Barcelona Day Two
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Saturday September 26



This was a good day. In fact, it was a wonderful day!

The Group decided to get a ticket for one of the ubiquitous Hop On/Hop Off Tour Buses and see the sights of the city together. I have to tell you I was very impressed with the quality of this bus experience.

Marla and I took a similar bus trip in Boston on our New England Cruise in 2006, but it was paltry compared to this. One excellent feature was the use of head phones. As you cruise around the city, the head phones constantly play attractive soft jazz music. Whenever you get to a point of interest, the driver hits a button. The music is paused and a pre-recorded message concerning the upcoming point of interest kicks in. Once you pass the statue or tower or landmark, the hypnotic music kicks back in. You can't help but relax and just chill out. What a lovely way to spend a beautiful afternoon!

It took me a while to figure it out, but the name of the game is to get to the top level of the bus. You can't see much when you sit below. However, when you get on the bus, the rule is you have to sit on the ground level until a spot opens up on top. Fortunately, at every stop a few people get off to visit the various special locations. This gives you the opportunity to move upstairs.

Once you are on top, then the fun really begins. Of course, the main attraction is the chance to see all the beauty of Barcelona as you pass by. For example, you can a daytime look at the Magic Fountain and the Spanish Plaza. However, there are other pleasures as well. The beautiful music is very relaxing. In addition, the cool breeze, the blue skies and the sun make it seem like you are laying out at the beach, but best of all, no sand!

When you get to a spot you want to inspect more closely, you just hop off and wander around to your heart's content. When you are ready to get back on, the longest wait of the day for the next bus was no more than 15 minutes. Usually the wait was closer to 5 minutes. This system worked to perfection.

I rode that bus all day long on Friday. I had so much fun that I went and did it again on Sunday as well. Many times I wondered why I had never seen anything like this double-decker bus in Houston. Just out of idle curiosity, I looked on the Internet for Houston Bus Tours. It turns out there are bus tours around Houston, but you stick with one bus for the day. In other words, it is more like a guided tour. Oh well.

Barcelona definitely has lots of interesting things to look at. There are towers and open air sculptures and gardens and parks everywhere. We were treated to breath-taking views of one the prettiest cities in the world. Barcelona is built in a valley with large hills surrounding it. One of the most important hills is Mont Juic, named for the Jewish cemetery nearby.

Mont Juic was home to the Olympic Stadium from the 1992 Olympics.  Barcelona 1992 was definitely one of my famous Olympics ever. It was sheer magic! My eyes were glued to the TV for the entire two weeks. One special feature of the Barcelona Olympics was the debut of the "Dream Team" with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, David Robinson, Clyde Drexler and so many other great players. It will go down as the greatest team in Olympic history, much less the history of the planet.

Oddly enough, the one moment everyone remembers is not the blowout victories, but rather Charles Barkley's idiotic decision to elbow a helpless, skinny player from Angola in the throat. Replay after replay failed to reveal any apparent reason for Barkley's violation.

As I remember, even before the Dream Team's game against Angola in the 1992 Olympics, Barkley was already in a bad mood. Barkley was asked what he thought about the team from Angola. He famously replied, "All I know about Angola is Angola's in trouble."

(Rick's Note: for a truly wicked 'guilty pleasure', I found a wonderful video. It has 7 minutes of Magic Johnson feeding Barkley, Bird, and Jordan for one dunk against Angola after another. Not only does it show a 31 consecutive point run on Angola, you get to relive Barkley's silly Olympic elbow incident.)
The beauty of traveling with the group paid off for my friend Ricardo. Early in the morning, Ricardo had been the last person in our group to get on the bus... someone has to be at the end, right? For some reason, the bus driver closed the door just before Ricardo could step on. I was paying attention and raised my voice for the driver to stop the bus. Some young girl tried to argue with me that Ricardo could simply catch the next bus, but I was in no mood. I was worried that Ricardo would be separated from the group for the entire day, so I insisted they stop. Finally they did and Ricardo was allowed to join us.

That was my good deed for the day.  We all watch out for each other.

The name of the game is get to the top level

A daytime view of the Magic Fountain


Our first stop was the impressive Sagrada Family Temple. This amazing structure was first designed by a hero born and raised in Barcelona, architect Antonio Gaudi (rhymes with "howdy").

Before our trip began, Marla had "Gaudi" on the brain. Every now and then, I would ask Marla what she wanted to do in Barcelona. She would get this mystical look in her eyes and say, "Go see Gaudi!"

Gaudi who? The only "Gaudi" I ever heard of was Curt Gowdy, a football announcer back when I was growing up. Did Curt Gowdy do architecture on the side? I doubted it. Seriously, until Marla started foaming at the mouth, I had never heard of Antoni Gaudi in my life. I didn't bother to read up on him; I figured I would learn who he was when we got to Barcelona.

So now we are on the bus going to see something called 'Sagrada'. I realize it shows my ignorance, but I had no idea what 'Sagrada' was either. Does he play goalie for the Dynamo soccer team?

The bus turns the corner. Suddenly the weirdest, biggest, strangest looking building I have ever seen in my entire life comes into view. This thing - whatever the heck it is - is so tall that it appears to stretch to the moon.

What on earth am I looking at?  Is it a space ship?  Or maybe it is a castle?  Where's the moat?

I stare and I stare some more. Finally I give up. I say, "Marla, what in the world is that building?"

Marla gives me that "Look" (think 'Jane, you ignorant slut'), then explains as patiently as possible that this is the Gaudi Church she has been anxious to see for the past year.

Church? This castle thing is a church? You mean this Gaudi guy did this weird building?  Whoa.

I stared at the massive bizarre building long and hard. This moment was my first inkling that Gaudi was something out of this world. I was having a hard time believing this was a church. This is hands down the WEIRDEST CHURCH I have ever seen!!!!

Maybe if I paid attention once in a while I would have learned something in advance. Now Marla grew quiet. Uh oh. Quiet. Quiet is not Marla's natural state. That's always a real bad sign. Now what?

Marla said, "I spent a lot of time writing an article on Sagrada for my Barcelona Trip promotion. You personally pasted the story and my pictures onto the web site.  How do you publish my material and not manage to read it?"

Hmm. Marla might have a point there. She spends days-weeks-months scouring the Internet for information to share about every important place to visit on each cruise. Then one day it is time to post her material on the SSQQ Travel web site. That's my job.

This is a lot of work. It usually takes me four or five hours to build the page. I am always in such a hurry to get the job done that I just cut and paste her copy, then immediately start looking for the best picture to stick in next to it. Once it is posted, I never actually read it. I mean, look at it this way. I don't need to be sold on the trip. I'm already going!

I looked at Marla and wondered if this argument would rescue me. She was still frowning at me. Nah. No use. Marla put a lot of work into that write-up. She's right; I should have read her stuff. I always want her to read my stuff; that door should swing both ways. And it's our anniversary today no less. I am an unworthy husband. A strong pang of guilt surges through my limited male brain.

All right, so I screwed up. Maybe I should pay a little attention and figure out who this Gaudi guy is before my wife leaves me for Frank Billingsley.   So I opened up my little guide book.

"Antoni Gaudi was a unique, universal artist who ahead of his time. He was able to invent a whole new world of fascinating shapes and colors through his architecture. His most famous work was the Sagrada Familia Church."

I guess that proves it. The travel book says it's a church. There before me stood the Sagrada Familia Church. With its four bizarre towers and its many complex facades, this building was beyond a doubt the weirdest, coolest, most incredible church I have ever seen in my life.

The more I stared at it, the more overwhelmed I felt. The sheer immensity of this imposing building was starting to make an impression on my mind. Suddenly I realized that I didn't need to read anything further. Whoever designed this church had to be a genius. This place was amazing!

The group hired a guide to take us through the structure. I began to learn all sorts of interesting tidbits.

I discovered the "Sagrada Familia" is Spanish for the "Sacred Family" - Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Hmm, I've heard of them. Okay, there's one mystery solved.

I learned that Gaudi dedicated his life to building this church. Gaudí intended this church to be the "last great sanctuary of Christendom".

My jaw dropped when I learned this giant temple has been under construction since 1882. I did some quick math. They have been building this place for 127 years.

Then I learned they don't expect it to be completed for another 20 to 80 years.

Eighty years? When was the last time you heard of a building that took 200 years to build?

At the rate they are moving, the Second Coming is a good bet to precede completion. Or for that matter Gaudi, who died in 1926, might just be reincarnated in time to add the finishing touch on his masterpiece. For that matter, maybe he's back already.

Today, the Sagrada Família Temple attracts flocks of visitors. The ever-present scaffolding and the huge cranes are permanent reminders that this is indeed a work in progress. Fortunately, what has already been built is so fascinating and so impressive that no one seems to mind the unfinished state of the church.

I stare in amazement at the four magnificent spires. Each spire has an odd resemblance to a stalagmite you might see hanging in an underground cave except that now it's going in the other direction. The spires seem to soar to the heavens.

This edifice is a church like no other you will ever see. But it definitely does the job. The Sagrada Temple is awe-inspiring.

(Rick's Note: When Gaudi died, he left behind an unfinished Temple.  As you can see in the picture on the right, the structure on the side does not seem to match the main building.  Controversy surrounds the building. Today new construction materials are being used which some feel Gaudi himself would not have used. When you visit the building you will see the contrast in the stone color between the front and back of the building. Also the actual style of construction appears somewhat different between the new and old parts of the building.  Many feel that the building has strayed from Gaudi's original vision.)

The magnificent Sagrada Family Temple

Albertin, Claudia, Joan, Ricardo (Rick Elizondo),
Jean, Bruce, Rick, Kurt, Joe, Marla


And now we proceed from the sublime to the silly.

The guide we hired said it would be 14 more minutes till she began her tour.  I decided a good use of my time would be to use the restroom. Joan and I walked into the Sagrada building to scout for the restroom.  No such luck. The woman at the door did not speak English, so she simply pointed to another door. Where's Mara when I need her?

Joan and I walked out the door. We saw a very interesting building below, so we walked to it. I walked through the building and discovered all sorts of interesting facts about Gaudi for my effort. I later learned this building had been his office and sleeping quarters as well.

Meanwhile Joan and I haven't had much luck finding the restroom. As we leave Gaudi's office, that's when I notice a long line of women standing nearby. They all have dark, unhappy looks on their faces. Hmm. Where have I seen that look before?

Aha! I have indeed seen that look before. Those women are unhappy because they have to 'go' and they are getting desperate.

So Joan and I stroll over to the line. Sure enough, they are waiting impatiently to use the restroom. I notice there aren't any men in line. I have long believed that women are superior to men in many ways, but when it comes to this particular event, men clearly have all the advantages.

So with my smug little smile I trot up to what I think is the men's room. And why did I think it was the men's room? Because there was no line!

Except when I got to the door it didn't say "men's room". All it had was a picture of a man. Or did it?
I noticed that picture had been deliberately scratched in a certain 'private' area. That made identifying the 'gender' of the figure more difficult. Just to be sure, I hesitated a moment longer to take a second glance at the picture before opening the door.

At this exact moment, the door opens... a woman walks out! We are literally eye to eye!

I am mortified; I am shocked at my huge mistake.  I believe that I have come within a split second of entering the women's restroom!  I am also deeply confused. My second glance at the mutilated stick figure had indicated it was probably a man all along.

Then I got it. I had been in the right place all along. This lady was in the wrong place and I knew why.

The woman saw the initial look of sheer horror on my face and was embarrassed. She began to apologize profusely. She said she was very sorry that she had upset me, but her need had been so great she had been forced to take emergency measures.

I grinned at her and told her not to worry. I didn't mind her using the men's room at all. The look on my face had not been anger at her but rather total consternation at having a woman walk out of the restroom at the exact instant I had just decided it was safe to enter!

The lady realized what had happened. Together we had a good laugh. Then I screwed up my courage and entered only to find two more women coming out of the men's stalls! This is a completely different world over here. I had no idea that Euro-peein' could be so exciting!


At the time of his death in 1926, Antonio Gaudí was arguably the most famous architect in the world. He had created some of the greatest and most controversial masterpieces of modern architecture that were as exotic as they were outrageous.

A modern day mystic, Gaudi preferred to hide from all publicity.  Consequently little is known about the shadowy figure behind the swirling, vivid buildings that inspired the Surrealists. A fervent Catholic with an unstinting love for Catalonia, his homeland, an innovator who was profoundly orthodox, and a hermit who chose lifelong celibacy, having been rejected by the woman he loved, Gaudí was both brilliant and eccentric.

After we finished at Sagrada, the group hopped back on the bus and rode over to Park Guell.  It just took one look to realize this weird place must have been designed by our friend Gaudi as well.

Gaudi's structures are so different than anything I have ever seen before that even with my limited knowledge I can recognize his work. I mean, if you are in Barcelona and it looks weird, it must be Gaudi (although I have to admit some of Joan Miro's work and the bizarre Agbar Tower are pretty weird too.  It must be the Gaudi influence!)

Have you noticed how many times I have linked the word 'Weird' and 'Gaudi' together?

I am not going to beat around the bush. Gaudi's architecture IS WEIRD!!  You either like it or you don't. I like his stuff a lot, but then everyone knows I am strange, so this revelation is not much of a surprise.

(Rick's Note: I have included several pictures from Park Guell in this write-up, but you might enjoy seeing more pictures. Here is a link to many more sensational Park Guell pictures)

At first glance, Park Guell is a colorful Candy Land full of gingerbread house palaces. I mean, everything Gaudi designed here looks like something from "Alice in Wonderland" or maybe a Disneyland-style Amusement Park.

Park Guell is set on a hill that overlooks practically all of Barcelona. The scenery alone is breathtaking. However, it is the odd and charming Gaudi touches you see everywhere that explains the overwhelming popularity of the park. There are people everywhere as I walk around. The cameras are working overtime and people are studying the odd shapes with intense curiosity. The beautiful and quite comfortable serpentine bench is filled with foreigners and locals alike. The park's famous mosaic lizard-dragon-salamander-whateveritis has become synonymous with the city itself.

Judging by the glee on everyone's faces as they explore this lovely park, you would never guess that this area was once considered Gaudi's greatest failure. This contradiction goes right to the heart of Gaudi's story, a career spent fighting for his own creativity against the forces of conformity.

The strange shapes - hyperboloids and paraboloids - that are the trademarks of Gaudi's work are completely foreign to me. I have never seen anything like Gaudi's work before. I cannot imagine a greater departure from mainstream architecture. Let's face it, Gaudi's work is WEIRD by today's standards. Imagine what people thought of his work a hundred years ago!

(Rick Archer's Note: By the way, to answer your question, no, I don't know what a hyperboloid or a paraboloid is either, but I think both words describe Gaudi's work perfectly.)

Park Guell seems as if it were taken from the pages of a fairytale: strange, eccentric, even dream-like, but undeniably beautiful. A stroll through the park will awaken even the sleepiest imaginations. The peculiar shapes and daring color combinations mixed in with the park’s vegetation create a unique world to which visitors feel irresistibly drawn.  Every corner of the park displays the architect’s passion for nature’s forms: Gaudí wanted human intervention in this forest to blend in with the landscape, to complement it, and he certainly achieved this. Snails, mushrooms, leaves, flowers, tree trunks and elephants appear constantly in the mosaics and in the architectural forms.

The original idea for Park Guell was conceived in 1900, when Eusebi Guell purchased land on the mountain of Carmel which at that time was on the outskirts of Barcelona.  He put Gaudi in charge of developing the site to copy the English “garden city” model (thus the word “park”),  In addition, Gaudi would build a few homes in idyllic surroundings with wealthy people in mind who wanted to get away from the crowded streets and insalubrious life of the city. Three kilometers of paths were built along with a plaza, stairways, the concierges’ pavilion and a model house to tempt potential residents.  However, no one came near the place.  After 14 years, seeing that the development was a commercial failure, it was abandoned and donated to the city council, which then converted it into a public park.

Obviously the hundreds of people around me had no idea this place was a failure.  As I stared at Gaudi's "rejected" work, I had a flash. My mind raced to one of my favorite books from college, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.

They always say that Ayn Rand based her book on Frank Lloyd Wright, but I have to say that the story of Antonio Gaudi seems like a pretty eerie parallel of Rand's protagonist Howard Roark as well.

In The Fountainhead, Howard Roark is a brilliant architect who dares to stand alone and defy the conventional methodologies of his era. In the end, Roark ultimately finds a niche for his work and is vindicated for his unusual style. Considering Gaudi was considered a crazy dreamer in his youth and is now one of the most celebrated architects of all time, I would say the description of Roark fits Gaudi as well.

In life, there are many of us who give up on our being and our own ways of working just because our personal style doesn't conform to what the people around us believe is the correct way to act. Many of us don't have the courage to proceed in the face of all the criticism. So we take the easy way out and learn to follow the accepted way of doing things even though our heart begs us to try a different route.

If you stop and think about it, innovation dies when society insists on total conformity. It takes people like Gaudi to strike off in new directions. Remember, amateurs built the Ark. Professionals built the Titanic. The professionals aren't always right. If you think you have a better idea, never be afraid to try something new.

Sorry to say, when it comes to architecture I am just as bad as the rest. I judge everything based on what I am used to seeing. I always thought modern architecture is all about glass, steel, straight lines and sharp angles. Obviously Gaudi rejects that. He is all about curves and waves and bizarre mosaic decorations.

Gaudi's work is totally off the beaten path. I am thrilled to see the world can be charmed into accepting such an unconventional style and recognize the genius behind it. Maybe there's hope for the human race after all.

Like the fictional Howard Roark, Gaudi was a non-conformist who braved a lifetime of criticism to create stunning architecture. Today Antoni Gaudí's incredible buildings bring millions of tourists to Barcelona each year. And yet a century ago he died a figure of great ridicule!

Gaudí's non-conformity was already visible in his teenage years. He barely made it through Architecture College. Upon graduation, one of his professors noted, "Who knows if we have given this diploma to a nut or to a genius? Only Time will tell."

Gaudi faced rejection his entire life. Park Guell is a perfect example.

As I studied the story of the charming Park Guell, I couldn't help but dwell on the reasons why this fascinating project was basically a complete failure when it was built. Gaudí's project in the Park was to build a residential community whose residents would love where they lived. It was very expensive project that was never finished for a simple reason - no one wanted to live there! His architecture was not very popular among the elite of his own time and place. Gaudi's designs were too radical. All the people with 'good taste' avoided it like the plague. Consequently there were few takers. Only three plots out of 60 were ever sold and only two houses built.

Perhaps that is for the best since now we all get to enjoy it. However I am sure the cold shoulder given his project must have hurt terribly at the time.

Gaudí's originality was often ridiculed by his peers. His fellow citizens referred to the Casa Milà (another Gaudi classic) as "The Quarry". George Orwell, who stayed in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, admittedly loathed Gaudi's work. Criticism abounded.

Indeed, at first Gaudi could only count on the support of one man, the rich industrialist Eusebio Güell. Count Güell was a Catalan patriarch who profited greatly from the industrial revolution in Catalonia in the late 19th Century.

Güell became a patron to architect Antonio Gaudí. They met at the start of Gaudi's career and found that they had mutual interests, including religion (both were devout Catholics). Güell saw Gaudí as the man who could provide him with uniquely designed buildings.
Güell commissioned Gaudi to build a utopian town on the outskirts of Barcelona.

And yet even Gaudi's greatest patron had his doubts!

Reportedly on one occasion Gaudí said to Güell, "Sometimes I think you and I are the only people who like this architecture."

Güell replied, "I don't like your architecture, I respect it."

Sad to say, the criticism did finally take its toll. Gaudi died a tragic, lonely figure. In the late part of his life, this strange mystical man withdrew into his lifelong obsession, the Sagrada Family Temple.

Gaudi's focus on this project was so intense that he shunned all other projects. He became reluctant to talk with reporters and have his picture taken. Night and day, his sole concentration was on his masterpiece, La Sagrada Família. Gaudi slept in his apartment at the work site surrounded by plans and drawings. He would rise frequently during the night and pace through the grounds alone. In fact, Gaudi so completely ignored his disheveled appearance that he began to resemble a homeless man.

In 1926, Gaudi was struck by a streetcar right in front of the church. Lying there on the ground, due to his ragged attire and empty pockets, the cab drivers refused to pick him up for fear that he would be unable to pay the fare. Mistaken for an indigent, Gaudi was eventually taken to a charity hospital for the poor.

Nobody recognized the injured artist until his frantic friends found him the next day. When they tried to move him into a nicer hospital, Gaudí refused, reportedly saying "I belong here among the poor."

He died three days later.

Gaudi was buried in the midst of La Sagrada Família. It is said that half of Barcelona came to mourn his death, an indication of the true reverence the people of the town had come to develop for this strange and gifted man.

The story of Gaudi gives us a glimpse of what it takes to be a visionary. All artists who break new ground face ridicule and rejection as Gaudi did. But their vision, passion, and determination keeps them moving forward. This is such a great message to understand. Artists have a calling that pulls them forward. It is not easy to create a new reality, yet to do so in face of criticism can result in a profound contribution to humanity. For those who are blessed (or cursed?) with the creative spark, Gaudi's story is a reminder to keep at it in spite of all the surrounding negativity.

As time passed, Gaudi work became more accepted and more famous. Today he stands as one of history's most original architects. Gaudi has become a celebrated man.  Park Guell is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Works of Antoni Gaudí". The Sagrada Family Temple is considered the most important landmark in all of Barcelona.

In death, Antonio Gaudi has finally begun to receive the respect that eluded him so frequently in life. And yet you have to wonder if this public acclaim would even mean anything to him. My guess is there is only one person that Gaudi wanted to please and that 'person' was not of this earth.

And now you know why this 2009 trip was so important to me. Everywhere I go, I learn something wonderful. Today it was Gaudi. Who knows what I will learn tomorrow?

I am grateful to Marla for bringing me to the doorstep of this incredible learning experience. What a GREAT anniversary present!

The famous lizard/dragon

Casa Mila


Barcelona 2009 Home Barcelona Day One Barcelona Day Two Isle of Capri Day Three Evil Map of Rome Day Four
Florence and Pisa Day Five Nice and Eze Day Six Marseilles Day Seven Who Went Formal Pictures
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