Since we’ve come back from Barcelona, I have got a bit sidetracked, what with fireplaces that smoke and snow in March. But I still have a couple more posts to write, and one of them is Gaudi’s La Pedrera. I’ve already talked about the chimneys and the façade.
You may remember that La Pedrera was built between 1906 and 1912 by Pere Milà and Roser Segimon and is a six-storey apartment building of which they occupied the main floor. The building has two vestibules, both of which are big enough to allow vehicles to go down to the basement, amazing foresight when you consider the year of construction.
The Provença vestibule has a lift, a staircase going down to the basement and another going up to the first floor. It also houses the caretaker’s loggia. The ceilings and walls are decorated with paintings inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses, especially the seven capital sins.
Today, the fourth floor apartment is the only one open to visitors. The home and life of a bourgois Barcelona family during the first third of the 20th century have been re-created, including all the original elements of a typical La Pedrera apartment, such as the door knobs, drawers, mouldings, doors and flooring.
Appropriate furniture, works of art, decorative elements, fabrics and household items of the time have been added to give visitors an idea of what it was like to live there.
As I mentioned in another post, Gaudi designed furniture as well, and a couple of pieces are exhibited, plus a video showing how to use them. He was into ergonomics way before his time!
The actual design of the apartment is open plan, with much larger volumes than usual. However, rooms such as the utility room and the maid’s room are surprisingly small.
The attic area, which was designed to house the water tanks and washing lines, consists of no fewer than two hundred and seventy catenary arches of different heights that hold up the roof. Today it’s used as an exhibition area for Gaudi’s life and work.
When we arrived in Barcelona on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, we had no idea it was the start of carnival. Our first inkling was when we saw lots of school children in costumes near our appartment, but we dismissed it as some sort of very local festivity. However, when we went to the main food market next day – Santa Caterina – and saw geishas and cowboys selling fruit and vegetables, we realised it must be something bigger! On Saturday, we ran into Freddy Flintstone and Superman pushing strollers with diminutive Princes and Zorros. On Sunday, we happened to run into the parade as it left Santa Caterina.
I didn’t realise when I started looking for a home exchange in Barcelona that Paris might not be a peak time from people used to a warmer climate – particularly since our main motivation for going to Spain in February was to get away from the grey skies and cold of Paris! Home exchanges can be either simultaneous or non-simultaneous, depending on various factors. Considering the other home exchanges we were planning this year, a non-simultaneous exchange didn’t seem possible. However, I shall take this factor into account in the future.
I received several refusals but Pep, who lives outside Barcelona and has a one-bedroom flat near Sant Pau Hospital and the Sagrada Familia, fortunately agreed to the swap, although he wasn’t sure until the last minute that he would be able to come to Paris and then, it was only for 2 nights as opposed to our 6 nights. Having a second home definitely makes it easier to juggle with dates.
When Pep saw our listing, he immediately said that his flat was “modesto”. It’s true that we usually try to find equivalent accommodation, but the most important thing is that it is comfortable and clean and has an internet connection. That was certainly the case and we felt very welcome. We weren’t intending to do any cooking so not having a dish washer was not a problem, for example. When we stayed with my brother, sister-in-law, 3 kids and my son in a home exchange on the Gold Coast in Australia, it was a necessity!
When we arrived, Pep was waiting for us with a French-speaking friend in case we had difficulties communicating. But Pep’s French is more than adequate. He told us his favourite places to wander around and where to have pintxos. He also said that the neighbourhood eating places weren’t very interesting although we had a very “local” experience one evening in the bar opposite when we didn’t feel like going into the centre. It’s true that the food wasn’t anything special, but it was certainly authentic and the staff were extremely friendly and helpful. The ambiance more than made up for the quality.
The only drawback was the distance from the centre but, as I mentioned in previous post, Jean Michel worked out the buses and we probably got to see more of the city than we would have otherwise. Since we had 6 nights, it was not really a problem but for a shorter period it would have been less convenient.
Pep reached our appartment in Paris without mishap and was able to take the key from our code box next to the front door. These boxes are common pratice in Australia, but little known in Europe, although you can buy them in France without difficulty. It’s absolutely impossible to open the box without the code. Even if you managed to pull the box off the wall you still wouldn’t be able to get into the box. We find it’s a perfect solution.
When we were preparing for our holiday, I tweeted about off-the-beaten track places to visit in Barcelona and received an answer from Roser who lives in Barcelona and works for www.intercambiocasas.com, the Spanish version of the www.homeexchange.com website I use, inviting us to meet up for a coffee. I was delighted!
The very dynamic Roser came along with her blogger friend Isabel (http://www.diariodeabordoblog.com), about to embark of her first home exchange. We were able to ask all the questions that had been building up about Catalan and Barcelona over the previous few days and since Roser speaks excellent English and French, Jean Michel was able to launch a very interesting discussion about Catalan independence. Roser also has a blog (http://www.sempreviaggiando.com).
Roser and Isabel gave us lots of suggestions for places to eat but we ran out of days before we could use them all! Roser is also very interested in improving the website and service of homeexchange.com so would love to have feedback. In particular, she would like to know what is the most important thing when looking for a home exchange – location, size of the home, nearby attractions, etc.
The day before we left Barcelona, we were sitting outside at a terrace café in Plaça Reial admiring Gaudi’s lampposts when I received a message from Pep who had just got back from Paris, suggesting we have a coffee. We were soon able to exchange our impressions of Barcelona and Paris and talk about what we’d be doing in our respective cities. Pep had enjoyed being right in the centre of Paris even though he found it a little cold!
Now we’re busy organising our next set of home exchanges – one in France in May then a series in Germany, Austria and Hungary for June/July as we’re going to cycle along the Danube. It’s proving a little difficult to find people outside large cities who are interested in coming to Paris, where we can only provide accommodation for two people. So if anyone has a two-person swap in Ulm and Linz, let me know!
Ok, just forget what I said yesterday about not being sure what I think about Gaudi’s basilica. It is the most wonderful construction I’ve ever seen. Inside it is absolutely dazzling, breathtaking, overwhelming. There are no words to describe it and no photo to do it justice. It is the most amazing well of light imaginable. The brightly colourful stained glass windows which anywhere else would be gaudy, are quite superb.
Gaudi was just only 31 when he began working on the cathedral in 1883. It evolved considerably during his lifetime, becoming more and more audacious. Sadly, he was run over by a tram at the age of 73. Some of the mock-ups and nearly all the plans were destroyed by fire during the Civil War in 1936.
Although it felt like the biggest church I’ve ever been in, it’s amongst the highest but not the longest. The longest of the five naves is 90 metres long and 45 metres wide while the transept is 60 x 30 metres. The highest point is 45 metres from the ground. In comparison, Notre Dame is 127 metres long x 48 m wide, the transept is 48 x 14 metres and the height is 35.5 metres. Beauvais in the north of France holds the world record with 48.5 m.
The pillars, which split into two halfway up to remove the need for flying buttresses, represent trees in a forest with leaves at the top but the symbolism isn’t all that obvious. The pillars themselves have a special spiral design with fluting that increases in number as it gets higher.
Although the inside is fairly complete and two of the façades – the Nativity and the Passion – are finished, there is a still a third façade, the Glory, under construction along with the central spire. Up closer, the seemingly naive statues on the Passion façade are true works of art by a controversial Catalan sculptor and painter, Josep Maria Subirachs. Those on the Nativity side are much more conventional and characteristic of Gaudi’s naturalistic style, very ornate and decoratd with scenes and images from nature.
Surprisingly, the crypt, which was built first, by another architect, is very classical. It can be seen through glass walls. We didn’t visit the towers.
In the photos, I’ve tried to convey the impression of height and light, but it seems impossible. Even when we went back inside after looking at the two façades, we no longer had the same overwhelming impression that we had when we first went in. It’s difficult to take photos of the outside because you can’t stand back far enough. It’s a pity there isn’t an esplanade around it. There are parks across the road, but traffic in-between.
On a purely practical level, given the very long queues, it’s best to buy your ticket on-line. There are lots of different websites, all of which charge a lot extra. You need to go to the official website of the Sagrada Familia which takes you to www.ticketmaster.es. Either you print out your tickets or you go to a Caixa bank with a ServiCaixa machine. You insert the bank card you used to pay on-line, then follow the instructions starting with « Collect tickets ». We went to the bank just opposite the very helpful tourist office next to Plaça Jaume but there are plenty of others.
The tickets were 14.80 euro per person without the audio guide, slightly more than you pay if you queue for an hour. In retrospect, I think we should have taken the audio guides because they included the underground exhibition. We decided not to because 1 ¾ hours seemed a long time, but in fact we spent more than 2 hours there altogether. You are given a one-hour slot during which you must enter at a special gate just next to the regular ticket office and there is absolutely no queue.
There is a queue for the toilet however but I discovered a second lot right down the far end of the underground exhibition where I could go straight in.
The trip with Easy Jet went perfectly and we even arrived early at our home exchange which gave us time to have a look around us. We’re just across the road from the former Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau in the El Guinardo neighbourhood, built between 1901 and 1930 and now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It ceased to be a hospital in 2009 and is undergoing restoration for use as a museum and cultural centre.
When you turn your back to Sant Pau you are looking straight at Gaudi’s famous Sagrada Familia cathedral. Our flat is on the 5th and last floor and a small flight of stairs leads onto a terrace where we have a spectacular view of the hospital. Unfortunately it’s a little cold to take our deck chairs up or we could have breakfast there!
In the evening, at Pep’s suggestion, we went into the Barri Gotic which is the historical quarter of Barcelona. We decided we’d walk and it took an hour and a half! We were justly rewarded though. Pep had recommended a tapas restaurant called Bilbao Berria on the corner of Plaça Nova with its beautiful Gothic cathedral. We weren’t able to visit the inside because it was just closing.
We found the restaurant and it was so good that I have a sneaky suspicion that we are going to be disappointed wherever else we go. Theoretically, they weren’t tapas, but « pintxos », which are hot or cold finger foods with a skewer through them which you choose yourself from the bar. They all cost 1.65 euros a piece and from time to time, the waiter comes around and puts the skewers in a glass. At the end, he counts them all up. So much easier than looking at a menu!
After all that walking, I stayed put and let Jean Michel choose the tapas. The variety was amazing. There were even mini hot dishes, one octopus and the other veal. My favourite had two sea scallops and 3 prawns! I have to confess we had second helpings, then I went and chose a couple of desserts! We decided to take a taxi home. They’re very reasonably priced here.
Next morning we went and had a closer look at Gaudi’s unfinished cathedral but when we saw the queues of people waiting to get in, we decided to get tickets on line and come back another day. I’m not sure yet what I think of the cathedral. It’s very impressive, like a series of enormous stelactites but I’m not sure I like the naive sculptures and gaudy colours. I did wonder whether the word comes from the artist, but apparently it doesn’t.
We then took the very modern metro to Guell Park, also decorated by Gaudi. A 10-ticket card that can also be used for the bus costs just under 10 euros, which is much cheaper than Paris. It took about 20 minutes to walk up the hill to the park from the metro station but despite the cold, the sun was out.
I really liked the park, which was never finished, like a lot of Gaudi’s work, because Count Guell eventually ran out money. When we got there, there weren’t many people but by the time we left, it was crowded. Initially though it was very still and peaceful, with musicians scattered about playing classical music and Spanish guitar. From the top there are sweeping, though a little hazy views of the city of Barcelona and the sea. So when we left the park, that is where we headed.
Bilbao Berria, Plaça Nova 3, Barcelona 93 317 01 24, Monday to Thursday, 9 am to 12 pm, Friday and Saturday, 9 am to 1 am, Sunday 9.30 am to 1 am.http://www.bilbaoberria.com/en/home
The posts on my Wednesday Bloggers’ Round-Up today are all by Australians (or people with Australian connections) and all on the subject of Barcelona. Kathy Stanford from Femmes Francophiles has suggestions for both fine dining and casual dining in Barcelona, Craig Makepeace from Y Travel Blog offers lots of insider tips on things to do while Laurence from Finding the Universe offers us spectacular photos of Gaudi’s monuments that I can’t wait to visit! So let’s go to Barcelona!
Barcelona: Gastronomic Dining
by Kathy Stanford from Femmes Francophiles, an Australian who an ongoing passion for France and the French language just back in Australia after a holiday in Europe
I visited Spain for the first time in 2001 as part of a whirlwind tour around Europe. I couldn’t understand people who raved about Spanish food. The food served to tourists on bus trips is generally lacking flavour and unexciting. All this changed last year when I stayed with Isa and Julio in Andalusia. What a revelation.
In January this year, in addition to tapas, I was fortunate to dine in the Michelin starred Cinc Sentits restaurant in Barcelona. Read more
Things to do in Barcelona
By Australian blogger Craig Makepeace from Y Travel Blog, who, with Caz, believes that life is about creating great memories and making it a story to tell, and they do that through travel.
Looking for tips on things to do in Barcelona? As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Mariana Calleja from Travel Thirst who has been in Barcelona since January 2010, fell in love with the place, and decided to stay longer. Mariana shares with us her insider tips on the best things to do inBarcelona plus where to eat, sleep, drink, shop and explore. Why Visit Barcelona? Barcelona is a very rich city in many aspects. The easiest way… Read more
by Laurence from Finding the Universe, of British origin who, with German-born Vera, are both travellers, into writing and photography, slowly exploring the world.
Gaudí. It’s kind of hard to visit Barcelona without spending your time gaping in awe at the architectural and artistic genius that he left behind all over the city.
A great deal of my week in Barcelona was therefore spent, gaping in awe, at his many truly incredible constructions. As well as gaping, I was also taking the odd photograph, which I’m sharing with you today. I wasn’t able to visit every bit of work he did, but I’d like to think that I took in the serious highlights.
In a future post I’ll be going more into the details of what to see and do in Barcelona. For now though, less detail: more eye candy.
We’re going to Barcelona for six days on a home exchange in February. I can’t wait. Apart from our trip to Australia in September, we haven’t been out of the country for a whole year. We haven’t even gone anywhere except Paris and Blois during that time which means that I’m travel-starved.
During the same twelve month period in 2011, we went to Seville, to the south-west of France, to Normandy, to Angers and Loche in the Loire Valley, then on a four-week trip to Croatia in the summer that included 9 countries. After that, we went to “Wet” Champagne, then back to the Loire where we found Closerie Falaiseau. And we spent Christmas in Normandy.
So you can see why I’m so excited. One of the reasons I love living in Paris is its proximity to so many other countries. Over the years, we’ve been to Italy several times and have now started visting Spain. Ah yes, I forgot to mention Madrid in my list. We went there last March on our first home exchange. But it feels so long ago.
Now that we’ve booked the airfares (we’re travelling with Easy Jet for the first time), Relationnel has started reading the guide book. He decides on how we fill our days, acts the tour guide and writes up the travel dairy while I organise accommodation, do the talking, find places to eat, take the photos, write blog posts and occasionally contribute to the diary. So I’d better start listening to my Spanish tapes again. I use Harraps’ Michel Thomas method. It’s a very effective, entirely audio method which exists for other languages as well. You can download ten free lessons to test it.
I’ve checked the temperatures which should be 10 or 12°C during the day and it should be sunny which is fine by me. It’s 3°C and overcast in Paris at the moment. I’m not sure our home exchanger is getting the best deal, though she will have an unhindered view of the Palais Royal gardens. So any advice on places to see (particularly off the beaten track), things to do, tips for avoiding queues and things, and, especially, places to eat, are very welcome.
The main things that have changed this week are my greater intake of fresh fish from the market and no afternoon tea. I’ve also had fresh citrus fruit for breakfast as opposed to orange juice. I’ve been having a small portion of carbs at lunchtime and just protein and vegetables at night. Maybe a bit less wine as well. We also finished off our Christmas chocolates in Blois. We weren’t eating a lot, but two with coffee at lunch and dinner every day is definitely too much! The foie gras is finished too. There’s still the Christmas cake, but it’ll last a while yet.
Le Comptoir de la Gourmandise, restaurant and gourmet food store, 34 rue Montmartre, 75001 Paris, 01 42 33 31 32 http://www.comptoirdelagastronomie.com email@example.com