We docked in Barcelona on April 18, the last of four consecutive days in different ports. We had been to Barcelona in 2013, https://baderjournal.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/barcelona-spain/, & were hoping to see the Picasso Museum, which had been too crowded for us to visit last time. But it turned out our visit was on a Monday this time, so all the museums were closed. Maybe next time.
We were docked pretty far down from the entrance to the harbor; one of the new Viking ocean ships had the berth right next to the entrance. There was a shuttle bus to take us from the ship to near the Columbus monument at the base of the Ramblas. Unlike every other port we visited (and unlike our last stop in Barcelona 3 years ago), the shuttle cost 5 Euros a person. Everyone found this irritating; many thought it was cheap of HAL not to pick up this small cost for its Grand Voyage guests. Some folks refused to use the shuttle & walked the mile or so into town, but since Mary was still feeling the effects from Dubai we took the shuttle.
We had two goals for the day. First, on our last visit we saw quite a few of the buildings created by local icon Antoni Gaudi, but only saw the inside of one, the Sagrada Familia church. This time we wanted to tour the inside of one of his residential buildings, Casa Mila, nicknamed La Padrera (the stone quarry) because of its looks. Completed in 1911, this was Gaudi’s last commercial project, subsequently concentrating exclusively on religious works. Very controversial in its time, today La Pedrera is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
To get there we walked up the Ramblas, past the monument of Christopher Columbus pointing to the new world, reputedly at the spot where he came ashore in 1493 after his first voyage. The Ramblas, one of Europe’s great boulevards, Is a pedestrian road flanked by trees & then two narrow streets. Usually crowded & busy, full of locals & tourists & vendors & cafes, it is a relatively serene & pleasant venue for an early morning walk. Among other things, we passed a woman getting dressed as, presumably, one of the living statues we would see later on our return. Further up we passed an interesting building on a corner with a street sculpture of a book outside it. Everywhere you go in this city you see buildings with interesting & unusual architectural flourishes.
We had read that lines to see the inside of Casa Mila could be as long as an hour & a half, but there was almost no line at all when we arrived. This is probably due to the morning hour & the date, before the real tourist season. The entrance was through the central courtyard of the building, open at the top, which gave a view all the way up. There is a stairway to the second floor, with painted decorations, pillars & plants. But the first stop on the self-guided audio tour is the roof, reached by an elevator.
The rooftop is a wonderland, a giant sculpture garden of chimneys with excellent views thrown in. It was pretty crowded with visitors, but still quite beautiful. On the inside you could look over the courtyard atrium, with its undulating curved lines.
On the outside were views of the surrounding buildings & streets, as well as La Sagrada Familia & some other churches in the distance.
But really, the best part is the sculptures & chimneys displayed on the roof, most covered in Gaudi’s trademark broken ceramic or stone mosaics. They come in all shapes and sizes & are interesting alone as well as in groups.
We walked down the stairs to the building’s huge “attic,” where tenants originally did their laundry. It is an arched space covered in red brick that today houses an exhibit about Gaudi’s art, including a number of models of his most famous buildings. There are 270 brick arches holding it up, all catenary arches characteristic of Gaudi’s work. These arches are the equivalent of the curve created by hanging a chain from its two ends, then turning that curve upside down. There was a display here of how such chains hang to create the curve. The whole place was dramatically lighted to great effect.
There is one apartment maintained as a display for visitors, furnished with items from the turn of the 20th century. The rooms were very nice & looked quite livable, even though the spaces and doorways are quite unconventional. We walked down there from the attic & through a hallway to visit the apartment.
Perhaps the best part of the apartment was the view through the windows. Someone has written that from the outside the apartment windows & balconies look like caves in the side of a mountain & from the inside they look like cave entrances as well. Each one seems to be different & they are partly covered with dynamic abstract wrought iron railings.
We left through (of course) the gift shop & had a last look at the atrium on our way out.
We walked down toward our second objective for the day, the Palau de la Musica Catalana (Catalan Music Hall). On the way we passed Gaudi’s Casa Battlo and, as always in Barcelona, several other interesting buildings.
The Palau de la Musica Catalana opened in 1908. It was designed by modernista architect Lluis Domenech I Montaner as a home for Orfeo Catalana, a choral group that was a cultural leader at the time. Most building at that time was being done in the Eixample district, a 19th century extension of the city beyond what used to be the city walls. That is where most of Gaudi’s best work can be found. But the Orfeo wanted their performance hall to be in the neighborhood where they lived, so it was built in an area of crowded narrow streets where it is impossible to get a good view of the building’s elaborate exterior. The Palau is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
We saw the outside of this amazing building on our last trip to Barcelona in 2013 (see pictures in that posting), but we were not able to see the inside. Unless you are attending a concert, the only way to see the inside of the Palau is on a tour & there are only a few tours in English each day. To be sure we would get in one we purchased timed tickets ahead of time on the internet. This worked out well for us, although it appeared that tickets were available for walk-ups shortly before the tour started, perhaps because this was before the real tourist season began. The tour met in the foyer, an area open to the outside added in the original style of the building during a 1980’s renovation. In the center is a coffee bar surrounded by tables. The arched ceilings are decorated with ceramic flowers & lines, some of which converge in six pointed stars, & there are red brick pillars holding it up.
After a short introductory film we walked into the main lobby & up the stairs. The lobby is decorated mostly in gold & white. There is a grand marble staircase with elaborate lamps on each side & golden glass supports for the handrails.
We gathered into a large room on the second floor called Lluis Millet Hall, named after one of the founders of the Orfeo. It has stained glass windows leading to a porch on the façade facing the street with very colorful & ornate mosaic pillars. We had seen this from the street last time we were here, but got a much more intimate view from the porch itself. Each of the mosaic pillars is unique & bright with color.
We went downstairs through the delightfully decorated hall & stairway to the concert hall. This is a fabulous room, considered one of the world’s most beautiful concert halls.
The concert hall seats about 2200 people on two levels. It is the only auditorium in Europe illuminated during the day with natural light coming through the windows & ceiling skylight. The stage is surrounded on top and sides by marble sculpture, the right side featuring Wagner’s ride of the Valkyries & a bust of Beethoven. The back of the stage is an orange semi-circle with relief sculptures of 18 young women playing instruments, each in a different costume with their lower bodies done in mosaic. They are often called the muses, although there were only 9 muses in Greek mythology.
We walked upstairs to have a view from the balcony. On the way up we passed behind the busts of composers on the façade above the porch. The view of the concert hall from the balcony was even more beautiful.
For many, the real highlight of this room (no pun intended) is the fabulous stained glass skylight in the center of the ceiling. The golden center portion droops down from a mostly blue background, like the sun in the sky, and is surrounded by female faces (presumably singing, since this is a music hall). If it looks familiar, perhaps you have seen it on the screen of an LG television in one of their print ads. The skylight & the huge windows are functional as well as beautiful, because the Orfeo wanted to have natural light in their concert hall & its location among narrow streets lined with multi-story buildings made this difficult to accomplish.
Above the windows on the sides the ceiling appears to be supported by giant yellow mushrooms lined with red & gray ceramic roses, with chandeliers hanging from them.
We left the Palau & walked to the Ramblas, where we had an excellent lunch in the window of a restaurant where we could watch folks walking by.
After eating we walked back down the Ramblas to the shuttle bus stop for the trip back to the ship. We passed one of our favorite buildings there, a former umbrella factory with a dragon on the corner holding an umbrella. We also saw some of the human statues near the bottom of the Ramblas. These are individuals who dress up like statues & pose perfectly still . . . until you come close when they will suddenly move just a little. Silly, but fun. Just before we reached the shuttle stop we passed the Old Port Authority building & the Aduena Building, the old customs house, both built in the first decade of the 20th century.
So there you have it, several of Barcelona’s highlights on a much too short one day stop. We then left the Mediterranean, headed for Cadiz.