My recent trip to Barcelona featured ‘water‘ in a variety of forms:
First of all I went to the aquarium to see its weird and wonderful residents, for whom water is, of course, their natural environment.
Then a stroll round the marina (not quite as easy to enjoy as it used to be due to the sturdy metal security fence that was put round it a while ago).
Next a walk along the city beach front in La Barceloneta, looking a lot smarter these days to keep pace with the Hotel W, rising – seemingly – out of the sea, sleek and shiny and majestic – and expensive! – , and costing around 220 euros a night. But us ordinary mortals can still enjoy the simple pleasures – paddling in the sea – it’s certainly a good way to cool off from the heat wave that has swept through most of Spain this summer, with sweltering temperatures of 40º plus from Madrid down to Sevilla.
This is the giant thermometer in Portal de l’ Angel, just down the road from Plaza de Cataluña in the centre of Barcelona, marking 29 º – positively chilly in comparison, you might think – but this was taken at 10 o’clock at night – so not much respite even after sundown!
Next it was time for a turn round Ciutadella Park , which this year has attracted a bunch of Bob Marley lookalikes, lounging on the grass and occasionally getting to their feet, wreathed in clouds of smoke (no idea what that is!) to sing a bit of reggae (other years it’s been bongo drummers or fitness instructors bellowing at their charges – prefer the reggae myself.) The park is a great place for locals and tourists alike to ‘tomar el fresco’ – take the cooler evening air – and get a bit of exercise, if you must! It’s only a small park but it has everything you’d expect – benches, flowers, shade, ice cream stalls, a few oddballs, but best of all a lake with some very exuberant fountains, shooting sprays of cooling water up into the air.
Continuing with the water theme, one day we took up an online offer to loll by the pool at the plush Catalonia Barcelona Plaza hotel, near Montjuic. They were offering non residents access to the swimming pool on their fantastic, panoramic roof terrace (four poster sunbeds, no less!) and some great photo opportunities from a vantage point high in the sky. though I don’t suppose they are too keen on the neighbour who provided the view below – if you look carefully, you will notice quite a lot of buildings in Barcelona with shanties like this one on the flat roof – of course, you’re not usually high enough to see them but they’re there, and unfortunately for the powers that be, once they’ve been there long enough they acquire squatters’ rights and are very difficult to shift. This one’s definitely got an air of defiance about it – maybe the occupier is another victim of the ‘crisis’ – or maybe he’s an ex-bank manager!
I stayed with the water theme for the middle weekend of my stay but spent it ‘down country’ in Deltebre – a village in the Ebro Delta, about 2 hours train ride south of the capital, in an area which produces a lot of the rice grown in Spain – Valencia is the other main rice growing area.
The Ebro delta is a refuge for many species of water fowl and, as it turns out, THOUSANDS of dragonflies! I was hoping to see more birds but we would have needed to stay longer and plan better – I realised that it takes a determined and knowledgeable guide to track down the more spectacular breeds – so next time I’ll go prepared.
Nonetheless, it is a beautiful area away from the madding crowds.
The basilica of the Sagrada Familia was one of the first places I visited in Spain way back in 1969. It was and still is, a ‘must see’ on any excursion to Barcelona. It’s easily the most unusual church you’ll ever see and, despite the fact that it’s STILL unfinished, it’s a fantastic sight.
Rumour has it that it’s due for completion in 2026 to coincide with the centenary of Gaudí’s death – a more realistic estimation, according to some, is 2028.
Most people know at least two facts about Antoni Gaudí, the catalán architect – 1) that the Sagrada Familia is his magnum opus and 2) that he was killed by a tram. He was, of course, responsible for many other great constructions, most of them in Barcelona – like the Casa Batlló in the beautiful thoroughfare of El Paseo de Gracia, or Parc Güell, inspired, as are all his works, by his love of natural forms.
León boasts two of his creations – the Casa Botines and the Palacio Episcopal de Astorga and in Comillas, Cantabria, stands El Capricho. a summer house of oriental design, commissioned by Máximo Díaz de Quijano and just as wacky and beautiful as all Gaudí’s other designs.
At the time of Gaudí’s death the construction of the Sagrada Familia had really only just got underway. His plans were complicated, inspired and ambitious, but it seems his disciples were more than willing to continue his work, although controversy has always surrounded their interpretation of his designs. Vociferous critics claim that what we now see deviates from his ideas and, as the original plans seem to have been lost or destroyed, it’s difficult to know if that’s right.
Personally, I prefer the original art nouveau, free, organic style, with its naturalistic forms to the stark and angular style of, say, the Passion Façade.
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself staring up at this magnificent building take a few minutes to study it – the more you look the more you see: figures, animals, plants all interwoven to create a masterpiece of such incredible detail and workmanship.
Some of the colours used in the interior are more gaudy than Gaudí – but whatever you think of it you won’t forget it!
In 2010 the nave of the church, which had been open to the elements, was covered and a magnificent organ installed. This allowed it’s consecration by Pope Benedict XV1 at a ceremony on November 7th, attended by thousands. Religious ceremonies could now be conducted. Ignoring the ever present cranes and scaffolding, the most striking thing about the church are the many spires – they dominate the skyline and from inside afford an unrivalled view across the city. Gaudí wanted 18 spires – 12 to represent the Apostles, 1 for the Virgin Mary, 4 for the Evangelists and the tallest for Jesus Christ. The spires are also bell towers and Gaudí had done some very specific studies of the acoustics to get the sound of the bells just right – he thought of everything, didn’t he?
He didn’t think of the AVE, though. Around 2009, much to the consternation of those responsible for the Sagrada Familia, it was revealed that the engineers developing the expansion of the AVE network (Spain’s high speed train) planned to construct an underground tunnel at the Barcelona end of the line between Madrid and Barcelona, very close to the Sagrada Familia, or even right underneath it! Now, wouldn’t that be ironic? After spending more than a century trying to finish the building, that it should be undermined – quite literally – by a machine not unlike the one that had finished poor old Gaudí off all those years ago! ! Would the Sagrada Familia disappear in a cloud of dust – reduced to a pile of rubble by the AVE as it whistled by at 350 kilometres an hour on it’s way to France!!
Let’s hope that doesn’t happen! To see how the church will eventually look go to :
Exciting news!! I’ve just discovered that the Vuelta a España Cycle Race 2015 will be passing through Riaza this year! Where? I hear you cry! Well, Riaza just happens to be a small town up the road from where my husband was born – nestling in the foothills of a snow capped sierra in Segovia, on that inhospitable central ‘meseta’ of the Iberian Peninsula. ‘Meseta’ was a word I first heard in geography lessons at school. It means ‘plateau’ I remember my teacher explaining. Little did I know that 10 years later I would find myself gazing out across that very plateau from the window of my in-laws’ house in a tiny village about 15 miles from RIAZA! – The snow capped sierra was the Guadarrama mountains, which separate Segovia from Madrid.
I have always liked cycling and my first bike was bought for me in 1963 as a reward for passing my 11 plus (damn! now you know how old I am!) Anyway, that was a good 17 years before our (well, I say ‘our’ but, apparently, he is Belgian-British)renowned Tour de France winner, Bradley Wiggins, was even born, so I wasn’t under the spell of the so called ‘Wiggo factor’ which swept the U.K. after his triumph in the Tour in 2012 and spurred every man and his dog – to coin a phrase! funny mental image! – to take up cycling, but maybe my love of cycle racing has been revived by the Wiggo factor. Over the years I’ve followed the fortunes of Spanish racers Miguel Indurain, who won the Tour de France FIVE times in a row in the 1990s and Pedro Delgado, whose successful career started slightly earlier. Occasionally my husband would accompany me on a bike ride, although he wasn’t that keen and, if truth be told, he was a danger to himself and others when on a bike. He disliked the uphill slogs, but gloried in the downhill and used to speed like a demon, shouting ‘Allá voy Bahamontes………………..!!!!!!!!!!!’.
Bahamontes? Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of him! Only one of Spain’s greatest road racers, born in 1928 (so I AM going back a bit! – that would make him 87 this year, but I think he’s still around.) He was known in his hey day as ‘el Aguila (the Eagle) de Toledo’ and won the Tour de France in 1959, was 2nd in the Vuelta in 1957, and won stages in both races as well as the coveted title of King of the Mountain on numerous occasions – apparently, he wasn’t very good on the descent, but was master of the uphill climb – the opposite of my husband!
Anyway, back to the present. The last ‘etapa’ of this year’s Vuelta a España will finish in the capital, Madrid, on September 13 and I aim to be there – to soak up the atmosphere, revisit old haunts and capture a few shots for posterity.