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Cunard Queen Victoria 2018
Mediterranean Cruise part 7 - Barcelona
Map Introduction to  the Cruise, Venice and the initial day at Sea Korcula, Croatia Valletta, Malta Messina, Sicily, Italy Naples, Italy Civitavecchia (for Rome), Italy Barcelona, Spain Ajaccio, Corsica, France Villefranche, France Livorno (for Florence and Pisa), Italy  

Barcelona, Spain - Monday 2 October

The ship arrived at Berth A at 08.00 and the first shuttle bus to the centre of Barcelona was expected to depart at 08.30. Our cruise ticket entitled us to free shuttle buses but we decided to pay for the T3 Port Bus which was in sight and for 3 euros went into town. Both buses stop near the Placa de les Drassannes and the Maritime Museum. To the right is the Monument Colon. It is a statue of Christopher Columbus pointing towards the horizon, on top of a tall column in the centre of the Placa del Portal de la Pau and commemorates his first visit to the Americas in 1492. Ahead stretched the main boulevard, La Rambla, a famous wide avenue with stalls along the side which were just starting to open.

The first step was to buy our Metro T10 ticket (only 10.20 euros) at Drassannes, giving 10 trips which we could both use. Drassannes is on the TMB line L3 and our intention was to go to Diagonal then change for the L5 to Sagrada Familia. We had pre-booked entry tickets for 10.30 so there was plenty of time and we walked up La Rambla, stopping on the way to look inside the Mercat of St Josep de la Boqueria to identify the best ham and cheese stalls for shopping on our return. It was not far to the Placa de Catalunya, at the end of La Rambla, dominated by the stark El Corte Ingles department store. Continuing along the Passeig de Gracia we admired the Mansana de la Discordia, the three famous different houses of the Casa Lleo Morera, the Casa Amatller and the Casa Batllo. There were already long queues outside the Casa Batllo so there was no chance of buying entry tickets for later.

By the start of the 20th century Passeig de Gracia was one of the most desirable residential streets. The most impressive grouping is the Manzana de la Discordia and comprises three Modernistic masterpieces: Casa Batllo, Casa Amatller and Casa Lleo i Morera. They have different and clashing architectural styles and it is special to see the three houses close together in the same street. Casa Batllo, at number 43, is a Gaudi masterpiece, built in 1907. The facade is said to represent the triumph of St George over the dragon, with the mosaics representing the scales of the dragon, the roof the dragon’s back and the balconies representing the skulls and bones of its victims. We enjoyed our Cruise on the Queen Victoria to Barcelona in August 2010 when we had visited the Casa Batllo and La Pedrera; in total 7 of Gaudi's works in Barcelona have a World Heritage rating which is quite exceptional.

In 2015 on the Queen Elizabeth we visited the Casa Lleo i Morera and the Casa Museu Amatller. The Casa Lleo i Morera offered a short guided tour in English at 11.30 which was only 12 euros and enabled us to see the modernist architecture designed by Lius Domenech i Montaner. The visit was only of the empty rooms on the first floor and our guide explained that the original fine Modernista furniture had gone to the Museum on Montjuic Hill. We admired the door furniture, especially the large round Peep-hole in the main door. The upstairs floors of the building are used as offices by commercial organisations. From outside it was clear that the house had large stained-glass windows facing the Passeig de Gracia and inside the house we could admire the excellent views in both directions. The tall semicircular alcove has curved glass. The entrance hall and corridor have sculptures by Eusebi Arnau depicting the story of the nurse and the miracle of the baby, and the fable of St George. St George is the patron saint of Catalonia. Antoni Gaudi's Casa Battlo is modelled on the shape of the dragon. The floor is of mosaics in the Roman style, by Mario Maragliano. The walls of the dining room are decorated with mosaic panels of country scenes by Antoni Serra who is famous for his porcelain renderings of faces and hands. It is a superb room with a wall of stained glass windows which open onto the courtyard where there is a painting of a large mulberry tree above the laundry.

The Casa Museu Amatller is different. It is free to visit on the ground floor so that people go to the cafe and buy their speciality chocolates, and then take photographs of the staircase and the light fittings. The owner, Antoni Amattler, was born into a family of chocolate makers and the house is still well known for its quality chocolate. The tour was 15 euros and requires the wearing of shoe protectors because of the valuable original floors. The house is in a gothic style, described as neo-medieval, which seemed to contrast with the pretty pastel ceramics on the facade. One of the hobbies of Amattler was photography and on short tours there is a slide show in his studio. The house is fully furnished and there are showcases full of souvenirs of his travels. Having understood almost nothing of the castellano descriptions we are only able to let our photos explain the building. Maybe on our next visit we will have time for a proper tour in English.

Barcelona was the home of the famous architect, Antoni Gaudi I Cornet. He was born in 1852 and was responsible from 1883 until his death in 1926 for the design of many revolutionary and wonderful unusual buildings, including the Casa Batllo and the building of the Sagrada Familia. We finally joined the Metro at Passeig de Gracia and then changed at Diagonal to L5 as planned. Emerging from the Metro it was clear that our entry for our timed ticket was on the opposite side of the cathedral to previously, on the Nativity facade, and there had been much more construction work completed. The ticket was timed for 10.30 and so we were just too late to go down into the crypt, with the tomb of Gaudi, because it is only open for Mass in the morning from 09.00 to 10.00.

Begun in 1882, the Sagrada Familia has four sides, with three spectacular facades (Passion, Nativity and Glory). The fourth side is the Chapel of the Assumption and two sacristies. Only the Nativity facade and four of the towers were completed when Gaudi died in 1926, run over by a tram. The Nativity facade was completed in 1936 and as well as the classic nativity scene, with wise men and shepherds, Gaudi devised it as a triumph of life and creation. It depicts the episodes relating to the conception, birth, childhood and adolescence of Jesus. There are three porticos: Faith, Hope and Charity below four towers. The detail of statues, fine stone work of leaves and flowers, leads to a green cypress tree with white doves depicting the Tree of Life. The four towers announce Hosanna and Excelsis, and are clad with Venetian mosaic work of Murano glass.The best view of this facade is from the park in Placa Gaudi and the darker early stonework with its fine details of plants and animals is in contrast to the lighter modern and minimalist recent additions.

Walking around the outside its is clear that it is all an active building site. The Chapel of the Assumption and its links to the Passion facade are completed, The Passion facade and 4 more towers are being constructed, each over 100 metres tall. The Passion facade is the old ticket office entrance, leading to the two Gospel doors, with texts from the gospels of Matthew and John. Gaudi designed the facade while ill and close to death in 1911, and tried to capture the pain and sorrow of the Passion. Each of the four towers is dedicated to an apostle: James, Thomas, Philip and Bartholomew. The towers on the Passion facade now climb upwards from the white arch stating "Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews".

Construction of the large and visually striking Glory facade began in 2002 and another tall set of towers are part built. It will be the most important of the three facades and will access the Basilica at the central nave. Access from the street to the Glory Portico will be by a large staircase and there will be seven large columns and at the base will be the Seven Deadly Sins, and at the top the Seven Heavenly Virtues. Current estimates are that it will be all finished in 2026, just 100 years after Gaudi's death. The Segrada Familia towers over Barcelona although the lines are broken up by the ever present cranes and there is dust from the stoneworking.

On previous visits to Barcelona in 2013 and 2014 we spent the entire morning in the Sagrada Familia and planned the same schedule again. We visited the Passion tower on our last visit on the Queen Victoria in 2013, and visited the Passion tower and the Nativity tower, where a bridge is crossed between towers, on Queen Elizabeth in 2014. Access to both sets of towers was by lift, then walking down the spiral staircase. The views from the bridge between two of the towers is impressive, and the side fencing reduced the effect of vertigo.

 

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Entering the basilica from the Nativity facade it is a spectacular design, with lots of light, illuminated through the bright primary colours of the stained glass windows as well as huge windows on the east end. This is our third internal visit and the glorious building continues to amaze. There were seats in the central nave and we sat and admired the views. There was piped organ music and later, at noon, recorded singing of the Angelus. It all helped to mask the excited babble of tour groups taking their selfies. The central nave is a very tall structure with delicate pillars of changing cross-section, made of different materials (Montjuic stone, Granite, Basalt and Porphyry depending on the loads). Gaudi based his design on trees, branches and leaves. The inside also looked like a skeleton because the pillars look like bones. The cathedral was consecrated in November 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI, although still not completed.

On this visit we did not visit either of the towers. Having missed the chance to visit the crypt, there were views down from the windows in the nave of the church and later in the Museum which looked directly into the space with a glimpse of the tomb. This was our third visit to the museum and it had been enlarged, but still included the workshop where workmen make the plaster models. It was fascinating to see how the shapes for the vaults had been calculated, using string and bags of sand to shape the optimal catenaries which were then inverted to provide the shape for the best vaulting. A machine modeled the carving of stone pillars which had variable cross-sections, and the main columns divided into "branches" which were inspired by the tree in Gaudi's garden. The bells are tubular bells, another Gaudi innovation. There were also a set of models showing how the original, rather conventional design had evolved through parabolic then hyperbolic designs to his final version which is still being followed over 90 years after his death.

In 2014 we had continued in the afternoon to the the Park Guell, another Gaudi Design, which was an easy metro journey from Sagrada Familia to the station at Vallcarca.

This visit we wanted to look at one of the interesting Gaudi houses so caught the Metro back to Diagonal to walk down the Passeig de Gracia to the Casa Mila "La Pedrera". We had tickets timed for 14.00 and as always we were early. This striking apartment building on the corner with Carrer de Provenca was completed in 1912. It was also known as the Casa Mila because it was built for the Pere Mila and his wife Roser Segimon who lived in one floor and divided the rest into apartments for rent. It was Gaudi's last great civic work before he dedicated his time to the Sagrada Familia. The building is two blocks of apartments interconnected by interior courtyards and a shared facade. The tour begins on the ground floor courtyard to admire the wrought iron balconies and grand staircase. There is a lift to the roof terrace, which is best described as either incredibly original or strikingly surreal. It has large white tiled ventilator ducts shaped like icecream cones, and clusters of chimneys like rows of medieval knights, all joined by an undulating curved walkway. There are also good views over Barcelona but the main reason to visit is to admire the amazing unusual artistic creations. After the roof terrace the next visit is downstairs to the attic which contains 270 catenary arches made out of brick. The design is said to resemble the interior of the Biblical whale. There is a scale model of the building and replicas of items of furniture from the Casa Batllo show Gaudi's design genius. Finally there are more steps down to visit a typical apartment on the fourth floor furnished as it would have been in the early 20th century. The design of the floor tiles have been copied on the pavement of the Passeig de Gracia.

Leaving La Pedrera the Passeig de Gracia has many pavement cafes, including the Vinoteca de Torres at No 78. We had attended a tutored wine tasting by Lucas Gailhac of Torres in at O&C London in June 2018 and he said we should look for their wine shop and restaurant. Although we are not able to fly with wine it was too much temptation and we bought the Pazo das Bruxas 2017, which is 100% albarino. Our wine tasting was of the 2016 which we described in our notes as fresh, young, fruit driven and a good price. The 2017 was priced at less that 10 euros. It was only two stops by Metro from Passeig de Gracia to Liceu. The Mercat of St Josep de la Boqueria, the main covered food market, was still open and we entered through its impressive gateway from La Rambla. We bought our tasting plate of Jamon Iberico de Champo and too much cheese - pecorino with truffle, Mahon cheese from Menorca and a prize-winning curado manchego. It all cost 40 euros which we think was well spent. There was also an icecream stall. La Rambla had now become alive with street entertainment and souvenir shops, and was full of people mostly drinking colouful cocktails from one litre beer mugs. It was such a contrast to the peace of the early morning.

We turned at the Monument Colon and noticed that the Maritime Museum was open. It was a good opportunity to visit because it had been closed for restoration on previous trips and there was still work going on outside and inside the building. If you are senior then entry is only 5 euros. It is housed in the magnificent Drassanes Reials, the old Royal Shipyard. Built in the 13th century it is said to be the largest and most complete medieval dockyards in the world. Barcelona has a rich seafaring history from when Catalonia was a major maritime power. The collection on display includes an impressive full size replica of the flagship royal galley of Don Juan of Austria, who led the Christians to victory against the Turks during the battle of Lepanto in 1571. The replica was built in Barcelona in 1971 as part of the 400 anniversary celebrations but is only for display. The restored wooden sailing ship, Santa Eulalia, built in 1918, does sail and can be visited at her moorings in the old port.

After 10 hours in Barcelona it was time to catch our shuttle bus back to the ship. The QV departed at 23.00 so as we went back on board we passed other crew and passengers going in the other direction for an evening in Barcelona.

Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 30th October, 2018