Barcelona was on my Bucket List for Many Years, at least as long as I had a bucket list, but it seemed a visit was unlikely to happen for many years. You need to seize opportunities when they come, even with the difficulties that they present. My plan was to fly to the UK try to catch up with my friend Nikki and see my old College in Farnham, from forty years ago. From there to Barcelona and who knows what?
Nikki was still living near Farnham in Surrey, a beautiful town with a very old history and one where I went to Art School in my early twenties. When she heard about my plan to go to Spain, Nikki asked if she could come and we were delighted to see each other again and to also travel to Barcelona.
I had one day to re-explore Farnham whilst Nikki had work to do. She dropped me off in the town center at Castle Street. It is thirty years since I have been in Farnham, but its funny how things come back to you. I walked up the hill to look at the original old almshouses which sit under the lee of the castle. Next I took one of the lane ways to work my way across to my old Art School and was surprised to slowly recognise places from my youth.
Past the Hop Blossom Pub and into the Lion and Lamb courtyard, with its cobbled lane and medieval buildings. I worked my way up to what used to be called West Surrey College of Art and Design but which is now much more elaborately called University of Creative Arts, Farnham. Walking into my old alumnus, despite the name elevation, it hasn’t changed. There have been some coats of paint but it is exactly as it was forty years ago. Back to Nikki’s for a trip to the local pub and a small gathering of work friends from long ago, then early to bed as tomorrow we head to Barcelona.
Flying into Barcelona is breathtaking. We swoop in from behind the city and skirt around. I can make out the Sagrada Familia and my heart leaps, I can’t believe I am actually finally here. The airport is close and it doesn’t take us long to arrive in Plaça de Catalunya. Our accommodation was just off the square and I highly recommend being in this area. It is very central to many places of interest and right beside the old quarters which run either side of Las Ramblas. The city has Neolithic beginnings but was set up by Romans in the 1st Century BC. It is interesting to read about the early influences and the rise and fall of Barcelona’s fortunes over the centuries. There have been a wealth of influences which have come together in the unique and extraordinary blend of Antoni Gaudi, whose architecture has drawn me to Barcelona.
Nikki and I are on this adventure together and it’s great to travel with her. We venture out as soon as possible into the warm Mediterranean summer evening which is alive with people. It is still light and everything seems so bright and different. We start on the actual street of La Ramblas which connects to laneways to the left and right. This area of Barcelona has beautiful old buildings, almost all of them six stories high and everywhere we look we find wonderful things to see.
We have been told to be careful and have heard stories of pickpockets but we feel safe. I never wear expensive jewellery when I travel and I am dressed for comfort, but we also discussed things like keeping the bulk of our cash and passports in money belts under our clothes and I just have the minimum in a small leather bag which is diagonally across my body and a lot of the time tucked under my arm as well. We never experienced any problems and felt safe at all times.
The laneways are brilliant and on our first evening we discovered a fan shop amongst other treasures. We really enjoyed our first jug of Sangria and started to explore the wonderful world of Tapas menus. I am so looking forward to our first visit in the morning to Casa Batlló, which is within walking distance of where we are staying.
Gaudi designed Casa Batlló as a family home for the Batlló family who lived on the first two floors with the other four floors let out as apartments. From the outside it looks like a house inspired by skeletons with a mythical dragon curled on top of its lair (the roof). It is a big draw card with many people standing outside looking up but its worth going inside (as are all of Gaudi’s works). After a brief queue whilst the previous people came out, we entered this wonderful world of Casa Batlló.
On the 1st floor you enter the rooms with the large windows which look out onto the street. There is colour everywhere from the soft mellow tones of the timber floors, doors, windows and surrounds to the vibrance of the stained glass and chandeliers. The vents are in the doors, walls and ceilings which allow air to be regulated and flow from one room to the other.
Gaudi’s inspiration was nature and in this particular instance the sea. Sky lights are like tortoise shells, stained glass panels like bubbles. The walls are soft with a gentle mosaic like pattern which reminds me of sun on water. We work our way through the different rooms and out onto the undulating back terrace. Everywhere there are wonderful details to see, it brings us both to tears with the joy of it.
From here we enter the staircase and lightwell which brings light down into the core of the house. Gaudi used white tiles at the very bottom of the well to maximise light and as the well ascends it changes colour until at the very top it is a lustrous deep blue. The upper floors are still private but there is so much to see in the light well as the staircase winds its way up. As we enter the attic colour vanishes and everything is pure white with catenary arches like the internal ribs of the dragon roof. This was also the laundry area and rooms lead of the corridors which surround the skylight for the light well, containing vast stone sinks, cupboards and shelves.
Finally we ascended to the Crusader helmets of the grouped chimneys. Mosaiced and colourful as watchful sentinels for the slumbering dragon roof. As we walk around the rooftop terrace large splatters of rain begin to fall and we hurry inside the belly of the dragon where the water tanks used to be. A ball fountain on a plinth sends watery reflections onto the soft ceiling and outside the torrential rain sets in. We make the dash from the dragon roof to the stairwell and descend back down to the souvenir shop.
With newly purchased Gaudi umbrellas we run into the house next door. This was also a museum and also once the house of a wealthy merchant but completely different. We manage to find two little stools and slowly enjoy cups of thick hot chocolate in the café which is housed in the original kitchen of this house. Finally, after about an hour the rain subsides and we walk back down to Plaça de Catalunya and spend an hour or two having a siesta. At about six pm we venture back into the laneways around this area, beginning to find our way. Everything is open and vibrant and we meander in and out of shops until we get hungry.
Many people say don’t eat in Las Rambla and its environs but we find some fantastic places with great atmospheres, good food and of course jugs of sangria. Tonight’s café/bar is full of Catalonians (they are fiercely loyal to their heritage) and the food is excellent. We eat local food and I am excited to try some different tapas. Tapa’s are small plates of food traditionally eaten with drinks and we indulge in a jug of Sangria again. It is local punch made with red wine and fruit and we also have the white version made with cava on another occasion. One jug does us in and with full bellies we make our way back to our accommodation tired but happy. Tomorrow we are venturing onto the metro and heading to the Sagrada Familia.
By Fi Shewring, NSW, Australia
Part 2 to be advised.
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