Europe Trip 2024: Day 7 in Barcelona

May 16, 2024

I took a 10-day trip to Europe with my son between April 26 and May 5. This post covers Thursday, May 2.

We started the day by taking the subway to the Arc de Triomf and then walked around the Parc de la Ciutadella. I enjoyed the greenhouses across from the Castle of the Three Dragons. As we roamed through the park, we saw a group of people doing tai chi with broad swords and another group with fans. I have not ever seen it done with swords and it was interesting to watch.

Castle of the Three Dragons
The greenhouse had many plants from both South America and Africa

We visited the Plaça de Sonia Rescalvo Zafra fountain, walked around it, and continued walking on the grounds. We also saw the Palace of the Parliament of Catalonia. I was unsure at the time if the government still met there but I just verified with an online search that they do.

Parliament of Catalonia

Gothic Quarter

Our next destination was the Gothic Quarter. My son did a great job of pointing out different points of interest. He had toured it with one of his classes and passed what he learned on to me.

I loved the Gothic Quarter with its narrow streets and four or five-story buildings that created a winding path. I loved the character and the vibe of this part of the city. It was fun to walk through and experience.

Ryan showed me several areas where you could see the Roman wall that had been added onto in the Middle Ages. I enjoyed seeing the different layers of the city. We saw part of a Roman aqueduct system and ruins of a Roman forum. I also enjoyed all the Gothic buildings and the bridge between the two buildings with its Gothic ornamentation.

The old city wall with the original Roman wall at the bottom
I just love the character of these winding streets
Gothic Bridge between buildings
The ruins of a Roman forum in a covered space between buildings
The Flemish Clock was the main clock of Barcelona for 287 years from 1577 to 1864. It once sat in the cathedral bell tower.

Suburbia Exhibit at CCCB

After lunch in the Gothic Quarter, we headed to Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) to see their Suburbia exhibit. It was an interesting look at suburbia in the United States and its connection to the American dream. I learned a lot about the history behind the suburb that I never knew.

The exhibit was a collection of photos, videos, books, models, physical artifacts (including a Model T), and other memorabilia. The exhibit also dealt with social issues such as racism and the feminist movement. My son had seen the exhibit with his classmates and thought I would enjoy it. You can see photos of the exhibit at the bottom of the exhibit’s page on the CCCB website.

One part of the exhibit focused on the products and appliances of the suburban kitchen. I looked around and finally found one of the products by Henry Dreyfuss. He was one of the pioneers of user experience. Dreyfuss’ story is woven through Cliff Kuang’s story of user experience in his book User Friendly.

I was sure one of his products would be in the exhibit because of his prominence as a product designer and his focus on making user-friendly products. I have read through User Friendly a couple of times and it was fun to have that knowledge intersect with what I was learning in the exhibit.

Sears Catalog that you could order a home kit
I spent a lot of time at this mall as a teenager with my friend. The mall no longer exists. It was part of the exhibit about how suburbia has changed.

The last part of the exhibit showed how the idea of suburbia translated to Catalonia. It was interesting to see the differences but also to see the similarities. I enjoyed this look into American culture.

Sagrada Familia

After a long morning of walking and visiting the Suburbia exhibit, I was glad to come back to the hotel and take a nap. I had purchased tickets for 5:00 pm to visit the Sagrada Familia. My wife highly encouraged me to go in the afternoon because the sun shines through the “resurrection” stained glass windows that are red, yellow, and orange. I was eager to step inside. My son predicted that it would become my favorite cathedral

We made our way to the church and it was much easier to get inside than I thought it would be. When we visited the church on my first day in Barcelona, there was a huge crowd outside. However, I realized that those were the people gathered to wait for their time slot. We were able to get right in.

I started to follow along with the audio guide in the app I had downloaded. We started outside of the Nativity Facade. Our first stop was a model of what the finished church would look like. Construction on the church began in 1882 and they are hoping to finish in 2026.

We enjoyed taking in the Nativity Facade at a much closer range. It is the oldest part of the project and it looks much more weathered than newer construction. The statues on the facade are much more realistic than the Brutalist statues in the Passion Facade. There is a lot to see in that facade and I could have spent hours combing over it. But I was eager to step inside because I knew the interior was the jewel of this building.

I had avoided watching videos much about the Sagrada Familia before visiting it. I had seen some select pictures my son took on his first visit. And I had seen a video in my Instagram feed. I knew that none of those would compare to experiencing it for myself.

It is difficult to find words to describe the experience. It was awesome. Amazing. I dare say a “religious” experience, not just in a spiritual sense, but as a creative person. And to appreciate it more as one who has studied architecture. It was just magnificent.

I believe Gaudi was successful in reinterpreting a medieval cathedral for modern times. The light from the stained glass creates a whole new experience than any that I have had in other big cathedrals in Europe. As someone who appreciates the beauty of an unadorned structure, I loved looking up and seeing Gaudi’s vision realized. I loved the organic forms and how the columns branched off like trees to support the ceiling. It was a very inspiring experience. I did not want to have to ever leave. I could have spent days enjoying the visual feast of the interior of this building.

One of the things that I liked about the tour is a self-tour and no one rushing you through it. You are free to experience it for however long you want. I ditched the audio guide once we got inside. My soul did not need more information. I just needed to delight in all that I was seeing. The stained glass. The structure. The ceiling. The sculpture. All coming together in harmony to create this magnificent space.

I told my wife that I didn’t want to leave and she told me to take my time and enjoy it. At one point, we sat in the pews. And I took the occasion to pray. To praise God who is even more wonderful than this building. To praise the God worthy of worship. And the God who inspired this magnificent human creation. I truly believe Gaudi built this place out of devotion. It felt appropriate to spend some time seeking God in this holy space.

This image fails to capture the beauty of the light coming through these windows

I finally felt like I had my fill and we exited to view the Passion Facade. The audio guide mentioned that the sculptures on this facade were done in the brutalist style and evoked more emotion, which is appropriate for the subject matter. I agreed. This facade is more simple and has less ornamentation than the Nativity Facade. But it is much more evocative and does a great job of telling the story of the passion through the different sculptures.

After viewing the Passion Facade, we visited an underground exhibit about the construction of the church. I found this very interesting. I enjoyed seeing the tools that the sculptures used to craft this building. We saw prototypes of the windows that the designer would put against the window of his workshop to test. And we saw several 3D models in the current workshop and got a behind-the-scenes look. As a craftsman, I found this part of the day just as fascinating.

It is amazing to me that Gaudi was so ahead of his time. The technology of today was needed to realize his vision. I appreciate that Gaudi knew the church would not be completed in his lifetime. He surrounded himself with other craftsman to share his vision for the work. He trained them. He left behind many models and prototypes so that others could fulfill his vision. It was an updated process that was very similar to the way that Gothic cathedrals were built.

Dinner at Pizzico

We spent about 2 hours at Sagrada Familia. We headed back to our hotel in Clot and relaxed for a bit. We decided to get pizza for dinner and walked a couple of blocks.

As we were walking to the restaurant, we walked down a pedestrian street that was lined with trees on either side. As I looked down the street, the trees formed a Gothic arch. I felt like I was walking through a natural cathedral. I am unsure if I would have thought of it that way if I had not visited Sagrada just before. It was one of the surprising moments that you have when you pay attention to what’s around you.

The pizza was delicious and I enjoyed the rustic feel of the place. The walls were of a shorter brick and I like the feel of the place. We had a nice conversation with the owner and the guy who made our pizzas. With our bellies full, we returned to our hotel. Our plan for the next day was to visit the Montserrat Monastery.

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