Barcelona – part 2

The Barcelona section of Paul and Jan’s Excellent European Adventure is over. What a city! While I know that we really only scratched the surface, Barcelona is just spectacular.

Read on for the potted version of the second half of our Barcelona visit, or go to Jan’s journal for the full story.

Formula 1 – Days 5 to 7 – Friday 9th to Sunday 11th May

What can I say about the Spanish F1? The track is a purpose-built race track, unlike Melbourne which is a street circuit. The Circuit de Catalunya is in the town of Montmelo, a 25 minute train ride from Plaça de  Catalunya. The track is on a hill about a 20 minute walk from the train station. Needless to say, for the three days of the race, my pedometer got a good workout.

Our seats were FANTASTIC. We overlooked turn 10, the slowest corner on the track, to turn 16, the final turn for the run down to the start/finish line.

Daniel Riciardo came 3rd in the race.

Casa Batlló

Casa Batlló (pronounced ‘bayo’) is one of Gaudi’s creations. This house with it has a wonderful feel. Casa Batlló has a marine theme. There are no sharp edges in Casa Batlló. The exterior is ‘ornate’ to say the least, with its skull-like balconies and colourful tiled façade. The interior just flows. Corners are curves and every surface is smooth to touch. Gaudi has made amazing use of the natural light with a light well, tiled in cool blues, running down the centre of the building, and to add to the underwater feel, the use of textured glass makes it look like you are looking through water into the light well. When you walk up the spiral staircases it is like walking into a huge nautilus shell. The use of caternary arches, clean white plaster walls and smooth stained timbers for the doors, door jambs, window frames and staircase railings are another significant feature, adding to the cool undersea feel.

I think Gaudi was a genius. He never sacrificed function for form or vice versa. The caternary arches give strength with minimal use of materials, and are aesthetically pleasing. The light well is a feature of the house, but provides both ventilation and lighting to all floors, with the windows increasing in size on the lower floors to allow more light. The skylight above the light well is not hermetically sealed so that there is good ventilation, but is designed to keep the weather out and to capture the runoff rainwater.

The roof and rear courtyard are finished in mosaics of colourful broken tiles (this method enables tiling of curved surfaces). The feature on the front of the roof is reminiscent of a large, scaled sea serpent. The chimneys on the roof are a hallmark of Gaudi’s work – ornamental, but functional.

Gaudi designed his houses to feel good inside. He was purportedly asked by Father Enric d’Ossó in 1888 to explain what the Theresan College (a project Gaudi was working on at the time) would be like. Gaudi answered, “It will be good in this house.”

He succeeded with Casa Batlló.

Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar (Our lady by the sea)

Walking into Santa Maria del Mar was like walking back in time five or six hundred years. This basilica was built between 1329 and 1383. At the time the construction was a record-breaking pace, and it has stood now for over 600 years, so there is little concern about the frenetic pace of construction resulting in shoddy workmanship. Apart from the occasional decorative brick missing from the odd column the structure appears sound, though I did privately note not to stand too close to the columns, just in case.

To give some perspective, the church is 100 medieval feet wide (about 33 metres), and the same height at its maximum. Inside is cavernous, open side to side, with small capellas (chapels) down the side, and from floor to roof.

It is so hard to describe the feeling of sitting in a pew of a 14th century Gothic church with soaring columns rising almost 30 metres to arches that form the roof. In the semi-darkness, the light provided by small electric lamps attached to the pillars and walls is supplemented by hundreds of candles and the natural light filtering through the spectacularly ornate stained glass windows set high in the walls.

It is peaceful, despite the number of people. Then the pipe organ starts and is joined by the pealing of bells. It is stirring! I feel transported back to a time when I imagine gowned monks wandering the aisles between the chapels and the broad central nave.

La Catedral

We probably should have done La Catedral before we visited Santa Maria del Mar. La Catedral is centrally located in Barri Gòtic. It is about the same size as Santa Maria, but the interior is sectioned off with the choir stalls in the middle and the pews arranged with the front group for the general public/tourists, and the rear for prayer.

The chapels either side are more ornate and closed off so it is not possible to worship inside them, and the larger chapel off to the right of the main entrance is strictly for prayer, with a security guard refusing entry to the general public.

While La Catedral is also in the Gothic style, built between 1298 and 1460, it is more ornate than the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar. Perhaps this is because of the relative rush job when the basilica was built. The cathedral is also more crowded, probably due to its location. I found the more austere basilica more charming and certainly more peaceful.

Park Güell

Park Güell was originally conceived by Eusabi Güell as a residential development. The whole area covers most of the hill known as Muntanya Pelada (Bald Mountain). It is a region north of Barcelona overlooking the Barcelonan plain and ocean. The area was to be subdivided into 60 residential lots with the monumental area being shared communal space.

At the main entrance of the monumental area are the porter’s lodges. They are what are referred to as modest housing, but typically Gaudi nonetheless, with the exteriors a mosaic of tiles, and the interiors soft curves and smooth flowing lines.

From the lodges, a grand staircase takes you up into the communal areas. The central features of this monumental staircase include a fountain, shield of Catalonia, and a circular bench to sit and take in the view. The most famous feature, however, is the tiled salamander. It has become an icon of Park Güell, and Paul and I, along with hundreds of others, posed for the obligatory photo.

At the top of the staircase is a columned pavilion known as the Hypostle Room. This was where the markets were to be held. Above the Hypostle Room is a large courtyard area known as the Teatre Grec or Nature Theatre. This was meant for holding open-air shows. The main feature of the Nature Theatre is the undulating bench that forms its perimeter. It was not designed by Gaudi, but by Josep Maria Julol and is clad with tile-shard and pottery mosaic. It’s a great spot to sit and relax, do some people watching or eat your lunch. We did all of the above.

To the west of the Nature Theatre is a covered walkway known as the Portico of the Washerwoman. This leads to a spiral ramp that takes you to the road back into town.

Apart from the use of colourful tiles on the houses, staircase, Hypostle Room, and bench bordering the Nature Room, Gaudi blended the walkways with the landscape, using rock and other natural materials. This theme extends to the ornate pillars set into the hill above the Nature Theatre. The use of these materials enables Park Güell to blend in beautifully with the mountain into which it is built.

Güell’s grand plan for the residential development never came to fruition; it was a commercial flop. It is now owned by the Barcelona City Council and was declared a Heritage site by UNESCO in 1984.

Palau de la Música Catalana

Where to start!

The building was completed in 1908, but has had a number of extensions since. The exterior façade is a combination of tiles, mosaics and sculptures of famous composers. Inside is even more beautiful, with broad marble staircases leading from the foyer and restaurant area up to the concert hall. The interior of the music hall is spectacularly ornate.

It is hard to say what the main features of the concert hall are. One is a blue and gold stained glass skylight in the form of an inverted dome, and with the sun just setting at the start of the 9pm show, you could still truly appreciate the natural lighting filtering through. It is apparently the only concert hall in Europe lit by natural light. Coloured glass windows all around the auditorium and the back of the stage both add to the ambience as well as supplementing the natural lighting. Either side of the stage are sculptures of composers Wagner and Clavé, and above is the pipe organ. Perhaps the most famous feature of the concert hall are the 18 instrument-playing carved nymphs (the “Muses of the Palau”) set into the rear walls of the stage. The hall is worth a visit without seeing a concert.

Xavier Coll

We were at the music hall for a performance by Xavier Coll. He started with a couple of numbers on 16th century guitar, then moved to a baroque guitar from the 17th and 18th centuries (this period, he explained, was the beginning of flamenco). Next was a guitar from the 19th century and then he performed the bulk of his songs on a contemporary instrument. With each iteration, the guitars got larger. This concert confirmed my new-found love of guitar music. For his encore performance, Xavier was joined on stage by his cellist daughter who turned 15 two days later.

After the show they went straight to the foyer and were available for autographs and photographs. I got both.

La Sagrada Família

Though construction of La Sagrada Família commenced over a hundred years ago, the cathedral is not yet complete. It is Gaudi’s great unfinished work. The huge towers are surrounded by even taller cranes, and large bits of the exterior are also behind screening and scaffolding. Nonetheless, it is a mightily impressive structure.

We decided not to go inside, but instead spent time circumnavigating the building; it takes up a full block. The eastern façade is sculptured in minute detail. You could spend hours just looking at the outside of the buildings and still pick up new, previously overlooked details.

While I applaud the attention to detail, the exterior of La Sagrada Família was “over the top”.


On our last night in Barcelona we took in the flamenco show at Palau Dalmases. The show lasted about an hour. It was loud and in your face, but quite impressive though not your stereotypical flamenco with flowing gowns, shawls, and fans. For most of the show, the female dancer was actually dressed as a man, and Paul dubbed her “Mrs Angry”, but could she dance!!

Jan’s Barcelona favourites

Mercat de Sant Josep – La Boqueria

Casa Batlló

Park Güell

Palau de la Música Catalana (& Xavier Coll)

Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar

One thought on “Barcelona – part 2”

  1. Hiya,
    Hope all is well, my daughter just returned from Barcelona last week, I have never been….but know I simply have to go!
    Monaco would have been wonderful, keep posting!


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