23rd– 25th June, 2015
For me Barcelona was not a comfortable city to visit even though we met some very approachable young locals and it was good to experience again the modernist architecture of the city. The negatives outweighed the positives so it will not be going onto our ‘must revisit’ list. The main negative aspects related to crowds, it’s hard to appreciate a city when you are rubbing shoulders with thousands of tourists. Another negative was the loss of my camera bag.
A tourist in my mind is a person more likely to be on a whirlwind package holiday, intent on going to places simply so they can say they have been there. Travellers on the other hand are interested in people and the finer intricacies of a country.
Mass tourism in Barcelona (eight million tourists each year) has managed to erode its charm. It is no longer a city where one can experience local cultures and traditions. According to some locals it is now a giant theme park geared to the needs of the binge tourist. The binge tourists are mostly young Britons intent on getting inebriated and having what they describe as ‘a wow of a time’.
Although tourists visit Barcelona throughout the whole of the year there is a higher concentration during the summer months, especially during the summer solstice when we happened to be there. Not a good time for the traveller to visit. The summer solstice is when the sun reaches its highest point thus creating the shortest night of the year.
Solstice celebrations have pagan roots but to give it an air of respectability, in 1928 it became known in Spain as the night of St John the Baptist. In the Gospel of Luke it is stated that John was born about six months before Jesus, which was six months before Christmas, which coincides with the European solstice.
One commentator stated, ‘If you are in Barcelona during the summer solstice there is no way that you would want to miss the celebrations in the city or on La Barceloneta Beach…fires in the streets, night long fireworks and the crazy parties’. Bev and I did not heed this recommendation, we decided to ride to the beach early the next morning and see the aftermath of the celebrations. One advantage of going to the beach early was the lack of crowds on La Rambla, the busiest pedestrian street in Barcelona.
The fires and fireworks of the solstice night represent the fire of the sun, which to pagan folk represented a symbol of fertility and wealth. There are two other symbols as well relating to the solstice celebrations and they are water and herbs. Water symbolises healing and therefore bathing in the sea is obligatory. Herbs symbol remedy and some claim the healing qualities of herbs are enhanced one hundred times more on the night of the solstice.
After visiting the beach we felt the celebrations the night before were nothing more than a giant night of over indulged debauchery. Many revellers nursed serious hangovers and they must have asked themselves if it was worth it.
Many Barcelonans say they are fed up with the activities of visiting tourists and graffiti such as ‘Tourists go Home’ and Tourists Get Lost’ appears on walls in public places. Many of the long-standing residents of the city are worried their city is being gentrified. There are moves afoot to close the vegetable markets one day a week to tourists so the locals can go shopping.
Gentrification is the term used when low-income families and small businesses are forced out by wealthy individuals intent on establishing short-term rental properties, souvenir shops, restaurants and bars to cater for the millions who visit the city.
A documentary film called Bye Bye Barcelona is worth watching (available on YouTube) and it shows long-term residents of Barcelona airing their views in relation to mass tourism.
At the beginning of this post I indicated that Barcelona had an element of physical complexity, which in my mind relates to its architectural elements. There are examples of most eras but I think Barcelona is most famous for the modernist era, which emerged in the early 20th century and gained mass popularity soon after World War 2
There are a number of Catalan architects who were involved in creating the modernist buildings in Barcelona, however probably the most celebrated is Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926). He developed Trencadis, a type of mosaic decoration made from broken tile shards. The pieces of broken tiles and dinnerware were gathered from tile manufactories near Barcelona. For some time I have been collecting tile shards from countries we have visited and one day I will make a table from the collected pieces. It seems to me that Gaudi and I have a few things in common and one is I hate to see waste, as in the case of broken tile pieces. I can imagine Gaudi standing and looking at a pile of shards and saying ’what can I do with these’.
Gaudi and I have similar self-proclaimed mottos. Gaudi said ‘I’m not a man of Arts but a man of Works’ whereas mine is ‘Work breeds Inspiration’, meaning get on with it and the inspiration will come.
If the reader would like to know more about Gaudi’s unique personality go to http://www.gaudiclub.com
One of Gaudi’s most famous projects built between 1900 and 1913 is the Parc Guell (Guell Park). Eusebi Guell, a rich industrialist, commissioned it because he wanted to create an unusual stylish park where Barcelonan aristocracy could wander. The park now attracts thousands of visitors daily and some travellers suggest it’s not worth going because of the crowds but if one goes early it is possible to beat the throngs.
Within the grounds of the Parc Guell is a temple referred to as the Doric Temple. The previous three photographs were taken on the roof of the temple. The Doric Temple is a massive structure and no doubt took a lot of resources and energy to build and therefore it could be considered to be a masterpiece but I felt the mass of the columns and the ceiling overhead had an intimidating claustrophobic feel about them.
The reptilian creature in the following photograph was at the base of steps leading to the Doric Temple.
Following are a few images showing creative Trencadis and ironwork around the park.
The fence running into the wall of the shop is of interest. The following photograph shows the detail. Cast iron sections were bolted to a frame support.
Another example of Antoni Gaudi’s work in Barcelona is the Sagrada Familia Church. The church is considered to be his most ambitious work but unfortunately his input was cut short as he died in 1926 after being hit by a Barcelona trolley bus.
Analysts of Gaudi’s work had difficulty in categorising his style. To a limited degree there is Gothic and Art Nouveau influences but in a form the average observer is unable to recognise. Eventually the term ‘Equilibrated’ was used to describe his work. Equilibrated in this case meant a structure such as a tower could stand on its own without internal bracing or external buttressing. I assume this means one side of the spire leans against the other side producing equal forces. Inside Sagrada Familia I’m told there are a number of models depicting Gaudi’s theory of design but unfortunately we didn’t go in as there was an entry queue longer than we were prepared to join. The church at the moment is estimated to be about 65% complete. It is expected it will be completed in 2026 in time for Gaudi’s 100th anniversary. After searching my mind for the best adjectives to describe Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Church I came up with ‘extraordinarily unusual’. Following are a few images of the extraordinarily unusual structure.
The caption relating to the above image needs an explanation: I make mention of Baroque because to me Gaudi’s work here looks like the busy Baroque era that has melted. It reminds me of fluid candle wax pooling in its holder. The conclusion is that I’m not all that fussed about the style, I prefer straight lines in architecture and it’s probably because I spent many years working as a draftsman and draftsmen like straight lines.
The tallest freestanding tower crane in the world at this moment is in the USA and it stands at around 470 metres and the tallest attached to a building under construction is in Saudi Arabia and is 1000 metres high.
There is expected to be eighteen spires in total on the Sagrada Familia Church and they will be known as the Evangelists’ spires, representing the twelve apostles, four evangelists, the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. The Jesus tower will be the tallest and on top will be mounted a giant cross, bringing the tower’s total height to one hundred and seventy metres. If the reader wants to see what the completed church will look like search ‘2026 We build for tomorrow Sagrada Familia Church’ on YouTube.
There are a number of other extraordinarily unusual Gaudi buildings in Barcelona, notably the Casa Batilo (built 1904/06) and the Casa Mila (1905/10). The following photographs show them and some of the other unusual Barcelona buildings and structures.
Hospital de La Santa Creu/Pau was a fully functional hospital up until 2009. Today it houses various international organisations including the United Nations Institution on Globalisation, Culture and Mobility.
The Barcelona Arc de Triomf is similar to other triumphal arches in cities such as Berlin and Paris. The Barcelona arch was the work of architect Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas and was built in 1888 in the Neo-Mudejar style for the Barcelona World Fair.
Neo-Mudejar style is linked to the Moorish Revival period which incorporated horseshoe arches and abstract brick ornamentation.
The two cupolas above have gone onto my ‘best cupolas in the world’ list as they are truly the most stylish I have seen. The cupola, or dome, was used in Roman times and originally had a hole (oculus) in the apex to permit light into the room below. Modern day versions of the oculus are skylights.
It is said a king or queen without a crown is a nobody. A crown indicates power, righteousness, victory honour and glory. Maybe the architects who designed the cupolas above felt they had the right to claim these attributes.
At the beginning of this post I mentioned that Barcelona would not be placed on our revisit list but whilst preparing this post and looking closely at the previous photographs I have decided that we do need to give Barcelona a second chance. We need to go back but it will have to be midwinter so as to avoid the masses. Without the masses we could easily come under Barcelona’s magic spell.
During our visit to Barcelona we met some very accommodating young locals at Woki Organic Market and its Restaurante Ecologico. One thing that has amazed us while we have been on the road encountering the past are people including young travellers who have treated us with much respect. Many want to know our travel stories and comments such as ‘It has been so good to meet you. I hope to be in a relationship like yours when I am your age’ and ’Awesome, I wish my parents were like you’ certainly gives our ego a kick along. People we have met have bought us meals, given us presents and invited us home. We thank them all.
There was an element of stress when leaving Barcelona. Firstly our bikes were required to be folded because railway authorities insist all passenger luggage including bikes be passed through airport style x-ray machines. I disguised my Leatherman in our bike tool kit so it looked like pliers, a move that was successful as the girl watching the x-ray monitor didn’t pick it up. Secondly, added to the stress of security there were thousands of people on the station concourse and thirdly, to top it all off, my camera was stolen.
The folding of our bikes is easy enough but it does require some concentration and while we were attending to the job at hand a thief whipped by our luggage and took off with my camera bag. Losing the bag was inexcusable for a couple of hardened travellers like us, it should never have happened.
The camera bag was not such a great loss. It contained no valuable items such as passport or credit cards and my Olympus DSLR was getting past its usefulness as the flash wasn’t working, the rubberised handgrip had fallen off in Morocco and the disc door was taped shut with insulation tape. Unfortunately my GoPro video camera was in the bag and we hadn’t downloaded the footage of riding through southern Spain and Portugal and our walks in the streets of the medinas in Morocco. Fortunately Bev had downloaded most images from the camera the day before.
At the entrance to the railway station I approached a group of very serious police toting machine guns to tell them about the incident but they indicated it was a local police issue and I should report the theft to them. Unfortunately it was not possible as we had a train to catch. Not being able to report the incident meant we could not claim the loss on our travel insurance.
Over the years travelling has exposed us to tricksters wanting to take advantage of our apparent affluence. Barcelona is known as Europe’s pickpocketing capital. Following are a few rules to travel by and scams to watch for. It must be pointed out that 90% of pickpocketing, bag snatching and thievery generally carried out in Barcelona falls into the lap of those from Eastern European and North African countries, not the locals.
Following are some scams. A restaurant waiter with a sleight of hand swaps your note with a counterfeit one and then suggests you give him/her another one. A good way to avoid the trickery is to mark your money with an identification mark using a pencil. Another, and I actually know someone this happened to, is the bird doo on the shoulder scam and it is where the scammer squirts what appears to be bird doo on your shoulder or back then offers to wipe it off. While the cleaning up is going on an accomplice has taken off with your luggage. Common acts of downright thievery include someone offering to help with your luggage and they take off with it and others who offer to take your photograph with your camera and as soon as you hand the camera over they are gone with your camera into the crowds.
There is no end to the scams and to reduce the chance of becoming a victim carry your valuables, money and passports in a money belt secure under your clothes. It might get uncomfortable in hot climes but it is far more uncomfortable applying for new passports and credit cards. An alternative to a money belt is a vest and in dodgy areas wear it inside out so pockets, preferably zippered ones, are on the inside. On an overnight train tie your bags to the armrest of the seat or overhead rack. When in cafes and your bag is on the floor put the leg of the chair through one of the pack’s straps. This applies to cameras as well; put it in its case attached to your person and never leave it on the table.
The lesson for all travellers is to never take your eyes off your gear for one second and download your images every day, the camera can be replaced but the pictures can’t. There are tens of thousands of petty crime incidents in Barcelona each year and many are not reported as it is simply too difficult. For petty crime such as bag snatching or pick-pocketing there are only small fines so the offender pays the fine and carries on thieving.
Again we bid you farewell as the end of the Barcelona post has arrived. The next post takes us to the town of Bezier in France, a whole world removed from Barcelona. In fact Bezier has to go down in our books as one of the most pleasant towns we have visited in Europe. We hope you stay with us for the pleasure.
If you wish to make a comment please do so and if you are new to reading this post and want to continue, click on follow and you will be alerted each time we do a posting. The next post will be number one hundred and seventy two so if you are a new reader you have a lot of catching up to do.