Frank B. Baiamonte

Photography . . . Travel . . .

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Two Weeks in Spain - May 2014 - Barcelona

We spent two weeks in Spain in mid-May this year. We flew in to Barcelona, where we spent 5 nights, then traveled by train to Zaragoza, where we stayed 3 nights. Our last stop was Madrid, where we spent 5 nights before flying back to San Diego. We took a day trip to Girona from Barcelona, and another to Segovia from Madrid. 

Most of our time there was spent exploring on foot, basically wandering around checking out the cities, the architecture, the people, and the food. We tend to use guidebooks more just to get rough ideas, rather than following any sort of strict itinerary. More often than not, by the time the end of the day rolls around it doesn't look at all like what we thought it might when we first left the hotel in the morning. We don't view that as a bad thing.

We walked past this door on one of the main streets in Barcelona one evening, and I stopped to take a look through the glass. Next thing I knew a gentleman inside opened the door and asked if we wanted to take a quick look. He said we could have just a couple of minutes, but we weren't about to say no.

Here's what we saw when we stepped inside. Quite an entry hall. This building is just next door to Gaudi's Casa Batllo on Passeig de Gracia. 

We took a tour of the Palau de la Musica Catala, an amazing concert hall.

The exterior of the building is just as ornate as the interior.

Not your average ticket window.

The Santa Caterina Market was a great place to wander into for a late lunch after our tour of the Palau.

We had a great lunch at one of the little restaurants along the outer edge of the market. No tables, just seats at a long bar with views in towards the Market.

The Gothic church Santa Maria del Mar was built over a 55-year period in the 14th Century, consecrated in 1384. The church was heavily damaged in wars in both 1714 and 1936, and restoration was only completed in 1990.

I learned many years ago that when you go into one of these old churches you always want to look up. Of course, that was exactly what the architects wanted people to do, and why they are designed the way that they are.

Here's a view of Barcelona looking out to the sea from the hill above Gaudi's Park Guell. The wider green strip of trees just to the left of center is Passeig de Gracia, one of the major streets running from the Modernist expansion area of the city towards the older Gothic Quarter nearer the sea. Just to the right of that the narrow strip of green are the trees along the Rambla. Our hotel, the Doubletree Alexandra, was just off the Rambla a few blocks from the end closest to where this was taken from. It's a great hotel in a perfect location.

All this sightseeing made us hungry, so we spent a fair amount of time sampling the local cuisine. Some of my favorites were the many varieties of tentacled sea creatures, in this case grilled cuttlefish, or pulpito al la plancha. Seasoned with just some good olive oil, lemon and a bit of sea salt, it was quite tasty. Heather and I don't even have to fight over who gets the last piece - she prefers the bodies and I prefer the tentacles, so it all works out. This was at the tapas counter at Cerveceria Catalana, on Carrer de Mallorca. 

Barcelona is great city for people who enjoy walking around finding new things to see and do. We could easily have spent several more days there.

We spent a fair amount of time in Barcelona visiting the various examples of the architecture of Antoni Gaudi, including Casa Batllo, Casa Perdrera and the Sagrada Famiglia. I'll put those in a separate post, as well as another for our visit to Camp Nou, the home of FC Barcelona football club.

Click here to see more images from Barcelona, Spain in May of 2014.

Two Weeks in Spain - May 2014 - FC Barcelona - Camp Nou Experience

Camp Nou is the name of the stadium the FC Barcelona football team calls home. The Camp Nou Experience is a combination museum, stadium tour and multimedia experience, along with (no surprise) a giant 3-level gift shop at the end. 

The trophy cases were impressive.

The interactive panels offered the history of not only the sporting club (which has much more than just football) but also the history of Catalonia and Barcelona over the past 115 years.

Here's the tunnel from the team dressing rooms out to the field.

The gift shop was huge, way more than just your average museum store. We don't generally buy a lot of souvenirs when we travel, but Heather did get a t-shirt, and when we saw this duck we knew we had to find room for it too. The view from our hotel room balcony in Barcelona was not bad at all.

Click here to see more pictures from Camp Nou and FC Barcelona.

Two Weeks in Spain - May 2014 - Architecture of Antoni Gaudi - Casa Batllo and La Pedrera

We left San Diego on a 6:30am flight on Sunday, and arrived in Barcelona around 9:00am Monday. We were able to drop our bags at the hotel, but it was way too early to check into our room, so we went out for a jet-lagged wander around the local area. 

One of the first things we stumbled on was the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi's Casa Batllo. This private residence was built for the Batllo family between 1904 and 1906. I was feeling a bit light-headed from the jet lag while we waited in line to get in, but I think that actually enhanced the experience, since this place was like nothing I'd ever seen.

There are still some private residence apartments in the building.

The roofline is sculpted to like a dragon, with iridescent scales. 

Just a few blocks away from Casa Batllo is another private residence designed by Gaudi, this one is called Casa Mila, but is better known as La Pedrera (the "stone quarry"). It was built between 1906 and 1912 for the Mila family. Today it is used a cultural center and exhibition space.

La Pedrera got it's nickname from it's grey blocky exterior, which we never got to see as it was covered in scaffolding. The interior spaces, including this view looking up from the base of the courtyard, more than made up for that.

The tour of La Pedrera starts on the roof and works its way down back to ground level. There was a huge line for what looked like very crowded elevators, so we opted for the 9-floor walk up the back stairway instead.

The chain-link fencing on the right side of the next picture makes me think that the original design didn't have much of a barrier from the roof to the interior courtyard.

Here's a detail of the rib vaulting in the attic ceiling. The attic is used as an exhibition space.

As you descend the stairs from the roof to a few floors below the attic, one of the private apartments has been furnished in the style of the early 1900's and is now a walk-through museum.

Casa Batllo and La Pedrera are some of the top examples of Catalan Modernisme (or Catalan Art Nouveau) architecture. These 2 buildings were constructed as family homes, but they also had apartments which could be rented out. 

Click here to see more pictures of Gaudi's Casa Batllo and La Pedrera in Barcelona.

Two Weeks in Spain - May 2014 - Architecture of Antoni Gaudi - La Sagrada Familia

Antoni Gaudi's church of the Holy Family, or La Sagrada Familia, is probably the most recognizable building in all of Barcelona. In fact, it's so big you can see it from almost anywhere in town it seems. Construction started on this church in 1882. Gaudi took over the project in 1883 and worked on it until his death in 1926. The church's website suggests that they might be finished "some time in the first third of the 21st Century". It is a bit weird touring a church that is not only in use but still very much under construction, with big sky cranes going and all the sounds of a construction site. From the outset it has been built solely from donations.

The outside of the church is very ornate but from a distance appears rather monochromatic.

Once inside, however, it's a whole different story. The interior is an overload of color and light.

This person, staring up at the ceiling, pretty much sums it up.

We took the elevator up one of the towers, them walked back down via a series of spiral staircases. Great views of the city from various little landings along the way.

Here's a pigeon's-eye view from about halfway down.

The upper part of the spiral stairway was enclosed between 2 stone walls with lots of openings. Since it's sometimes hard to judge the size of something when you can't see it next to something you recognize, in the next shot I've included an object of a known size - Heather's head - to help with the scale.

This is almost to the bottom of the lower stairway, which is somewhat narrower and very different in feel. Again, we have something for scale - in this case, part of Heather's shoe. Walking down this you really got the feeling that you could fall right through that hole in the middle all the way to the bottom. The lip on the inside of the spiral is only a few inches tall. This is actually over halfway down this section. As Phil Liggett, one of the commentators for the Tour de France would say, "Not for the nervous".

This church should be high on the list of things to see for anyone visiting Barcelona.

Click here to see a few more pictures from Antoni Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia.

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San Diego, California, United States
About me . . . When I'm not working I like to be out exploring and photographing. I do this blog just for fun, and to be able to share these images with friends. I hope you enjoy viewing these images as much as I enjoyed creating them.

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Header image: Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, Cibola, Arizona. End image: Downtown San Diego, California skyline from Coronado Island. Profile picture: Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho, by Heather Baiamonte.