Archive for November 2017

Barcelona – Font Magica   17 comments

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On our last evening we headed back over to the fountains near Placa Espanya and the Palau Nacional. There was already a massive crowd there and seating room on the steps was at a premium. What had everyone come here to see? The Magic Musical Fountain Show of course!

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Now I know you’re thinking “Magic Musical Fountains – how tacky” and I have to say I was dubious after the one we saw in Budapest

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However this one was done on a much bigger and grander scale and it was mighty impressive

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The way they controlled the water and the lights was really rather magnificent and I enjoyed it immensely and a lot more than I thought I would

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The description sounded like they did one show every 30 minutes but it just seemed to be one long continuous show for between 1-1.5 hours

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We arrived on the dot at 9 when it was crowded but if visiting again its best to show up 15-20 minutes after the start time as many people have wandered off by then and there is a lot more space and places to sit on the steps. Its not like you miss much as each combination is all on a similar theme

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We went and stood close up for the final few minutes before we headed back to the apartment. We’d been there 45 minutes which was plenty and it was a grand way to finish off our last night in the city

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I took several video clips which came out pretty well so I put them together in a little compilation below

 

Pretty good eh!

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As we walked back along the road to Placa Espanya the fountains, columns and palace looked wonderful

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The road was lined with smaller fountains also lit in a most charming fashion

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A bit tacky and cheesy but very well put on, and, a real novelty in Barcelona, free!

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Posted November 30, 2017 by surfnslide in Barcelona, Cities

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Barcelona – Tibidabo   17 comments

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From our apartment balcony we could see a fun fair up on a hill. This is Tibidabo, the highest point in the hills in the immediate vicinity of the city. We thought it was worth a look. Despite being several miles outside the city the city transport system saw us easily to the top, by suburban railway, funicular and then bus

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The views from up here are excellent. You can just about make out Montserrat in the middle of the photo below

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This Radio mast has an observation platform you can go up, one for another day

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And of course spectacular views over the city

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The hill in the photo below is the Bunkers del Carmel that we visited earlier in the week

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And a distant view of the Camp Nou

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The hill top is strange mixture of Theme Park and very elaborate church, the Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor

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From a distance it looks not unlike Cinderella’s castle at Disney Theme Parks

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Its quite beautiful in its own right, just rather odd to see it effectively in the grounds of a cheesy theme park

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I liked the contrast between the red and grey stonework

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And some nice frescoes inside

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The theme park has two areas, the upper level is really simple kiddy style rides. This plane ride is its signature feature and whilst it look impressive from a distance it was amazingly tame and pathetic

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Quite photogenic though

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This little video gives you an idea of the “thrill” factor

 

The lower section of the park has some proper rides but we weren’t even allowed in to take a look, tight gits!

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Considering the fact that there are only half a dozen decent rides, the entrance fee was typical of Barcelona, namely a staggering £30 each

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We declined that offer and satisfied ourselves with a wander about, a laugh at just how pathetic some of the rides were and enjoying the views.

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I suspect its better to visit late afternoon and stay till evening when the park is lit up and the night-time views over the city would be great

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We were satisfied with a couple of hours to look around as we had a much better evening entertainment planned. Just time for a last evening beer on the terrace

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Off so see one of the city’s more unusual attractions

Barcelona – Moderniste Architecture   10 comments

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To quote my guidebook “Barcelona’s Modernisme buildings arose during La Renaixenca, a period of great artistic and political fervour that was deeply connected to Catalan identity, and which transformed early 20th Century Barcelona into a showcase for Avant Garde architecture”

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Most people associate this with Antoni Gaudi but he wasn’t alone. He had many contemporaries all of whom followed the same principles that Gaudi is so well-known for. It was also not confined to Catalonia, the same moves were seen across Europe where it was just given a different name such as Art Nouveau in the UK.

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The style is very much about curves or at least using the curve to bring everything together. Unifying architecture with nature was also a key theme as seem in the branching tree-like columns of the Sagrada Familia. Despite the name seeming to indicate a rejection of older styles, in fact the reverse was true and many inspirations from Gothic, Islamic and Renaissance can be seen. It was also responsible for reviving many traditional artisan trades especially in stone-work, stained glass and tile-work, especially Trencadis (the use of ceramic fragments to create mosaics, best seen in Park Guell)

I wrote a post about the Sagrada Familia, the incomplete pinnacle of Modernisme but we saw many other of their creations on our wander through the city so I thought a post dedicated to them was in order. So as Rafael McTell once sang “Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of Barcelona”

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I chose our apartment on the basis that it had a roof terrace and overlooked La Pedrera (“The Quarry”) and its very odd chimneys on the roof

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They reminded me of chess pieces and they have the trademark Trencadis mosaic effect again

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Its one of the most striking buildings and gleamed white in the sunshine

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As with all these buildings the balconies and their railings are a central, eye-catching feature

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It also looked pretty fine lit up at night

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Just down the road and perhaps the weirdest of all these buildings is Casa Batllo. The photos don’t really do justice to the colour and the decoration. Due to its position and the trees that screen it its hard to get a decent photo

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It’s a bizarre combination of resinous curves, blues, greens and purples. Supposedly even weirder on the inside but like all things Barcelona, costly to visit

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It looks especially fine at night. In fact it was the very first building we saw when we emerged from the train station after our flight

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The usual “the photos don’t do it justice” remark applies

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I think eclectic sums this one up. Not sure I’d want to live in it but its stunning regardless. Me and the kids loved it, TBF was less certain

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Next door is Casa Amatller, designed by Pui i Cadafalch, one of Gaudi’s contemporaries. A heady mix of gothic, dutch and other styles

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This dormer window and balcony caught my eye

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And a couple of doors down is the Casa Lleo Morera by Domenech i Montaner. Together with the previous two buildings it forms the Manzana de la Discordia (block of discord!)

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I’ve no idea what this roof decoration is but many buildings in Barcelona have them

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Nearer the centre of the city is the Palau de la Musica Catalana. The exterior decoration is amazing, but it’s squeezed into a really narrow collection of streets and almost impossible to get a decent photo

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As with all these buildings its stunning on the inside as well and expensive to tour. Must be a fab place for an evening concert

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I’d also chosen our apartment as it is right in the heart of the L’Eixample district where most of these Moderniste gems reside.

We had an hour or two to kill on our last full day so we took a wander around the streets to look at some of the lesser known buildings. This one is the Palau del Baró de Quadras

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The front of this building was interesting, La Casa Comalat

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It was the rear of the building that was really eye-catching

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It reminded me of the resin secretions that you see in the “Alien” movies or more possibly bones, muscles and sinews, again linking back to Gaudi’s use of the curves of nature

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Considering its tucked away on a back street it’s quite an extraordinary sight

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This one is Casa Serra with its fairytale feel and ornate balcony. Its home to some vague and meaningless government department of street light maintenance or some-such.

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This bizarrely roofed example is the Fundacio Antoni Tapies

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The Palau Montaner is less weird than the previous one but stunning on the outside. Apparently its even more stunning on the inside but it was always surrounded by barriers and police so I assumed it must be home to some important Catalan person involved in the recent situation

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I liked this one because of the name, Casa Thomas. I have a mate with the Thomas surname so I was pleased he had a building named after him and so was he when I sent him a picture!

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They really do put a lot of effort into bay windows and balconies in these buildings

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I think this one is the Conservatori Municipal de Música de Barcelona

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A more modern style design, the Casa Manuel Llopis Bofill

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This one came as a surprise, a very fine church tucked away in a residential zone. The Parròquia de Sant Francesc de Sales

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My personal favourite was the Casa de les Punxes (House of Spikes)

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Probably down to my childhood love of fairytale castles and their pepperpot roofs

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As well as the roof, the decorations, window boxes and balconies are all very striking

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It seemed to catch the sun whenever we walked past it hence I took lots of photos

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Its red brick facade and roof caught the sun and contrasted beautifully against the blue sky

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An (admittedly not terribly interesting) fact, it’s the only fully detached building in L’Eixample

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I’m going to borrow a phrase my good friend Mark used when he was Barcelona last year. I don’t know very much about architecture but I like what Gaudi and his colleagues did in Barcelona. All of the buildings were unique in some way and almost every other building bears their influence. Turns a wander around this area of the city a real stroll of discovery

Barcelona – Day Trip to Montserrat   13 comments

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A week in the city and time for a day out in the countryside. The Mountain area of Montserrat is a well know day trip from Barcelona and very well organised on public transport. A direct train from the city to the bottom of the mountains, a cable car ride or funicular railway to the centre and a couple of other funiculars to get around. All included on one ticket. Easy

The train journey was a relaxing way to kick off, trundling through the suburbs before reaching open country and the first glimpse of this amazing range of mountains through the window

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It was pretty chilly when we hopped off the train to wait for the cable car. I worried we might not have dressed appropriately for cool mountain weather. The cable car was a fantastic way to make the trip into the heart of the mountains

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Montserrat is a hugely significant and sacred place in Catalonian culture. It felt fitting to visit it now in the midst of the current situation. The Monastery, Monestir de Montserrat is the home to La Moreneta, (the “Little Brown One” or Black Virgin”) a wooden sculpture of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus. It’s a sacred relic of Catalonian culture.

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The small complex of buildings also houses a museum with some original works by Caravaggio, El Greco and Picasso.

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We took a brief wander around in the morning sun, pleased that our fears about cold temperatures were unfounded. It was warm and wonderfully sunny

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We’d come more to explore some of the walks as well as the Monastery. We took a trip down below the main complex firstly as I figured it would be in the sun for another hour or so. A short funicular railway eases the burden

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The views are spectacular and you get your first views of the weird towers of limestone that form this unique landscape

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The one on the left is called the elephant rock

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There is a level path that wanders around to the chapel of Santa Cova, built into the rock

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We returned to the village (if that’s the right word) and being close to lunchtime decided to head up the longer funicular to the top to eat our picnic

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The views back down to the Monastery were great and showed how high the railway takes you

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However the views across to the limestone pinnacles and formations was magnificent

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Found a warm spot in the sun to eat our picnic with views all around. Not a bad place for lunch

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TJF decided she didn’t fancy a walk and was happy to sit around and catch some rays. Me, TJS and TBF headed off across the amazing path that cuts across the base of some of the pinnacles and into the heart of the mountains

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There were flags on most of the pinnacles and several people climbing them. You can see one party strung out below the summit in the photo below

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It’s an amazing place and even though we didn’t want to walk far and leave TJF alone for too long, the views and the easy path just draw you along

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There is a viewing platform where you can look across to the high point of Sant Jeroni. It was tempting to try to reach the top but we didn’t have time

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The views all around and the warm sunshine and blue sky would have to do

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Panorama mode was engaged to try to capture the full effect

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Another pinnacle with flags on top and people climbing

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On the way back I spotted a path that looked like an alternative way back to the railway. TJS and TBF returned to collect TJF and I went exploring

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It climbed with ever-increasing steepness that had me blowing hard when I reached the top. The views just got better and better

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Here’s one of the climbers just topping out on one of the pinnacles

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The area is crisscrossed with trails and looks a fab place for a full day walking route around these monoliths and many chapels secreted within

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On the way down the route traversed an airy ledge and short tunnel through the rock. Very exciting

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A brief walk past the Ermita de Sant Joan to meet the rest of the family

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A magnificent and all too short walk

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We were back down in time for a better look at the Monastery before the sun dipped behind the mountains

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Its beautiful inside, more reminiscent of the churches we saw in Venice and Rome. La Moreneta is above the altar in the lower middle of the photo below but there was a long queue to see her up close to we left that to the more spiritual types

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A last look outside before the sun effectively set here and we headed down on the cable car to catch the train back to the city

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Something completely different from our city experiences. A grand day out.

Barcelona – Montjuic Castle & Olympic Park   14 comments

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We paid a brief evening visit to Montjuic on our first day but it deserved more attention. After one of our lunches in the market we headed up to take a look at the castle and beyond

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We walked up the top part of the hill to work off the excesses of lunch past this rather nice water feature and cascades, the Mirador de l’Alcalde

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The views through the trees to city below were very fine

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We decided to give the castle a go as it was, by Barcelona standards, reasonably priced

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It’s not terribly old having been built in the 17th and 18th Centuries and has been used more to bomb and destroy the city in the civil war and various uprisings than defend it. The site has several guns still in place

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The views across both the commercial and pleasure harbours as well as the city are superb, more than making up for the fact that the castle is well sited, well-kept and intriguing rather than genuinely interesting

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It’s clearly not one of Barcelona’s main attractions as there were only a handful of people there.

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All the better for us as we had time to stroll around in the peace and quiet and soak up the views and the abundant sunshine

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The main industrial port complex of the city

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It was pretty hot up here so many rests were needed

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A very relaxing and pleasant stroll for a couple of hours

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I tried to find some of the gardens listed in my guide-book on our way back down but only seemed to find roads and dusty kerbs. Almost by surprise we came across the 1992 Olympic Stadium

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I was even more surprised to find that you can just wander in and take a look for free – most unlike Barcelona

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It was rather cool to be able to see inside, made up a bit for not doing the Camp Nou tour

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The stadium looks a little tired but the Olympic Park itself is still rather grand and completely deserted

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Not entirely sure what this tower is. Some kind of telecommunications mast I think. It looked quite impressive with the sun behind

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I really enjoyed looking round the Olympic site (my first one)

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We carried on down the hill past the Palau Nacional and its art galleries

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Its an ornately grand building visible from all over the city

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It has a massive fountain at the base of the steps

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Very impressive in the late afternoon sun

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We’d be back here on our last night – more in a later post

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We finished our long walk at Placa Espanya with its Venice San Marco replica towers, insane traffic and bewildering underground world of subways and metro stations

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Barcelona – Sagrada Familia   15 comments

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Barcelona’s most famous site and its most visited one. Another you have to book ahead to be sure of getting in and we chose the morning. Despite the fact that it was only a few minutes walk from the apartment it only comes into view when your almost underneath it

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The entrance was under the Nativity Facade and we took a quick look before we took our trip up the tower on the Passion Facade

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The views from the top were impressive but very much obscured by protective mesh and scaffolding.

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You can only see one part of the city and the area you can explore is very small

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The views from the Bunkers del Carmel were much better and I’d suggest that paying the extra to go up the tower is probably not worth it. I think in years past there was an extremely narrow and airy bridge between the towers you could walk across. It doesn’t seem to be there any more (possibly it was structural while the towers were being built)

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Back down and we picked up our audio guide (which was excellent by the way) and gave this extraordinary building, the pinnacle of Gaudi’s ambitions, the attention its deserves. The level of detail is staggering to try to take in.

It feels kind of special to be able to witness a building of such complexity and design taking shape and what the intentions are rather than historians trying to re-create those intentions from historical artefacts.

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This is the green cypress tree, a refuge for the white doves of peace in a storm

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I was immediately struck by the intricate detailing of the Nativity Facade, one those parts completed in Gaudi’s lifetime under his direct supervision. It depicts the details of the birth of Christ and you could look at the details for hours and still see something new

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It’s a breathtaking introduction before you step inside

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Even the doors are works of art and represent the diversity of life in a forest. Gaudi’s work was heavily influenced by what he saw in nature

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Once you step inside the effect is quite simply staggering. The roof is supported by a forest of pillars and sprouting branches. The forest analogy is entirely accurate as this effect was intentional. Gaudi wanted to recreate the feeling of a natural forest and he expanded that thought to how the interior is lit. The branching pillars were also of significant structural importance allowing the roof load to be spread more evenly and thus reduce the thickness of the pillars themselves

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Having been lucky enough to visit St Peters in Rome I was able to recollect the massive pillars that supported the dome there and compare them to their slender cousins here

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The pillars are made of for different types of stone to bear the weight in different areas

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I mentioned the forest theme and that is also a feature of the lighting. The intended effect is of the dappled light through branches that you would see in a sunlit forest. Gaudi wanted to retain that close link between the natural world, spiritual beliefs and his own architectural designs. Once you see and study his buildings, even someone with no architectural knowledge like me can see these same patterns and influences in all his buildings and those of his contemporaries. He hated straight lines. There were none in nature he contended

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The stained glass on either side is also designed to match natures cycles. The cool greens and blues of dawn on one side and the darker red and orange tones of sunset on the other

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It was consecrated in 2010 by the Pope and the audio guide recreated the choirs singing. I’m not a religious person in any way but I have to say that standing there listening to the music was uplifting

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As ever photos just can’t do it justice. More than any other of the buildings we visited on our travels this year, this is the one you just have to see for yourself. Words and images just cannot convey what an utterly staggering, unusual, unique and breathtaking building it is

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We stepped outside to look at the Passion Facade that depicts images from Christs death

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Less detailed but perhaps appropriate given the sombre nature of the subject. Gaudi was long dead when the work here was completed by sculptor Josep Subirachs with his own angular style, very different to Gaudi himself. If you look at the bottom left figure in the photo below, called the evangelist, it’s based on a likeness Gaudi himself. A small tribute by the sculptor

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This cryptogram has numbers that add up to 33, the age of Christ at his death

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An explanation in the museum under the church

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The museum was extensive and excellent, containing a whole host of information about Gaudi, the Sagrada and many other things. You could also look into the workshop where they use intricate models, using 3-D Printers to assist with what must be an engineering nightmare of bringing Gaudi’s vision to life

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We wandered back through the inside for another mouth agape look at this extraordinary place

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We took a last wander around the outside from where you can get a better view of the enormous scale of the building

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A bit of background. Its been under construction now for over 100 years and is still far from finished. At the moment its only 2/3 of its final height when finished which seems quite amazing considering the height it is already. This video gives a view into the future as to what it will look like when it’s finished, especiallly the Glory Facade which is still under construction

Estimates range from 2026 to sometime after 2040. It will be worth the wait

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The tower outlines are apparently inspired by the peaks of Montserrat outside the city. More on that in a later post

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I have read a few disparaging remarks (one compared it melting wax candle) and the construction has been plagued with controversy and incident over the years. It is hard to appreciate it completely while it’s under construction and dominated by tower cranes but on the other hand its special to be allowed to still visit in such circumstances

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I think its a truly stunning building and a marvel of design, form and architecture. One of the truly unique sights of the modern world

 

Posted November 15, 2017 by surfnslide in Barcelona, Cities

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Barcelona – Food!   19 comments

One of the real pleasures of Barcelona is food! A special short post to celebrate that fact. Any of my readers who may be Vegetarian or a little phased by dead things in shops probably ought to skip this post

One of the big surprises and a must see in the city if you visit is the Mercat de St Josep La Bouqueria. It was like no other food market I’ve seen

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The place was packed both times we went and its a real sensory overload for anyone who loves food. They have everything to tempt you. Fruit and Veg, dried fruit and chocolate, spices and a huge variety. Even if you don’t taste what’s on offer just looking at the stalls is an event. It really is a place not to be missed

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Being on the Mediterranean, pride of place goes to the seafood. It’s fresh in as much as most of it is still alive and still moving and they have some weird and wonderful stuff. In the photo below, bottom right are Goose Barnacles and they are seriously weird

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The sea urchin and crabs were still wriggling. One seafood stall had shrimps and while we were looking the stall holder scooped a few up and the rest all started bouncing around. It was weird and gross all at the same time

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Our special favourites however were the stalls that seemed to specialise in sales of the bits we squemish Brits no longer eat. Heads, Tripe, Lungs, Brains, Trotters and the like

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It takes me back to my childhood when we used to buy whole pigs and we would eat the lot (although I never tried brain on toast which is a Black Country delicacy!)

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On our first visit we tried some of the take away stalls for some fresh seafood

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The Funsters were also rather partial to the chocolate coated strawberrys on sticks

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The real eating heaven in the market are the Tapas bars and on our second visit I was determined to try one out

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You have to hover around and wait for a seat at the bar and we got lucky with this one. The menu is on a hand-printed sheet and you just mark off with a pencil what you want. They then cook it in front of you while you wait. I had the best fried Calamari ever and some blood sausage and onions. It was divine

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The hustle and bustle of the place is intoxicating and I absolutely loved it. Eating freshly cooked Tapas sitting a bar in the market where they source the food is quintessentially Barcelona.  It would be the first place I’d head for when I visit again. I could have lived in the place.

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A small diversion here to say that outside the market on the opposite side of the road is the Erotic Museum. Talk about sublime to ridiculous

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There was a resident Marilyn Monroe lookalike (at least that’s who I assumed she was supposed to be). We declined the offer to go in. Not really a family outing.

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Back to food. We ate out many times and it was always excellent. On our second night we ate in a very hectic but friendly restaurant on the seafront for some Paella

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The waiter took some photos so a rare chance to see yours truly

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We went back on the last day as well for another slap up meal before heading home

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We tried some amazing food. I sampled razor clams (a bit gritty for me) and Aubergines with honey and soft cheese (amazing). My favourite dish was the one below. Squid with wasabi deep fried in batter flavoured and coloured with black squid ink. It looks odd but the taste was sensational. It was another really friendly restaurant just around the corner from the apartment (we went twice)

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You need to “eat” Barcelona as well as see it!

Posted November 12, 2017 by surfnslide in Barcelona, Cities

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