Friday, March 07, 2014


I was really looking forward to seeing Barcelona. I have a list of places I want to visit that shaped 20th century design, including cities like Stockholm, Copenhagen, Milan, Prague and New York, and Barcelona is on that list. In fact it’s one of the reasons why I chose this cruise.

It wasn’t until I read the fine print of the itinerary, after I coughed up the cash, that I realised the ship was only docking in Barcelona for five hours, rather than the ten to twelve hours it usually spends in a port.

With that in mind, it was essential to make priorities. So when the ship docked, I barreled out the door and down the gangplank, shoving old Lithuanian ladies into the sea left and right, and made the long hike to Anton Gaudi’s masterpiece and most famous legacy, the Sagrada Familia cathedral.

I could have taken a taxi or a tour bus and got there slightly faster, but by walking I got to actually see a little bit of Barcelona along the way. It’s a place of wide avenues and graceful 120 year old apartment buildings, with wrought iron balconies and elegant shuttered French doors. In the older parts of the city there are glossy tiled domes and exquisitely detailed tessellated tiled walls, and the sinuous curves of art nouveau plasterwork crawling around windows and under balconies.

But it was the Gaudi cathedral I needed the see. It took an hour and half to walk there, and then half an hour in the queue and fifteen euros before I could get inside. But it was worth it.

Sagrada Familia isn’t just another majestic cathedral. It’s awe-inspiring. It’s a unique marriage of artistic vision and architectural inspiration. The art in it is intrinsic to the architecture, and the architecture is ingeniously wrought to highlight the art.

I just wandered around, spontaneously announcing, “This is beautiful” to no one in particular, until I realised I’d said exactly the same thing six or seven times.

But the reaction that summed up the whole experience for me was that of a young Japanese girl, who was leaning against a pillar bathed in red and yellow light from the windows, just staring in rapt serenity at the beauty surrounding her.

Then it was another ninety minute walk back to the real world and its cares and trials… where old Ukrainian ladies in leopard print pantsuits steal the last damn table in the only decent bar on the ship! Yes, Svetlana, I’m looking at you!


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