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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Up Up And Away!

This morning we took the blue tram up to Tibidabo. A few years ago I’d written a story (then developed into a screenplay which in turn developed into zilch) where part of the action climaxed on Tibidabo. With nothing more than the Time Out guide to Barcelona to help me sketch in some necessary orientation, I vowed that if I ever got to the city, visiting this place would be a priority.

So today we took the blue tram up the hill to the funicular railway.

At the other there are some spectacular views to be had.

It’s an odd mix at the top of this mountain: a greasy spoon cafĂ©, a fun fair and a church.

Debbie can’t resist a Ferris wheel and Alys who is notionally afraid of heights can’t resist a challenge. So the two of them took off.

I had my sights set elsewhere...

Monday, July 30, 2007

Up On The Roof

Books read by the gang since we’ve been here include A Hat Full Of Sky by Terry Pratchett, The Beach by Alex Garland, Blood Beast by Darren Shan, The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster, Lisey’s Story by Stephen King, Barcelona the Great Enchantress by Robert Hughes, The Blair Years: Extracts from the Alastair Campbell Diaries by the man himself.

An easy day today with various members of the troops opting to sit indoors during the morning and take it easy. Perhaps as a result of the sun or even ingesting quantities of vegetarian food yesterday evening, Tom was sick in the night and wanted to rest up. He's fine now but a bit tired and happy to stay indoors and sketch.

In the afternoon Debbie and I stayed local visiting La Pedrera just a few blocks down the street from our apartment. Every time I visit somewhere in this city I think to myself that surely nothing can top it. Then I visit somewhere else and proved wrong once again.

I read somewhere that when designers on the original Star Wars movie were looking for inspiration for the storm troopers and imperial gaurds, they borrowed from the chimney pots and ventilation stacks of La Pedrera.

When you look out across the roof tops of Barcelona you see so many intricacies, points of detail and flourishes. None of them are strictly necessary in a functional sense but they happen because the architect wanted to make a point, say something different or stand out from the crowd. This pushy kind of attitude is all over the city, adding to the sense of fun and excitement that seems to be in the air.

Yet more excitement was found in the main building below.

Debbie's not a fan of the de Stael style of daubing but since it floats my boat big-time, we spent an hour wandering around an impressive collection of paintings.

Once outside, we saw clouds gathering. This was the closest we've been to rain all the time we've been here.

Close but no cigar.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Parc Life

The Sagrada Familia is one those iconic landmarks that simply must be seen to be believed. None of the photographs I’ve seen over the years really prepared me for the scale of this site, which over 100 years since building began, is still under construction.

Looking at the unconventional designs both inside and out, one really gets a sense of the almost lunatic energies which stoked Gaudi’s imagination when it came to designing this thing. Though, as Robert Hughes deftly points out in Barcelona the Great Enchantress, the building stopped being a Gaudi creation the day the old man was hit by an oncoming tram in 1926.

You’ve got to be a bit nuts in the head to be building cathedrals and the like. I mean you have to ask yourself exactly who are these buildings for? God surely can’t be impressed by the size. After all, isn’t He more of your “it’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it” kind of guy?

It’s really all about the characters who commission and design them, monuments to their own sense of importance: a kind of vanity publishing but set in stone rather than Times Roman. Dotty and obsessive for sure, La Sagrada Familia is also breath-taking.

We continued the Gaudi theme by heading off up to Parc Guell – as recommended by my niece, Errin. Most definitely a popular spot for sure.

This is a wonderful public space although it was originally going to be an exclusive housing development overlooking the city back in 1900. When that flopped a few years later the city bought the site which by now included many Gaudi-designed buildings as well as other constructions.

We all split off into little groups and went exploring all the nooks and crannies of this place.

Despite the large number of visitors there were long stretches where you didn’t come across anyone else. As part of a wider music festival, various musicians were secreted about the park.

I came upon five young lads (average age of 20) doing note-perfect renditions of Beatles’ numbers from the first album to the last. After that, a classical guitarist doing Bach and the like at break-neck speed, a latin-jazz quartet and this geezer playing something called a hang - an inverted steel drum kinda thang.

I didn't make it all the way to the top but Tom did and he took this vista-friendly picture of the great Enchantress.

We could have spent the whole day here and still not covered the whole place. After several hours we made our way back to the entrance, pausing only to grab a pic by Debbie's favourite lizard...

On the way back to base we saw this guy blowing in the wind...

Testing For Buzz III: La Sagrada Familia

Key words and phrases associated with this item include:
Sydney opera house, iconic, Eiffel Tower, unofficial, awesome, modernisme, nationalist, God's architect, gothic, Murano glass, fruit, Glory Facade, mad as a bag of badgers, haptic, a temple, "to do pennance for the sins of modernity"

Saturday, July 28, 2007

On The Buses

I spoke too soon about everyone getting along like a house on fire. Today the mood had changed. Sam was grumpy about having to wait around while people took too long to get ready, Alys was stropping about not being able to get money out of the cash machine but refusing to walk 100 yards to the next one; Tom and Joe were irritable with each for no good reason that I could see, and even Debbie and I were slightly curt when we were speaking about our plans for the day.

She took my “I don’t mind” response to her question as meaning “I don’t care.” The truth was that I really didn’t mind. I didn’t realise it at the time but we’d reached the halfway point in the proceedings – always a difficult time in any undertaking. So it was with these unhappy undercurrents circulating that we boarded one Bus Turistica and went off on the south bound route.

The notion of sitting on a bus tour with some cheesy guide pointing out things of interest wouldn’t normally appeal but this was a really great way to scope the city without punishing already tired legs. Being able to get on and off the bus as many times as you like, makes it a no brainer.

Debbie had decided upon the Museu Nacional D’Art as our first port of call. I thought this risky in terms of the kids finding it all a bit boring (they wanted to head straight to the zoo) but off the bus we got and into this astonishing building with breath-taking views.

After an hour the kids were up in arms after being exposed to such boring things as ancient Romanesque paintings, an exquisite collection of Modernisme furniture and designs, not to mention of a fascinating collection of 20th century painting.

Figuring that I would only get here once in my life, I suggested we break up into two groups. Thus Debbie and the kids headed off to the zoo whilst I spent another couple of hours roaming around this incredible building.

I came into an incredible auditorium, a huge thing wherein humans were reduced to the size of a pea. Resting my hot feet on the cool marble floor I took a seat and just watched the world go by. The organ at the far end of the hall must sound awesome - I tried to imagine the feeling produced in the chest when those bass notes were played.

In the afternoon I connected with the bus and enjoyed the ride, taking in the sights and sounds of this fabulous city.

Eventually I stepped back to our apartment, checked in with the troops who were still at the zoo, and headed off to the supermarket to get some food – including some fabbo Catalan sausage which was ready for them as they came exhausted, but very happy, though the door sometime after 8.00pm.

Whatever sourness that was percolating at the start of the day had been expended and worn out by the end of it. The rest of the night was consumed with tales of the zoo and the aquarium, and later Tom improvising some hilarious translations of an absurd TV show.


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