The Gaudi Architecture Walking Tour
Our tour guide, Meit (given name: Victoria) proved to be knowledgeable and friendly. She chatted with us informally from the start. Although my pace was slow, we somehow made pretty good time on the tour. Maybe it was due to how much we talked along the way. Instead of hiking, then listening, we held a discussion almost constantly about not only the sites on our tour but all aspects of Spain.
Meit waited for me patiently when it was necessary, often talking to the others. Her enthusiasm for Gaudi architecture shone through. She had smiles and broad gestures for those works. She said she liked languages in general, spoke a handful of Romantic and Germanic tongues, and she enjoyed good architecture. We got the benefit of her enthusiasms.
Meit grew up in Argentina. She came to Spain to follow her family, really, many of whom had moved to Madrid or Barcelona ahead of her. She'd had chances to see a lot of Europe before settling in Barcelona. She expressed her admiration for Berlin and Budapest as other cities to visit or perhaps to live.
Near noontime, our walking tour reached Gaudí's Casa Batlló, which is, aside from Sagrada Familia, the most famous building in Barcelona. The house is decorated with aquatic motifs and skull mask balconies. It's simultaneously full of ocean imagery, particularly on the inside, and dragon imagery that includes a scaled roof with a solitary sword-like tower to signify how Saint George killed the dragon. In this Gaudi rendition, it looks a bit like the dragon sank into the sea as it passed away and lay down in the landscape of a Monet painting filled with water lilies.
Meit's recommendations for lunch proved good as well, tapas at reasonable prices.
Next, however, we ran into problems with the tour.
As scheduled, we took taxis to Park Güell. Yes, it's another Gaudi creation. Although I'd never considered it before, the place looked wonderful, a beautifully thought-out amalgam of architecture and gardens. I'm sure it's one of the best green spaces in Barcelona.
It wasn't intended to be a park, though. The original plan to construct a modern estate modeled on the British garden homes built by Capability Brown and others in England. (Many of these are wonderfully described in the Bill Bryson book, "Home.")
But Park Guell needs more than 50 minutes to tour. It was obvious right away this was going to be a problem. Also, the place requires a guide to make sense of the features. Maps alone are not enough. And the touring company did not buy a ticket for Meit. So our visit was undercut by the lack of her advice about what to see and do. In addition, since the tour company forced our guide to abandon us, she wasn't in a position to give advice ahead of time. The tour guides are not regular visitors to the park, so they have no firsthand knowledge.
Apparently, the Park Guell staff is partly responsible. They don't want to allow the tour guides in. Possibly Park Guell is holding out for a larger cut of the action; I'm not sure. But it made the visit kind of terrible compared to what it could have been.
At the end of our too-rapid hike, we rushed to get to the gate and meet Meit so she could take us to Sagrada Familia.
That site proved to be another with tour problems. The difficulties came strictly from the way the guide company operates. They're not due to Sagrada Familia site itself, which is fine.
When we arrived at the Sagrada Familia building, we had already downloaded the tour apps as instructed. However, our guide gave out the ticket information immediately before our entry into the site. This close timing meant we had no way to download the audio portion of the tour. (When ten thousand people are all trying to use the same cell tower, no one is really using it.) Our solution was to badger the local site staff for wireless access. Fortunately, they gave it to us. Then we downloaded and configured the audio tour app. There is no excuse for the default guide arrangement, though. The walking tour can (and should) be restructured so that the guides give out the Sagrada Familia ticket information during lunch. Tourists like us can run downloads and configure the app then using the restaurant wifi access. The guide can even confirm guest readiness for the final stage of the tour.
That said, once we worked out the the app configuration, the tour got pretty great pretty fast. The app is a fine way to deliver what tourists want. The Sagrada Familia site is beautiful, too, even under construction as it is, even to infidels of the religion and non-believers in architecture, like me. Seriously, it's good. If you like history or creative architecture, it's recommended.
The Long Walk to Can Sole
Weeks earlier, while in Frederick Maryland, Diane and I ate at a tapas restaurant called Isabella’s. When Diane mentioned to the manager that we were going to Spain, he recommended a place called Can Sole. On Sunday afternoon, we started a leisurely walk toward it.
We got as far as the docks before we ran into rows of vendor stalls. We window-shopped through them. Then we stopped at an outdoor café and ordered red vermut and sangria. At the table, we relaxed and watched the boats barely move in the breeze.
After a couple rounds, we marched to a beach on the Mediterranean Sea, where are we played in the water. It was November and the water was brisk.
“I didn’t bring a swimsuit,” I realized as I watched a few hardy swimmers heading out to a buoy.
“Oh, hell no,” someone else said. And that was probably right.
After half an hour, we rolled down our pants legs, wriggled on our shoes, and turned west for the last few blocks to Can Sole. There, we found local diners and native Barcelona staff, not the international tourists and accommodating venues we had been frequenting. This was a fine restaurant but it was truly Spanish and that was a comforting thing.
Even with the language barrier, I felt more relaxed than I had in most of the tourist shops. The food was excellent and the conversation was held over vermut and sangria.
The theme of the day seemed to be vermut and sangria. Back at the hotel, we spent some time on the rooftop café, playing cards and drinking a bit more.