By David A. F. Sweet
We arrived in Barcelona on a historic day in Europe — though not for Spain. The first coronation of a British king in more than 80 years started soon after we checked in at the graceful Hotel Duquesa de Cardina. At a nearby restaurant, cured hams hanging tantalizingly in the window in front of us, we watched the spectacle in Spanish.
This unorthodox home designed by Antoni Gaudi is colorful and unique.
The royal pomp was as far away from Barcelona’s radically designed Casa Vicens – our first tourist visit – as Meghan Markle was from her father-in-law’s crown. Given my traditional tastes in architecture, I expected to dismiss the house. Far from it – the 19th-century, 55-foot-high abode that was Antoni Gaudi’s first commission of note was captivating. Outside, it resembled a toy castle with wild colors, bizarre shapes, and balconies. Entranced by nature, Gaudi included painted roses on the main floor of the interior and depictions of flying birds elsewhere. Beyond that, the juxtaposition of unique decorations inside in many ways defy description, especially from one not versed in Gaudi’s methods.
We greeted more conventional architecture on our second stop at Santa Maria del Mar. Getting in was a bit confusing, given the joyous wedding celebration happening on the front steps and locked doors around the church. But we ran into our English-speaking guide and entered through the rear entrance.
The wondrous interior of the Sagrada Familia is matched by the awe-inspiring exterior.
Built in the 1300s over 55 years, Santa Maria del Mar features tall side naves that were once owned by families. Its Gothic architecture is perfectly symmetrical. Up on the roof, the views of Barcelona are fantastic – you can also see the exterior cracks from a 1428 earthquake, along with the attempts to fix them. Though anarchist groups vandalized the church during the Spanish Civil War – destroying graves and breaking stained glass windows – those desecrations were mended long ago.
The tour de force among attractions was the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece. Amazingly, it is still being built, as cranes above the church attested, even though the cornerstone was laid in the 19th century. The facades by the entrances are known as “The Bible in stone” – statues of biblical happenings, from the Three Magi visiting baby Jesus in the Nativity Façade to Jesus’ last night before crucifixion in the Passion Facade and a Glory Façade still being built that will show Christ’s rise into heaven. And that’s just the exterior – the incredible heights inside are jaw-dropping.
Of course, one of the glories of Spain is the food. Great restaurants can be found in the endless alleyways of the bustling city or by the harbor. The food is always fresh, and everything from sea bass to various types of cheese tastes incredible.
A sunset cruise on the Mediterranean Sea is a joyful experience.
Though Barcelona rests on the Mediterranean Sea, that doesn’t mean lying on the beach is peaceful — as soon as your towel is out, you’ll receive ceaseless offers to buy mojitos from those not versed in mixology, along with blankets. But you can also take a sunset cruise to the sounds of live jazz –and enjoy mojitos that are properly created.
Coming soon: The joys of Madrid
Unsung Gems columnist David A. F. Sweet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.