The Clock is Ticking

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
Trip End Apr 14, 2011

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Flag of Spain  , Catalonia,
Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I love lists and maps, and think there's nothing more satisfying than a well-planned itinerary.  Poring over the map at breakfast in the hotel I mentally checked off all the things that I wanted to see and planned my route around the city.

First stop, La Sagrada Família, the Catholic basilica designed by Antoni Gaudi and the most iconic building in Barcelona, if not Spain.  I picked up a two-day travel pass from the ticket machine in the metro station at Plaça D'Espanya, which allowed unlimited travel through the city on the metro, bus, tram and local trains for €6.50.  The metro system is great, with regular, punctual trains, and easily navigated, and after a change of trains at Diagonal, I arrived at the station serving the temple.

Climbing the stairs from the underground you're greeted by a view of the knees of other sightseers who've reached the top, and paused to take in the spectacle of the Nativity façade, which looms high over the park below.  This is the most famous view of the building, with four distinctive conical towers sitting atop a structure like a massive coral cliff in which figures of people and animals have taken refuge in nooks and crannies, as melted wax was dripped over them from above. 

This is Gaudi's vision, started in 1894 and completed in 1930, four years after his death in a traffic accident.  Despite having see many pictures of the building, the detail in the stone carvings is astonishing and I could easily spend the morning looking through the railings.  But I decide that I must see everything, and have to go inside.  Around the corner and halfway down the block, behind a group of schoolchildren with matching red baseball caps, i find the end of the queue.  It takes around 20 minutes to reach the front, which is reasonable considering this is the most visited attraction in Spain. 

The queue also lets you appreciate that it is still an active building site, as scaffolding supports part of the structure and several tower cranes loom over.  The basilica isn't expected to be completed for another 30 years or so.  That's not because they only work in the evening when the visitors go home, it is because that's how long it will take to complete the building working as they are, all day every day.

Entrance to the basilica is €12.50, and it costs a further €4.00 for an audioguide.  It may seem pricy, especially if you're in a group, but I spent around three hours inside and out, and could easily have stayed longer.  The audioguide is good, and worth paying extra to lengthen your visit to the temple.

The first part of the tour takes in the Passion façade, depicting the story of Jesus' crucifiction through very angular, abstracted sculptures, created by Josep Subirachs.  In comparison to Gaudi's Nativity façade, which drips with detail and images of life, it is stark, almost Soviet in appearance, giving only the bare bones of the story.  I think I like it better than the other.

The interior of the basilica is just as impressive as the outside.  The cool darkness is alternately bathed in watery bluegreen light or flashed with orange fire from the stained glass windows as you walk around.  Tall pillars grow from the floor, with the butress roots of tropical trees, branching high above to create a rainforest canopy for a roof.  Although still incomplete, people still walk through in hushed reverence.

After completing the tour of the temple, I take the metro the direction of another of Gaudi's creations, Parc Güell, stopping for coffe and sandwich at a small café on the way.  In contrast to the quiet atmosphere of La Sagrada Família, Parc Güell absolutley buzzes.  The famous snaking mosaic benches are packed, as people picnic, chat, sun themselves and pose for photos.  Hawkers lay out sheets covered in jewellery, fans and sunglasses for sale and a group of musicians play for the crowds.  Suddenly, they change their tune to play for the group of Greek students that have started to dance.  As the music builds and the dancing gets more raucous, a crowd builds, clapping in time to the music and cheering on the dancers.  It ends with a roar, and hugs and backslaps all round.  I could sit here all afternoon watching people, but my pale Scottish skin isn't suited to the sun, even at this time of year.
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