Like all big cities Barcelona has parts that are beautiful and parts that are ugly, but Barcelona does both with gusto and style.
It has had a love affair with architecture and architects for centuries, and at various times the wealth to build beautiful and extravagant creations. But the downside is the need to house all the people attracted to the honeypot, resulting in some of the most densely populated suburbs in Europe – mile after drab mile of square apartment blocks with no grass or trees.
We rode in from the north, on a hilly and scenic coastal road with not much traffic except in the concrete resort towns that are the curse of the Mediterranean. Our AirB@B was in the hills which form the city’s western backdrop, and a bike path along a river took us most of the way there.
The B@B was up four flights of narrow stairs in an irregularly shaped, pinkish block of flats built as social housing in 1948, but was light and sunny with views out to the Med and the hills. Our delightful host and her two Slovakian flatmates were all students.
Of course we had to see the works of Gaudi and took a great “Free Tour” walk unexpectedly led by an Australian (now firmly settled in Spain). The city has many Gaudi works of course ; he was decidedly fashionable and had many wealthy industrialists commission him to build or upgrade their houses. There is a theory that some of his works were heavily influenced by the dwellings carved out of caves in Capadocia, Turkey, where we were in April, and both Laurie and I could see this could be true. He was an intensely religious man but his desire to intertwine Christian and natual symbols rather than subjugate nature makes him seem interestingly pagan.
The old town is full of crooked and narrow streets with crooked and narrow houses . The Jews were expelled in the 1200s but the Jewish quarter still has its own character, and there are still Roman ruins and remains incorporated into later buildings.
True to its Catholic heritage Barcelona has not one but three Basilicas ranging from 800 years old to the still unfinished Gaudi basilica.
There are more museums than we could possibly see but the Museum of Design and Museum of Music were particularly interesting.
The Park Guell designed by Gaudi (which was really an attempt to design an estate for the wealthy and was a spectacular commercial failure, hence never finished) was extraordinary. Its creativity and elegance contrasts sharply with the dense drab apartment blocks which pack it in on three sides.
Of course much of our time in Barcelona was spent packing bikes and sorting gear to try and keep under 60kg of weight. We managed, and it was with a huge mix of feelings that we caught a taxi through the autumn drizzle to the airport for the last stage of our amazing journey…