July 24, 2007

Barcelona Overview: Day Two

Our second day in Barcelona began as the first. Once we finished with our breakfast, we headed out to purchase tickets for a guided visit to the Palau de la Música, yet another World Heritage Site. We were very happy that we stopped at the ticket office first because the first English tour was sold out and we had to purchase tickets for a visit later in the afternoon.

Our next stop was the Picasso Museum. Maneuvering the maze of tiny streets in the Barri Gòtic was easy with our mini detailed maps from Rick Steves' Spain 2007 (Thanks BC!). We joined the fast-moving line that snaked down the street and were soon inside.

Señor CC and I both greatly enjoyed this museum. All of the work is presented chronologically and there are guides who ensure that you follow the correct path. It was amazing to watch his work grow...literally and figuratively. We saw small landscapes and village-life scenes painted on wood, some excellent portraits, items from his blue period as well as his more well known modern art. The whole painting exhibit was followed by a small room of his ceramics - now that we'd never even heard of.

My favorites included a portrait of his mother. It was so very real that it appeared as if she could just come off of the canvas and speak to us. I have a postcard of this one, but of course it doesn't do justice to the real painting. Just her ear was so amazingly created...it was unbelievable. I also loved one of the blue paintings - the one titled "desamparats" - of a woman and child. A postcard or photo in a book is interesting, but not nearly as revealing as when one has a chance to view a painting for herself.

Our next stop was the Museo de la Xocolata. I would be surprised if the mouths of all who pass by didn't water from the amazing smells emanating from the museum. One is faced with a cafe selling all kinds of creamy treats upon entering, and once entry tickets are acquired, room after room of eye candy awaits. The history of chocolate is covered amongst displays made almost entirely of, well, chocolate.

In addition to the man above, there are chocolate sculptures of Gorillas, Don Quixote and his sidekick in front of the treacherous windmills, a shoe store display, Casa Amatller, as well as a full model of the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory...factory. I imagine these will be the main focus for children, but scattered between them is loads of information regarding chocolate. There are examples of the machines used as well as interactive media displays to let you guide yourself through the information. Everyone exits through the cafe when they are finished...and many stop to have a drink and a tasty treat.

Houses of worship are everywhere in Spain and Europe. They are usually most extraordinarily decorated and designed. One of the most beautiful I have seen is Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona. This church was burned out during the Spanish Civil War; there are still black marks on the ceiling. There are very few furnishings in the church, which makes it quite different from Cathedrals we've seen. Symmetry throughout the sanctuary created by columns that rise up to towering heights coupled with the beautiful light created by the stained glass windows allows for an awe-filled atmosphere.

Windows line the sides of the sanctuary in Santa Maria del Mar. They were much lower to the ground than those in the cathedrals of Seville, Granada, or even Barcelona. Many cathedrals leave you astounded due to details or the opulence of what they contain; this church made me calm and filled me with a certain amount of amazement and respect. It was simply beautiful.

Hunger begain knocking after our inspiring visit to Santa Maria del Mar, so we headed out to Taller de Tapas for a surprisingly quick lunch. We had a lovely meal which I will describe in more detail another time. Excellent place for a lunch, though - and the menu is in at least three languages, which is always beneficial.

My favorite visit of the day was the Palau de la Música. No photographs are allowed inside, and the exterior section was under refurbishment, so I have nothing to show you but this photo. What is it, exactly? I bet if I tell you to think of tropical trees you can guess. Nature is the name of the game with the Modernisme movement, and this is only a conservative example of how architects and artists (one in the same, where Modernisme is concerned) used nature as inspiration.

Designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the 'father' of Modernisme, this Music Palace is a sight to behold. If any of you, dear audience, every visit Barcelona, please make every attempt to visit this sight - especially if music interests you even slightly. The 'theme' of the performance hall is nature, and more specifically, a garden. Every piece of every item has been designed to fit within this theme, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. Flowers are everywhere, but not necessarily obtrusively so, the stained-glass window up above it the sun circled by angels singing. The nature flows throughout the seating area.

The stage, which was increased in size to hold a full orchestra by building out over the first few rows of seats...which are still visible under the stage curtain, is framed on one side by the Ride of the Valkyres (Wagner) and on the other by the bust of Beethoven. I suppose those two big-wigs balance each other out quite nicely. Surrounding the back wall of the stage are maidens who are half mosaic (2-D; tile) and half bass-relief (3-D; plaster). Each holds and plays a different instrument.

The entire room is overwhelmingly intricate and full of light. Windows cover the outer walls, a new architectural feat at the time of its construction that required support in the form of poles and beams a few meters in from the outer walls. The only way to see the Palace is to join a guided visit, which begins with a short video and then a tour of the performance hall, or to attend a performance. Either way, it is a must-see in Barcelona.

Next on our itinerary was Casa Milà, commonly referred to as La Pedrera. La Pedrera means the stone quarry and when looking at the exterior of the building, I am certain anyone can see why the building has such a nickname. Antoni Gaudí designed and built these apartments in the modernisme style. Again, all is based on nature. Here things are not quite so...opulent as at the Palau.

Perhaps the most fun section of the building is the spontaneous rooftop. Sculptures of different shapes and colors, all based on nature of course, rise up. Some look like melting ice-cream on a cone and others look like heads of some creature (perhaps a lizard), but all are whimsical and fun. As you can see above, from Casa Milà one can easily see Gaudí's most famous work, La Sagrada Familia.

Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia is the full name of this structure. Gaudí spent the last years of his life living here while he built it. La Sagrada Familia is still under construction and will be for quite a few years yet. I expect a massive celebration when it is complete. I will share more on this and Casa Milà in another post or two. It is sufficient to say that this place is awesome. That would not be an exaggeration by any means.

For our evening meal, we headed to an Italian restaurant. I know, Italian in Spain. What can I say, we didn't feel like testing the Catalán waters. Regardless, it was very good. Afterwards we strolled Las Ramblas in a search for churros con chocolate. Were we successful? You'll have to come back later to find out!

No comments: