadians, who spoke surprisingly bad English. The crawl started well. The first two bars were good, although at the second bar - an Irish bar of course - there was a group of guys out on a buck’s do who were demonstrating some unorthodox uses for a bottle of Estrella (beer). The second two bars and the ‘club’ though were awful and cheap and no one enjoyed them. As far as organised pub crawls went this one wasn’t so great and the organisers were just going through the motions.
That said, we did have an okay time and the next day our Gaudi crawl had to be cut short at Park Guell as we were feeling just a little too nonplussed to be walking around in the hot sun. Or was it just the crush of tourists trying to photograph the iguana??
After three fun filled days in Barcelona we packed up our bags - now 7 kilos lighter - and went to the airport to pick up our hire car. It was time to get back on the road.
The Gaudi Buildings