Barcelona at New Year

February 22nd, 2012

I have accumulated a little backlog keeping my blog updated.  I do apologise to all my readers.

My last trip was a short week (it sounds better than a long week-end when you talk about 5 days) in Barcelona for New Year.  After much considerations, Bee and I settled on the Hostal Goya as the right place to stay.  It is a high recommendation in the Lonely Planet, and is located right in the heart of Barcelona, just a few minute walk from the Barri Gotic, the historical center of Barcelona.  The hotel was a success but you have to know the exact address in order to find it as there are no visible signs on the outside.  It is one floor in a 5 story private building – never stayed at a hotel like that.  More details about it and the restaurants where we ate at the bottom of this post.

Here is a panorama of the city from Parco del Mirador de Migdia on Montjuic Hill.  We actually went there on the last full day, but it is a good way to start exploring the city.  In the forefront, you can see the top station of the cable car we took to get there.  The Mediterranean Sea is on the right, with the Marina District.  Barcelona is surrounded by hills and you can see some of them in the background.

Here is a more focused view with, in the center, the Sagrada Familia, without a doubt the most ‘interesting’ building I have ever seen!

Getting closer and closer, the rear facade of the Sagrada Familia, still being constructed more than 70 years after the death of Antoni Gaudi who designed it.  This is the “Nativity Facade” facing East.  Construction began in 1882 with the crypt under the direction of Francisco De Paula del Villar who had designed it as a standard gothic church.  Gaudi began work on it in 1883 and quickly replaced Villar. Needless to say, he changed the design somewhat.

The visit of the Church begins with a trip up one of the completed spires.  You can move up and down in staircases that are built around the hollow core of the towers.  This is looking down from about 1/2 way up.

The details are incredible.  There are fruit ornaments everywhere, in most cases, nobody will ever be able to see these.

Some of the stairs are narrower, and with no inside handrail, you can see to the very bottom of this one as well.

Inside the church, the basic design is classical gothic – with several rows of columns separating naves on both sides of the main area.  However, this is where the similarity stops.  The columns are like trees that support a forest like canopy top.  Each column is different, with different decoration.  One is never certain not to be in a concrete forest instead of a place of worship.

The main entrance is through the Passion Facade.  There are several statues by a team of sculptors headed by Josep Maria Subirachs and was only started in 1987.  One of the major statues, shown here on the top right, is the crucifiction of Christ.

From a distance, the Passion Facade does not look a whole lot different from the Nativity Facade.  Both are unmistakably part of the Sagrada Familia.

Gaudi was a very famous architect, founder of the Catalan Modernista Movement (founder and essential member – no one really came close to his style and imagination)

He designed and supervised construction of several other buildings in Barcelona, one of which is the Casa Mila, better known as “La Pedrera”.  It is an apartment complex that, from the outside and a short distance, does not look all that special.

Once you step into the house, that impression changes immediately.  I could have spent an hour just on the roof.  The chimneys are topped with helmets that look like they came out of Star Wars (a movie made 70 years after this was built!).  There is no straight line (something we had already noticed in the Sagrada Familia), but there is also no flat surface.

One of the top Photo Spot – an archway on the roof of La Pedrera from which you can see the Sagrada Familia in the distance.  We had to wait several minutes to get an undisturbed shot!

The attic, on the very top of the building and below the roof, is supported on 1/2 catenary arches, a shape much favoured by Gaudi.

OK – let’s pause for a 5 minute architecture lesson.  Entertainment and Education! What more could you want from a blog…

The Catenary Arch is much more stable than the traditional arch used since roman time as they do not create the lateral stress that a circular arch creates.  This makes construction possible without the need to add lateral support like the flying buttresses made famous by Notre Dame in Paris.

The first example in construction was attributed to Robert Hooke (THE Robert Hooke who dabbled in science a little too) in the reconstruction of St Paul’s cathedral in London – it was used by Christopher Wren for the shape of the dome of the new church after the 1666 fire.

The Catenary Arch is actually an upside down hanging chain, hence the name.  Below is the demonstration from Casa Mila.  The reflection of the chains looks like they are solid arches coming out of the floor.

Like many other famous architects of his time (Frank Lloyd-Wright and Victor Horta come to mind) Gaudi did not limit himself to designing the building.  He also designed the inside, decorations, furniture and, in this case, the main doors to the inner courtyard and the handrails for the stairs of Casa Mila.

Another significant building by Gaudi is Casa Batllo.  This was only a renovation of an existing building.  It looks like it was a bit more involved than the owners probably had in mind, I bet.  I am not sure what part of the building Gaudi did not touch!  The facade facing the street is spectacular.  It puts to shame the houses on either side.

A few interesting details inside the house: The main lobby with the stairs going up to the living quarters; the details at the bottom of the handrail; the ceiling fixture in the living room; doors (even that is very interesting) and a fire place.

The facade on the rear of the building is not as elaborate as the one facing the road, but a lot of thought went into this as well.  The decoration for the roof is also visible at the top of the picture …

Gaudi was not the only architect with innovative ideas at the time.  Not far in the same block, there is a house with very nice glass enclosed rooms shining in the morning light.  Further, you can see the dome and decoration of the house that sits at the next corner.  Barcelona must have been a very wealthy city at the turn of the 20th century!

A little decoration to liven up the back yard.  He did not leave anything untouched, as I said earlier.

Here he also modified the chimneys on the roof of the house.

The rood is not quite as spectacular as the one on La Pedrera, but still very interesting.  The part facing the street looks like a dragon on its side.

The part in the middle was used as a water cistern that collected rain water.  The acoustics in the room are fantastic!  The other door leads to stairs that go back down into the house.

But Barcelona is not just Gaudi.  On the side of the Architecture Building of the University of Barcelona (another ugly ‘architecture’ building! Why is it that architects lose all sense of harmony when they design a building for themselves?) is one of the very few public art pieces attributed to Pablo Picasso in the whole of Spain.  Picasso did not like General Franco, or the fact that he usurped his leadership in a coup and therefore had vowed never to return to Spain while he was ‘President”, or whatever he was officially called.  Picasso never saw the finished work as he died two years before Franco!

We were looking for an evening of Flamenco that was not too touristy!  There are plenty of places that offer some Flamenco on a nightly basis, but this looked too artificial to us.  However, we lucked out in finding a flyer for a special evening of Flamenco at the Palau de la Musica on New Years Eve.  The show was excellent and the public was mostly locals with only about 20% tourists.  The Palau de la Musica is worth the visit even if you do not go to a show.  It was built in 1905-09 and is another example of Catalan Modernista architecture.  This is a very bad picture, but the light was very difficult, being quite bright at the top and then much darker at the bottom.  This is several pictures spliced together to give the full effect!

We made an interesting ‘discovery’ in the main cathedral.  I have not been able to find much about these giants.  I find this very unusual, especially the Moorish look of them in a part of Spain that does not have a lot of Arab influence, so if anybody knows who they are and why they are kept in this church, please let me know.

Near the Marina, and the city’s Nautical Museum – we skipped it as the weather was just too good – is the column topped with a statue of Christopher Columbus.  He seems to be pointing at something, as if saying I am going over there! However, the over there is not at all in a Westerly direction, so I am not quite sure what it means.  This is just another excuse to be able to show every one that we had great weather while in Barcelona!

In the Parco del Mirador de Migdia there is an old fort called Castell de Montjuic with very impressive heavy artillery.  This was obviously still used for defensive purposes in the recent past (like the beginning of the 20th century) and the castle was notorious in the Civil War as a place where Fascist were executed – Republicans were execute here after the Civil War.  I was interested by the contrast between the impressive gun in the background and delicate female statue in front.

One of the defensive moats is currently used by an archery club and two people were busy practicing their art on this early New Year’s day – they must not have been celebrating with the rest of the city last night.

While we were in Barcelona, we decided to make a side day trip to Figueres to visit the Teatre-Museu Dali in that city.  It is fitting that someone as flamboyant as Salvador Dali should have a museum installed in a former Municipal Theatre.

This is a church in Figueres, just outside the museum.

The Museum itself is well worth the trip.  It is clear that they could not claim to have a collection of the top pieces produced by Dali and so they went with more of an expression of his eccentricity while still displaying his art and imagination.  I really enjoyed the visit.

There are still major pieces seemingly randomly thrown around town … the city itself is quite nice and only 1 1/2 hour by train from Barcelona.

Practical Information:
As I mentioned earlier, we stayed at the Hostal Goya, just steps away from Plaça Catalunya which is (a) where the Tourist office is, (b) at the end of the bus line to/from the airport and (c) right in between the old and the new city.  It was a great place to stay and I would recommend it.

We took the bus to/from the airport and that worked out really well.  There are machines where you can buy a ticket before you board and the system works well.  We never had to wait any amount of time for a bus and even though our return flight was very early in the morning, we were able to take a bus that got us to the airport well in time.

We had very nice meals while in Barcelona – one of the most memorable was at 4 Gats (or Four Cats) in the Barri Gotic – a 5 minute walk from Plaça Catalunya.  It is a spectacular restaurant that gets crowded early (in Spanish terms, meaning that it starts to fill around 9PM!) and a place where Picasso came as a young artist.  He designed the menu that is still used today.  The food is not bad either!

We celebrated New Year at La Dolça Herminia, again very close to the hotel and Plaça Catalunya.  Modern setting which turned us off initially, but recommended by the Hostal Goya and since we could not find any other place to reserve that evening, we relented and were very pleasantly surprised.  The restaurant is well worth it.

Also recommended by Hostal Goya, we had our first lunch at Ciudad Condal – notable because they serve food continuously in the afternoon and we did not arrive ’till 3PM.  We had a late lunch even by local standards.  It serves Tapas and has a very pleasant outdoor eating area.  I could not find its own web-site but here is where you can get more info.

Finally, we had dinner at a little tiny place that you would walk right by if not guided there by Lonely Planet.  We tried to reserve a table several times, but always found it closed.  We lucked out one evening and just went in and were rewarded by a very pleasant and inexpensive meal.  The restaurant is called Can Pescallunes (The House of the Moon-Fisher) and is located on Carrer de les Magdalenes, a few doors away from La Dolca Herminia.  No website, but here there is more info.

We bought the Barcelona Card on the first day we were there and for the full duration of our stay.  It gave discounts to quite a few different places, but most important let us use any mode of public transportation without having to get individual tickets or worry about the cost of taking the metro even for a single stop.  We bought the card on-line and then went to pick everything up from the tourist office when we arrived.—VISITS


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2 Responses to “Barcelona at New Year”

  1. Pamon 23 Feb 2012 at 02:11

    Barcelona is fantastic and I enjoyed the summary of your trip! My sister and I visited in 2008 and we made a pact to go back and see sagrada familia again as old ladies in the hopes that it might be completed! 🙂

  2. pierreoon 23 Feb 2012 at 21:06

    When you do go back, let me know as I would love to see it all again!

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