When we were in Venice in 2013, my wife, the accomplished travel planner, discovered an organization known as Urban Adventures. While they have a number of unique and interesting tours involving history and local culture, we have found their food/drink tours to be fun. Kind of an organized “pub crawl,” the tour guide takes you into the local neighborhood bars which often specialize in some kind of appetizer, and sample the food and local drinks. Spain is known for its tappas food, which is so popular that in most major cities in the U.S., you can find one or more tappas restaurants. Meaning, “small bites,” the parallel in Italy is cicchetti. For a fixed fee, you can join one of these small groups (maximum participants per group are 12) and sample a number of the local bars’ small bites (often more than one item) and in Venice, their wines.
So, not surprisingly, we scheduled a tappas tour in Barcelona, which we took on our first night there. We visited 5 or 6 local neighborhood bars (this is a walking tour), and tried local food, wine and beer. We felt that we got great value from this 4-5 hour “adventure.”
On our first morning there, we took another tour with an organization called Runner Bean™ Tours. These tours are conducted by local students who generally have a background in history, art, archaeology, etc. The company advertises itself as a family owned company. The tours are advertised as “free.” The reality is that we do not usually look at anything in life as truly free. The way these tours work, though, is that you sign up online, join the group at the appointed spot, and the guide takes you on the tour (on this one, as we were told in advance, we needed to purchase some subway passes). If you felt that the guide did a good job, you are free to tip them (and it is customary to do so, from what we can tell). I am not certain how the company gets paid.
Runner Bean offers several Barcelona Tours as their site advertises. We met a couple of girls on our tour who told us the Old City walking tour was also very good. Unfortunately, we were scheduled to leave the next day, or we would have taken the Old City tour.
Our tour was the “Gaudi” tour. Antoni Gaudi was one of the most famous artist/architects from Barcelona. Gaudi embraced the Art Nouveau movement which started in the late 1800’s. Gaudi’s architecture is ubiquitous in Barcelona. Our tour took us to the Palau Guell, several of Gaudi-designed buildings in Barcelona, and culminated at the Segrada Familia, perhaps Gaudi’s most famous architectural design.
On the previous afternoon, we visited Park Guell, a planned community by Gaudi, which – unfortunately for his vision – never really came to fruition (Park Guell is not part of the Runner Bean Tour). But at the entrance signature-Gaudi architecture is in full view. The plan was for a number of Barcelona’s wealthy citizens would build homes in Park Guell. For whatever reason it did not catch on, and over time, it has become a nature park. Unfortunately, the skies opened up just as we walked into Park Guell and we never got a chance to see the park. But images I did get there give the viewer an idea of the decorative features of Gaudi’s work.
There is some conjecture that the sometimes perjorative word, “gaudy” derived from Gaudi and his works, but it appears that this is probably inaccurate. However, I would certainly agree that some of his embellishments could be described as gaudy. They are colorful and a bit “in-your-face.
When completed, the Segrada Familia will be the largest cathedral/basilica in the world. Construction of this imposing structure began in 1883 and continues to modern day. There is some thought that it may be finally completed in 2020. Regardless of your religious beliefs, or as the case may be, agnosticism, it is impossible not to be emotionally moved as you walk around the interior of the church and look around you, especially during the day when the sunlight come through the stained glass windows. So much thought, design, and even theology goes into the crafting of these buildings, and this may be the most complex and monumental undertaking of them all.
One of the things I marvel at is that (paradoxically) as I get older, I become more open minded in many ways. I am learning (though some would probably say slooooooowly) to embrace new things, see new places, and learn about new to me (in most cases, 1000’s of years old) cultures. As I noted in my Japan trip series, I started out lukewarm about a visit to Japan. I came back a convert and a fan. If you asked me in a line of artist/architects, where Gaudi, modern art and/or Art Nouveau fell, I would have said: “I don’t really like it.” And then I started to see it in person and to learn about it. Visually, I am still not a huge fan of Gaudi. But it is much easier to appreciate his work when you learn about his philosophy. There are nearly no straight lines in any of Gaudi’s work. He embraced nature, and as such, designed based on what he saw in nature. When you look at the interior of the Familia Segrada armed with that knowledge, you suddenly see that the immense pillars that support the structure resemble tree trunks, and that the tops branch off from nodes, very much like tree branches. Whether the architecture turns you on or not, it is pretty amazing that he was able to design in that way. The structures are, if nothing else, impressive.
During our “downtime,” we were able to walk along certain areas of the city nearby our hotel, which was on Avenue del Parallel. Just a short distance from our hotel was a main street/tourist/shopping area know as la Rambla Catalunya, with a large boulevard for walking on and streets carrying vehicle traffic on either side. There was lots of activity, and many outdoor seating area restaurants along the Rambla. Two of our tours began just off Rambla, and we had a couple of our meals there. As is often the case with older cities, all streets seem to go to the Port, and Barcelona was no exception. That evening, on our way to our chosen restaurant for dinner, we walked down Avenue del Parallel, passing an old military fort (Naval, I believe), and the Barcelona Maritime Museum. Both looked like interesting areas to explore, with a bit more time.
The next morning, we again walked down toward the water and then turned up the street to the old section of Barcelona known as La Ribera (the site of the cathedral we visited the first afternoon), to our final tour destination, Palau de la Musica. Built between 1905 and 1908, the Palau is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is one of Barcelona’s modern buildings that was not designed by Gaudi. Still, it is considered to be a part of the Catalan “modernista” style. It is ornate, colorful, and beautiful. Parts of the exterior are decorated with busts of famous composers. The concert hall is not only aesthetically beautiful, but has wonderful acoustics. We heard a demonstration of the grand organ. The Palau hosts 500 concerts annually, with 185,000 visitors like us, and 385,000 concert attendees annually.
We spent the balance of our morning walking the streets in the old part of town before we returned to the hotel, a quick bite of lunch and on to the cruise port.
Filed under: PHOTOGRAPHY, TRAVEL | Tagged: Andy Richards, Barcelona, Catalonia, Catalunya, Europe, Gaudi, La Segrada Familia, Light, LightCentric Photography, Mediterranean, Palau de la Musica, Palau Guell, Park Guell, PHOTOGRAPHY, Sony, travel |