My feet had no idea how many kilometers they were going to walk that day in Barcelona which was just as well, since they might have started protesting much earlier. We drove to the centre and emerged from the underground car park in the elegant Passeig de Gràcia near two of Gaudi's masterpieces. First stop was La Pedrera, Gaudí's building which wraps itself around the street corner with curvaceous, ondulating shapes, as cushiony and malleable as if the stone was really putty moulded into billowing curves. Sharp angles and straight lines are conspicuously absent here. All I could see were wave after wave of balconies with tangles of wrought-iron seaweed for railings, chimneys twisting like soft ice-cream, pliable doors, coiling staircases,...even the queue was curling round the building. Unfortunately, there wasn't time to wait in line for a look inside, a visit guaranteed to leave a lasting impression.
Tourists on the roof of La Pedrera
The curvaceous forms of La Pedrera
Graceful lamp posts in Passeig de Gràcia
Artistic patterns on the pavements in Passeig de Gràcia
Next I strolled past the red brick building of the Fundació Tàpies with its nest-like topping of wire which makes me think of a nutty professor with frizzy hair... another unusual-looking place, promoting modern and contemporary art. A little further down the wide boulevard, where even the paving stones and lamp-posts are works of art, I came across Casa Batlló, with scores of sightseers craning their necks and pointing their cameras upwards. I wondered where Gaudi got his inspiration this time... scaly dragons' backs, skulls, bones, ocean waves? The imagination runs wild with the colourful blues and greens of the roof tiles, the trencadis mosaic on the façade, the skull-shaped balconies like birds' nests suspended on sheer cliffs, windows as if made from the bones of the dragon's victims. He was an amazing architect, who broke with every tradition in the book as far as normal building shapes were concerned. I could see the awe-struck tourists inside, looking out of the large ossified windows, their audio-guide wires glued to their ears. I wished I had time to explore inside and go up on the roof but the queue was too long for me today. My feet were keen to get going.
Building of the Fundació Tàpies, a modern art centre
The Casa Batlló is located in Passeig de Grácia
Skull-like balconies and bone-inspired windows
View of the roof of the Casa Batlló
Then on to the Plaça Catalunya, where small kids waded knee-deep through the thousands of pigeons there, racing around and making them take flight and land again. From here, I looked down the Rambla which bubbled and boiled effervescently with people. Tourists mistakenly believing they were in the Spain of toros and bullfighting, flamenco and castañuelas, and Indian souvenir shop owners happy to sell them this idea. Some were even wearing Mexican hats. I wanted to tell them that this was Catalonia, where bullfighting was banned, where they have their own language, Catalan, and their own flag, and where the local dance, the sardana, had nothing to do with energetic guitar playing and flouncy pokadotted red and white dresses. But I knew it would be to no avail. This is what they had come to see.
Children and pigeons in Plaça Catalunya
Looking down the tree-lined Rambla
Street off La Rambla
Branching off to the right, I wandered around the narrow streets to the MACBA museum, white and lonely. Heading back to the Rambla, I pushed my way into the crowded market, commonly known as La Boqueria, which must be one of the most mouthwatering places in the world. Fruit, vegetables, sweets, nuts, fish, condiments, jamones and other cured sausages were painstakingly arranged in kaleidoscopic piles of gourmet nutrition. It was going to be difficult to escape from there without packing my bag full of vitamins. I succumbed to a plastic cup full of multi-coloured fruit pieces which looked like a vivid cubist still-life painting, and polished it off in seconds. My feet needed some sustenance to keep going.
Colourful fruit stall in La Boqueria market
Stall in the market
On the other side of the Rambla was the Plaça Reial, a beautiful colonial-style square sprouting palm trees, surrounded on all four sides by arcades packed with restaurant tables and sunshades. I was pleased to see it had been spruced up since I last went there. Holidaymakers from the four corners of the earth were sitting in the sunshine, tucking into appetizing tapas and huge dishes of saffrony paella streaked with red peppers, and sipping refreshing sangria. The harmonic strains of a guitar and accordion drifted across the square while in front of me, a slightly built man, in pinstripe trousers, a shiny green shirt and reddish waistcoat entertained some of the eaters with the clackety-clack of castañuelas and stamping feet which drew enthusiastic clapping from them. We could have been in Sevilla, not Barcelona, but the tourists were thoroughly enjoying the Spanish culture. A plaque on the wall stated that the Plaça Reial was twinned with Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City. Interesting.
Palm trees and arcades in the Plaça Reial
Entertainer in Plaça Reial
Wrought-iron gates of Palau Güell, by Gaudí
I switched back to the other side of the Rambla and came across another of Gaudí's works of art, the Palau Güell with its fine arched wrought-iron doors which look like they took years to painstakingly knit, and its individually decorated chimneys. At the bottom end of the Rambla, where it meets the Port of Barcelona, my feet began to do some serious protesting but I urged them on. Christopher Columbus, Cristóbal Colón, soared above us on top of his tall monument, pointing enigmatically. Some say he's pointing at America, others at Mallorca. And depending on your source, he may be Italian, Spanish, Catalan or even Portuguese. One thing's for sure... he discovered America in 1492 and he returned after his first trip to the Americas to the Port of Barcelona. Here the city opened up to the sky and the sea. My feet breathed sighs of relief when I sat down for a rest on some stone steps leading down to the water. An enormous hydrofoil jet, with razor-sharp bows to slice through the water, was moored in one corner. A tall-masted katamaran made its way to where we were sitting, followed by a cloud of seagulls, and waves of people were surging across the wooden extension of the Rambla which spanned the water to the Maremagnum Centre. Two cable cars crossed paths, greeting each other on their way to and from Montjuic Mountain. Meanwhile, the sun beat down mercilessly.
Port of Barcelona
Christopher Columbus pointing
Maremagnum Centre, a shopping and leisure complex
Sailing boats in the Port
After a brief visit to the Maremagnum Centre, my weary feet shuffled back across the wooden Rambla de Mar and along the Moll de la Fusta, past a thicket of sailing boats with tinkling masts, moored in the Port Vell. Wooden schooners, sailing boats, yachts and other vessels rubbed shoulders and conversed with one another. From here I turned up towards the Barri Gòtic , the old town of Barcelona, and found myself in a rabbit-warren of narrow cobbled streets lined by tall old buildings whose balconies almost touched each other on either side and blocked out the sun, plunging me into a murky penumbra. This area is home to the Cathedral, remains of the Roman walls, a neo-Gothic bridge inspired by Venice's Bridge of Sighs, towers, squares and plenty of doors decorated with grafitti.
Buildings in the Barri Gótic
Narrow streets in the old town of Barcelona
Old walls of Barcelona
Door covered with grafitti
I could no longer feel my feet. Five hours of non-stop walking and a zillion footsteps had anaesthetised them into a state of detached numbness. The blood had collected in pools around my ankles which were beginning to feel like lead weights and my back was moaning. It was time to head back to the car after a long day's exploring. I made my way up the Passeig de Gràcia again, in search of the car park. Barcelona had surprised me. The excellent weather, the lack of traffic, the amazing buildings, the sea air, and a thousand small barcelona touches had made this a day well worth the discomfort of two sore feet. And with so much still to see of Barcelona, I've decided to return next year. When my feet have recovered.