Chapter Two: Modernist Marvels

6 PALAUChapter Two: Modernist Marvels

Day Two: Take Me To Church, Seeing The Light, Silencio Por Favor, Classic Iron Butterfly, “The Elevator List”, Crypt-ic Message, This Old House, Feeling Blue, Up On The Roof (Part Dos), Tops Of The Tapas, Market Watch, The Dragon Lady, Borne Again, Music Courtesy Of Lluís Domènech, Suffering Sciatica, Setting A Good Eixample, Dinner #1, Pop Goes Dessert, The Dancing Fountains, My Big Fat Spanish Wedding and Our Second Dinner

We awoke early to glorious blue skies and inquired at the hotel desk whether we could walk to La Sagrada Familia.  The man smiled and said, “It’s too far for feet.”  After much sole-searching, although I’m not a loafer, a taxi seemed like the prudent solution (both for the journey and to ensure we didn’t have a marital spat).

P1010134As we would find out, especially in Barcelona and Madrid, taxis are the perfect mode of transportation, and even more so in our case where we split the cab fare. The 15-minute ride from the nearby taxi stand to La Sagrada Familia was €7.50.

P1010143The work on the “Church of the Holy Family” started in 1882 and, of course, was incomplete by the time Antoni Gaudí got run over by a tram (isn’t that a Spanish Christmas song?) in 1926.  He supposedly told people, “My client (God) is no hurry,” but we were in a hurry because we had 9 a.m. timed tickets.  There was a massive line in front of the church for people hoping to purchase tickets.  There was hardly any line in the back where people with pre-purchased tickets waited to enter.

1 Sagrada ExteriorWhile Mary and Tracy got in the 9 a.m. queue, Kim and I ran across the street to take photos of the church that is still an incomplete structure.   We had to crane our necks as we looked at this bizarre edifice.   Speaking of cranes, there are plenty of them here…so many that I think the only cranes missing were Frazier, Niles, and Bob.

P1010135Then Kim and I saw our wives frantically waving to us.  We smiled and waved back.  It wasn’t because they missed us. The 9 o’clock line to go in was moving… rather quickly.  We got back just in time.  It’s always nice to see Kim get “the look” sometimes.

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We proceeded to pick up our audio guides (outside, just after you enter the front courtyard), and after listening about its history while looking at this edifice up close…

P1000043…in we walked.

1 sagrada interior 2                                     P1010144

I didn’t know what to expect after reading so many overwhelming glowing comments, but we were ready for something to “wow” us to the max.  In retrospect, La Sagrada Familia did “wow” us…it just took a while for the “wow factor” to sink in.  I think Kim’s impressions regarding our initial thoughts say it well.

1 Sagrada InteriorAt the moment, Sagrada Familia was a disappointment. I think this was because the hype created unreal expectations.  It’s smaller than expected, and I guess less ornate (I think that is the modernist goal).”

P1010155However, as the trip went on…well, probably by lunchtime…and then looking at our photos, we thought back and marveled at what we had seen.  If you take away the pre-game hype, Sagrada Familia truly is an incredible achievement.

P1000025Kim added, “The light was truly spectacular, as was the system of treelike pillars. It’s worth recalling the structure was designed over a century ago and yet remains cutting edge.”

P1010146Upon entering Sagrada Familia, we had seen a sign that read, “Silenci I recolliment.”

P1010163I don’t know the exact translation, but I figured it meant to keep your yap shut while inside. As we found out, not too many people read or follow the sign directions.  If you want silence, I suggest you attend a San Diego Padres game, not Sagrada Familia.  Between the boisterous tourists and the constant sound of construction equipment (nothing says a silent prayer like a jack-hammer), we couldn’t believe how loud Sagrada Familia became, and the constant plea of “Shss” was heard (and unheeded) at least a dozen times. By 9:30, Sagrada Familia was rocking and, as it turned out, so was I.

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As we stood gazing at the incredibly stained glass windows, a song suddenly and inexplicably popped into my head.  Since the church already sounded like a rock concert, I turned to the group and in my best Iron Butterfly impression sang out, “In Sagrada Familia, honey, don’t you know that I love you.”

In-A-Gadda-Da-VidaThis song, usually heard right before passing out at a dorm party in my college days, would be in our heads for the rest of the trip.

1 sagrada parachuteThe “Jesus on a cross” near the altar was unique.  For a second, I thought he was parachuting in to tell everybody to “shut up.”

1 sagrada ceilingWith the light, photos were great, like these two (above and below) that Kim took (many of Kim, Mary, and Tracy’s photos are included in this report).

1 sagrada tStepping outside, a statue of Christ on the Passion Façade side caught our attention…

1 sagrada statue…as did one of Judas giving Jesus that fateful, betrayal kiss.  Check out that tile to the left of the statue.  It’s like a religious Sudoku.  All the rows add up to 33, which is the age of Jesus at his crucifixion.

P1000041The words engraved on the doors are bible passages. P1000039I believe one read, “Thou shalt not sing Iron Butterfly in church.”

P1000048We had 10:15 reservations to visit The Nativity Tower, and at the appointed hour a small group took a very small elevator to the top. We crossed a slightly vertiginous bridge and before you could say, “Why did we book this?” we were on a spiral staircase heading back down. We had expected more of the tower, and in hindsight, it was not worth the effort (although the pictures turned out pretty good).

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In subsequent days, whenever we visited something that we thought could be skipped, we would put it on our “Elevator List.”

P1010158It was a long way down!

1 sagrada vWe had been told to visit Gaudí’s crypt after our visit (entered from outside La Sagrada Familia), but when we got there, it was closed (it had closed at 10 and would not open again until 6).

P1000032It will be interesting to see if (1) Sagrada Familia will be completed in 2026 and (2) if I’m alive on the centennial of Gaudí’s death.  If I were a betting man (and I am), I’d say, “Nada” (hopefully that’s an incorrect answer on question #2).

P1010188A short taxi ride away stood our next destination…Casa Batlló, a Gaudí 1905 renovation of a structure that’s design represents the patron saint of Catalonia, Saint George, and that pesky dragon.  The house belonged to the wealthy aristocrat, Josep Batlló (who hired Gaudí), and his family.  It’s located on “The Block Of Discord,” which I thought was a street where Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton lived next door to each other.  It’s a block along Passeig de Gràcia that contains many modernist buildings, including Casa Batlló.

P1010187The line to get into Casa Batlló stretched a long, long way, but we had purchased “Fast Pass” tickets online before leaving for Spain. The Fast Pass price of €5 extra per ticket allows one to visit anytime while also circumventing the line (worth €5 to us), which we happily did while having our UNESCO card stamped for the second time on that day.

P1010164Nicknamed “The House Of Bones,” Casa Batlló, with its skull and bones exterior, is unique, to say the least. The interior is dazzling to the eye, as well.  We picked up an audio/video guide that was as unique as the house.  The video guide displayed what the rooms in the house would have looked like furnished.

P1010169 (1)We started in the lounge, which overlooks Passeig de Gràcia (aka “Gracias”).  Although the layout seemed rather unlivable (where the hell do you put a big screen?), I enjoyed visiting all the rooms.  Obviously, Gaudí never met a straight line he couldn’t curve.

2 batllo 3Tracy wanted to steal a beautiful lighting fixture for our living room. UNESCO sites frown on theft, however, and might have even taken our card away (if they made them).

P1010166And doesn’t everyone have a romantic mushroom-shaped fireplace where they can sit?  It gives new meaning to “having the hots” for someone.  Kim even gave his fireplace photo a “glow.”

2 batllo 2The house has a ground floor and also the main floor with a courtyard…

P1010167…accessed through the dining room (definitely the party area).

P1010176I gazed across the courtyard to the window of Casa Lleò Morera, a house designed by Domènech I Montaner, an architect we would come to admire even more than Gaudí (stay tuned).

P1010175We hung out in the courtyard for a bit and…


…then up the staircase, we ascended.

P1010172The central skylight is composed of huge pieces of iron and glass panes.

P1010178As we climbed the Lightwell, the shades of blue turned darker and darker. Sinatra would have loved it.

2 batllo 4There are a total of five different shades of blue tiles used.

P1010181A door awaited us.

P1010179Up on the roof, the architectural zaniness continued with Dragon chimneys.

2 Battlo 5 (1)I believe I enjoyed Casa Batlló more than the others.

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We stopped by the Attic Room before descending.

2 batllo 6As hunger set in, we headed back to Cerveceria Catalana, Carrer de Mallorca, 236, where we had been shut out the previous day. Not so today…we arrived there just before the crowd…it was Tapas Time.

IMG_2186I dined on mini burgers, patatas bravas and lemon cake (that looked like a pie).  Nothing like a small bites lunch containing 2,000 calories.


Mary tried the fried egg tossed on a bed of shoestring potatoes and said it was “eggscellent.” Tracy opted for the steak sandwich flauta (on a baguette), while Kim enjoyed a Chorizo flauta and grilled shrimp.

P1010191Our waitress told us the best thing on the menu was the catfish. Mary, who doesn’t particularly like cats but has never met a fish she didn’t like, ordered it and said it was “the Cat’s Meow” while calling me a “pussy” for not trying it.

P1010194We highly recommend Cerveceria Catalana as a good lunch stop.

Spain KJK D1-047Meandering down the Las Ramblas on the way to La Boqueria, we stopped in Santa Maria del Pi, a church that immediately went on “The Elevator List.”

P1010575On the other hand, La Boqueria (Mercat de Sant Josep) is an explosion of color with fruits, veggies, cheeses, poultry, fish, nuts and an array of bar-like restaurants.

P1010199There’s been a market in this location since the early 1200s. This place was jammed (I did make sure my wallet was not within striking distance here).

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People were merrily eating and drinking while musicians played nearby.  It was electric.

P1000063One woman definitely did not want her peppers photographed (as evidenced by the sign).

P1010203Well, so much for obeying sings.  Now I was as bad as those loud-mouthed Sagrada Familia tourists.

3 Market 2It was a riot of color.

P1010201Before leaving, I spied a rather bizarre fruit item (at least I surmised it was fruit), and the lady soon talked me into buying some Dragon fruit.

P1000055I’ll have to admit, it looked better than it tasted, but being the bottomless pit that I am I quickly started eating faster and puff, the dragon was quickly consumed.

P1000062We were nuts about this sweet market.

P1000060                                        3 Market

After a little more walking and after seeing our 100th store selling Messi jerseys…

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… and after a quick stop for gelato (try the melone) at Mamma (mamma and son got in the act)…

P1010207…we returned to the Hotel Colon…

4 Colon…for a power siesta on a warm afternoon. Twenty minutes later (sleep is entirely overrated for these travel warriors), out the door we walked toward the Palau de la Música Catalana, where we had 3 p.m. reservations. I could see one of our members was not perambulating as quickly as the others. Kim, who has suffered some back problems over the years, told us he was feeling a pain similar to sciatica.

6 PALAUIn my best W.C. Fields imitation, I shouted out, “Suffering Sciatica!” (stream It’s A Gift….a Fields’ classic).  Sure it wasn’t the nicest thing to yell out, but after 45 years of knowing one another, sympathy is not our best trait.  We walked (slowly) toward what would become one of our favorite sights in Barcelona.  Once again those UNESCO cards would have come in handy.

P1000067 Palau de la Música Catalana had been described as “one of the world’s most extraordinary music halls.”   This time, the building more than lived up to the hype.   The outside of Palau de la Música Catalana (constructed between 1905 and 1908) is gorgeous.  We (and others waiting for the tour) stood at the front of the building as our time drew near to enter.  There was no one inside, and although we were at the ticket window, we sensed something was amiss (besides Kim’s back).

P1000068Since our tour was to start shortly and no one seemed to be in our vicinity, we walked around the corner at the left of the front of the building where the not-very-well-marked entrance for the tour is located through the courtyard of a modern brick building.

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Our pleasant tour guide played a movie showing the history of the building, designed by the “Father Of Neo-Modernism,” Domènech I Montaner, whose window design we had seen from the Casa Batlló courtyard.  We were taken up to a beautiful salon located on the second floor.  When people standing underneath the light fixture were told how much that puppy weighed, they scattered as if Bill Cosby was about to enter the room.

P1000073We wandered outside to a lovely patio.

P1010212But the real star is the music hall where 300 musical performances a year take place. It seats more than 2,000 concertgoers.

5 Palau 2The interior is nothing less than stunning. Musical muses are everywhere.

P1000077They were quite a-muse-ing.

5 Palau 3The ceiling’s stained glass inverted dome is the main light source.  Forty female heads that represent a choir surround it.

5 Palau 4You have to see it in person to fully appreciate it.

P1000092I could see myself up on stage singing “In Sagrada Familia,” and I believe some on our tour group gave me “the look” when I hummed a few bars.

P1010221Fortunately for everyone…

P1000078…we were not allowed to get on stage for photos, but we could take them everywhere else.

P1010216The tour takes approximately one hour (get tickets online before you go). P1010228

We rolled over Beethoven, but I couldn’t find Tchaikovsky to tell him the news.

P1000076If you come to Barcelona, don’t miss this place!

P1000084The Palau de la Música Catalana is truly a masterpiece!

P1010231Afterward, we headed over to the Borne district again. Our traveling companions had visited El Born CC (10cc’s big brother) the day before we arrived and thought we might like to see the ruins contained within.  Being Monday, there was no labor at El Born.  It was closed (Kim had taken this photo before we arrived).

2 Ruins“No problem,” Tracy said (pointing at me), “I have my own ruins right here.”   Incredibly, even with comments like that, we celebrate our 21st anniversary on July 23rd.

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On the way back to Hotel Colon, we ducked in the Església de Santa Maria del Mar (at Plaça de Santa Maria), which dates from the 1300s.

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We had tried to go in the previous evening on the way to dinner, but they were having services.

del marIt’s a gorgeous church, and we learned that the columns are spaced wider than those of any Gothic church in Europe.

Spain del mar 2Now there’s something you can use that at your next cocktail party when the conversation wanes…or not.

Speaking of ruins, it looked like Kim’s back might ruin their evening, so they stayed at the hotel while Tracy and I set off for L’Eixample to meet a friend of a friend of ours, who happens to have read some of my trip reports. Amazingly, even after reading them she still wanted to meet us for what we thought was going to be dinner.  We took a taxi to Mont Bar, Carrer de la Diputació, 220.

P1010245Arriving a bit early, Tracy and I walked a couple of blocks in this beautiful area.  When we returned to the restaurant/bar, we heard “Are you MaitaiTom and Tracy?” Looking to make sure it wasn’t a policeman who heard me singing Iron Butterfly in church, we said hello to Shannon.

IMG_2195Mont Bar is a quaint little wine bar with lots of fresh flowers including peonies and lilies (you can tell those are from Tracy’s notes). It has a selection of tapas and small dishes, but 7:30 was a little early for Shannon to eat, so instead she and Tracy shared a bottle of wine, while I was back on the wagon for a few more days and gulped down iced tea, which after a long day of walking tasted really good.

Shannon runs tours in Spain and was about ready to leave to start another one the following day (maybe that will be my next gig).  Although Shannon didn’t want dinner, the bottomless pit and his wife needed some sustenance after another long day of sightseeing.

We ordered tapas of chicken cannelloni with truffles and a salad with Burrata.  Both were very, very good.

IMG_2196Then came the exploding dessert…literally.  I ordered French Toast with an apple on top.  At first description, that doesn’t sound like an earth-shattering dessert choice.  However, after he set the dish down in front of me, the waiter told Tracy to use her spoon to pop the “apple” that had white chocolate on top. She “popped” it and the apple exploded with a yolk of apricot and anise (fireworks on a plate).  I might travel back to Barcelona just to eat that dish again (our first “Wow” dish of the trip) and wash it down with some vino next time.

About 9:30, we bid “buenas noches” to Shannon and decided to walk back to the hotel. After a few blocks, Tracy and I looked at each other and simultaneously said, “I’m starving.”

P1010246Strolling past the beautifully lit fountains at Plaça de Catalunya, soon we found ourselves back in our ‘hood.  It was after 10 p.m., a time in Barcelona when many people start eating dinner.  It’s the time I usually start snoring.

Dead ahead we saw Els Quatre Cats and took a glance inside.  It looked like nobody was dining, but the woman outside asked if we had reservations. We kind of laughed and said, “no,” and she replied she had one table open.

“Really,” we thought.  The place was empty…or so it seemed.  We walked to the back (the empty tables turned out to be a breakfast room where we would eat our last day).  As we were led through the door to the Els Quatre Cats dining area, suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of something right out of the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

P1010249Up on stage, musicians were drinking ouzo (well, maybe not ouzo…but they were drinking), singing and playing guitar, while people were eating, drinking and singing.  We were taken up a narrow stairway and seated on a precarious balcony (since were at Els Quatre Cats, it must have been a catwalk).

We perused the menu for just a few minutes. It didn’t look like there were any small plates to choose from, and since it was 10:15 the menu said to me “Acid Reflux buddy, you better run like hell.”

We felt awful because it looked like a happening place, but discretion being the better part of valor (whatever that means), after carefully negotiating the steps (and I was sober!) we made a feline for the front door on tiny cat feet.  After we were outside, I felt guilty. “We should have at least left some money in the kitty,” I said.

Right down the street from Els Quatre Cats is the restaurant Melic del Gòtic (which, unbeknownst to us, was where Kim and Mary dined the first night…obviously much earlier than us judging by the photo).

Melic GoticWe were seated right away, and Tracy had some toast with do-it-yourself tomato and garlic (so much for that late night make-out session), while I ordered very good gnocchi that would provide a good test for my new anti-reflux medicine…actually the entire trip would be a good test).

Satiated, we took the short stroll back to our hotel.  Once again, there would be no sleeping in tomorrow.  We had yet another date with Mr. Gaudí at 9 a.m.  Tomorrow would also be the day we would enjoy our biggest surprise of the vacation.  Unlike many surprises this crew has encountered on previous sojourns (the great petrol screw-up of 2005 always comes to mind), this event turned out to be an eye-opening pleasure.

After visiting the Palau de la Música Catalana, we were already very impressed with Catalan architect Domènech I Montaner.  The following day, however, we would be further wowed by his awe-inspiring talents when we just happened to drop by what would become our favorite overall sight in Barcelona and one of the top places we visited in all of España.

Next – Day Three:  Up On The Roof (Part Tres), Another Familia View, A Lovely Gaudí Walk, MaiTaiTom Is Admitted To The Hospital, “Kingdom Of Health,” I Think I’m Done With Tapas, Tracy Is Definitely Done With Ruins, Museum Stays Off Elevator List…Barely, Rodney Dangerfield Lives, Take My Wife…Please, A Nacional Treasure, Let’s Meat For Dinner and The Rain In Spain