This morning, I decided to catch the sunrise over Sagrada Familia and then head to the Montjuic area. Sagrada Familia is wonderful at night and during the day and at sunrise, but not sunrise isn't a particular bonus.
I metroed over to the Montjuic funicular, excited for the view that just didn't happen. It's basically just an angled subway train.
However, the Motjuic area in general has a nice view of the city. I ambled through, noting the Olympic stadium with the large flame statue, passing through a statue garden, and then being confused because I thought I saw a grand palace, although I didn't remember seeing one on the map. It's actually an art museum.
Finally, I arrived at Poble Espanyol, one of the first attractions to be open. It opens at 9, and I wasn't there right at the 9, but it was still deserted. I was literally the only person around for the first 20 minutes I was there, until people started to trickle in. I used that time to explore the "village." Basically, they made replicas of the facades of buildings from all over Spain and put them together in this village. Each building is labeled with where it came from and when the original was built, as well as any interesting stories related to it. The first floor of most of them looked like it contained a small shop of some kind, but all of them were closed. How can this place purport to open at 9, when nothing is actually open? I enjoyed the architecture, but would have loved to be able to see the movie about the festivals (opens at 10:30) or the demonstrations of crafts (starts at 10, but there is no schedule or map to tell you when or where). Around 10, I popped into the modern art museum.
The top floor didn't really impress me. One painting was done in Picasso's style, but it wasn't his. The next floor down had some weird and interesting pottery that caught my eye. Those were the Picassos. I didn't know he did dinner plates before today.
I saw a few other pieces that caught my eye to the point I want to look up the artists when I get home- Joan Miro, Equipo Cronica, Anna Chromy, Joan Ponc.
Poble Espanyol street
On the way out, some shops started opening, but still I didn't see the demonstrations. Some of the shops looked like local artists made the goods, but a lot seemed to have the same mass-produced souvenirs as everywhere else in town.
I made my way over to meet for the Runnerbean free Gaudi tour. First, I want to take back what I said earlier about managing the subway with a stroller. One guy on our tour was in a fancy motorized scooter thing and he managed just fine. The guide found us elevators everywhere. And since it wasn't rush hour, the trains weren't so packed that people couldn't make room for him.
The tour was neat. We saw the lampposts that Gaudi designed for the city, the Guell house, La Pedrera, Casa Battlo, and La Sagrada Familia from the outside, while learning about Gaudi's life and style.
In the process, we saw some other modernist homes, like Casa Amatller. Basically, the whole street that those homes are on was built around the same time as it was part of the expansion that happened when they tore down the old medieval city walls. The various rich industrialists hired architects to come up with increasingly fancier and fancier homes, making for lots of fun and unique designs. Even now, it's a pretty expensive and fancy street. It's wide so everyone gets lots of air and light. The stores that line it are either so fancy I've never heard of them or names I've only heard about in context of celebrities and extravagance. Two UNESCO world heritage sites sit closely by on it (the Gaudi houses).
Batllo skulls and bones
The guide did a good job of pointing out some of the fun features of the homes to us. I thought that the Casa Batllo pillars looked like bones, but didn't know that was intentional. The whole house is the story of St. George and the dragon, and after the guide explained it all, I saw the rest- the bones and skulls of the dragon's victims, the scales at the top, the lance. It's pretty amazing.
While I had been to Sagrada Familia yesterday and listened to the audio guide, the tour guide still covered things I hadn't heard about. I didn't know that when the front facade is done, the buildings on that side will be torn down to make a park like on the other sides. It's in their rental contract, so in theory everyone knows, but I can still see it being a problem one day. Also, the audio guide covers the two finished facades in detail, but doesn't really take you to the one in progress. I always wondered how they get all those stone statues to stick to the walls, and here, you can see the rebar spikes they must be meant to sit on.
After the tour, I was hungry, but again, I didn't want to eat at a tourist trap. Instead of walking a lot of blocks, I decided to metro to somewhere further out, mostly because my feet hurt. I ended up at the University station. Right at the exit stood a hippie vegan restaurant, probably aimed at students, so I went in. For under 10 euro, I got a yummy pumpkin soup, some noodle pie, and a water, which filled me up just fine. I also appreciated the chance to sit, as my feet were starting to die on me.
As such, I decided to just hop on a bus and see what I could see for a while. The area mostly has classic stone buildings, although a couple were more interesting. One was patterned and textured as if it had been wallpapered on the outside.
On the Gaudi tour, I has asked which Gaudi building to go into, if I could only pick one. The guide had said La Pedrera, so I headed back over to LaPedrera (Casa Mila) to finally suck it up and pay the admission to go inside. I opted for the stairs over the elevator, because I thought it was just one floor. No, they start you at the top, so you have to climb 5 flights, but since I didn't know, I didn't count the steps.
The roof is amazing!
roof of La Pedrera
You have an amazing view of the city and La Sagrada Familia, but those are dwarfed by the amazingness of the sculptures on the roof.
These are all functional- chimneys, airshafts, stairwell exits, but they are also highly artistic. The roof itself undulates up and down and round and round. I wonder if my favorite artist/architect (Hundertwasser) was inspired by these types of architectural waves.
The roof is the best part of the museum.
The next floor down is the attic, and has interesting curves and arches. It also has a bunch of displays showing how Gaudi worked, got inspired, and did calculations- hanging strings upside down and then using a mirror to flip the designs. What I didn't like is that the audio guide was location-based, so you'd be listening to an explanation and walking around, and suddenly a different recording would start before you finished the last. In order to get back to the spot it ended at, you'd have to listen to the whole thing all over again.
The next floor down is set up as it could have been during the time the Milas lived in the house. The furniture is functional and pretty, but the house doesn't look too drastically different at this point than any other old fancy house put back into time for museum purposes.
The last floor has an exhibition of modern art. You can't really tell anything special about the house from this section- it just looks like any normal art museum. The pieces were all illusions that seemed to move as you walked by, or actual pieces of moving art, but nothing really stood out.
Overall, I loved the roof, but was relatively disappointed with the rest of the building. For what you got, the price of admission was a bit steep.
It was about this time that I got news that I could go visit my friend at the hotel. I hung out with her a while, hoping to convince her to come on the evening tapas tour or to go to the Magic Fountain show later with me. But, it seemed that the baby was keeping her in again tonight.
I met the guide from Strawberry tours on Las Ramblas. Per the website, this was going to be a great chance to learn about local food, even if we didn't want to eat everything. But right from the start, it wasn't quite like other free tours I've done. The guides always do an introduction where they get names and countries from the tourists and share a bit about themselves. Our guide didn't get names, did a rough "continent check" and shared absolutely nothing about himself. I don't even remember him sharing his name.
We were brought to the first bar and told about their deal: 2 tapas and a drink for 6 euro. And we were told to sit down. Then we were told that we shouldn't be seated if we wanted food, we had to pick it up at the counter. The counter held dozens of plates, each holding little bites of food held together with a toothpick (pinchos). When some of the non-Spanish speaking tourists asked the guide which of the choices were vegetarian, he said to ask the guys behind the counter. I thought it odd he didn't recognize the choices or at least offer to translate, but didn't think too much of it.
My tapas- an artichoke/pepper/bread and cheese something- were great. I met the other tourists in my group and enjoyed the stop, although I wanted to know more about what we were seeing/eating/visiting. At the next bar, when he announced the deal: a tapas and a drink for 3.5 euro. Here, I had patatas bravas, which were actually not too different than the ones I got on the street the other day- still tons of mayo, just regular potatoes instead of fries, and a pepper sauce instead of the sprinkled paprika. I tried to ask questions about the food and locations, but didn't get any real answers from the guide.
We headed off to the next bar, but were told to turn around because they didn't have room for us. I'm confused- if you do this tour 3 times a week, you would think that you would call the bars at the beginning of the evening (maybe while we're socializing and you're ignoring us at the other bars) and let them know how many places to save since you're bringing paying customers who won't be there too long. In any case, we skipped the third and went straight to the last bar to get our potato pies with the tomato-rubbed bread. Some people asked if there was wifi, and he told them to ask the bar people. At this point, I'm beginning to wonder if he is a substitute guide thrown into this at the last minute, or maybe he's running a psychology experiment to see how bad service can be before people don't tip.
Despite the bad guide, I enjoyed myself because the other people on the tour were quite friendly. That being said, a group of people could just go wander the streets and get tapas on their own and have an equally fun an enlightening time as what the guide provided us.