Barcelona | Day 2: It’s not all about Gaudi
Now don’t get me wrong. Gaudi was a genius. Many of the world’s greatest architects who have come along since the architect’s premature death under the wheels of a Barcelona tram would declare it so. He was utterly ingenious and completely beyond his time. The Sagrada Familia looks utterly futuristic, and yet he designed it at the end of the 1800s. But Barcelona, like so many cities who know they are onto a good thing, is not shy about exploiting Gaudi’s talent to the full. So asides from the fanfares which go up within a mile radius of the various Gaudi masterpieces which pop up across the city, you also have souvenirs crammed full of Gaudi-related paraphernalia, all covered in various semblances of mosaic-looking broken tiled patterns, whether it be across cuddly lizards, multi-coloured mugs, candle holders or umbrellas. The resulting popularity of this genius makes life for the spontaneous tourist something of a nightmare as we were about to find out.
On Saturday, our visit to the Sagrada Familia was in part impeded by the fact that all tickets to the towers, which it had been my primary intention to visit, were already sold out for the day. This was several hours before closing. Then on Sunday, when we headed along to the recently renovated Palau Guell off Las Ramblas, we were told similarly that the tickets for the day were sold out – and this too was several hours before closing. Finally on Monday, a further attempt to visit said Guell palace was similarly in vein: they were closed. Thwarted by what appears to be the need for months of pre-planning (I’m assuming that online ticket sales are the cause of tickets selling out so early), we had to stop and restock. Was the success of this holiday really all that dependant on seeing all of these various Gaudi houses? To be crammed inside with the rest of the city’s tourist hoards? Of course it wasn’t: as one door closed on our plans, Barcelona opened various others. For as was to transpire, sometimes the best experiences of a tourist come from the spontaneous and the unplanned. And in Barcelona, it’s really not difficult to find entertainment and beauty beyond the broken tiles of Gaudi’s oeuvre.
Mare Magnum and the port
So what did we do once Gaudi’s doors had been closed in our face? Well as the weather was glorious, location one of the day just had to be Barcelona’s surprisingly clean sandy beach, and its expansive Mediterranean Port. Cleaned up for the 1992 Olympics, and subsequently developed further to include the hyper-modern Mare Magnum shopping and entertainment centre, which acts as a seaward extension to the bustling Las Ramblas, and the W hotel which sits like a sailing boat out on the furthest stretch of the marina, Barcelona’s port and beach front are some of the most pleasurable areas of the city to visit, whether it be for a stroll, a sunbathe or a seafood lunch under the sun – and happily we were able to indulge in all three.
The sunbathing was more of a clothes-on Winter version, but unbeknownst to us, we still managed to gain an awful lot of colour on our faces from a morning happily ambling close to the sea, along the marina’s edge, and eating the most delicious seafood paella on a restaurant installed in the middle of the beach. And what a way to enjoy a winter’s day. I almost felt like pinching myself, but instead indulged happily in a glass or two of crispy cold rueda wine – the perfect accompaniment to a lunch straight out of the pages of summer.
Barcelona’s sandy beach…
…and seafood paella for lunch
Our second highlight of the day also enabled us to embrace the al fresco life of Spring, through a visit to the Parc de la Ciutadella, just North East of the La Ribera district. The Ciutadella park is apparently the most visited ofBarcelona’s open spaces, even topping Gaudi’s Park Guell, and it’s not hard to see why. With the Catalan Parliament building at its heart, a zoo, a pleasure pond, a fantastic water feature comprising a monumental fountain adorned with statues and gilded horses a plenty, a botanical greenhouse and plenty of attractive lawns, trees and flowerbeds, one immediately gains the feeling that this park provides something for all of Barcelona’s residents. In fact when we visited on Sunday afternoon, it was like a scene out of Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece, Sunday Afternoon on the Grande Jatte, such was the gathering of leisuring locals upon the lawns, sat in groups playing the guitar, holding children’s parties encircling a sweet-filled piñata, people exercising, talking, eating snacks, others walking their dogs or taking photos of the park’s stunning monuments – it was as though the whole of Barcelona was out to make the most of the afternoon. But the activity which seemed to be creating the most excitement of all was the opportunity to hire a little rowing boat on the central boating lake and spend the afternoon lapping across the water.
The Parc de la Ciutadella
Too often in life I spend my time on the sidelines watching others having fun but not joining in. But no more of that. There seemed no sensible reason why we shouldn’t join those out boating on the lake, and my partner and I swiftly paid the small 6 euros charge and headed out onto the waters ourselves, in a little rowing boat built for two. Ah what fun this bucolic idyll provided – what tranquillity to hear the water gently lapping against the oars as they glided through the water. True – things were less tranquil when I took control, not least because I managed to collide with at least 3 other boats and splash us in a deluge of water at every turn of the oar – but once I had accepted the role of official photographer rather than sailor, the afternoon was a perfectly idyllic affair. The simple pleasures of life.
Although thoroughly satisfied by a day of surprises and spontaneous enjoyment, Barcelona had one final treat in store as we ambled our way back through La Ribera and the Gothic Quarter to our hotel: a long spiralling multi-coloured carnival parade, which brought with it a fiesta of acrobats, floats, drag queens and bands. As the parade twisted its way around the old core of the city, I could feel the tangible spirit and vitality of the city filling my every vein, while the rhythm of the parade had my body moving to its happy beat. A final hurrah in a day which aptly demonstrated that some of the greatest pleasures in life come, free from planning, in the most spontaneous and surprising of circumstances.
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