You would have to be a particularly slow calibre of vest-wearing, UniLad-reading, Geordie Shore-idolising douchebaggery-aficionado (see below for wildlife photography, blurry because I was scared of them and had to take it quickly) not to learn during a Barcelona visit that the architect Antoni Gaudí is central to the character of the city.
Gaudí’s breathtaking creativity and imagination as an architect are the blood that runs through the city’s veins. His creations are dotted around the city and include a park (Parc Guell), a palatial family home built inside an otherwise nondescript block of flats (Palau Guell), and one of four buildings that make up one of Barcelona’s most intriguing blocks (The Block of Discord).
His most famous work, the Sagrada Família, has to be seen to be believed. I didn’t know whether to convert to Catholicism or Architecture-ism. (That’s definitely a thing). That sounds rather flippant, but it was impossible not to feel the power of both the brilliance of Gaudi’s architectural imagination and, even as an atheist, of the impassioned faith that inspired him to dedicate his final years solely to the project.
There was something about the fact that it is still under construction that I found rather thought-provoking, and visiting in the evening I quickly snapped a workman emerging from the construction site.
It’s hardly an extraordinary photo, but it tells a story of how a cathedral started in 1882 is still an ongoing project and will be, quite possibly, until this man approaches retirement age. I found something oddly comforting about that simplicity.
It is impossible to do justice to the place with an iPhone camera but the above hopefully gives some impression of the scale of the cathedral. The columns seem to extend forever. Here you can see how they split into three to create a tree effect and you can just about see the spiky stonework at the top, which form the leaves; although religion was obviously the primary force that drove Gaudí in his later years, a fascination with form and of nature were also central to his ideas and the shapes he created.
Gaudí died in 1926 at the age of 73, from injuries sustained when he was hit by a tram during one of his regular walks through the city. In his later years he shunned the expensive clothes he wore in his youth and dressed far more scruffily; as a result he was initially presumed to be a beggar and the medical attention he received was slow and poor. In hospital he was not recognised until the next day and by then it was too late.
Even over ten days in Barcelona I didn’t manage to do the complete Gaudi experience, which would have included the Block of Discord and the Gaudi Museum. Those will certainly be covered if and when I return.
Solitude vs Loneliness
When people ask me about the trip, one of the first things I find myself telling them is that it wasn’t until the eighth day, the Wednesday, when I felt that I wouldn’t have minded some company. Partly due to the pickpocketing experience, it also took a good four or five days from the beginning of the trip to feel completely relaxed. The crest of the contentment-wave came, as I remember, on the Monday, when I was sitting under the shade of orange trees, reading George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, in beautiful courtyard called El Jardi de Rubió I Lluch.
The evenings were often usually the time I experienced a creeping sensation that I wouldn’t be entirely opposed to some company. Initially this problem was solved by actual company from the hostel, though this faded due to a combination of my own fear of not being able to experience everything within my own exact time frame, and the fact that many of them left after a few days. Latterly Homage to Catalonia kept me company (and made me realise that Orwell’s extraordinarily readable prose might well make him my favourite author. Down and Out in Paris and London is now being devoured and there’ll be more on the way) as well as
pitying sympathetic friendly bartenders who listened to my ‘I got pick-pocketed and I only have ten euros to spend on beer tonight’ sob-story and gave me a discount, even though that wasn’t a hint on my part.
The truth is that the solitude – the positive emotion I experienced from being alone – was at first intimidating but then became addictive. There was complete peace in being able to do absolutely everything, down to the last minute, the last second, completely to my own schedule. There were zero distractions and it meant being in almost a permanently meditative state, which sounds like Pseud’s Corner but is quite difficult to put in any other way.
I would do it again, because the solitude, though undeniably punctuated by loneliness, was addictive. I have only travelled alone on one other occasion and that was going alone to Hellsgarth (an isolated cottage in the Lake District which was tricky, mainly because it was difficult to shake the thought of a sheep smashing his face against the window and making a face at me just as I was drifting off to sleep). But being comfortable travelling alone will, like anything else, take practice. I have no intention of becoming a hermit. But when it comes to the unique feeling of travelling alone, I feel like I could just be getting warmed up.
Part 3 soon! As always any comments or contributions are welcome.