Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘Barcelona 2010’ Category

Barcelona Museums, 29-30.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 1, 2010

Our last two days in Barcelona were spent in museums, and despite its history of civic arson Barcelona turned out to be a treasure trove of interesting places. 

We went to the Rambla (a pedestrianised street)  first because everybody does, but I wasn’t very impressed. There are people who get a buzz out of being in places that are very popular and full of crowds but I’m not one of them.  (Especially not when a careless tourist cracked my foot – my good one! – with her beastly trolley case, one of those really solid hard metal ones – it turns out that it crushed a nerve, no wonder it’s still hurting *a lot* nearly a week later *sniffle*).   No, the best thing about the Rambla was that I found a big bookshop that had some English books, and there amongst the dross was a copy of Washington Irving’s A History of New York.  (Did I mention that there was a plaque in the Alhambra recording that he stayed there?)

The first museum we went to – and the one you mustn’t miss if you are interested in ancient history – is the City Museum, (Museo de Historia de la Ciudat).  It’s a bit hard to find this place on maps and in guide books because there are also two other museums, the History of Barcelona Museum, and also the History of Catalonia Museum.  Opening hours are surprisingly limited: it’s only open from 10.00 till 2.00, so make sure you have the location right before you plan your day: it’s the city museum, the one with the underground Roman ruins. Even when you find it in Plaza Rei, there are two and the one you want is not the one up the steps; it’s the one on the other side of the square at ground level.  (BTW the  official webpage is all in Catalan so don’t expect to make sense of that even if you speak Spanish.)

Once you’re finally inside it, there’s all the usual introductory stuff you’d expect to find – in Catalan, Spanish (which they call Castellano) and in French.  That’s right, not in English – though when it’s 1.30pm and they want the visitors out of there promptly so that they can knock off at 2.00pm, the announcement is in two languages: Catalan and English.  There is a video in three languages, but having to sit through the same video twice over in the wrong language was clearly too much for Americans visiting at the same time as us.  (And it was too much for me because I’d read 500 pages about Barcelona’s history in Robert Hughes’ book already.)

But once you take the lift and whizz down underground, it’s brilliant.  The Roman remains were discovered when some building was being done, and fortunately work was stopped and the archaeologists moved in.  What you can see, using a cleverly designed series of pathways, is the remains of streets, houses, a processing plant for making fish sauce and another for making wine.  It is the best thing I have seen since Pompeii.  But it’s a good thing I can read French, because most of the signage again is in three languages but doesn’t include English – and the audio guide is pitched at the level of an ignoramus who knows nothing about ancient Rome at all.   It doesn’t tell you anything about the small items on display.  Very, very annoying.

From there, we went to the Picasso Museum.  Considering we’re amateur art lovers we’ve seen a good bit of Picasso’s work – a visiting exhibition at home, at the galleries in London, Austria and Italy, at the Louvre and the Picasso Museum in Paris, and at the Prado. So I was not expecting to find anything especially interesting – but it was excellent. 

There is a lot of his early work, which Tim was pleased to see showed that Picasso could actually draw and paint!  There was some fine portraiture though we weren’t much impressed with his gloomy landscapes.  There were also quite a few pictures on what looked like wooden cigarette box lids, like the ones Australian Impressionists of the Heidelberg school used when they were too hard up to buy canvas.  I really like these: I like the idea of young artists being so resourceful and so keen to practise their art that they will use whatever comes to hand.

Anyway, we could see examples of Picasso’s blue and rose periods, and the gradual emergence of his modernism.  The museum actually has less of these because of course his later works are in all the major museums of the world (we in Melbourne have his Weeping Woman).  There are ceramics and sculptures too but I don’t find them quite so interesting. 

In the evening we had a most enjoyable evening meeting up for the first time f2f with my Good Reads friend Troy and his lovely wife Anna.  We went to a great new restaurant Cal Boter in 62 Carrer Tordera in Gracia which specialises in real Catalan food.  We shared sea urchins and local mushrooms in season and prawns for entrée, Tim had duck with a vermouth sauce and I had the local lubino (sea bass) which I have come to love since being here in Spain.

We spent our last morning at the Ceramics Museum complex conveniently close to our hotel, on the Diagonal.  The Ceramics museum is sensational – when I have time I will make a little video of the photos I was allowed to take – it begins with old pottery and goes right through to the present day.  But the best bits were the Catalan tiles, both dear little individual ones which were used to identify the premises of craftsmen in the days before people could read, and huge mosaics depicting Great Moments in History.  If you have to choose just two museums in Barcelona, then this and the City History museum would be my recommendation. 

As well as the pottery and tiles in the Ceramics Museum,  in the same building (an old palace) there’s also a fascinating Museum of Decorative Arts and a Museum of Textiles – which was more a history of dress, showing how and why the body is decorated.  Great stuff, don’t miss it. 

So this post ends our journey to Europe 2010 and this series of travels.  I’m writing it in our stopover hotel, the Singapore Crowne Plaza, and tomorrow I’ll be home. 

Thanks to everyone who took the trouble to comment on this blog…some nights I’ve been almost too tired to do it, but your encouragement made me make the effort and now I’m glad I have a nice record of this wonderful trip.  


Posted in Art Galleries, Barcelona 2010, Europe 2010, Museums, Spain 2010 | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Gorgeous Gaudi, Barcelona, 28.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 29, 2010

Well, today we slogged our way through two very long queues but we have seen and been inside both the Sagrada Familia and the Casa Mila.  These iconic works of architecture by Antoni Gaudi are huge tourist attractions, and now we know why!

We started with the the church because we were expecting the queue to be long, and we had an excellent guide – much better than an audio guide because she was there to answer questions, and was also up-to-date with the latest news…

Which is that the Pope is due to come and consecrate it next week!  (That’s why there’s a poster on the steeple, it’s advertising The Big Event).    Thank goodness we came this week and not next because the crowds will be unimaginable – this building was started in 1883 and so proclaiming it as a basilica is a major milestone and one that will bring Barcelona to a standstill, I expect. 

Thousands of words have been written about this work of art so I shan’t add much to them except to say that the exterior is fascinating.  Every statue is symbolic in some way because Gaudi was a devout Catholic –  all the carvings were done by sculptors under his direction when he was alive and in accordance with his ideas after his death.  The scenes on one side represent the Passion, and on the other the Nativity – yet to be done is the Gloria (the creation of the earth and the Garden of Eden) and it is hoped that this will be finished by the anniversary of Gaudi’s death in 2026. 

Inside, it is a magical experience to walk into what feels like an elegant, airy forest of trees.  The stained glass windows are beautiful and the curving lines of the choir high up in the air is so different to anything I have ever seen.    

The Casa Mila is the last work that Gaudi finished.  It’s a block of apartments, but these days tourists can enter in at the lobby, take a lift to the top floor and see scale models and a fully furnished Modernisme (Art Nouveau) apartment and then go out onto the famous terrace and clamber around the chimney pots.  We did too, of course, and had a lovely time even though all those flowing walls and curving lines distorted Tim’s infallible sense of direction just for a moment or two when we were inside!

As we say in Australia, when you’re on a good thing stick to it, so we’re going out tonight to dine at Casa Calvet – which is a restaurant in a building that Gaudi designed!

Posted in Barcelona 2010, Cathedrals & churches, Europe 2010, Historic buildings, Spain 2010 | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »