Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Spain: Picasso's Barcelona and La Ribera on the Picasso Walking Tour

Museu Picasso is another must visit when in Barcelona. Although there are several Picasso museums, the one in Barcelona is the first and only one established on the express wish of the artist. But as an introduction to the museum, I decided to join the Picasso Walking Tour in order to experience and understand Picasso more by visiting places he frequented in Barcelona during the many years that he was there.

Discovering the bohemian Barcelona where Picasso lived, walking its streets, hearing anecdotes of the famous painter's friends as well as the events that influenced his life and artistic career was a great way to understand the Picasso story.

We visited Els Quatre Gats, a restaurant in a modernista building frequented by Picasso and intellectuals of his time; the friezes on the facade of the Col-legi d'Arquitectes, his only piece of public art in Barcelona; as well as the Llotja de Mar, the building which housed the art school where he studied, among many other sites.

We were also brought deep into La Ribera, a district which hosted Picasso's last studio before he departed for Paris. The district has a beautiful basilica namely the Santa Maria del Mar. We also got to pass by another basilica, the Mare de Déu de la Mercé, in Barri Gotic. Stops are quick so you can opt to come back if you want to explore the interiors.

The last stop is the museum which contains the world's most important collection of works from Picasso's youth and formative years. The whole cost of the tour is 15€ and this includes entrance to the Museu Picasso. And since tickets to the museum are given to you, there is no need to join the long lines to get one!

But if you just want to visit, a ticket to the museum and the temporary exhibition would cost 9€. Entrance to the museum is usually free on the first Sunday of each month.

Barcelona Walks
Aside from the Picasso tour, there are three other walking tours offered by Turisme de Barcelona (Barcelona Tourism Office). These are Barri Gotic, a tour of Barcelona's Gothic Quarter; Barcelona Modernista which takes you to the works of modernist architects Antonio Gaudi, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and Luis Domenech i Montaner; and the Gourmet Walking Tour, where you can experience Barcelona's cuisine. Check the tourist information kiosks for schedules.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Spain: Hospital de Sant Pau & Palau de la Música Catalana

The world has taken notice of Lluís Domènech i Montaner, another Catalan Modernista architect, whose works have also been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Just a few minutes from the Sagrada Familia is the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, a sprawling hospital complex built between 1901 to 1930. It is in fact a functional hospital up to today.

Another work of Domènech i Montaner is the Palau de la Música Catalana, a concert hall built in the Modernista style with rich decoration on its facade. There are guided tours to the grand Modernist Concert Hall and other smaller halls at 10€ per person. But tickets have to be purchased at least one week in advance because there is a limit of 55 persons on each tour.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Spain: Gaudi overload in Barcelona: Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, Casa Batlló, Palau Güell, Casa Mila & Casa Vicens

When in Barcelona, make sure you visit the works of Antoni Gaudi, one of the foremost architects of the Modernista style (Art Nouveau). His unique and avante-garde works have become icons of Barcelona, many of which are inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List under Works of Antoni Gaudi.

Foremost of these structures is the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, the unfinished church we all know as Sagrada Familia, one of Spain's most popular attractions. Construction for the church began in 1882 and continues up to today. It is scheduled for completion in 2026, a century after Gaudi's tragic death.

Gaudi had worked on the project for 40 years until his death. When asked why the construction was taking so long, he was said to have remarked, "My client is not in a hurry." Gaudí had intended the church to be the "last great sanctuary of Christendom."

There is a chapel at the back which you can visit if you want a glimpse of the interior. But if you want to take the elevator up the towers (waiting time can be over an hour) or visit the museum in the crypt of the church where Gaudi is buried, entrance fee is 8€, an amount which goes to the construction of the church.

Palau Güell is a town mansion he designed for industrialist Eusebi Güell. At the moment, it's partially open to the public due to restoration, with limited access. I saw the outside of this building while touring La Rambla.

Casa Batlló is a building redesigned by Gaudi for the Batlló family. Also know as Casa dels ossos (House of Bones) because many parts resemble skeletal parts, this colorful home is remarkable and very representative of Gaudi's works. You need to pay 16,50€ to be able to enter but it's very much worth it.

Walking around its different rooms, the courtyard and rooftop made me realize the brilliance of Gaudi's mind. His creativity was indeed ahead of his time.

Casa Vicens, a home designed by Gaudi for industrialist Manuel Vicens, was his first important work. Since it is private property, visitors can only marvel at its exterior. In fact, the property is for sale. And you can own this World Heritage Site for 30 million euros!

Casa Mila is more popularly known as La Pedrera because it resembles a quarry. Gaudi designed this building-home for the couple Rosario Segimon and Pere Milà. The building is now owned by Caixa Catalunya.

They charge an 8€ entrance fee to visit the interior and wonderful rooftop. Since it was raining when I visited La Pedrera, I had to forgo going up to the roof.

Finally, another icon of Barcelona is Park Güell built on top of Carmel Hill. This is a Gaudi work which you must visit as well!

The park was supposed to be part of a commercial housing project of Eusebi Güell that did not take off. It was eventually purchased by the municipal government and converted into a park.

Many of the park elements are characterized by multi-colored tile mosaics. Entrance to the Park Güell is free. And for those who had been watching America's Next Top Model, they did a fashion runway show there in one episode.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Spain: Barcelona's Barri Gòtic and La Rambla

Hello from Barcelona! We finally arrived this morning after a five-hour early morning bus trip from Valencia. After settling down, lunch and a short siesta, it was time to explore this cosmopolitan Spanish city. And the best place to start is by walking along La Rambla and exploring Barri Gòtic!

An iconic and busy central street of Barcelona, La Rambla (also called Las Ramblas or Les Rambles) is a 1.2 kilometer tree-lined pedestrian mall. And it sure had character!

I enjoyed watching the many street performers in colorful and creative costumes, the various souvenir stalls, pet shops (which sold turtles), flower stands and the artists' makeshift studios among many others. And there were just so many people!

Rambla in Catalan, as well as in Spanish, means an intermittent water flow, derived from the Arabic ramla which means 'sandy riverbed.' It was a very charming street and I very much agree with Spanish poet Federico García Lorca when he said that La Rambla was "the only street in the world which I wish would never end."

Along La Rambla is the entrance to another iconic attraction of the city, a street market called the Mercat de la Boqueria. I enjoyed the many tastes, colors, and scents inside the market, indeed a feast for the senses with its diverse selection of goods. I tried out the chocolates and candies as well as the fresh fruits.

After exploring La Rambla, I went deeper into Barri Gòtic, Barcelona's Old Quarter. The district stretches from La Rambla to Via Laietana, and from the Mediterranean seafront to Ronda de Sant Pere.

Don't miss the many fabled structures including the covered Gothic walkway above Carrer del Bisbe Irurita, the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia where her remains are buried in a magnificent crypt, and Placa Sant Jaume where the Casa de la Ciutat (Ayuntamiento) and Palau de la Generalitat are located.

In the Cathedral, you'll notice thirteen geese in the central courtyard of the cloister. The number represents the age of Santa Eulalia when she was martyred in the 4th century. Magnificent chapels are scattered around the cathedral. Aside from Santa Eulalia, another popular saint buried in the Barcelona Cathedral is St. Raymond of Penyafort.

It would be best to get a free map and suggested walking routes from any tourism office or kiosk conveniently located around the area in order to maximize your trip to Barcelona. The brochures I got were a big help.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Spain: Port America's Cup Marina in Valencia

Valencia hosted the 32nd America's Cup, the most prestigious regatta in the world, in 2007. The race is usually held in the country of the defender or the winner of the previous race. Alinghi, a Swiss team won the 2003 race. And since Switzerland is a land-locked country, Valencia was chosen to host the next America's Cup. The 2007 regatta also marked the first time since it was first held in 1851 that the race returned to Europe.

The Port America's Cup Marina was built to host the race. And since a lot of people had suggested we pass by since there are a lot of great restaurants and bars there, we decided to do that for our last night. Sad to say, the place was empty on a Thursday night. It turns out, since the race was completed, activity slowly died down.

We got to see the boat yards of the different teams. But that was all. Restaurants and bars were closed that night. I wonder though how it looks like during weekend nights. So we just walked over to neighboring Paseo Neptuno for a light dinner and some drinks.
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