Jan: “This is the ugliest castle we have ever seen.”
Jim: “This isn’t a castle, it is a cathedral.”
Jan: “This is the ugliest cathedral we have ever seen.”
A conversation between Jan (asserting that the building in front of us was an ugly castle) and me (correcting her on the ‘castle’ thingy) standing in front of the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia. A very famous cathedral designed by architect Gaudi. And perhaps a reason for us to get run out of town.
We are back in Barcelona after our seven day cruise. We arrived bright and early on Sunday morning and the nice crew of the ship who made us think that they existed to make us happy are suddenly very clear that they want us off the boat and NOW would not be too soon. By 0830 we have our luggage and are standing on the concrete pier hailing a cab wondering where our week has gone. And how we will survive without a buffet at our beck and call 24/7. One of us may have to cook a meal. But not for a couple more weeks.
We hop in a cab and head to our hotel and get scammed for the first time this trip. I picked the hotel because it was close to the water and we could, if we wanted, walk from the ship. We elected to take a cab and the cabbie decided that a short ride would not garner as much money as a longer ride, so she took us on the ’scenic’ route. So a 8 Euro ride suddenly cost us closer to 20 Euro.
We arrive at our hotel that is located on Paral-lel avenue (not parallel, mind you) and check in, but of course it is too early. The scary dude behind the desk upsold us to a bigger room and said it would be ready at 11am. Two hours to kill. We went for a walk about. Went for a ramble on the Rambla, headed off to their arc-de-triumph, through a park, along the waterfront and back to the hotel at 11am for checkin. Room ready we unpack and enjoy the AC.
Then Jan and I head off to a local laundry to wash clothes which we are desperately in need of doing, return to the hotel and gather up AJ for some early dinner (for us) or late lunch (for someone from Barcelona). We sit down at 4pm and there are people still eating their lunch. The dinner is good and we retire to the room to relax and get to bed early.
Which is good because at 3am we are awoken by approximately 197 young people, mostly men, who are yelling at the top of our lungs directly into our window. Which is weird because we are on the fourth floor. It is amazing how clearly we can hear their drunken calls of love or their drunken calls of rage, or their drunken calls of ‘hey the sun is coming up.’ Because they kept the noise going until after 6am. Apparently, and this was not highlighted in the hotel literature, there is a disco outside the hotel that is very popular and stays open until mid-morning. We wander down to the desk to inquire about the noise and they shrug their shoulders and say ‘hey–it is Barcelona!’ Great.
Fortunately we are all exhausted and we don’t have to get up too early so the serenade, which not welcome, was not a disaster. Arise at 8am, showers all around and we head into the Barcelona metro to make our way to the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia or Sagrada Familia. Not, you should note, the Sangria Familia which is a group of relatives with a drinking problem. And what I said when I was asking for directions. You can see this structure from most of the big city. It is the only tall building in a neighborhood and it is surrounded by cranes; construction was started in 1882 and a dude named Antoni Gaudi took over the next year and worked on it until he died in 1926. He didn’t finish. Like not even close. And they are working on it to this day.
Allow me to back up a bit. Not into Gaudi’s life, but into the Donnelly familia life. None of the three of us knew anything about either the Sagrada Familia or Gaudi (but we do know a lot about sangria. Priorities) until a day or two prior to coming to Barcelona. I had googled ‘top 10 things to do in Barcelona’ (and did I mention that some of the planning for this trip was loosey goosey?) a couple of months ago, heard that the basilica was something not to be missed, booked us some tickets and thought nothing more about it. Then as we got close to returning to Barcelona we found the address, figured out how we would get there and confirmed that it was indeed, a church of some sort. Knowledge baby.
So when we stepped off the train our expectations were that this would be a cathedral like the others we had seen. Gothic architecture. Clean lines cluttered with too many statues (because why have one statue when you can have 100!). A couple of spires reaching into the sky. When we looked up from the metro to look at the chapel, Jan gave her proclamation that it was “ugly.” Her words not mine.
And to be clear, I was not of the opinion that this cathedral was ugly. It certainly does not look like anything we have seen to date. But we have to stay in this city for three more days and I don’t want to be run out of town.
Since standing outside that church we have come to learn a ton more about Gaudi, visited a bunch of his works and now have some appreciation of what he was doing. But when we first looked up it looked something like what we had seen before (gothic cathedral). But more melty. And strange combination of sci-fi and art nouveau. There are the usual carvings of J.C. and the disciples but there there are porcelain painted fruits capping some of the spires along with painted porcelain doves on a Christmas tree wedges on a part of the building. The popping sounds was our heads.
We had tickets for 1030 for both then inside as well as a tour of the Nativity tower and at our appointed time we headed into the building. While there was some disagreement on how the Sagrada Familia looked from the outside, there was none once we walked inside. It is unbelievable. Gaudi was apparently a man all about the details and every design he made had a purpose. I can’t describe everything (or anything for that matter) that he did to the basilica, but if you get the chance, go check it out. And include the trip up to the top of the tower so you can get both a good view of the city as well as a view in the bowels of the building.
Having checked the block on ‘church’ for the next six to nine months, we head back onto the metro, to the hotel for a snack and then onto our next planned outing. The Picasso Museum (and if you are counting at home, this makes two museums in a day which is one more than I usually get, so a banner day). This is a short walk from our place, we arrive in plenty of time for our afternoon entrance and wander through. This museum actually gets the “Jan stamp of approval.” It has lots o’ pieces of Picasso’s works from through his life and you can see him develop from ‘pretty good’ to a ‘why doesn’t that dog have any eyes’ painter. Plus understand how he got there. Pretty cool for two of the three of us; AJ was underwhelmed and kept pointing to the wall hangings he liked the most: The exit signs.
But our torture of AJ was not complete. We decided that since we were so close to the Rambla, we would head to a market. There is a huge one called La Boqueria right off the Rambla. We headed in for no other reason to annoy the snot out of our son, but ended up getting a passably good dinner of empanadas, patatas bravas and mussels. Once we had finished our torment of AJ we sent him to the hotel while we headed off to a local bar for a wine and sangria. The bastards outside our window at 3am didn’t even annoy us. Much.