Barcelona, Granada, Sevilla, Madrid, Zaragoza y Pamplona

Lessons from a Trip to Spain — Part 2

Barcelona — 8 December 2012

The sun said “Welcome!”

From the beginning, the journey to Spain gave a tasty flavor to my life. The bus trip from Birmingham to Luton Airport was warm enough and I could sleep a couple more hours; the flight was smooth and we landed on Spanish ground by 9 am. Right away I noticed the change in culture, the sense of space, the rhythm that people had to move, how light the day looked, and as soon as I got to the platform I felt the warmth of the day; I took my phone and the first statement I wrote was: “I’ll stay positive, for this can be a beautiful experience.” That was the magical effect of the sun on my face.

On the trip to Sans Station, I tried to relax and enjoy the experience; I remember now that moment when I became aware of all the unnecessary tension built up on my muscles, the rigidity of my body and how tight I looked in that environment. By the time I got down from the train, I felt my Latin side coming out a little bit. I wanted to find a place to buy a subway ticket and go to the hostel where I was going to stay for one night. For a moment I thought about the train to Granada and get my ticket for the following night but then I thought: “It will not be so full, I can get it tomorrow, I just need to come a little earlier”. My Latin side had invaded my journey.

My plans were to stay in a hostel close to Park Güell and walk around as much as possible. And my first wish was quickly granted when I got lost trying to find the hostel. I had a map that could not read and kept going around the block where the hostel was and kept ignoring the hunch that was telling me “you’re closer than you think”. I had the impression that I was as lost in my life as I was lost in those narrow streets, that the outer world was just a reflection of my inner world… I had completed that sentence in my head, when I looked up and saw the street I was looking for, and three minutes later I was doing the check-in. I left my bag in the room and brought only a few things with me: camera, notebook and pens.

What a strange park!

I went to Park Güell almost running, fueled by the urgency of looking at everything in a few hours. Before finding the hostel I had bought a few mandarins and I was eating them: they were a sweet and juicy snack that would keep me going on for the next hours. I entered the park by the side entrance, and my first impression was a complete confusion.

I found the rocks too yellowish, light brown maybe, it looked dry and forgotten to me, the plants were mostly cacti, ashy green plants, similar to aloes, stiff and with flowers that grew tall on thin stems. I wanted to take pictures, but everything looked so ugly. “What a park!” I thought, “Why is this so famous?” But I just kept walking as everyone else was. After getting used to the light brown and ashy green colors I decided the following: “This must have a beauty that I can’t see just yet. I will find it, I will see it!”

I started looking at the big picture instead of the details; I noticed the soft waves of the paths, the arrangement of the stones that Gaudí used to build the structures, the tunnels and the aqueduct. I moved along with people who were as curious as me, few of them taking pictures, most of us gasping in amazement at the never ending crazy design. I started feeling playful, as if my own craziness had been given permission to act and decide. It may have been the effect of the sun as well; after all I was running away from depression. After checking spots here and there, and trying to find the beauty of the place, I saw myself at the Plaza de la Natura, a vast open space with an undulating balustrade that forms seats. This balustrade is decorated with broken pieces of tiles in the manner of mosaics. I found Gaudí’s idea irreverent, resourceful and utterly beautiful.

I walked all around the seats, at slow pace, running my fingertips on the smooth border of mosaics, observing the designs that the pieces of tiles formed. I started feeling creative and bold, I thought I could also make something similar — and smaller — it didn’t need to be perfect symmetry, it could start painting, or using colorful paper, or crayons, or watercolors… My head was spinning with ideas and colors as I went down to see the columns below the Plaza with its balustrade. Plants looked greener and in my eyes people looked happier.

When I found myself among the columns my first impulse was to walk around and look at the ceiling. It seemed an enchanted forest of tall white trees under undulating clouds with a sun made of yellow pieces of tiles. My neck got tired short after and I had to look at the columns again: they were disposed in perfect order; however, each one of them was tilted, a little tilted to the right, and the other to the left, but I don’t remember if there was a particular design on that, I only remember the optical illusion of columns coming down while others were leaning forward. I saw a photographer with all its fancy equipment taking pictures of the place, I asked him to take a picture of me with my camera; he looked at it with tenderness and immortalized my happiness at the Hypostyle Room.

I went down the grand stair and gave a quick look at the dragon at the entrance, it was full of people and the details were more difficult to observe. My soul was still rejoicing in the new understanding of creativity, beauty and perfection, so, as a way to find more space to breathe and to feel own my freedom, I searched for the street that takes to the subway station. Gaudí had given me a master class on architecture, and I wanted to see his masterpiece next. I headed to see the Sagrada Familia.

A breathtaking sight

While I was in the subway, I wished I could come out of the station right in front of the Basilica. I was nervous and excited; I chose the exit that I found first and yes, as I went up the stairs the Sagrada Familia appeared before me in all its glory with unfinished towers. I felt minute and almost insignificant in front of such a grand, majestic building, but then I felt grateful and lucky to be able to look at it with my very own eyes. I looked at it with outmost care, from the street across from each side, it took me a long time to understand what this architectural piece was about, if Park Güell had given me a new perspective on creativity, the Sagrada Familia was a bolder statement, Gaudí’s signature at the heart of Barcelona.

I cannot tell for how long I walked around the Basilica admiring the intricate details, but at some point I got to the Gaudí Square and observed the reflection of the front towers on a pond. I saw another photographer and we started talking, he said he had spent all the afternoon taking pictures and at that moment he was waiting for the sun to come down to take advantage of the light and colors that the sunset would offer.

“It’s like a new picture when you have a different light,” — he explained.
“So, you will have different pictures of the same building.”
“Not really, people say that Sagrada Familia changes every day, because every day there is a new addition to some part of the construction. What you saw yesterday is not the same today. Or at least, not exactly the same.”

I have never forgotten that explanation.

I asked him to take a picture of me with my humble camera, and he did, I thanked him with a big smile and went to find a seat. My body was tired after walking non-stop since I left the hostel, and my soul was floating in a cloud of joy and enthusiasm. This was a new experience that I had never been able to predict or foreseen, I liked to plan my activities, but there was a sense of surprise and wonder that I liked about this journey even more than planning.

I guess I had a happy, peaceful, good-mood-face while I was at that square, sitting on a bench, just enjoying the afternoon, when a tall and thin, grey-haired-man talked to me:

“Are you alone here?” 
“Yes, I am” — I said, in serious tone. 
“Are you visiting Barcelona?” 
“Yes. I came here to see architecture” — I stated. 
“And do you like la Sagrada Familia?” 
“Yes, very much,” — and I explained why and what I liked about it, maybe a little bit too long. 
“Do you want to walk? There are other places that I can show you — he offered. 
“I want to see Hospital San Pau” — I said and I felt scared, one thing was to chat a bit, and something very different was to start walking around with strangers. 
“But Plaza Valencia is more beautiful, and it has interesting architecture” — he added. 
“No, thank you. I want to see Hospital San Pau.”

And he left. I did not like the idea of being taken anywhere, I liked that new sense of freedom and I was not looking for company. Then, I looked at the map again; I found my way to see the hospital and started walking. I do not remember the buildings or any other detail on my way to the hospital, I was just looking straight, making sure that I was going to get there, so when I recognized the main gate with the front towers I jumped inside and hurried even more. I observed it from the distance first, it was a gorgeous building, with magnificent details that could anyone make forget that they were in front of a hospital, where people go for treatments, to be born and also to die. I approached more and payed attention to the details on the side: faces and letters that I could hardly distinguish because it was getting dark. It was too soon to leave, but I had no choice. On my way back I remembered the photographer in front of la Sagrada Familia.

I found a buffet restaurant and had a good dinner, lots of vegetables, fruits, beans, desert and coffee. I had forgotten about eating and only at that moment I realized how tired I was. After my dinner I went back to the hostel, I had a long, warm, rejuvenating shower and before sleeping I wrote down my impressions of the day. I attempted a few drawings in Park Güell style, and went to sleep. I slept very, very well.

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