Sometimes, a Dutch gypsy that doesn’t wander a lot gets lucky anyway… and is offered a trip to Barcelona, Spain!
This happened to our Crew member, Mandy Leever-Koel and she will be telling us all about her gypsy travels to Barcelona.
Early morning April 7, 2017, our journey began by bus from Hengelo, The Netherlands, to the airport. After a flight of barely 2 hours, my husband, colleagues and their spouses (employers included) and myself landed in sunny Barcelona. There were about 50 of us all in all. It being Spring, the temperature wasn’t too hot though, perfect for a city trip!
I won’t bother you with statics and facts about Barcelona, you can look them up if you like. This will just be my travel story, with some background on the things that interested me. Funny thing is, Barcelona never appealed to me that much. I don’t know why. But after having been there for a short weekend, I long for so much more! There were too many beautiful things we didn’t have time for, and I really recommend you stay there for at least a week, so you won’t have to miss out on anything.
I do plan on returning some day, even if only to be able to view the (finally) finished “Sagrada Familia” (Sacred Family), the unusual and unique church that sprouted from Gaudi’s brain, which is still being built. I’m almost ashamed to admit, I didn’t view the interior. We should have booked the entry tickets beforehand… (please BUY the tickets of things you wish to see before you leave, you won’t believe how crazy busy -and sold out- some of Barcelona’s highlights are!)
What triggered my interest for this church even more, was visiting “Park Guell”, another brilliant fantasy of Gaudi brought to life. I never would have guessed this heavenly place would have touched me the way it did. It was just a park, I thought, with some mosaic benches. Boy, was I wrong!
The trip towards “Park Guell” led the bus over roads getting increasingly steeper, until we arrived on top of the mountain. Upon entering the park (yes, this time we had bought our tickets in advance, which was a good thing because they were sold out!) the positive vibe washed over you instantly. This was such a peaceful place, despite the other tourists. It was roomy enough to allow many people to wander around, without feeling overly crowded. We walked around and absorbed the atmosphere and admired the trees and plants that grew there. Some were inhabitant, some not. We marvelled at the stone structures with organic yet outerworldly details. We stopped and listened to a gypsy-type man playing (electric) violin music underneath one of the stone structures. These served as caves of some sort, as well as bridges crossing the entire park and lifting it up higher levels.
Our tickets granted us access to the plateau with the famous wavy mosaic benches and gave us a wonderful view. (You can visit the park and enjoy nature without tickets too by the way, and see some of Gaudi’s work, which is a good thing. If I lived in Barcelona, you could probably find me here often!) Gaudi was inspired by nature a lot, hence the wavy shapes of the benches.
After some classical tourist shots on the benches with various backgrounds from majestic palmtrees to some of Gaudi’s structures, we proceeded downstairs to stumble upon more surprises, like the column gallery. Humongous stone mosaic pilars held up the plateau with the mosaic benches.
Gaudi himself lived in the Park too. The park was meant to have houses that could be bought, but only 2 houses were built and inhabited. The houses on the property all have very different styles. One of the houses was inspired by the Play of “Hansel & Gretel” Gaudi had seen recently, and it shows! It’s sort of a gingerbread house made from mosaics, which now houses the souvenir shop. A beautiful staircase with iron stairs leads to the upper floor, from which you have another great view on a section of the park.
However, we visited Park Guell Sunday, which was already the 3rd and last day of our trip. Immediately after we arrived, we went on a bus tour throught the city, seeing some highlights. We had a very -VERY- enthusiastic guide who pronounced some words so wrong that they meant something entirely different, which had some dirty minds working overtime. Our guide made us believe Barcelona had the biggest everything and that there was never a traffic jam on the biggest avenue (slightly smaller than after some American avenue) we happened to be standing still on…
Our first stop was on an amazing spot that granted us the most unbelievable view of the city, the “Palau Nacional” on the mountain ‘ Montjuic’ (Jewish Mountain). We enjoyed a nice lunch, walked around a bit and soaked in the view before our bus trip continued.
Not a big soccer (or sports) fan myself, I wasn’t very impressed by the stadium. The old bull fighting ring we drove by in Arabic style, made more of an impression on me. It had the cutest towers on top, which resembled mosaic Easter eggs. I was glad to hear that bull fighting had ended here years ago already. (How cool is it though, that my parents visited this same bull ring decades ago, before I was born? Both of them were appaled and nauseated by the bull fights though, mind you.) The other bull fighting ring in Barcelona has been completely rebuilt to a shopping centre.
Also seen from the bus, were the 3 impressive houses on Passeig de Gracia, owned by 3 wealthy families, built by 3 different architects. One of those architects was Gaudi. These families each wanted to have the most beautiful house, and even if they all succeeded, Gaudi’s “Casa Battlo” easily wins by being different, and modernistic – simply stunningly unique. Its dragonshaped rooftop with the blue glazed tiles, the soft colored mosaic patterns on the facade, the mask-shaped balconies: Gaudi created another fairytale. Oh how it breaks my heart I didn’t know enough about the beautiful of mind of Gaudi, how I would have loved to see the interior of “Casa Battlo”.
We made a stop to walk around the “Sagrada Familia” and learned that during these last years, the building works are going faster thanks to new technology. As much as they hate the tourists in Barcelona (I even witnessed some anti-tourist graphitti myself!), it’s the tourists that deliver almost ALL the funds needed to finish this church. Sadly, Gaudi’s sketches and maquettes of this church were ruined in a fire. So even if the architects on this project surely must have studied Gaudi’s art, things are interpreted more freely. He had only ‘just’ started building the Sagrada Familia in 1882, when he was killed by a tram in 1926… Because of his shoddy appearance, people didn’t really bother to help the wounded, unconsious man lying on the ground, not knowing he was Barcelona’s (maybe even the entire world’s) greatest architect. They finally took him to the hospital for the poor, which he refused to leave, claiming his rightful place was amongst them. He died at age 73.
Another reason to visit Barcelona is the food. Yes. Our employers had arranged dinner for us during 3 evenings, and one was even better than the next! Our first evening we enjoyed diner in a Fish restaurant near the harbor. Our second evening we ate in a beautiful old buidling that was decorated classical with a modern twist. Had they filmed us, you could have seen us eat like starved pigs… And the food kept coming, so fast we barely had time to finish one course before the next already hit us. Those Tapas and Toast with Tomato sauce, fries with a baked egg on top, crispy whatnot’s, meat, it was all to die for…
If I can give you another piece of advice, it will be to do a city tour by BICYCLE. So did we. Of course, we’re Dutch so we’re practiaclly born on a bicycle, but you will see the city from a totally different perspective.
We cycled through the narrow streets of the medieval part of the city (we have Barcelona’s past poverty to thank for that: no money for modernisation) and were surprised by charming old churches built by and for the people, the castle of the King that had been moved, the old city walls, the ocean (with a beach that has been artifiaclly made), crazy amazing streetlights and so much more. We learned about the Queen of the Gypsies: Carmen Amaya, who was born into poverty until she achieved world fame by creating her own Flamenco Style and doing movies. We saw old city remains, preserved in a museum that charges you nothing. We saw Barcelona’s modern ‘Bullit’ shaped building, saw the Arc de Triomphe that was built despite Barcelona never ever being triumphous throughout history (our guide thought that was the reason so many Barcelonas are supporting the Soccer Team Barca). Our guide also told us, the Eiffel tower had been offered to Barcelona first, but was declined. Can you imagine that? Somehow it would have fitted right in next to Gaudi’s buildings.
As you can see, just writing this made me very, very enthusiastic again. Barcelona is worth the trip. A long trip, so you can see all of its history and treasures,and reminisce afterwards.