Monday, March 23, 2009

Barcelona: Part Two, Picasso & Park Güell

10:20PM March 19

On Thursday, most of the girls got up bright and early to see as much as they could of the city. I, along with Tryson and Jaimie, decided to use spring break as a chance to get more hours under the covers and sleep, waking up closer to 9:15. The two of them had gotten sidetracked on their way back to the hostel from La Sagrada Familia the day before and never reached the Picasso Museum, so that became our first destination. Our goal was to wander through the old city for awhile, eventually ending up at the museum, and then we would head up to Gaudí's Park Güell, well north of the city.

Tryson and Jaimie had not yet been to La Boquería, so I stopped back another time to let them tour around. I continued to find things that amazed me there, like a whole pig's head for 1.50 Euro (right). While they were browsing, I took the opportunity to get more acquainted with the few prepared food stands, which I had glossed over before. At one of these stands I discovered a bunch of fabulous looking pita sandwiches overflowing with peppers and onions. I instantly knew I had found lunch. Unfortunately, it didn't taste quite as good as it looked. The vegetables were all great, but the sandwich was centered around a piece of meat that was a bit dry.

We meandered through the old city for a long time, walking towards whatever intrigued us. We stopped in at least one gothic church, heard a lot of great street musicians (watch video below; these were the most interesting musicians I found), walked through the Plaza de la Constitución, and stumbled into another flea market outside the main cathedral of Barcelona. My favorite item there was a collection of American novels translated into Spanish, such as, Tom Sawyer and Gulliver’s Travels. At a certain point, we decided to make a concerted effort towards actually reaching the museum, and at that point it didn't take us too long to find it.

The great part of the museum was that all of his work was in chronological order, so you could watch the vast progression of his work. With each period of his life, the museum had excellent snippets of information to accompany the art. It was like an interactive Wikipedia experience, getting to view the art in person while learning about the man behind it. There were certainly some great pieces. One in particular that sticks out was a poster he drew for a cafe he frequented called "4 Gats" (left). It was interesting to see Picasso's work in this medium. Overall, I found the museum disappointing though because there was so little represented from the prime of his career. I imagine that most of those pieces are at the Guggenheim and various other galleries or peoples' private collections. There were about four pieces from his "blue" period at the beginning of the twentieth century. Then it basically skipped ahead to 1957, and there were two rooms full of his late-life works, which got to be too abstract for my taste. Tryson and Jaimie had similar reactions to the museum as I did, and we were all reminded of the greatness we'd missed out on in the museum when we stopped in the gift shop and saw all of his masterpieces in posters they were selling.

To get to Park Güell (top) we took the subway. They have a really great underground system in Barcelona, which is also well-used. The trains were coming on a very regular basis, and there were clocks above the tracks that also told how long, to the second, it would take for the next train to arrive. And just as promised, the train arrived about twenty seconds before the clocked time. As soon as we got out, there were plenty of signs directing us towards the park. That led us to a series of escalators to get us up the sizable hill which the park sat on. When we'd reached the top though, we were disappointed to find that the side entrance to the park was closed. We ended up having to walk down another hill to reach the front gate, which made our long climb, although largely aided by escalators, seem unnecessary. Upon reaching the park though, we were not at all disappointed.

As impressive as La Sagrada Familia was, I found Park Güell to be Gaudí's true masterpiece. It is not merely a park, but a vast expanse of mosaics, columns, sweeping stairwells, naturalistic fences, and sculpture. The expansiveness of the art was simply remarkable. To think that this could come from one man's vision is mind-boggling. It took the three of us about an hour to reach the top of the stairs some two-hundred feet from the entrance, as there was so much to see along the way up. We really relaxed and took it all in at a slow pace, enjoying every feature of the work. The mosaics reminded me a lot of Isaiah Zagar's work in South Philadelphia, but on a much grander scale. It was such a wonderful afternoon to be walking around the park, and our visit was probably my favorite part of my time in Barcelona.

Park Güell

The famous lizard at the center of the park

I got to see a model of this leaf pattern at La Sagrada Familia a day earlier

Jaimie at peace, dancing beneath the grand balcony.

The grand balcony

Tryson and Jaimie walking through the park

Tryson and Jaimie took the subway back to the hostel, but I thought it would be great to walk it back, getting a taste for many different parts of the city. It was a great experience, seeing it change from an up-and-coming artsy neighborhood, to a run-down district full of ten-story apartment buildings from the seventies, to a nicer neighborhood of seventies apartment buildings, followed by even finer structures with an old nineteenth century grandeur. By this point I'd reached the main boulevard, Passeig de Gràcia, which our hostel was located on. On our street I passed by two more notable Gaudí buildings: La Pedrera apartment building and Casa Batlló. His works stand out so prominently, with their brilliant forms echoing nature. Even the street benches in this district appeared to be a Gaudí design, as they were grand circular structures covered in a simple tiled mosaic.

Casa Batlló

Gaudí bench on Passeig de Gràcia

When I got back to the hostel, I joined the other girls, who were hoping to go find some paella for dinner. The place that Alex had read about in one of the guidebooks turned out to be a hotel though, so we wandered around for a while looking for any place that might have paella. We eventually did find another restaurant that served paella, a traditional Spanish dish of seasoned rice and seafood. The restaurant would only serve it in sizes big enough for two people though, and there were an odd number of us who wanted paella, so I ended up getting monkfish instead, as it was still fresh in my mind from La Boquería. My fish was grilled and quite tasty. Better than the fish though, was the side of potatoes and zucchini that came with it. I know monkfish is considered a real delicacy in some parts, but a simple dish done right, like my potatoes, is often superior to any delicacy.

Monkfish dinner

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