Saturday, June 20, 2015

Barcelona: Bcn 5.0

We had scheduled a short, early morning flight on Vueling so as to have a full day to wander the city center streets of Barcelona. With a scheduled departure from San Sebastián Fuenteraba Airport (EAS) at 8:30 a.m. and landing at Barcelona–El Prat Airport (BCN) an hour later we expected to be settled in our hotel by 11:00. We fell short, far short of our expectations. Due to a number of mishaps accompanied by numerous mysterious announcements our flight (VY2487) was delayed 343 minutes; yes over 5½ hours. We arrived at BCN shortly after 3:00 p.m. Our woes continued. We had reserved a premium car (Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan) with Suntransfers; a driver was to meet us at the arrivals gate. We were unable to locate our driver upon arrival and immediately called customer service; Gus was assured that a driver was on his way. After four more calls, we were told that no car was available, and a "friend" would pick us up and transport us to our hotel. We were collected by the "friend" and with his assistance loaded our luggage and ourselves into his old taxi sans air conditioning; quite a step down from Mercedes E-Class. In 30 minutes we arrived at Ohla Hotel Barcelona, our home for the next three nights.

American-inspired hotel in the heart of old Barcelona,
 bordering the Gothic Quarter and El Born and L’Eixample

A small, boutique hotel opened in 2011 as a funky-chic alternative to the old Catalan accommodations typical of the city. The exterior design blended neatly with the neo-Classical architecture of the bustling Via Laietana, except for the dozens of black-and-white eyeballs on sticks that dot the façade and hint at the contemporary interior.

Mur d'Ulls
Frederic Amat, a local artist, after four years, managed to build
 the ”Mur d’ulls”  consisting of 1,000 ceramic eyeballs stitched
 onto the façade of the hotel that works as an acknowledgment
 of the city’s art deco tradition
Inside, Gus and Joan were struck by the contrasting avant-garde interior design and its playful personality. Ohla had relegated its reception to the first floor (second floor for Americans) which avoided "check-in" cluttering up the lobby. We were escorted to a private registration specialist, and while registering, Gus and Joan were offered and sipped on glasses of Cava and Gus enjoyed ...
House-made marshmallows

We were soon shown to our room which we found comfortable.  The room featured an open floor plan with a sleek bathroom. The most spectacular feature of our room though was the view outside our windows ...

More surreal eyeballs adorning the brilliant blue
 walls of the interior courtyard 
After unpacking and freshening up, we left the hotel and headed into the Gothic Quarter. Unfortunately, due to the transport delays from earlier in the day, we were starting our "wandering" nearly seven hours later than we expected ... we had lost a full day!

Leaving the hotel, we turned right on Carrer Comtal, a pedestrian street, and headed west.

We still had plenty of sunlight and sundown was not until another  hours. We decided to join the Saturday night rowdy street crowd that this area of Barcelona has become well known. The evening was pleasantly warm as we walked down one of the narrow, winding streets of the district. Gus quickly concluded that you'd not seen Barcelona until you’ve seen, and got lost in these ancient streets. Believe me; we got lost.

We did find our way to Avinguda del Portal del l'Angel and continued west on Carrer de Santa Anna down and across La Rambal and onto Carrer del Pintor Fortuny where we stumbled upon Bar Lobo.
(photo courtesy of
Menus were presented on clipboards, giving the space a decidedly edgy, youthful feel. Gus and Joan, while reviewing the menu, shared a deliciously refreshing pitcher of sangria (Ranked #3 for sangria in Barcelona).

(photo courtesy of
From the menu, we ordered a selection of classic Spanish tapas ~ anchovies with toasted bread,  patatas bravas with aioli, ham croquettes, Galician octopus ~ as well as a more substantial dish of veal sirloin with mustard, straw potatoes, and Padrón peppers.  The service was friendly (which is sometimes difficult to come by in a place such as this, where there is a fast table turnover) and the food was good but certainly not great.

The day was ending and the night was beginning. Gus guessed that many of the twenty and thirty-somethings that were now appearing in the streets, as the sun was going down, were probably prepared to see the sun come back up again. The area was coming alive as throngs of locals and tourists were heading out for drinks, dinner, and late night clubbing. De gustibus non est disputandum. Gus and Joan walked back to their hotel.

The next morning we had an excellent inclusive breakfast in the hotel's restaurant. An impressive buffet ...

Breakfast buffet at La Plassohla 

... offering coffee and teas which were freshly brewed, fresh fruit juices, a mix of pastries, soft and hard-cooked eggs, bacon and sausages, cereals, fresh fruit, cheese and hams, yogurts ~ if an item wasn't on the buffet guests were encouraged to special order it from the kitchen. And all with complimentary chilled CavaA bonus is the large windows of the restaurant that allowed us to view people coming and going along the Via Laietana Avenue and the Comtal pedestrian street while we ate. An excellent way to start a Sunday morning!

Gus had purchased tickets online, several months in advance, for entrance and a guided tour of the Basilica of the Sagrada Família. A fifteen-minute taxi ride and we were dropped off next to a church unlike any other church that we had seen before.

Josep María Bocabella
Josep María Bocabella, a devout, and eccentric bookseller conceived the idea of building this great church. It was to be an affirmation of the Catholic church, in the face of threats from a secular industrial society. The church would be dedicated to the Holy Family, to buttress family life, and would be placed on the edge of the expanding city. Construction started in 1882, and there were hopes it would be ready for use within a decade. 

After parting company with his first architect, Francisco de Paula del Villar, Bocabella appointed the 31-year-old Antoni Gaudí.

Antoni Gaudí.
According to legend, he dreamed that his architect would have piercing blue eyes and then met Gaudí, who had such eyes. It is possible that he thought he was getting a cheap option, as the young man would have charged lower fees than more established competitors. If so, this hope was as vain as the projected timetable. Whatever might have been saved on costs was spent many times over on Gaudí's ambitious design.

“My client is in no hurry.Antoni Gaudí believed that God had all the time in the world, so there was no need to rush the completion of the Catalan architect’s ambitious work. Often mistaken for Barcelona’s cathedral, paid for entirely by private donations and sales of tickets to the millions of people who visit it each year, is unlikely to be finished before 2026. Given that construction began in 1882, this is clearly the work not just of a singular and devoutly religious architect, but of several determined generations of dedicated professionals and enthusiasts; at over 125 years "in the making" it has begun to look like a Sisyphean challenge.

George Orwell said it was “one of the most hideous buildings in the world” and rather hoped it would be destroyed during the Spanish Civil War  as he added that “the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up when they had the chance.” Salvador Dalí spoke of its “terrifying and edible beauty,” saying it should be kept under a glass dome. Walter Gropius, the master of right-angled architecture and founder of the Bauhaus, praised its technical perfection. Louis Sullivan, the great American architect, and “father of skyscrapers,” described it as “spirit symbolized in stone.”

As for Gus and Joan's, our visit to the Sagrada Família moved us profoundly, more than any famous European church that we have ever seen. To refer to the Sagrada Família as simply a church would be like referring to the Musée du Louvre as simply a museum.

We were scheduled to begin our tour at 10:00; meeting at the main entrance on Carrer de la Marina.
Nativity Façade of the Basilica
Each of the four bell towers is dedicated to 
an apostle; Saint Barnabas, Saint-Simon, 
Saint Judas Thaddeus, and Saint Mathew
A closer view of the Nativity façade.
Has frequently been referred to as "the Bible, written in stone."
Gaudí poured all his fantastical ideas into the Nativity façade. He included any number of shapes from nature, from rounded rocks reminiscent of the Montserrat massif, to human figures and plants, to achieve a unique effect. The façade's outstanding feature is the elaborate decoration, replete with Christian symbols. The sculptures extend from the bottom of the façade to where the bell towers start to rise. Through them, the façade depicts the birth of Christ. The images that appear include the Holy Trinity, the Virgin Mary under the invocation of the Immaculate Conception, the Nativity, the Star of Bethlehem, the Three Wise Men, the shepherds and the Tree of Life. Various artists made the sculptures and stylistically incorporated them into the façade’s Gothic design.

Bronze Gate 
Located in the Portal of Charity and is the creation of Japanese sculptor Etsuro Sotooa passionate follower of
 Gaudí’s career who has been collaborating in the construction of the church since 1978. Inspired by nature and full of metal leaves,
 flowers, and insects.

Upon entering, regardless of secular or religious beliefs, Joan and Gus were gobsmacked. They each took a few steps and froze. Not only was the interior one of the most stunning places we have ever been in, but it was also drastically different from the exterior. Unlike the façade, with its striking carvings, the inside was made of sleek, white stone painted by colored light from the elaborate stained glass windows all around the room. It was utterly breathtaking.

An immense baldachin holds the image of a crucified Christ
who seems to levitate in the midst of grandiosity. Gus admits that,
 to him, it resembles a landing parachute!!! Whereas, to
 Joan, Christ was ascending to Heaven.
Rich white light pours in from windows above the high altar, giving the impression of the sun’s rays poking through a forest canopy. It all contributes to a sensation that although one is standing indoors, one could just as easily be outside, in a white forest  ...

High above the central nave, a golden skylight of gleaming triangles hangs, what seems, like a crystal chandelier.

These are partial views of the impressive ceiling of the cathedral. On the left and below, notice the bone-like columns
 twisting their way to the ceiling and resembling trees rising to connect to large geometric stars simulating the thick
 canopy of a forest

The columns of the interior are a unique Gaudí design. Besides branching to support their load, their ever-changing
 surfaces are the result of the intersection of various geometric forms. 

... ringed by some of the most intensely colorful and surreal stained glass windows one might ever see.

The windows in the cathedral don’t tell sacred stories or commemorate
 kings or saints or wealthy patrons, they are there to illuminate the church.

There is no recognizable symbolic content in the windows, they are purely decorative abstract designs, but they
 bathe the interior of the cathedral in a kaleidoscope of brilliant hues, especially along the aisles.

The colorful hues of the stained glass with constantly shifting patterns illuminating the stone walls of the cathedral.

From 1999 onwards, painter and glassmaker Joan Vila i Grau has been in charge of producing the stained glass windows. He employs traditional techniques, setting the glass in lead strips to play with the shape and rhythm. Here in the cathedral, he has followed the guidelines established by Gaudí, who left several documents explaining how the stained glass windows should be arranged to achieve a symphony of evocative light and color. Now look up ...

The central nave ceiling reaches almost 200 feet. 
None of the roof's surfaces are flat; the ornamentation
 is comprehensive and rich, consisting of spectacular
 abstract shapes which combine smooth curves and
 jagged points.

Still, inside the cathedral, we turn south and view ...

The Eucharist
The chalice and the host are currently located on the
 glass window which will be replaced by the bronze
 door pictured below.

Door of the Eucharist
This bronze door will serve as the cathedral's main entrance.
 And will be incorporated into the Glory façade. Decoratively,
 the middle part of the door is inscribed with the Lord's Prayer
 in Catalan with relief letters and highlights the fragment 'Give
 us, o Lord, our daily bread' in Catalan and 49 more languages.
The Glory Façade is currently under construction. Once completed it will be the primary façade providing access to the church and will have three entrances dedicated to the three theological virtues faith, hope, and charity. It will also contain a porch with seven columns, symbolizing the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Seven Deadly Sins will be depicted at the base of these columns, with The Seven Virtues portrayed at the top. This façade will symbolically face the south for the sun to shine on it most of the day, representing joyful spirit.

It could be possible to spend hours, days, maybe even weeks studying the details of Sagrada Familia and still find new and exciting things to discover. We didn’t get a chance to visit the crypt, which contains the tomb of Gaudi, and a small chapel ...

Crypt and Rosary Chapel
This is an underground level located beneath the apse.
(Photo courtesy of Gaudi's Masterpiece in Barcelona by Scott Medway)
nor any of the towers (of the 18 towers Gaudí planned for the cathedral there are presently eight completed; four on the Nativity Façade and four on the Passion Façade.) which are accessible for visitors to get a bird’s eye view of Barcelona.

View from the top of the Nativity Towers
When buying tickets, visitors have the opportunity to choose between the
 Passion Towers and the Nativity Towers. The Passion Towers reveals a view
 of the ocean while the Nativity Towers presents a sweeping view of Barcelona.
(Photo courtesy of MissVacation)
Nativity Façade Towers' Staircase
There’s no elevator on the way down from the towers, so visitors 
have to descend a very long, very narrow series of spiraling stairs. 
(Photo courtesy of  Barcelona Experience)

On the west side of the cathedral is the West Transept and the Doorway of the PassionPassing through Doorway, we looked up to view the Passion Façade. In contrast to the highly decorated Nativity Façade, the Passion Façade is austere, plain and simple, with ample bare stone, and is carved with sharp straight lines to resemble the bones of a skeleton. Dedicated to the Passion of Christ, the suffering of Jesus during his crucifixion, the façade was intended to portray the sins of man. Construction began in 1954, following the drawings and instructions left by Gaudí for future architects and sculptors. The towers were completed in 1976, and in 1987 by a team of sculptors, headed by Josep Maria Subirachs. They aimed to give a rigid, angular form to provoke a dramatic effect. Gaudí intended for this façade to strike fear into the onlooker. This façade symbolically faces the setting sun, indicative and symbolic of the death of Christ
The scenes sculpted into the façade are divided into three levels reproducing the Via Crucis of Christ. The lowest level depicts scenes from Jesus' last night before the crucifixion, including The Last SupperKiss of JudasEcce Homo, and the Sanhedrin Trial of Jesus. The middle level portrays the Calvary, or Golgotha, of Christ, and includes The Three Marys, Saint VeronicaSaint Longinus, and a hollow-face illusion of Christ. In the third and final level the Death, Burial and the Resurrection of Christ can be seen. 
The Passion Façade
 is dedicated to Christ's suffering; representing the time
 leading up to betrayal and crucifixion. The façade aims
 to show the sins of man; Gaudi intending on people to
 feel fear on looking at it.
Magic Square on the Passion Façade

The Magic Square is one of the mysteries of the cathedral. The 4x4 magic square of 16 numbers is somewhat of a conundrum. Some have found that the magic constant, i.e. , when you add up all numbers horizontally, diagonally, or vertically (cryptogram containing 310 combinations), is 33, the age of Christ when he was crucified. The same number also appears in the Parque Guëll (also designed by Gaudí) where the sum of stairs is 33. Another explanation is that the number 33 is the highest rank a Freemason can reach. Indeed, Gaudí was probably a Freemason, as Gaudí was born in Reus, one of the cradles of freemasonry and also because of Gaudí’s patron, Guëll, was also said to be a Freemason. In any case, this mathematic square remains a complete mystery that Gaudí took to his tomb. 

Alpha & Omega
Over the Doorway of the Passion. Derives from the
 statement said by Jesus (or God) himself "I am Alpha
 and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and
 the End."
Flagellation of Christ,
 sculpture by Joseph Maria Subirachs.
The face is said to be that of Gaudí. 

Gus and Joan left the porch of the Passion Façade and took the stairs down to the gift shop. Here we bought a few gifts for family and friends. The juxtaposition of being inside the magnificent cathedral and being in a "gift" shop was remarkable. Thinking for a moment, Gus realized that Gaudí was God's gift to all of us!

Southwest of the cathedral is a beautiful public park, Plaça de la Sagrada Família. The park's greenery of trees, flowers, and bushes served as a great place to get a respite even in the midst of crowds of tourists. Numerous vendors lined the edges of the park. Thirsty and a bit tired we stopped at one of the food stalls and shared a Bocadillo vegetal (vegetable sandwich) "washed down" by several refreshing sangrias. 

Sangria Maestro Coctelero
We strolled through the park after our refreshment. To our amusement, we came across ...

The music that accompanies this curious but enthralling spectacle of
 Catalan dancing is Barres i Onades (Bars and Waves) from the album
 50e Anniversari de Badalona Sardanista. The band playing the
 music is called a cobla.

Leaving the park, we took a taxi to another Gaudí landmark ...

Casa Batlló
The facade sprinkled with bits of blue, mauve and green tiles and
 studded with wave-shaped window frames and balconies rise to an
 uneven blue-tiled roof with a single tower.
(Photo courtesy of Scribble, Snap, Travel)
This imaginative, mischievous structure is like something out of “Alice in Wonderland” or Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory: Colorful, playful shapes and glittering bits of glass are engaged in a spectacular dialogue with sensual curved woods in a way that seems to perfectly capture the light filtering in from the Passeig de Gràcia. Again, as we toured the building, Gaudí’s respect for nature is evident. 

Casa Batlló (Bah-cho) is one of Gaudì’s masterpieces, which was commissioned to him by Josep Batlló and "remodeled" between 1904 and 1906. In total, the house is enormous, occupying 53,820 square feet.

Photo of Batlló family at Casa Batlló
(Photo courtesy of Gouda’s Amazing Architecture)
The building was to be used by Batlló and his family as a residence. It is located in the middle of Passeig de Gràcia, the avenue where most prestigious bourgeois families were settling at the time. The original building, which was somber and dull, was transformed by Gaudì into the fantastical structure that it is today. 

The private entrance to the residence and the grand staircase, with railings of hand-carved wood representing the
 backbone of a large animal, leading to the Noble Floor (main floor). 

A perfect secluded spot for courting couples tucked away in a
 romantic mushroom-shaped niche adorned with a ceramic fireplace,
 which is flanked by a bench on either side, one for the chaperone and
 the other for the couple being chaperoned.
The main suite of the Noble Floor has three interconnected rooms
 dramatically edged by beautiful stained glass windows providing
 a continuous panoramic view onto Passeig de Gràcia as well as
 allowing natural light to bathe the space.
The ceiling is wavy, in allusion to the sea. It features an ingenious
 whirlpool effect which evokes the power of the sea. A magnificent
light fixture appears to be on the verge of being swallowed by the
vortex of the whirlpool.
Gaudí created oak doors with organic shapes into
 which are set panes of stained glas..These doors, as
 well as separating the three rooms, allow a single
 light-filled space to be created.

Central Light Well
 Glazed tiles range from light blue on the bottom(left photo) of the well to shimmering
 dark blue on the top (right photo). There are five different tones of blue, inspired by
 the various shades of the sea. The vast central skylight, at the peak of the well, allows
 a cascade of light to enter and illuminate the entire internal well.

Cozy courtyard off Noble Floor with direct access from the dining room,
(Photo courtesy of Mademoiselle Modeuse)

Sinuous Roof Terrace  Chimneys
One of four stylized and polychromatic chimney stacks 
located on the roof of the residence.

We took the elevator down, exited the house and walked back to our hotel. After showering and taking naps, we awoke around 8:00 p.m. and we were ready for dinner. As today was Sunday we were limited as to choices for places to eat; many, if not most, restaurants are closed Sunday nights in Barcelona. 

Fortunately, on the ground floor of the hotel, the relaxed La Plassohla was open. Serving creative tapas dishes while occupying a space that had an industrial, slightly masculine feel, with high ceilings, concrete pillars and huge slate tiles lining the bar and open kitchen. Both Gus and Joan enthusiastically took to the menu. An additional bonus associated with it being Sunday night included a delightful jazz combo of guitar and bass.

Gus enjoyed a glass of cava while Joan choose a glass of Albarino. The wines paired nicely with our first course.

"Sukesashimi style salmon marinated in soy sauce,
 ginger and citrus garnished with guacamole and
 micro greens; served along with garden salads with
goat cheese and pine nuts.

"Sea and Mountain Rice"
Not entirely surprising, the ingredients used in this
 Catalan rice dish was fish and meat including shrimp,
 mussels, squid, monkfish, pork ribs, and Iberian ham.

Cruz de Alba
100% Tempranillo grapes
Dry-aged rib eye lightly sauced with gremolata and served
 with traditional fried potatoes and Padrón peppers

On the walk back to our room Joan was able to get a great photo of the surreal hallway that led from the elevator to room 402.

Surreal Hallway
Designed by Catalan artist and sculptor Frederic Amat
With the long day behind us with slept long and well. The next morning, a Monday, greeted us with a surprise: all museums in Barcelona are closed on Mondays.Yikes!

After having another excellent breakfast at our hotel, we were off. Today, uncharacteristically, we decided to do what most Americans do when traveling in Europe...we shopped.

We wandered up Roger de Llúria past Plaça d'Urquinaona to Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes in search of a fabric store, which was highly recommended, which we never found. Having come up empty, we headed to El Corte Inglés Department Store in Plaça de Catalunya and found fabrics that we easily find in most any fabric store in the United States. Oh well, so much for taking home special Catalan textiles.

Abandoning our targeted shopping strategy, we walked down Portal de l'Àngel. Said to be the busiest pedestrian street in Barcelona and perhaps Europe, this is a one-stop shop if you want to spend the day shopping within a two-block radius. Located between Plaça de Catalunya and the Cathedral in the Gothic QuarterPortal de l'Àngel has everything from clothing, to books, to sporting equipment stores, Gelato shops, and street performers. We ducked into and out of shops as we were so inspired to do so. Yet, nothing really caught our eye...very disappointing. 

Based on our experience with Portal de l'Àngel we decided to skip shopping a few streets over on Las Ramblas and instead take a taxi over to El Born district. Gus did have a particular wine shop as a destination. After enduring the performance of a geographically challenged taxi driver, we were dropped off within a few blocks from la tienda de Vinos.

Vila Viniteca
One of the best wine stores in Barcelona (and there are a few), 
 has been searching out the best local and imported wines since 1932.
(Photo courtesy of Javier Lastras
Gus could not resist and ended up buying one bottle each of:

Wine mission accomplished coupled with each of us being a bit hungry we found and ate a light lunch at a very forgettable restaurant. Neither Gus nor Joan can remember what we ate or the name of the restaurant. After a short stroll around the neighborhood, we caught a taxi back to the hotel.

For our last night in Barcelona when stayed in the hotel and had an early dinner at Saüc Restaurant.

Located on the mezzanine of the hotel,  the restaurant is small and has a clean, modern décor. The interior is designed with hardwood flooring, a black wall that serves as a separator between the kitchen and dining room, and it is surrounded by glass windows overlooking the street. One Michelin starred restaurant that serves high-quality food based on traditional Catalan cuisine but with a modern twist.

Amuse bouche I
Meaty yet grassy fresh young Italian green olives and intensely flavored
 black olive gelee, a pleasant taste combination of sweet and savory.
Amuse bouche II
Cheese tuiles with ikura and crispy spring rolls

Creamy Foie gras mousse with onion
 cookie "crumble," lemon cream, and jelly vinegar Muscatel

Salad Saüc

With a very early flight home the next morning we decided to each have a single glass of wine with our dinner rather than split a bottle. A glass of Les Crestes Priorat was selected by Gus while Joan chose a  glass Habla Nº 12. Both wines paired extremely well with our food.

Cannelloni roast duck with Foie gras emulsion,
 pear and pine nuts

Grilled filets of stripped red mullet with
 "sea foam" and cumin carrots

Roast suckling pig confit with sauteed
 potatoes, shallots, and crackling skin

Pistachio macaron

The food here was just stunning. We went for a smaller tasting menu which was ample, and each dish was explained with care. Service was amiable, amusing, patient, and competent. All in all, this was a fabulous meal and great dining experience.

We fly home in the morning. From BCN we fly to CDG with a flight departure of 6:45 a.m. connecting to SFO with a flight arrival of 1:00 p.m; an early start to a long day.

Adios Barcelona


Carrer del Pintor Fortuny



1 comment:

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