Friday, November 14

Spanish memories

Antoni Gaudi is possibly Barcelona’s most famous citizen. Born in 1852 he went on to study architecture in the city’s Escola Tècnica Superior d'Arquitectura. Despite being a mediocre student, Gaudi went on to create the city’s iconic architecture; including the hillside park of Parc Güell, the Casa Milá apartment and the stunning, but incomplete, La Sagrada Familia cathedral. Last weekend we had an opportunity to visit all of these memorable sights as part of Garry’s birthday excursion.

La Sagrada Família has long been considered Barcelona’s architectural ambassador, much like Sydney’s own Opera House. From almost any city vantage point its bauble-capped towers dominate the skyline. Gaudi began work on the cathedral in 1883, and remained obsessively engaged in the project until his untimely death in 1926 (he was hit by tram). Current construction plans target 2026 for its completion, in time for the 100th anniversary of his death.

Since my last visit to the site in 1990, the building has been transformed. Its central nave vaults are now complete, with work nearing completion on the main southern wall. Work has also begun on the building’s main 170 metre bell tower. The nave’s interior is stunning, with fluted columns soaring and splitting into a roof of geometric shapes 45 metres above the floor.

The Nativity facade on the building’s east remains its most astonishing feature. The facade is overwhelming series of blob-like shapes and classical sculptured figures. I was thrilled to rediscover the curious donkey’s head, a whimsical sight projecting from the building’s otherwise random surface. It really was as novel as I recalled.

Our last afternoon in the city was spent wandering through Parc Güell. I’ve seen many photos of its Gaudi-designed features, but had never seen them first hand until now. The park’s highest point is reached via a series of street escalators. A short walk took us up to a large crucifix mounted on a stone cairn. We arrived in time to witness a spectacular sunset across the city. We then made our way back into town passing by the park’s curving terraces, mosaic benches and dramatic stone porticoes. I for one think the park is magic.

Our first full day in Barcelona was spent wandering down La Rambla and through Barri Gotic, the city’s oldest district. Here you can even find a crumbling section of wall from the Roman city that preceded it. We stopped to complete a circuit of the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, filled with some of the most stunning gold chapels you’ll ever witness. We wandered through the area’s labyrinthine cobbled lanes until we reached the waterfront.

When I was last in Barcelona the waterfront had been a vast construction zone. A massive regeneration program was in full swing creating a new retail, entertainment and marine recreation zone. We stopped for an alfresco lunch overlooking a small marina, then ran to catch the last cable-car for a spectacular ride across the harbour-front to Montjuic, a coastal plateau.

Montjuic is home to athletic stadium and diving complex that hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics. It’s also home to Font Màgica , or the Magic Fountain. This spectacular water feature was created for the 1929 Great Universal Exposition. Every evening it delivers a colourful water ballet set to music. We arrived in time to witness several invigorating sequences, which were also the ideal backdrop for several fun photos.

Saturday evening was set aside for Garry’s official 40th birthday dinner. As a dedicated carnivore, we’d been instructed to find an appropriate meat-worshipper venue. Months of research paid off when we discovered El Asador de Aranda. This restaurant is located in a classic Castilian merchant’s home, perched on the side of hill overlooking the city. However, nothing prepared us for the first moment the house came into view.

As our taxi pulled up outside our jaws collectively dropped. The exterior was stunning, with each classic feature lit by a series of artistic, coloured spotlights. The interior was equally breath-taking; filled with soaring wood beam ceilings, cascading stairways and carved cornices. We sampled the restaurant’s traditional Castilian cuisine, including blood sausage and suckling lamb roasted in the kitchen’s impressive wood oven. Needless to say Garry loved his celebration meal.

1 comment:

Bev said...

Now I know we will have to go back to Barcelona to see the changes and to enjoy some of these othere places. The dinner experience may be grand too.