After the grey skies and bitter temperatures of northern Europe, Barcelona was a welcome retreat. Spain never disappoints and my first day in this beautiful and vibrant city absolutely lived up to its reputation.
First on my agenda was to check out the market. Living in Germany has taught me many things – one of them being to eat seasonally and to gorge like a glutton on foods you can only get for a small window of time.
The food I’m thinking of in particular is mandarin oranges. I’m not sure why Germany only stocks grocery stores with this tiny orb of sunshine for such a short period of time when I have seen mandarins growing in countries near to Germany, but I digress.
The market is always a wonderful place to get a feel for the people in a country – seeing what they eat and what delicacies are prized opens a window to the county’s soul – and while the Jamon and bacalao were tempting, I was really there to get bags full of mandarins.
It’s always a treat to visit Spain since I feel much more comfortable speaking Spanish (I know, I know, Catalan…) than making wild hand gestures in German, but my Spanish comically failed me while excitedly buying my mandarin’s. I almost ended up with a bag of 50 instead of 15.
The incredible weather was perhaps second only to the spectacular Sagrada Familia. I couldn’t help but be reminded of one of my precious students from Ecuador while visiting the cathedral. Karla had chosen the Sagrada Familia as her landmark for a social studies project and was very proud of the fact that she had been in person. Well, Karla, you were right to be excited. What an incredible architectural achievement.
The exterior is well known, but the interior blew me away. I hardly knew what I was even looking at, but the play of light and the incredible repeating forms that were somehow both familiar and so strange was breathtaking. It was truly an uplifting and reverent place miles away from the more repressive and dark interiors of traditional cathedrals.
In keeping with my Gaudi all-day theme, next on my list was Park Guell. Originally, this area on a high hillside overlooking Barcelona and the sea was meant to be some kind of new-age housing community complete with houses, terraces for farmers markets, gardens, and multi-use buildings. It never got to be the urban utopia it was dreamed to be as no one bought the housing lots, so it was eventually turned into a park.
Also incredibly inspirational were two of Gaudi’s apartment complexes. I went inside of La Pedrera and was able to see a fully furnished apartment. It reminded me a bit of the time I’ve seen Frank Lloyd Write’s work, except that the impression I always got visiting his work was that Write was some kind of militant perfectionist what with designing down to the last napkin ring.
Gaudi did the same thing, but it came across as playful and sensuous rather than so rigid. The forms Gaudi used are curving and inviting with a distinct nod to Art Nouveau. The roof itself was otherworldly. That entire strange helmet looking form is chimneys, some decorated with smashed champagne bottles.
I didn’t tour the inside of the Casa Batllo, but the exterior was evocative enough. I can’t decide if the mullions are meant to resemble twisting tree trunks or finger bones, but either way a mesmerizing elevation to be sure.
As it happened to be Thanksgiving, I made sure to sit down and have a feast. There is generally no love lost between me and the Thanksgiving meal, so I was more than happy to partake in some of my tapas favorites including croquettes and papas braves. I head back to Spain in a couple of days (this time to Madrid) and it is without irony when I say I’m mostly there for the food.