Laura and I spent a total of three days in Barcelona; one at the beginning of the trip, and two at the end of the trip. Barcelona, unlike Madrid, seemed a lot more “open.” By that, I mean that I never felt particularly closed in, with the exception, perhaps, of the old Gothic quarter of the city. In Barcelona, there seemed to be a lot of open spaces, from La Rambla, a pedestrian walkway lined with cafes and market stalls that cuts through a large section of the city, to the green spaces of Montjuic, site of the Olympic stadium, which offers a spectacular view of the city below.
What I found to be interesting about Spain was that each of the cities we visited had a definite feel or character that was unique to each city. Of the three cities, Barcelona felt the least “Spanish,” due to the influence of Catalan culture. I’m not sure that I’m qualified to fully comment on the differences between these two cultures, perhaps my only frame of reference being the distinction between English and French Canada. Therefore, we’ll have to content ourselves with the notion that Barcelona is just different.
Take its’ red-light district, for example. As you walk through the labyrinthine streets of old Barcelona, you will notice, seemingly out of nowhere, a dozen or more men, standing alone, in pairs, or in groups, completely motionless. This may cause a certain degree of alarm, however, as long as you continue on your way, it is unlikely you will encounter any problems. At the same intersection, if you turn to your right, you will observe, along the easternmost sidewalk, scantily clad prostitutes lined up from one end of the block to the other. Once you’ve passed this one street, you’ll almost forget that it existed, or that prostitution even exists in the city. Essentially, the red-light district is located in a rather unassuming neighbourhood no different from any other in that part of the city, and you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish it from any other; except for obvious disparities.
Barcelona is also home to the spectacular and dizzying architecture of Antoni Gaudi. Buildings designed by Gaudi can be found throughout the city, as well as the famous Park Guell, which was designed by Gaudi and contains a variety of bizarrely-shaped statues, fountains and buildings. As the audio tour guides will tell you while visiting the Casa Milla, an apartment building that Gaudi was commissioned to re-design in the Modernista style, Gaudi is a universal architect, whose genius is sure to change the way you view the world around you. Gaudi’s most famous, and most personal work, was the Sagrada Familia, a grand cathedral of the medieval Gothic variety, with a definite Gaudi twist. The cathedral is one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen, with so much intricate detail and precise artistry that it staggers the imagination. While it may appear at first that certain sections of the cathedral are melting, a closer look reveals intricate sculpture that appears to emerge from the stone itself. Staring at the cathedral is like staring at one of those 3D puzzles that requires you to un-focus and re-focus your eyes until the hidden image appears. Once you stare at it long enough, new details will emerge, revealing detail and unity. Despite having designed the cathedral, Gaudi oversaw only a fraction of its’ construction, which continues to this day. The inside of the cathedral is littered with scaffolding, tools, mortar, and large chunks of rock in varying sizes, and standing guard high above the cathedral’s towers is a battalion of cranes. In fact, despite initial construction beginning over 100 years ago, completion of the cathedral is a long way down the road.