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