Bogging Down in Barcelona
10.08.2013 - 14.08.2013 103 °F
Too Many Cathedrals
I have seen way too many churches and cathedrals on this trip. Let's face it, I have had seven months of Spanish (and a bit of Portuguese) speaking countries that are overwhelmingly Catholic; they like to build large buildings for worship that overwhelm and awe their faithful (alternately, they just take over Moorish mosques and make them over into churches). All through South America, the primary 'don't miss it' sights are the churches and cathedrals-- that trend continues in Portugal and Spain. Sometimes they are the only sights listed. They often mark the center of the city and add a focus to the plazas. I seldom go in. Except in rare cases, it doesn't seem right that a church is a tourist sight in a guide.
On my first travel out of the U.S., I went to Mexico. In Oaxaca, I stepped inside the doorway to take just a peak at Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman. There were elderly Zapotecan women dressed in all black from neck to ankle with scarves and veils covering their heads kneeling in prayer as a parade of white people in shorts and tank tops freely walked around chatting while snapping their pictures. I may not be Christian or particularly religious, but it didn't seem right. Can you imagine being in your church and a tourist barges in and starts taking pictures of you and announcing the points of interests to their companions in the middle of the sermon? So unless there is something unique or compelling about a church or cathedral, I may snap a picture of the outside, but I seldom go in. St. Peter's Basilica in Rome was an exception and Gaudi's Sagada Familia in Barcelona would be another...but I am getting ahead of myself.
A Great Deal on a Hotel
After my challenging experience looking for a hotel in San Sebastian, I spent an hour online and made a hotel reservation for Barcelona on my last night in San Sebastan. The next day, I felt very efficient as I walked along the river to the train station in the early morning. In Barcelona, I got off the train, took a metro to Barceloneta-- a neighborhood near the beach and central to 'the sites'-- and delighted in walking a few blocks straight to my hotel without wondering about the price and availability. Of course, I was wondering what a hotel for 35 euros in Barcelona would look like since I'd seen dormitory beds that cost 50 euros and L.P.'s one lone budget hotel in the area was 45 eruos for a single w/o bath at least three years ago. Could it be worse than the room in San Sebastian?
After crawling up several flights of worn marble stairs, I am pleased with what I see so far. There's an attractive common room full of light with French doors leading to a large balcony. Best of all, there is a shared refrigerator and kitchen area. So let's see the room...The manager, gives a chuckle as he hands me the key to what he refers to a 'my little room'. Apparently, it is the smallest one in the hotel. Another flight of stairs loaded with my pack and I open the door to find...It's great! There's a window with lots of natural light, a desk, a sink, a nice wardrobe (not musty) with hangars (helpful for drying laundry), a decent bed,a fan (preferable to AC), and Wifi in the room (a quick check on my android confirms this). I'm happy and immediately head out to find a store for some supplies (gazpacho, fruit, yogurt, ham, cheese, sugarless ice tea, etc.) and to explore 'my neighborhood'.
Visiting Picasso for Free
I spent the the first day rambling. On the second day, I go to a few museums. After exiting one, I hear a family discussing their plan and they mention that the Picasso Museum is free that day. Rather than try to figure out where it is...I'll just follow the family. When they opened a door and entered a hostel, I realized that they must have discussed it further and changed their minds. So I pull out my android to see where I am and head in the general direction of where the Picasso museum might be.
It is a long line filling up the length of the narrow alley, but what the heck. This will be a progressive exhibit with some of Picasso's first painting as well as his last and will be pretty much void of his cubism (which I have seen before) so I decide to get in line. It is a long hour on already tired feet, but worth the wait (and like the guy in front of me trying to placate his angry complaining wife, I like the idea that I have saved about $15 to spend on something else by coming on the free day and standing in line). After several more hours of wandering the museum's fantastic exhibit, I wonder if I should find a metro and take it back to the hotel. My feet seem to be working, but I no longer feel them. Then I think that I might as well sit down and eat something first. I hadn't eaten a real meal that day and it sounded more appealing than light snacks in my room. As I rounded the corner, I scanned the square for a possibility when I noticed an old market building at the end of the street. I had to laugh. I had walked so long and without any real direction that I had literally ended up just two blocks from my hotel.
Visiting Gaudi at La Sangrada Familia
The next day I plan to see Antoni Gaudi's masterpiece, an unfinished cathedral that has already been under construction for over 100 years. Gaudi started the project in 1883 and died in 1926. He said his client (God) was not in a hurry and it is a good thing. In 1936, the construction was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War and anarchists destroyed Gaudi's detailed plans, but I'm sure they didn't include the fast rail train that was started in 2010 and will pass beneath the side with the Glory Facade. Pope Benedict XVI consecrated this church called La Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) in 2010 and it is now a minor basilica (unfinished and without a bishop, it cannot yet be a cathedral). Gaudi was apparently celibate and had two passions besides architecture, nature and religion. The Nativity Facade alone includes 30 plants from around Catalonia and his structures designs are based on tree branches, spiraling seeds, honeycombs, etc. His vision was to build a church that would seat 13,000 people with a 170 meter (about 186 yards for the Americans reading this) tower surrounded by 17 shorter ones. An estimated three million visitors come to take pictures each year and I will be one of them.
I skip the line for buying tickets; I bought mine at an ATM machine the day before (HOT TIP: you can also buy tickets from certain ATMs for the Alhambra in Granada if you are headed that way). I can't imagine what it is like to live next to La Sagrada Familia as there are hordes of tourists-- in lines to get in, in groups following guides waving umbrellas, individually wandering around unsure of where to go, taking pictures from across the street, gazing out of double-decker buses and unloading from huge air-conditioned tour buses. Later, I find out that the people living in a row of lovely houses across the street will eventually have to be driven out in order to finish the cathedral. Imagine how that feels...
Yes, it is an amazing structure. If you go, make sure to see the museum section that shows the source of his designs and how he actually planned such a unimaginably large structure. Like some of his other work, parts of La Sagrada Familia have been granted World Heritage status by UNESCO. But as I stood among the crowds of people, I found myself unable to feel the awe anticipated. It's too much and not necessarily all in a good way. It's cluttered and gaudy (no relationship- the word existed before his name) and beautiful and...oh well, let's face it...the other problem I have with churches in general is the money they gobble up. This building has been in progress for over 100 hundred years and is not anticipated to be finished until 2026 or 2028...or later. At one time the building was known as "the cathedral of the poor" and Gaudi begged for contributions. He became an ascetic and devoted this last 40 years to the project. The construction budget for 2009 was 18 million euros (Wikipedia)-- Americans, do your own math on this one! He felt God had called him to build it. And he has his supporters; the process of his beatification which would result in his being a saint is underway. Just imagine if he had been called to use the money to change people's lives in another way instead of another church...
Ready for a Change
Is it my religious and political beliefs that left me wishing I had done something else with my morning (and the 15-20 euro entry fee)? Is it due to an overdose of churches as sites to see? Is it being jaded from traveling too long or (here in Spain) too fast? It's true that I am not feeling the 'love' here in Spain. The warmth and friendliness I have been experiencing in South America, Cuba and Mexico-- just isn't happening in Spain. I'm not making contact-- and isn't that what travel is really all about? I decide that I am ready to leave Spain as soon as I see the Alhambra in Granada. After that, I want to get back to focusing on people and experiences...not on big ticket sights.