When I first started planning a trip to Spain, I had intended to do a language immersion course for 10 days and devote just a week to travel. I had just completed my Diploma in Spanish in Mumbai and thought such a course would help me dig my roots deeper in the language. But as I started looking at all the places I wanted to visit in Spain, all noble thoughts of studying just poofed up and disappeared. Just listening to the language as I make my way around the country and chatting with locals would be a course in itself, I decided. So here I am embarking on my fun-only Spanish Sojourn.
First stop: Barcelona.
If you Google 'Barcelona and safety' you will find gazillion articles about how safe it is. Of course the same articles then go on to list various precautions you should take to protect your belongings from lurking pickpockets and bag snatchers. Hevre, the owner of the hotel I was staying in had advised me to take a cab from the airport.
Your bag will be a dead giveaway that you are a tourist,' his email had said.
My bag?? What about the fact that I am brown? What am I going to do about that? I paid heed to his advice and took a cab which was a good move because it also saved a lot of time.
I am not a 'chain hotel' kind of a person. In most cases I find them impersonal and boring and not value-for-money. I much prefer independent, quirky places that have a character of their own. Casa Hevre in Barcelona is exactly that kind of a place.When I am booking a hotel online I look at the pictures and go by instinct. I know, not a very smart move in the age of Photoshop but to my credit, I do read up reviews of previous guests. Casa Hevre does not disappoint. If I ever run a B&B, this is exactly how it would be. It is spread over one flat on the top floor of a building, just like many B&Bs in the larger cities in Spain are. It has 4 rooms each done up in different colours and styles and as luck would have it I get the one I had liked on the website.
I chat a little bit with Hevre and when he learns that I have studied Spanish he insists on talking in Spanish. I must practice, he says! After some help and directions from him I am ready to start off for the day. But, first I must take some steps to disguise my touristic appearance. No purses or wallets so I calculate roughly the money I would need for the day and stuff it in my pockets. The camera and phone go in a small sling bag which is camouflaged under my over coat. A woollen cap and scarf to protect against the cold.
"So, do I look like a tourist?" I ask Hevre.
"No. More like a spy."
Aah well, that should definitely keep unwanted elements away. Who ever heard of Bond getting pick pocketed!
Since I had lost half the day travelling to Barcelona I had decided to go light on the sightseeing. I started off for La Sagrada Familia, a 15-minute walk from Hevre's. The construction of this church started in 1882 and hold your breath, it is NOT YET COMPLETE! In fact it is expected to take anything from another 30 to 80 years to complete! It is a massive structure with intricately carved towers piercing high into the sky. On the pavement leading to the structure, I found tourists crouched, bent in strange postures trying to capture the entire height in their cameras. Gaudi who has shaped so much of the Barcelona skyline conceptualised it and started building it in 1882. When he died, in 1926, only one of the four facades was complete. There is a lot of talk about how the succeeding architects have strayed from the original style and the difference in the material used, etc. But, to an architecturally clueless visitor like me, the structure impresses. While there is no denying the architectural genius involved in designing a structure of these proportions, it is the interior of the church that took my breath away. To be able to create a room that can house almost 8000 worshippers and yet lend it a feeling of intimacy is an achievement.
The next destination is Park Guell and I am told the subway would be the quickest way to get there. I love the simplicity of the subway system in most European cities. It is so easy to figure out that within minutes you are riding it like a local.
There are a couple of entrances to Park Guell depending on which side you are approaching from. But wherever you are entering from, be prepared, this is no walk in the park! A half hour climb up a winding path brought me to the summit of the Park. The view makes up for the spent energy. The entire city stretched under me. And in the distance I could make out the towers of La Sagrada Familia as well as the palace atop Montjuic, my destination for the next day. The summit is crowned with a stout stone tower mounted by three crosses. Very uneven stone-laid stairs lead up to the crosses. The climb is rickety and the view is not much different than from the base so attempt it at your own peril. As I started making my way down, I could see the towers of the two buildings that stand at the entrance you are meant to enter from. I had entered from the rear and was thus seeing it from the direction opposite than what Gaiudi intended! This part of the Park is strewn with Gaudiesque elements. There is a huge terrace with dozens of pillars holding up a ceiling studded with obscure mosaic-work. A large stairway leading up from the entrance is split by a water-spewing reptile studded with coloured stones. And the entrance itself is flanked by two buildings that look like elves and other fairy creatures may run out of them any minute. Beauty may lie in the eye of some beholder but Gaudi's work is definitely interesting and amusing in its bizarreness.
It was now time to call it a day. Not just because it had been a long day but also as I realised that I only some loose change left on me. I had been warned to carry only as much money as I would need for the day and when calculating my requirement for the day had forgotten to account for food and water!! Trundled back to the hotel for food and a warm bed.
Las Ramblas tomorrow...