Why do we write about our travels? In today’s era where great cameras, software, and filters can make even amateur photographers look like champions, where goggle earth lets you take 360 degree tours, where talented bloggers pour poetry into monuments—why should I write about my experiences.
Is it because we want to pen down how we feel, Is it because we have more to say than FB check ins/ posts, is it because we are all today in need of public gratification equated to likes, is it because we want to write down small details before we forget, is it because it will serve as a reminder to future self about what we liked/ did not like. For me, it appears as a mix of all these reasons and a few more. Thus here goes my travelogue about Spain. I shall write this in 3 or 4 pieces covering the cities we visited and the experiences we had.
But first a bit of introduction
Spain – Why Spain?
Spain is one of the world’s most visited destinations but strangely figures low on the priority list for Indian travelers who generally look at France, Switzerland, UK, Italy, Netherlands, Greece, Germany and even Eastern Europe. Frankly, you can take a map of Europe and throw a pin and you will find beauty, art, culture, and history. What piqued my interest were some discussions with friends who have previously visited, basic googling. Also, other factors played a role—We wanted to complete the trip by June, didn’t want too cold a place thus ruling out eastern parts of Europe, some budget restrictions, some members of our family had already visited France, Italy Netherlands. Thus we zeroed in on Spain. Members—Yes, both my wife and I wanted to take our parents (who haven’t travelled much out of Asia) to a big tour of Europe (bucket list maybe?) And thus our trip was now a big family vacation.
Sometime I may write on how once can budget, plan and execute an ideal vacation. But for now, let me talk about our first city–Barcelona.
A teacher once told me that Calcutta is the only city in India which has a soul- I don’t know about the ‘soulless-ness’ of other Indian cities but I am very sure that Barcelona indeed has a soul and its architecture goes a long way in contributing to that. Impressive, different, thought provoking, not beholden to ancient norms the architecture in Barcelona is a reflection of the city itself. One that has a strong streak of independent thinking evident in the strong sentiment of Catalonia. Locals here prefer you speak in Catalan and not Spanish, houses still display the Catalonian flag- people of Barcelona are proud of their autonomous heritage and status.
Going back to architecture–Antoni Gaudi was the leading contributor to its architecture. Basically, what Sachin Tendulkar is to cricket in India, Gaudi was to architecture in Barcelona in the late 19th and early 20th century. Modernista Architecture came into global reckoning and Gaudi was one of the leading proponents. His flagship creation (still being created though) is the incredible Sagrada Familia Church (Holy Family Church) which we visited as among our first sites in Barcelona on a sunny yet cool morning.
One can see the exterior as one steps out from the metro and it stuns you with visual delight. But it’s the interior, the massive towers, the carvings— basically what the church as a whole does to you, is what’s important. It stuns you and compels you to bow your head in devotion. And that’s exactly what Gaudi intended. A masterpiece with a vision.
(The front or nativity facade, the ceiling and the layout of the alter)
When Gaudi started work on the project he knew it would never be completed in his lifetime and thus famously said “My Client (God) has no scarcity of time” and is still being constructed (for more than 100 years hoping to complete it in 2026- the centenary of Gaudi’s death yes ‘hoping’) In fact today architects are leading the construction using some of his diagrams and their interpretation (as most of the sketches were lost during the Spanish Civil war)
Gaudi was inspired a lot by nature and thus the interior of the church appears like a rain forest with stunning stained glass windows that plays with sunlight enhancing it and bathing the church indifferent hues. He even uses sunlight to showcase God as light right above the altar with the stunning suspended Christ looking up to it. Quite Pagan If I may say so. But expected from Gaudi. He did say the sun is the best painter.
( Painting by the sun– natural light used for different hues)
We did go up the towers but that was a complete disappointment. Frankly, most of the tower climbing anywhere is gimmicky and touristy unless you can go seriously high.
After this experience, we moved on to Park Guell. The true mark of a genius is often measured by how ‘before time’ his or her ideas were. And the true pioneering ideas invariably fail! And Park Guell is exactly that- A big failure! More than 100 years ago a rich man Guell proposed a radical idea – An exclusive gated community of grand houses on a hill top amidst greenery overlooking the city designed by one of the world’s best architects- Gaudi something like the Hamptons in New York. And the rich felt we can’t leave the squalor of the city behind and move to luxury villas-They rejected the idea with no houses being built ( barring the guard’s quarters only grand pavilions, amphitheaters, walkways ) Alas Guell only had the genius of Gaudi with him and not that of Unitechs/ Ansals and thus he went bankrupt. So this gated community is now a paid park for tourists to enjoy.
One of the few completed buildings –
(The Guard or manager tower. Basically watchman uncle’s hut!!)
Similarly, other Gaudi buildings evoke different feelings from amazement at Casa Batillo with its lack of straight edges to the impressive Palau Guell.
But I dont want this to be an architecture lesson , so lets got to the beach-clean blue Barcelona beaches….. Barcelona beaches are said to be the best city beaches in the world. Dotted with walkways, sitting, play zones, the beach is truly pleasant for a stroll and a dip in the deep blue waters (unlike the grey seas here).
We ended the day with the magical magic fountain. Something about grand massive structures really enthralls me. And it rarely gets grander than this — a massive fountain in front of the Grand National Arts plaza. Barcelona was one brilliant day
If day one was about the brilliance of modernism and Gaudi, day 2 took us back a few centuries. We walked on the centuries old gothic quarters absorbing delights like a 12th century Church (Church of Santa Anna) which was at the same time beautiful and eerie—One can imagine a reboot of Omen to be shot there J. But first we began the day with a lovely ice cream (yes we can have ice cream as a second breakfast- we shouldn’t be Nazis about when to have ice cream) at the Planelles Donat delighting their customers with ice cream since 1850 ( yes centuries old that is a running theme across Spain or most of Europe ). Strolling through the Plaza Catalunya, one understands how cities can marry modernity, antiquity, and tourism.
( A 12th century church flanked by modern buildings)
Enjoying the walk we ended up in front of a massive cathedral. Our guide books told us that this was the Barcelona Cathedral—we were wondering whether we should shell out the entry fee as we had many cathedrals lined up. But we did…and was I glad that we did. The interior is stunning. One look and we were blown away. Very very different from the modernist Sagrada Familia but equally stunning. Standing in front of the altar you feel transported to a period film—you can practically imagine The Knights Templar or other orders marching by and grand ceremonies.
Image borrowed from a super talented photographer friend and colleague Babul Bhatt ( http://www.babulbhatt.com/ )
We followed the church visit with some of the key touristic things like a walk in the gothic quarter, looking at the brilliant street architecture of gargoyles and arched balconies, the buzzing street La Ramblas and finally a monument dedicated to Columbus. In all this, we also covered the famous market – not for faint hearted vegetarians with lots and lots of sea food being sold there. The day ended with a walk through Arc de Triomphe and Park, The Park was great with its central waterfall however after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris this one was a tad bit disappointing.
Our packed schedule in Barcelona didn’t give us much time to enjoy gastronomical delights but we did find a brilliant paella place and tried the famous black squid ink paella. Our only regret was not allocating good time to explore great eats. But we made up for that in the next few cities…….
With this, I end my tales of Barcelona and leave you with this delightful song…