A trip to Spain with our teenage sons, to reconnect with long lost family in a small town in Valencia, meant a chance to visit Barcelona. I had been to this city as a student, but knew things had changed tremendously, and was eager to explore the Barcelona of 2018. We only had a few days, and luckily the apartment we rented was centrally located near the Passeig de Gràcia. It was a brutal heat wave in the middle of August — not the best time to visit — but we were pretty intrepid and refused to alter our plans too much. Europe in August is not optimal, if you want to to visit any popular sites, but there we were, accommodating two kids with varying summer job/ school schedules.

A drink with a mom friend, before we departed, enlightened me to a little Gaudi secret. She had been with her kids in June, and told me to make reservations to visit all the Gaudi spots in advance. I tend to like to wing it, but really didn’t want to to miss the Gaudi sites. She shared, that if you go to Park Güell before 8 am, it is open to the public and free. We figured it was a good plan to get up and out early, beat the heat and see Güell for free, without hordes of other tourists. Well, we tried, but the combo of our younger teen’s dawdling and the heat, meant we arrived at about 8:10, after a circuitous hike around the hilly park in which the famed site resides. I was livid, drenched in sweat and determined that we would return the next day and try again for the early morning visit. We booked tickets to the Sagrada Família and the Casa Batlló. Destiny conspired for us to visit all three on the same day; a tall order but doable.

Park Güell — built in the early 20th century on Carmel Hill — is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most iconic spots in Barcelona. Gaudi, a beloved architect, visionary and the father of Catalan modernism, created a magical oasis and public space. Unfortunately, it is now a well trod tourist must see, and horribly overrun, necessitating the pre-paid tickets. Despite major renovations going on, it was splendid to visit early in the morning with a few other in-the-know travelers, hazy morning fog, locals walking their dogs and joggers.

I remember visiting the park more than 30 years ago and just walking in. The crowds are really depressing and the selfie jockeying did detract a bit, but still it is an amazing spot to behold, with tremendous views of the city.  We walked down a different way, discovering some sweet gardens, striking murals and found a spot to have a sort of Catalan brunch; which was perfect since we had lunchtime reservations for the Sagrada Família.

I was already feeling a bit woozy after the hike up to Güell, but a metro transfer tunnel did me in. It must have been 140 degrees and my hand held fan did not cut it. It was interminable, and I looked at my kids as if it were the last time I’d see them. Once inside the cathedral I definitely felt the heat was getting to me and I opted to sit and just drink in the majesty of the massive ever evolving structure while downing some electrolyte potion my husband always carries with him.

Feeling like I was gonna puke and pass out added to the drama of the the and visceral punch of the landmark. I didn’t think I could handle going up to the tower, but there was so much to absorb, I was not so sad to miss it. To say it’s a feast for the eyes sounds trite, but if you can imagine a mix of a fantastical movie set, high-end pastry creations with a dash of the Gothic and stylized Art Nouveau touches, that barely describes it.

The exterior reminded us of the old Italian restaurant wine bottle candle drippings. Gaudi’s guile, his creative vision and mastery of his craft is truly a unique delight to experience. Don’t miss the exhibits underground, we only discovered it because my husband’s swiss army knife was confiscated and we had to retrieve it; it was also really cool down in the basement!

A shower and siesta back at our air conditioned apartment and we seemed to avert full on heat stroke. We were off again, for our tour of Casa Batlló and our Gaudi trifecta. Luckily it was just across the street, and a 6pm ticket meant it had started to cool down a bit. A modernist, Art Nouveau masterpiece, the colorful, bodacious shapes made this home almost my favorite of the three. I hate the word ‘whimsical’ — it often connotes a sense of playfulness and capriciousness in a Disney kinda way — but Gaudi’s work has such intention and is so backed up with engineering and forethought, on top of the whimsy and fun. From the mushroom shaped fireplace, to the dragon spine roof, the sensuous handrails and balustrades, to the mesmerizing elevator and tantalizing lightwell, you could spend hours roaming this house. The tour includes a headset (something I only occasionally spring for) and a 3D immersive component, really makes the visit special. I could have done without the selfie balcony, branded water bottles, for sale in a machine, and the formidable gift shop, but I enjoyed the visit immensely and it was well worth the price.

My college student was entranced and I was sorry we had agreed to let the high schooler stay in the air conditioning, on his phone back at the apartment. The family band reunited for a yummy dinner nearby, and a walk home. I have to say between the heat exhaustion, garlic and the Gaudi gluttony of the day, my dreams were quite fantastical.

Filed Under Barcelona, Culture, Europe, Family Travel, Museum, Spain, architecture, art


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