The train journey from Beziers was spectacular at times – hugging the rugged coast – this was definitely a different country from that of France with its never ending (and beautiful!) vineyards.
This was Catalunya – in Barcelona every corner I went around there was a building that took my breath away. I headed downtown to my friend Marga’s workplace. A warm welcome there as I dropped my bags and went exploring. Marga said – turn left and left and there is one of Gaudi’s apartments.
There I was looking straight at it – not of course that there is anything ‘straight’ about it. Astounding is the only word for it, and Barcelona is full of buildings like this – many with World Heritage Status.
I met Marga after work, and we caught a subway and bus to pick up her 2 yr old son Aitor, then walked two more bus stops uphill (quite the challenge with my bag!) to what Marga described as the ‘real’ Barcelona. This is the one where people live and raise their children, not the one where the tourists move around like ants.
We were up in the hills above Parc Guell in her lovely small three bedroom apartment which she and the bank own. On the ground floor of the apartment is all the small shops you could need. Next door children played in a paved open space dedicated to President in exile Allende.
As has happened all around the world, apartments are getting more and more expensive for locals as the price is forced up by overseas people seeing what is a bargain in their currency. However since the Olympics, Barcelona has embraced tourism and the dollars in brings, and improved life for locals too with pedestrian walkways, dedicated cycle ways, public art, and wide malls. Though the tension remains of affordability for ordinary folk to live and work in their home town.
Marga had sorted me out with a 10 trip bus/subway pass which I used to get into town, but on my own I found the Turista Barcelona open top bus good value as a way of exploring the city, the old cathedral and gothic part of town, the Port and Olympic Village and of course the beaches.
For me the highlights were definitely Gaudi’s work – Temple Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell, including Gaudi’s house. These are both astounding places and the imagination that created them or set the spark in motion is to be celebrated and honoured as it is in this town.
Sagrada Familia, like all the old cathedrals is a work in progress and will likely take hundreds of years to finish as new artists and designers engage in the process and add their creativity to Gaudi’s dream.
The Parc Guell is where Gaudi’s home was/is (its now a Museum). It was his dream to have parks like this around the city, with people living amongst them. Nature was the beginning of all things for Gaudi, and setting his house in this magnificent setting must have given him a lot of satisfaction. The Mosaics, the archways, the seats, the open spaces all draw you to wonder and engage. Everywhere you look there is a decorative motive to draw the eye.
Another highlight for me was visiting the old convent of Monestir de Pedralbes – one wing is still in use by the Franciscans, the rest has been restored to some of the way life was in the convent, and the treasures that it houses.
As a woman travelling freely alone, I was reminded that in that age the only option for unmarried or widowed women was to enter the convent. It was also the only way many women could receive an education.
Finding internet access proved a challenge, but eventually I did find one opposite KFC! Finding a post office proved impossible, so the postcards will have to be posted in the UK.
There is a strong sense of pride in Barcelona – pride in being Catalan, speaking the language, celebrating its history, from gardens celebrating poets to a huge statue of Christopher Columbus, to names on roads and plazas. The pride is justified, this is a fantastic city to visit.