After a slow start this morning, we went to The Phone House and got a prepaid SIM card for one of our phones. Using our US T-Mobile SIMs is expensive here. For starters, it’s about $1 per minute to make a local call and if somebody calls me from the States, their call is free (it’s a local number for them), but in addition to the high roaming cost per minute, I’m also paying for their international call. That’s just voice. Data would be something like $10-15 per MB. A local SIM card costs €20 but comes with €20 calling credit, so the SIM is essentially free. For this, local voice calls are about 8 cents per minute and and for something like €10 we have up to 500MB of data per month. Such a deal!
Next stop was the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s monumental lifetime project. He was actually brought in as the second architect in 1883, after another one departed the project after just one year, having created a very traditional apse for the church which still remains. Gaudi’s style changed over time. While one façade looks a little more traditional, another façade is heavy duty Modernista. Most of the decoration is on the exterior of the church which includes various Bible scenes, animals, plants, and other allegorical forms.
The interior is a vast forest of columns, but it’s pretty sparse, making the stained glass windows really stand out. It’s size is deceptively large. It can accommodate 11,000 worshippers and more than 1500 choir members. Although construction is not expected to finish until at least 2026, the church was consecrated just last November (2010) by Pope Benedict. Gaudi worked on the church continuously towards the end of his life, sleeping in his simple onsite workshop. He was killed when a tram hit him.
We headed over to the main promenade of Las Ramblas, which is a funky mix of restaurants, flower shops, and street entertainers. Nearby is the popular local food market, La Boqueria, where we grabbed a vegetarian lunch on the go.
At just about the midpoint of Las Ramblas there is a large ceramic mosaic created by another Catalan artistic genius named Joan Miro. I have liked Miro’s abstract art for a long time and I remember (before the boys were born) our favorite Los Angeles restaurant for special occasions was L’Ermitage, which is sadly no longer in business. The first time we were there I looked at the wall and asked the waiter, “Is that a real Miro?” to which he responded with a delighted, “Yes.”
Also near the Las Ramblas Miro mosaic is another Gaudi building, the Palau Guell, built for the industrialist of the same name. From here we took a metro to Parc Guell, which is northeast of the downtown area and a 20 minute uphill from the nearest metro station. The metro system in Barcelona is really good. It’s easy to use, gets you all over the city fast, and especially with a T10 card is very inexpensive.
Parc Guell itself is wonderful with all sorts of curvaceous lines and animal forms including the famous gecko fountain. Another area of the park has a forest of columns that were intended to be part of a market space. While all of Gaudi’s forms may seem fantastical, they are in fact grounded in solid engineering and mathematics. Back at the museum under Sagrada Famila, we learned how he engineered many of the tall arches used in his structures without the aid of modern CAD tools. If you hold a piece of string in each hand, the natural valley created between them is called a catenary arch. By holding your hands further apart, closer together, or one hand higher than the other, you can create many different forms of natural arches. This is what Gaudi did to design structures such as the Sagrada Familia using copious strings and weights and then looking at the whole in a mirror to see the structure right side up. Later, the structures were described with detailed drawings and math.
While at the Sagrada Familia we had bought a combination ticket to the church and the Gaudi Museum in Park Guell. This is where Gaudi lived for many years and the museum includes a number of furnishings and furniture that Gaudi designed. Nice pieces, but if you come here, I’d definitely come to the park, but skip the museum unless you are a die hard Gaudi fan.