After tackling the motorways which surround Barcelona and which crisscross each other like tangled wool, we checked in to Tres Estellas campsite. It might mean Three Stars but it was anything but. We had been told not to go there, but we decided that, as it is the closest campsite to Barcelona and with an easy bus trip into the centre of the city, it was our best bet. The place itself wasn't too bad and opened directly onto the beach and the Med. Not the prettiest beach for sure, but a place for a swim if you don't want to use the quite impressively large pool. The facilities weren't too bad either - good, hot showers, a shop on site with fresh bread sticks each day, and, as mentioned, a regular bus service just down the road. Its rather obvious drawback was its proximity to the airport. We were just as close to the airport in Madrid and it wasn't a bother there at all. However we noticed quite early on that the planes here took off overhead... We hoped that Barcelona airport had a curfew. It didn't. But there was worse. Every now and then, often only 10 seconds apart, a loud bang like a gunshot would go off. Bird scarers for the airport. Scaring birds all night and all day. Keeping us awake all night.
In Barcelona we opted again to get an all day ticket on the big, red, hop-on/hop-off bus that does two continuous routes around the city. It certainly gave us a good overview of the city and all the sights but it wasn't as good as in Madrid. There the commentary through the earphones matched the place you had reached and you could see it clearly. In Barcelona the commentary was all over the place, either telling you about a place or a building before you had reached it or after you had left it behind! That is, if you could see it - sometimes it was nicely hidden behind a tree or another building. However it did get us around easily to where we wanted to be and the first stop was the Sagrada Familia.
This is of course Barcelona's most famous building started over a hundred years ago and expected now to be completed sometime between 2030 and 2040. I don't think I'll get to see it without all the cranes and scaffolding! Despite this being way beyond high season, the queue stretched not just around the corner, but around the next and the next. But we moved pretty briskly and had time to look at the outside bits you can't see from inside the fences. Some spires are topped with bunches of fruit finished with mosaics. The lower parts of spires are decorated with sinuous snakes winding in and out along long sections of the walls. Huge carved lizards look down and around. Everything is embellished; there are no plain, untouched surfaces.
The entrance facade was pretty impressive, of enormous proportions and extremely modern with carvings pared back to cubist forms. But the truly breathtaking moments were the first steps into the interior. The columns soar to amazing heights dividing like branches to the roof, no straight lines to be seen but curves and bends seemingly organic in origin. Handmade glass lights near the tops of the columns are like medallions set into tree trunks. Light pours into the building, more light than you ever expect to see in a religious building this size. Stained glass windows, abstract in pattern, colour the walls, the floor, the metal pipes of the organ in rainbow hues. The dome is lined with golden mosaics which shine from the light pouring in through the top. A giant crucifix hangs under the dome, strangely under an 'umbrella' edged by lights. Everything flows: walls into balconies, columns into roof, windows wrap themselves around curved chapels.
Outside, the walls are a riot of decoration. In contrast to the modern entry facade, the Nativity facade is an intricate collection of carvings more traditionally executed than the entry facade. The detail urges you to look and look further, every time seeing more and more.
In short this is one stunning building. There is nothing like it, nor I suspect will there ever be.
In general Barcelona's architecture is its character. Modern buildings mostly have a design flair that sets them apart from the ordinary. They are bold and brave designs indeed. There are, naturally, the more classic styles of architecture, with old buildings displaying trademark balconies of curvy wrought iron and domes sporting fancy tiles or statuary or both. And there are the Modernista buildings - the Spanish term for Art Nouveau. Gaudi designed more than the Sagrada Familia and a couple of the buildings are open to the public.
The Pedrera is a four story building which wraps itself around a street corner. Its balconies curve in and out like waves. The rooftop comprises several levels and is a landscape of chimneys and towers, some tiled in white, others simply rendered and painted. Apparently they symbolise knights and the simple forms do resemble them. One apartment is open and furnished completely with furniture from the era. There are no straight lines or edges. Walls curve around the room; the ceiling turns gently down to become the walls; architraves around windows and doors are plaster in sinuous designs which coil around the openings. The whole place is full of light and I could move in tomorrow!
The big thing to do in the city is stroll down La Rambla. This wide street is mostly for pedestrians with cars relegated to a single lane down each side. The centre is full of stalls selling hand-made goods like beautiful jewellery, or flowers, or books. It is famous though for its human statues which are common enough in many places, but here have reached an art form. For a coin in their tin, they will move, often in some startling way surprising the payer who thinks they will just get a simple photo op.
Was Barcelona worth the nights without sleep to see? Most definitely yes.