thursdaysd Wanders South

Old Dec 15th, 2015, 05:03 PM
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@kja - I was saving the nuns' capitals for the next post. And yes, I was very glad I made the detour to Salamanca.
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Old Dec 19th, 2015, 12:09 PM
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<b>October 20-23, 2015: Quirky Salamanca</b>

Salamanca has no shortage of magnificent, beautifully decorated, and historic buildings. But it has a lighter side, and I'm not referring to the 30,000 university students in residence. I'm thinking of the grotesques populating the capitals of the columns in the nunnery's cloister, the car museum, and the Art Nouveau and Art Deco museum. In fact, it was the Art Nouveau museum that tipped the scales in favor of a visit to the city. Unfortunately, photographs weren't allowed inside the museum, so I can only post pictures of the outside. The most notable external feature, the stained glass gallery running the full length of the south side, was beautiful on an autumn day, but it must turn that part of the building, which includes the cafe, into a furnace in the summer. There was more stained glass in the ceiling of the central hall, which probably also heated up under summer sun. The rooms round the hall, on both floors, contained a good collection of typical Art Nouveau glass and furniture, but also collections that seemed totally unrelated - a big room full of dolls, for instance. While no doubt a remarkable collection in its own right, and from the correct period, it was not what I expected. On the other hand, I was particularly pleased by a number of small chryselephantine sculptures from the Art Deco school. The elegant women, toes pointed, arms stretched just so, seemed poised to dance right off their plinths.

Cars, to me, are mostly a way of getting from A to B. Back when I drove Mazda sports coupes, I would have added "as fast as possible", but since an accident in 2007 (thanks to an aged driver making a left turn when he should have waited) and a switch to a hybrid sedan, I have slowed down. So I was less interested in the technical details of the vehicles on display in the Automobile Museum, than in their historical resonances. Looking at the touring cars from the early years of the twentieth century, I could almost see the passengers, muffled up against the dust of the open (and probably unsealed) road. Luggage space was minimal in the early years, because, of course, you weren't going very far. Or very fast, despite the message of the winged or feline hood ornaments. And then there were the American cars from the fifties and sixties, all hood and teeth. Today's streamlined cars look rather boring in comparison, although no doubt much more efficient.

I nearly skipped the nunnery, formally the Convento de Los Duenos, which would have been a mistake. The convent, like many of the Spanish religious buildings I saw on this trip, had a two story cloister. But the decorations on the capitals of the columns were something else entirely. When I describe them as grotesque, I am using the word both in the technical sense, "decorative painting or sculpture with fantastic interweaving of human and animal forms", and in the popular sense of distorted, bizarre and disturbing. I had thought a cloister was intended for peaceful meditation, but there was nothing peaceful about these carvings. They seemed to be intended, instead, to frighten. Could it be that the medieval church, with its fanatically distorted views of women, felt that the nuns, vowed to a religious life or not, needed to be constantly reminded of the terrors of hell?
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Old Dec 19th, 2015, 02:24 PM
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I like your description of the convent.

Just catching up with you again.
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Old Dec 19th, 2015, 07:40 PM
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I also like your description of the convent, mysterious motives by monks perhaps?

Palencia? that made me laugh, my brother just spent 8 months there. He was "working" at a local high school 20 hours per week. He had a fantastic time, his wife and daughter learnt Spanish and they travelled all over Spain in their three day weekends.

I drool for Spanish ham..

Thanks for sharing.
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Old Dec 20th, 2015, 07:05 AM
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The convent didn't seem to be on the tour group itinerary, but the few people who were there when I was really seemed to be enjoying it. The cloister was a nice place to soak up some sunshine, with grass and flowers in the middle, and a surprising Moorish tiled arch at one end. And the photographers were having a field day!

@sartoric - lucky brother and family!
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Old Jan 3rd, 2016, 10:46 AM
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<b>October 23-26, 2015: Second Time Madrid</b>

My first visit to Madrid, I toured the Royal Palace, the Prado, and Reina Sofia, enjoyed a flamenco performance, and tried to stay cool in the Botanical Gardens before boarding a night train to Ronda. Ever since, I've used Madrid as an example of a city that others love and I don't. I usually contrast it with Lisbon, a city I loved at first sight. But there are plenty of cities I don't love at first sight, but nonetheless enjoy. It occurred to me that after a decade of putting Madrid down, perhaps I should give it a second look. Maybe I'd like it better in cooler weather. I wouldn't revisit the sights I had already seen, but Madrid had plenty of museums. Just in case, I allocated only three nights.

Back when I was planning a trip to South America I spent some time trying to learn a little Spanish using a BBC video course (yes, I know the accent is different). I didn't learn much Spanish, but I did like the look of the Puerta del Sol and the Madrid metro, and I booked a room at the Hotel Europa, practically on the Puerta del Sol, instead of the Hotel Plaza Mayor where I stayed in 2004. I can only conclude that the BBC shot the video very early in the morning, because the square turned out to be tourist central, and both it and the street outside the hotel were mobbed, as was the metro. My hotel room, small and worn, did have a little balcony overlooking a slice of the square, and I did enjoy watching the crowds, but I had no interest in joining them.

My first afternoon was not a success. After I got off the train from Salamanca I decided I would be better off taking the Cercanias commuter train to Puerta del Sol as the queues for the ticket machines for the metro were much longer. Ticket in hand, I had to wait for the platform for my train to show up on the monitor, and then had only two minutes to get there. The train itself was packed to overflowing. After I checked in and set off for the first museum on my list, I found the metro to be just as overcrowded. And the Anthropology Museum was a total waste of time. True, wandering past a row of second-hand book stalls in the direction of the Botanical Gardens, I did happen on the Caixa Forum, which was probably the most interesting building I saw in Madrid, but much of the exhibition space was closed.

The museum scene did improve over the next two days (I'll do a separate post for them). I did enjoy the Retiro Park, with its lake, its Crystal Palace and its Velasquez Palace decorated with colorful tiles. I did eat quite well, although one of the best meals was at a South American restaurant. But I did not revise my opinion of Madrid.

Possibly I would have liked Madrid better if I had been staying somewhere quieter. Although that would not, it turned out, have been Plaza Mayor, which I visited one evening, only to find it full of tourist-trap cafes. One or two other squares, recommended in my guide books, seemed to be in rather seedy areas. A walk down Gran Via, which one book claimed had interesting early 20th century buildings, also disappointed. I had my camera out, but the only building that seemed worth a shot was a Best Western hotel with a mural of a Spanish shawl.

I had originally intended to finish my trip in Madrid, flying home on Icelandair with a stopover in Reykjavik, but when I got around to trying to book the flights, I discovered that Icelandair only offered that route in the summer. Flights from Madrid to the US at the end of October were, for some reason, ridiculously expensive, and trying frequent miles didn't turn up any routings I liked. I found better options out of Barcelona, and decided it was time to see how Sagrada Familia was coming along. I hadn't been over enthused about Barcelona either in 2004, but Gaudi was a definite draw.
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Old Jan 10th, 2016, 12:06 PM
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<b>October 23-26, 2015: Madrid's Museums, the Good and the Bad</b>

Mostly good, as it happens, and I already mentioned the bad, the National Museum of Anthropology, in my last post. Although I was not revisiting the Prado or the Reina Sofia, I still had plenty of museums to chose from, although many of them closed early on Sunday. I started out Saturday morning taking the metro out of the center to Ciudad Universitaria, where I was interested to see that the streets weren't cleaned the way they were around Puerta del Sol.

The Costume Museum - the Museo del Traje - was a bit of a trek from the station, but well worth it. Although devoted to Spanish dress through the ages, there was no shortage of English description, the displays were well designed, and I had the place pretty much to myself. Aside from the dress of the elite, which was influenced by French fashions under Bourbon rule in the 1700s, I was interested to learn about the dress of the majos and majas, the Madrid working class.

My second stop, back towards the station, was rather less successful. The young man at the Museum of the Americas seemed pleased to inform me that the cafeteria was closed, and handed me a map with a curt announcement that it was in Spanish because we were in Spain. I had been in Spain at the smaller Museum of Costume, but they had managed an English map. And I had though the the Americas included a fair number of English speakers. However, it turned out that it wasn't really a Museum of the Americas, more a Museum of Peru. North America was represented by a few displays from British Colombia and a half-hearted nod to the plains Indians. Plenty of ceramics, but very little gold was on display, aside from a few small, somewhat damaged pieces, and the larger artifacts came from Colombia. Of course, the conquistadores had only been interested in gold pieces for the metal, not the artistry.

After lunch I was firmly back in Spain, at the Museum of Archaeology, although I also encountered Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks and Romans, and, of course, the Moors. This was a more foreigner-friendly museum, with English as well as Spanish descriptions, which I certainly needed for the earlier periods. The Roman section included some excellent mosaics, and the Moorish some elaborate ceilings.

Sunday involved less travel, featuring the Museum of Decorative Arts, and the Thyssen, where I also ate lunch. The Museum of Decorative Arts was small, but quite good. I was amused to recognize a number of the artifacts in the temporary exhibition of bakelite on the ground floor. Upper floors contained plenty of heavily decorated furniture, and painted leather wall hangings.

The Thyssen, of course, would be a first tier museum were it not in the same city as the Prado and the Reina Sofia, and was full of excellent art. Although by this time In the trip I had had my fill of medieval religious painting, there were still a few pieces I liked, and I was glad to see some El Grecos and a Rembrandt self portrait. I went through the modern section rather fast, which gave me time to visit the Retiro Park and to wander through a few areas south of my hotel before dinner and packing.
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Old Jan 22nd, 2016, 12:02 PM
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<b>October 26-31, 2015: The Eixample versus the Ramblas</b>

For centuries, Barcelona was confined behind its medieval walls. When Madrid finally gave permission for them to go, in 1854, the city tore down the walls and expanded to the north. Starting from scratch, the area now known as L'Eixample was laid out with wide boulevards and plenty of light and air, forming a marked contrast with the cramped and winding streets of the old city. That was the result of planning, but the presence of three star architects of the Modernisme school (Catalan Art Nouveau) was pure serendipity. These days it is Gaudi who gets all the publicity, but Josep Puig i Cadafalch and Lluis Domenech i Montaner were designing beautiful and interesting buildings too.

Still, aside from mentioning two Gaudi houses - Casa Battlo and Casa Mila - and his Sagrada Familia, the guidebooks give the Eixample little respect. It's the Ramblas, the long pedestrian avenue linking Placa de Catalunya with the port, and the Barri Gotic, the old city center, that get all the ink. Therefore, when I visited Barcelona in 2004, I stayed just off the Ramblas, and I did not, aside from the Gaudi buildings, find Barcelona very attractive. I was particularly disappointed with the Ramblas and wrote that the avenue was "mostly an opportunity for one group of tourists to sip over-priced drinks while watching another group parading past."

But after visiting the Gaudi houses I ate lunch at Pastelerias Mauri in the Eixample, and noticed that the area seemed much more attractive. So, when I discovered that Icelandair didn't fly out of Madrid at the end of October, and that flying home from Barcelona instead of Madrid offered better routes, I decided that I would revisit Barcelona but that this time I would stay in the Eixample. When I couldn't find a hotel at a reasonable (to me) rate, I booked an AirBnB apartment on the Carrer des Balmes, two blocks from the Casa Battlo. I was delighted, both with the Eixample and the apartment. My opinion of Barcelona completely changed, for the better. I was also confirmed in my decision to only rent apartments from single women and couples - not only was this apartment well equipped and squeaky clean, there were plenty of towels, and the towels and sheets were pristine white. It had a sun-trap terrace with lounging chairs, too.

I did revisit the Ramblas, and the Barri Gotic. I liked the Ramblas even less this time, with tour groups marching along behind their leaders, and the market so clogged with people I didn't venture inside. I made it all the way to the port, and regretted it when I got a close look at the Columbus monument. A glorification of colonialism, I particularly disliked the Native American, complete with feathered headdress, kneeling worshipfully at the feet of a missionary and gazing adoringly upwards. I did not take photos.

I preferred the old town, where I followed a walking tour from my guidebook. I thought about visiting the cathedral, but first it was closed, and then there was a line to get in, and after Burgos, Leon and Salamanca I didn't feel too bad about missing it. Especially when I had bought a ticket for Sagrada Familia. Instead I visited the Casa de l'Ardiaca, the former Archdeacon's residence that now houses the city's archives. After admiring the charming Modernisme mail slot by Montaner on the outside, I very much enjoyed an exhibition of the work of Apelles Mestres, a multi-faceted artist I had never heard of.

I also spent time over on Montjuic, admiring the views from both the bottom and the top of the hill (although it was too hazy to really see Sagrada Familia) and visiting the Catalan Art Museum. Besides appreciating the art and the building, I ate lunch in the restaurant, with an excellent view over the city. But the Ramblas, the Barri Gotic and Montjuic were all secondary to my main interest, Modernisme. I had bought tickets ahead of time for three Gaudi sights: Sagrada Familia (timed entry), Casa Battlo (enter any time), and Casa Mila (preferential entry any time), as well as Domenech i Montaner's Palace of Catalan Music, and I was also able to visit three more buildings and a museum of Modernisme. In the end, I was very glad the Icelandair flight hadn't been available.
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Old Jan 22nd, 2016, 02:06 PM
  #89  
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Great quote about Las Ramblas!
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Old Jan 23rd, 2016, 07:48 PM
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Ooooh, I loved the Casa de l'Ardiaca! I must admit that didn't know that's what it was until I google-imaged it to see what you had seen. Thanks for helping me find the name!
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Old Jan 23rd, 2016, 08:22 PM
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Score one for the guidebook - I had to look it up when I was writing the post. There's a photo of the mail slot on my blog.
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Old Jan 23rd, 2016, 08:44 PM
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I have a photo of that wonderful mail slot, too! And some shots of the interior....
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Old Feb 28th, 2016, 07:35 AM
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Although I've been home since the end of October, I've been suffering from extremely low energy. I have made little progress planning the next trip, and am still behind on blogging the last one. I have been gradually updating my blog, but mostly with photographs. I'm going to put the text from the last four posts here, but really they were all about the photos (my blog, with links at the top of the page: https://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com/ )

I should also thank maitaitom, whose extensive posts on Barcelona (http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...spain-2015.cfm ) warned me that I should buy tickets for the most popular sights ahead of time.

<b>October 2015: Barcelona's Modernisme Houses</b>

Walking two busy blocks east from my peaceful apartment on Carrer des Balmes brought me to the “Block of Discord” on Passeig de Gracia, so called because of the three very different buildings that share it. All three date from the Modernisme period, but the designs of Gaudi, Montaner and Cadafalch are strikingly individual. All three of the buildings contain multiple apartments, which are still in use, but the “owner’s apartments”, on the first (US second) floor, the piano nobile, are open for visits. All day, with audio guides, in the case of Casa Battlo, just for a few visits, with a live guide, for the other two.

Casa Battlo is probably the most popular Gaudi sight after Sagrada Familia, and attracts continuous crowds outside and inside. But, just as the Leonardo da Vinci painting in Burgos cathedral is neglected, the crowds ignore the other two houses on the block. That meant that I could buy a (noticeably cheaper) ticket on the day I visited without having to queue, and I was shown round the main apartment in company with just a few other Modernisme fans.

Casa Amatller was originally built in 1875, but was refurbished by Puig i Cadafalch in 1898 for the Amatller family. The inspiration was mainly Gothic, although the stepped gable recalls the canal houses in Amsterdam. Anton Amatller was a chocolatier, and the shop on the ground floor still sells chocolate. He did not survive to enjoy the apartment for very long, dying in 1910, but his daughter continued to live there for many years (dying in 1960), establishing an art institute and an archive of her father’s collections. While most of the apartment is unchanged, she had her bedroom redesigned in Art Deco style. The apartment has only recently been opened for visits, after a fourteen year restoration, and is fully furnished.

This was not Art Nouveau as I think of Art Nouveau, but it was certainly worth seeing.

Lluis Domenech i Montaner’s contribution to the visual feast is Casa Lleo Morera. My guidebook lamented the fact that the interior wasn’t accessible, but it was wrong. Just as with the Casa Amatller, I was able to buy a ticket for a guided tour the morning I wanted to visit, and was shown round by a well-informed guide with just a handful of other visitors. In fact, it was this guide who told me I could visit Casa Amatller and that it was fully furnished.
Originally constructed in 1864, the building was redesigned for the Morera family in the early 1900s. Morera means mulberry tree, and mulberry trees can be found in the decorations, as can references to contemporary inventions such as the camera and the telephone. Again, this is not my preferred style of Art Nouveau, but I thoroughly enjoyed my tour.

The Gaudi sites in Barcelona have become major stops on the tourist trail, and these days are priced accordingly. Visiting Casa Amattler, which boasts a fully furnished apartment, costs 15 euro, or 13.50 for students and seniors, including a guided tour, a guided tour of Casa Lleo Morera is 12 euro. Visiting Gaudi’s Casa Battlo, with no guide and no furniture, is a full 22.50 euro, or 19.50 for students and seniors. Add another five euro if you want a Fast Pass that gets you in at any time.

Even though I had already seen Casa Battlo back in 2004, when it was both cheaper and less popular, I opted to revisit, and to pay for the Fast Pass. Since I was sleeping only a couple of blocks away, I arrived right at opening time, went straight in, and had the apartment and the roof almost to myself for ten or fifteen minutes. When I walked back down from the roof the apartment was already full of people.

The sinuous curves that Gaudi could coax out of apparently rigid materials were remarkable. Every inch had clearly been carefully considered, from door handles designed to fit the hand, to the shading – dark blue to light blue – of the colored tiles on the interior light shaft. Everywhere I looked there was something to admire, although I wish I could have seen the apartment when it was furnished.

I am a huge fan of Art Nouveau. I am a big fan of Gaudi. But Gaudi’s Casa Mila/La Pedrera left me cold. Really, it is all about the roof of the building, and while it’s interesting, it’s not <i>that</i> interesting. And the visitor is fobbed off with a secondary apartment furnished more in the style of the late nineteenth century than that of the early twentieth. All three of the houses in the Block of Discord showcase the owner’s apartment, on the piano nobile, but not the Casa Mila. And yet the price is still stunningly high at 20.50 euro for general admission (no senior discount) and 27 euro for “premium” admission, which allows you unscheduled entry through the front door instead of timed entry through a side door.

I paid for premium admission, and showed up just before the place opened. This did get me in the front door, with a good look at the main courtyard/air shaft, and I was on the first elevator to the roof. Certainly, if you want photos of the roof that don’t include your fellow tourists, you need to beat them to the roof, but the advantage didn’t last long. I did get to tour the apartment mostly alone, but after the gorgeous apartments I had already seen it was a disappointment.

I would recommend saving your pocket book and your feet and visiting the three Block of Discord buildings rather than doing a Casa Battlo and Casa Mila combination. Just admire the outside.
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Old Feb 28th, 2016, 08:36 AM
  #94  
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I'm taking solace in these words, thursdaysd -- I opted for an evening tour of the Casa Mila, which does NOT include the apartment -- just the attic and roof. I thoroughly enjoyed the "light show" on the roof, but even so, I've been wondering, ever since, if I missed out on something! Glad to know I made the right choice for me.
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Old Feb 28th, 2016, 02:51 PM
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I didn't consider the evening tour, since it was getting chilly after dark, but I'll put it on the list for if I go back. Still haven't made it to Dali's house!
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Old Feb 28th, 2016, 02:58 PM
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I didn't make it to Dali's house, either -- too many other things to see and do!
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Old Feb 28th, 2016, 04:45 PM
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"Lluis Domenech i Montaner’s contribution to the visual feast is Casa Lleo Morera. "

Would have loved to do that one. Great report...

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Old Feb 28th, 2016, 05:01 PM
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@maitaitom - thanks! Your report was very helpful, although I mostly ate in and didn't use the restaurant recs.

The Palace of Music, the Hospital and Sagrada Familia still to come. Plus an Art Nouveau museum and general wandering around. (Did eat in the restaurant at the Hospital, and the suckling pig was totally to die for...)
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Old May 8th, 2016, 12:22 PM
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Realized that although I finally finished posting about Barcelona on my blog, I hadn't done so here. As before, this is the text, plenty of pictures at https://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com/.

I am currently busy planning the next trip, but am going to try to write about the two and a half weeks I spent in England in the middle of this trip and skipped when I got behind on the blog.

<b>Even More Barcelona</b>

<b>A Palace of Music</b>: As a corrective to the idea that Modernisme was all and only about Gaudi, it would be hard to beat the Palace of Catalan Music, or Palau de la Musica Catalana, designed by Lluis Domenech i Montaner (who was responsible for the Casa Lleo Morera I wrote about earlier). I might have skipped this building, not being musical, had I not read the description – and seen the photographs – on maitaitom's blog about Barcelona. That would have been a mistake, and the guided tour was well worth the eighteen euro I paid – in advance, as the palace is deservedly popular.

It is also a working concert hall, and if I were not tone deaf I would definitely have tried to attend a concert, as the space is magical. (But I see on the website that some events include dance – flamenco in those surroundings must be breathtaking. Next time…) The palace was financed by popular subscriptions as a home for the Orfeo Catala, a choral society, and finished in 1908.

<b>A Hospital for the Ages</b>: One might think that the Palace of Catalan Music, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was the pinnacle of Domenech i Montaner’s career. Instead, I would suggest that a second World Heritage site, the former Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau is even more impressive. For one thing, it is considerably larger, consisting of a main administrative building and two rows of satellite buildings linked by underground passages and formerly used as wards. The buildings remained in use by the hospital until 2009, are currently undergoing restoration, and are open for visits.

The administrative building, with a sweeping main staircase, is particularly impressive, but wandering the grounds, everywhere I looked I noticed fascinating details. Only a couple of the former wards are accessible, and look rather forlorn, but if you are going to be sick I can certainly think of worse places to do it.

The Hospital also has a restaurant, just inside the main gates. I had spent the morning visiting Sagrada Familia, but thought the area too touristy to provide a good value restaurant and had taken the bus over to the hospital, only to find myself in a residential area with little commerce. I had to sit outside, as the main room was reserved for a group (it looked like a professional conference, not a tour group), but the weather was comfortable and the food remarkable. I ate a portion of suckling pig with melt-in-your mouth flesh and deliciously crisp skin, so good that I sent my compliments to the chef. Then I spent a couple of hours admiring the buildings, sending posthumous compliments to the architect.

<b>A Temple of Light</b>: In all, Gaudi spent 43 years working on Sagrada Familia, for the last twelve years of his life he worked on nothing else. After his fatal accident in 1926, work continued, although the Spanish Civil War caused some disruption, and some parts look less “Gaudi” than others. Although work remains to be done, principally the west front and the central towers, the building was consecrated in 2010, and the interior appears complete.
As with other Modernisme buildings, everywhere you look there is something of interest, but what particularly struck me on this visit was the quality of the light inside. The stone itself is pale, and perfectly reflects the colored light from the stained glass windows.

Of course, Sagrada Familia is on all the Barcelona “must see” lists, and I encountered crowds inside as well as out. I had bought a timed entry ticket, and there was no limit on how long I could stay. However, a little checking online turns up the information that not only can there be a very long wait to buy tickets if you turn up without one, there is a limit on the number of people admitted at any given time.

<b>Winding Down</b>: I spent my last afternoon in Barcelona visiting the Museum of Catalan Art Nouveau, where I discovered still more exponents of Modernisme. I was especially taken by furniture by Joan Busquets i Jane, but there were also paintings, stained glass and even a cloisonné table, by a number of different artists.

The next morning, Halloween, I got up at an unpleasantly early hour and trekked through the Eixample to Placa de Catalunya to catch the airport bus. I flew economy class on American (or possibly rebranded US Airways) via Philadelphia and the flight was chiefly notable for the fact that all blinds remained down for the duration of the daytime flight so people could spend their time watching their screens. And for an actually edible meal – I thought the flight attendant might cry when I complimented her on the improvement in the food!
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