28 October 2015

(That's "Oh My Gaudi")

My two fears about this day...for the past several weeks...were first, that a "moderate" level of excursion would not work for me and I would have to miss the thing I wanted most to see in Barcelona, which was all the Gaudi architecture, and second, that it would be raining.  I have been following Barcelona weather and there has been a lot of rain and predicted for today was showers.

But this morning we woke up to clear skies and a beautiful sunrise, and then breakfast delivered to our room.  How lovely and perfectly civilized to eat on the deck overlooking the Mediterranean...

I had actually slept most of the night, thanks to the very comfortable couch. Before our 8:30 meet time, I took two Aleve (believing the ad that says 2 Aleve will last all day!) to help keep the knees and hips from hurting too much...and off we went.

The first thing we learned right off the boat was at this monument to Christopher Columbus. He was Jewish, apparently, and Barcelona had been controlled by Jews, but in the 1400s, Jews were being expelled from here and so the journey, financed by a Jewish banker (which blows Stan Freberg's theory all to pieces!) was prompted by the fact that he had to leave town, not that Isabella sold her jewels to finance his search for a new world!  Who knew?  (The guide even apologized for destroying our fantasy!)

Near here, as we drove into town, was a huge area with people selling their wares, laid out on the sidewalk.  While you see this in a lot of places what's unique about it in Barcelona is that the police don't control the land right next to the water, so the illegal immigrants can set up their wares there and can't be arrested but if they cross the street, they can. (Not surprisingly, the guide says there is controversy here over that!)

We drove through a lot of the city, a very lovely looking city, today all decked out in flags because Catalonia is trying to break free of Spain fact, tomorrow is the vote which will decide if they want to become an independent country.  It's all very complicated, but it is interesting that our tour guide talked about it a lot and another tour guide refused to discuss it!

We ended up at Parc Guell, which is a park where one can see the full extent of Gaudi's genius.  It is a multi-acre park of gardens and "architectural elements."  Several years ago, when things were freer in Russia, the park, which at that time was free, was overrun with Russian tourists, the sheer numbers starting to destroy the park, so they now have to limit the number of people who are in the park at any one time, and they charge a fee for admission.  I think I saw a sign that said something like only 300 people could be in the park at any one time.  Fortunately we had reservations.

I had seen lots of pictures of this undulating mosaic in reading about Gaudi and Barcelona but didn't know what it was for.

Turns out it's a bench that encircles this huge overlook area. It's all made of stone and ergonomically designed so that lump underneath the mosaic hits you right in the middle of your back and it was so remarkably comfortable that I wanted to stay there all day.

From here we took pics of some famous Gaudi buildings and then the tour was to go "underground."  "You're not going down, are you?" asked Walt, but yes, I was definitely going underground and how glad I am that I did.  Here are amazing creations mimicking underground caves including one that looked like champagne glasses.

It doesn't show up well in this picture, but each of those "glasses" is a different color.  That's because Gaudi had his crew breaking local stones into tiny pieces so he could put all the red, blue, and gold colors into different structures.

I loved this fence.  Gaudi copied the structure of a Spanish palm tree and had a mold created for the metal pieces that went together to create the fence itself.

We passed under some columns holding up the cistern drainage mechanism (also designed by Gaudi) for the viewing platform and then down to another level, passing along the way this cute statue of a dragon.

We were getting a 10 minute break for bathrooms, gift shop or whatever else we wanted. I decided that since we had to go UP to return to the bus, we would start on ahead of the group.  A page about the park includes this warning:  If you're visiting the park by metro be prepared for at least a 20 minutes walk. The last 200 m walk is up a steep hill. If you have difficulties going up steep steps then a taxi or bus may be a better means of transport.

It was a killer climb, almost entirely steps, and definitely steep!, but I took lots of breaks...fortunately, because I stopped to hear this guy playing guitar and because of that, as I looked up from my bench, I saw the structure above him had little alcoves and in each alcove was a bird--kind of like a pigeon apartment.

We staggered back to the bus, sweating and panting, but I felt triumphant because I had done it!  But the piece de resistance was still to come.  La Sagrada Familia.

There is a song Ned wrote after he returned from our London trip, where so many buildings were undergoing refurbishment.  The song begins "Don't go to London, it's under construction..."  We have used that phrase many times when going somewhere with buildings under scaffolding.  Well, La Sagrada Familia has been "under construction" quite literally since 1882.  It was the work of Gaudi's life, and he spent some 40+ years doing this magnificent basilica.  On his death, he had given instructions on how it was to be completed and completion is now scheduled for the anniversary of his birth, 2026.  So..."don't go to Sagrada Familia, it's under construction" !!  But if you wait for it to be finished, you could die first! 

(my very first view of the building)

We had to wait in line while our tour guide got our tickets.  I was more than thrilled that we were there in October and not in the summer.  We had a cooling breeze to keep us from melting.

The church is laid out so that the front of it, which faces east and the rising sun, celebrates the birth of Jesus and all that surrounded that event, while the back of it focuses on his death and the stations of the cross.  The front is mostly joyous.  I love how happy everyone is here:

But I was deeply disturbed by this depiction of one of Herrod's soldiers killing all the babies in the hopes of killing the child he felt would rise up to defeat him.

(You can see a baby being held aloft behind the machine that held a man cleaning the stonework, and two dead babies at the soldier's feet.)

Then we moved inside and what an amazing ediface this is.  Char says it reminds her of when we were at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul -- The buildings are very, very different, but the experience was the same.

I will only print two photos, but every view is breathtaking.  Gaudi chose the theme of nature, to which he felt very close, and so the pillars are all trees and the stained glass windows are designed so that they go through the period of the day and the seasons of the year, from blue to red, around the building.

At noon the Angelus bell was rung and a recording of the Montserrat nuns singing Ave Maria was played.  If the place hadn't been so full of damn tourists taking pictures, it would have been a magical moment!  (But then I just love moments like that).  I sat down while it was playing and put the camera on my lap and just shot up to see what I would get.  This was what my camera saw.

The back way out was very dark, with the theme of Jesus' torture and crucifixion.

But I was amused to note that the soldiers guarding him looked like Star Wars storm troopers.

On the way back to the bus, one guy in our group was pickpocketed.  In all of our now-5 trips with Viking this is the first time this has happened and our tour guide said that it was the first time it had happened to any of her groups. The guy was very blase about it and felt that once he contacted his bank, he would be covered and it would be a minor inconvenience.

Nearing the dock area, as we crossed over the bridge taking us "home," we noted a new mega liner had pulled into port and you could see the size difference.

We dragged ourselves back to the ship and stopped for lunch at the World Market, where we were almost the last people to eat and then we dragged ourselves up to our room to rest until it was time for the mandatory fire drill at 5.  Walt had no trouble sleeping!

At 5 we went to the Star Theater to assemble for the safety drill.  When it was over, we finally met up with our traveling companions, Linda and Bob and we made plans for dinner.  We were back at "Restaurant" and had a wonderful time chatting and getting caught up on their excursion (they didn't do Gaudi) and ours.

At some point during our dinner, the ship had left port and so we were underway to our next destination: Tulon, France.  After we finished dinner, we moved out to the lounge where a classical trio was playing.  It was soon replaced by the Captain's welcome and introduction of the crew. 

It was so nice to hear a captain who actually speaks English fluently and a surprise to discover that two members of the crew are American.

When all that, plus a preview of coming attractions for entertainment on the ship, was finished, we headed off to our respective cabins.  As I looked out the window of the elevator, I could see they had started to dance.  Rats.  Walt and I missed our big opportunity to tell my mother we went dancing!

This was a perfect first day!


My starter was, of course, crab cakes.  Then for a main course, I chose the
lobster, though it's not my favorite.  It was OK, but nothing to write home about
(but if you can get it free as an option, why not?)  And then dessert was a
chocolate souffle hot from the oven, with some Bailey's Irish Cream to pour over it.

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