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Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain
I recently earned my Masters in History at NWMSU and am now working as a language assistant in a Spanish elementary school.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Is This Spain? (Barcelona: Part Quatre)

The next morning I went to the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria and got a breakfast of dragon fruit and a crêpe with melted chocolate. Not far off Las Ramblas, on a street called Carrer Nou de la Rambla, I saw the exterior of the Palau Güell, a palace built by Gaudí for his patron, the industrialist Eusebi Güell:
After this I took the metro across the city and visited a relatively new park called Parc de Diagonal Mar. The park was located in a residential area near the beach surrounded by high-rises and shopping centers. The artwork was quite bizarre:

Yet this is not the park for which Barcelona is most famous. I began my trek from this area to visit this other park. I started with the metro and took it to the northern part of the city where I had quite an uphill trek past graffiti:

and a strange fountain:

After walking up a steep hill lined with souvenir shops and convenience stores, I reached my destination:

Park Güell was planned by Gaudí and is one of the most imaginative spaces I have ever visited. It was built between 1900 and 1914 and includes two buildings at the entrance gate:
You can spend a lot of time in this park, looking at all of the details Gaudí used in the gardens and pathways. One of the most famous images from the park is the mosaic lizard the architect placed in the middle of the stairway leading up the park's main hill. Reproductions of this creature can be purchased in shops all throughout Spain:

At the top of this hill is a huge terrace, supported by a series of columns which seem to form a cavern:

Atop this hill was the house which Gaudí lived in between 1906 and 1926:

The garden outside his house featured many sculptures copied from decorative elements on his various projects, such as this one taken from La Sagrada Família:

Not far from this house were two ramps supported by columns which led to an even higher area of the park:

At this level, you could see much of the city out to the Mediterranean:

After spending a few hours relaxing at Park Güell, I returned to the Barri Gòtic near my hotel and found a museum dedicated to Catalonia's most famous artist, Salvador Dalí. The museum featured many of his sketches as well as his sculptures and decorative art objects for which he is not as well-known:

Most of his decorative items, like the one above, were based on his earlier paintings. Outside the museum stood this interesting cutout of the artist:

I walked back to the area of the Arc de Triomf and entered the city's central park, Parc de la Ciutadella. The first building I came across in this park was Castell dels Tres Dragons, which is now used as a science museum:

The park was filled with greenhouses, bicycles, and old schools and churches:

The Parliament of Catalonia was near the edge of the park:

One of the most famous landmarks in this park is the giant waterfall/fountain, Cascada:

After leaving the park I walked around Barri Gòtic, taking pictures of the alleyways:

The next morning I walked around the city before my flight left that afternoon. I saw this strange life-sized figure outside a shop:

I then walked back down Passeig de Gràcia and turned right on a street to visit Josep Puig i Cadafalch's Casa Terrades (or Casa de les Punxes), which resembles a medieval castle:

I then returned to the Palau Nacional and visited the the Catalan art museum. There was an impressive collection of Romanesque frescoes which were originally located inside stone churches in the Pyrenees Mountains. The paintings (which dated from roughly between 1000 and 1350) were endangered as the churches were crumbling after centuries of abandonment. In the late 1800s a group of art collectors organized a rescue of these frescoes. The paintings were removed and transported on the backs of donkeys down the mountains to their current location in Barcelona. Other artists in the museum included Miró, Picasso, Dalí, and Casas. Here are some photos of Barcelona taken from the front of the museum:

I walked down Montjuïc and took the metro back to Plaça de Catalunya where I took the bus to the airport. My flight arrived on time and I returned to Madrid in what seemed like no time. Catalonia left an impression on me. I didn't feel as though I was in Spain. Even advertisements for stores and businesses listed their web address as .cat rather than .es which is used elsewhere through Spain. The spirit of the Catalan people seemed different as well, more in tune with the "European ideal" which the EU is trying to stress now. Catalonia is a beautiful area and I would love to visit it again.
As everyone was still gone on their various trips, I was in Alcalá alone for a few days before I left on the next leg of my trip.

Is This Spain? (Barcelona: Part Tres)

After I awoke the next morning and had breakfast the next morning I went to the Museu Picasso. Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga, but spent many of his formative years (before joining the Parisian art scene) in Barcelona. He produced most of his early artworks here, which were far from the cubist, surrealist, and abstract paintings he would later produce. Picasso returned to Barcelona many times in his life and painted scenes of the city. The museum housed many of his early works as well as his later cubist copy of Velazquez's Las Meninas. The museum itself was housed in a medieval palace. Here is the courtyard:
After the museum, I went down some side streets and came across a restaurant called Els Quatre Gats (The Four Cats), which Picasso and Ramon Casas used to frequent:

I ate at a restaurant next door called Set de Gòtic. It had an old-style interior with columns and candelabras on the walls. The owner sat at a table near me and spoke to his employees about their schedules while an old man drank a beer and smoked a cigarette while reading a newspaper. I ordered a fuet sandwich. Fuet is a thin and savory sausage from Catalonia which you can find throughout Spain, but this was the best I've had.

Down Passeig de Gràcia, I took some pictures of the fourth of the great modernisme apartment buildings, Casa Amatller, which is next to Casa Batlló and was built by Josep Puig i Cadafalch in 1900:

I also walked past Fundació Antoni Tàpies, which is dedicated to the contemporary Catalan artist who designed the structure atop this building:

On my way to Sagrada Família I saw this college:

Sagrada Família was probably the most impressive unfinished building I have ever seen.

It was begun in 1882 and could be finished sometime around 2026. Gaudí never planned on seeing the building's completion and the project went through many setbacks following his death, namely the Civil War and the economic turmoil which followed. Today, construction of the church is financed by the tickets visitors buy to tour the interior and Japanese investors. When it is complete, there will be a giant central spire, towering over the others, with a four-armed cross which can be seen in Gaudí's other works. This facade of the church was not designed by Gaudí, but by a later architect and is known as the Passion Facade:

As you can probably tell from the pictures of this side of the church, there are so many details, you are overwhelmed. The other side, designed by Gaudí himself, is even more spectacular. Before visiting it, I took the tour of the unfinished interior:

Here is the amazing Nativity Facade, designed by Gaudí, complete with various creatures:

In an adjacent building, now used as a Sunday school, Gaudí's original office is left as it was when he died in 1926:

After Sagrada Família, I decided to go to a hospital. That may sound strange, but this is a work of modernisme architecture built by Lluís Domènech i Montaner between 1901 and 1930. The hospital is called Hospital de Sant Pau. Domènech i Montaner believed that nature and beauty would expediate the healing process and placed many open spaces on the hospital grounds. The sound of tropical birds sounded from everywhere in the otherwise silent campus:

I left Hospital de Sant Pau and headed to the area of Montjuïc, a hill in the southwest of the city. Atop the hill is the Palau Nacional, which was built for the 1929 World's Fair and now houses the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya:

From the top of the hill, there was this great view of Barcelona:

Behind the Palau Nacional were many structures built for the 1992 Olympics. The most iconic of these structures is the Montjuïc telecommunications tower built by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava:

There was also this lucky cat:

Also on the hill was the Museu de Joan Miró. It was closed and I later learned that Woody Allen was having a private tour of the collection while I was standing outside, looking at the schedule and taking pictures of this Miró sculpture:

I took a funicular back down the hill, then took the metro back to the area of my hostel where I saw this:

This is one of the paintings of Pez (which means "fish") a Barcelonan artist who's graffiti is all over town and is sought by art collectors. Not far from here is the Palau de la Música, built by Domènech i Montaner in 1908. Since it's crowded around other buildings it's difficult to photograph:

The Arc de Triomf was about a ten minute walk from here. It was built in 1888 as the entrance to the Universal Exposition:

The pathway which leads from the Arc de Triomf to the Parc de la Ciutadella offered some great night shots:

On my way to see the skyscraper Torre Agbar's illuminations, I came across this great, but confusing color-shifting window display:

After a long walk:

I finally got to Torre Agbar:
On my return I saw another Pez painting:

and back in the Medieval district, near my hostel, I came across this:

the remains of a Roman wall, among which was later built the Medieval palace of the Catalan king. This statue of Ramon Berenguer III, one of the Counts of Barcelona stood outside: