If you only visit one place, make it Parc Guell
If you go to Barcelona this is the one sight you must not miss. It really is worth the walk. It’s free to go in, unless you want to go inside Gaudi’s house and I get the feeling you could go back again and again and see something new each time.
A steep climb, helpful strangers and Parc Guell – Barcelona
Our final excursion was the one I had been looking forward to the most, Gaudi’s famous Parc Guell. Neither of us were sure exactly where it was or what to expect but we set off on the metro feeling pretty confident that it would be easy to find. A look at the map showed us that Alphonse X was probably the best station to head for although none seemed that close.
It was very hot and muggy when we came out of the station and we really didn’t have a clue where we were or where to go next. There was a little park close by so we decided to sit down and study the map. No sooner had we sat down than a wizened old man with a white beard and a cane appeared as if from nowhere and sat beside me, at this point we hadn’t even got the map out. ‘Are you looking for Parc Guell?’ he asked in perfect English. We were both astonished, not to say a little alarmed that he knew what we were looking for and that we were English just by looking at us. I took out the map and the gentleman pointed out the best route, he told us there was a bus that would take us there as it was quite a walk, he even told us where to get the bus, what number and how much it would cost us.
We decided to risk the walk, after all we are seasoned walkers, besides we wanted to find somewhere to stop for a drink on the way because we were hot and thirsty. As we waited to cross the road I looked back at the park. The bench where we had been sitting was empty and there was no sign of the old man. Perhaps it’s true that only the English are mad enough to venture out in the middle of the day and I suppose that there is really only one thing that lost tourists would be looking for in that particular area, even so it was a little eerie, especially as he disappeared so quickly. Thinking about it, I swear he looked a lot like Antoni Gaudi.
We walked up the hill on Ronda del Guinardó and were relieved to see a tiny café called Euro Polis half way up. Thankfully it was open so Commando ordered a beer and I had a big glass of fresh orange juice, which was heavenly, and we sat outside drinking and musing about the old man who had helped us. I joked that he was probably a ghost sent to help lost tourists, Commando said he could have been a mirage and we had imagined him because we were so hot and thirsty. Whatever he was we were glad he found us and pleased to be sitting in the sun with a cold drink.
If it wasn’t for our pit stop I don’t think we’d have made it to the top of the hill. The higher we went the steeper it seemed to get. Near the top we turned onto Traverssera de Dalt as the old man had told us. It sloped gently upwards for a while and then we were going slowly downhill, which was a bit of a relief. The old man had said we’d see the signs along Traverssera de Dalt so we walked along looking more for signs than the shops we were passing, although I think there was a church there somewhere. The road seemed to go on forever, then, just as we began to think we’d been led astray, we saw the sign at Carrer de Larrad. Looking up the steep hill I sighed and wished we’d taken the bus after all. It was boiling hot and it looked like a long hard climb ahead. It was. The pavements were uneven cobbled affairs and there were crowds of people going up and down. Still we had come this far…
Eventually, just as I thought I couldn’t take another step we were at the top and looking at the entrance to Park Guell, a big gateway with mosaics and crowds of people. Then I saw the steps! Everything was up hill!
After a moment catching our breath we set off up the winding dirt path, ignoring the flights of steps leading to the huge stone pillars that support the serpent benches. Before long we forgot we were even climbing, everything was so breathtaking (and I don’t mean just the climb). There were giant structures of stones that looked like dirt, columns like wizened treetrunks and arches woven in amongst the trees that looked as if they had grown there rather than been built. Our path opened out onto the famous serpent mosaic benches and we stopped for a while to rest and admire the magnificent views over the city.
Apparently Gaudi used the impression left by a workman sitting naked in clay to design the shape of the benches. I’m not sure if this is a myth or the truth but they are very comfortable to sit on, especially after such a climb to reach them, and the mosaics are beautiful. The views across Barcelona are spellbinding, we spent a long time picking out the landmarks we had worked so hard to see the day before and Sagrada Familia is unmistakable almost as if Gaudi planned the whole thing just to show off his creation. The benches surround a large open space filled with musicians, people selling souvenirs and crowds milling amongst them. People stop to scratch pictures and messages in the sandy floor and others stop and spread out picnics. It is a wonderful place to linger and watch people of all nationalities passing by.
It looked for a while as if it might rain again and bearing in mind the rain of the day before, we set off to climb a little further amongst the trees. Luckily the weather held and when we reached the gates at the top we stopped for an ice cream to make up for the one I didn’t have the day before. Sadly it was only a boring Cornetto, not one of the fabulous concoctions from Fraggi in Passeig de Gracia.
Then we began our winding decent. Every time we turned a corner we found another view of the city spread out before us. We wound our way down under the columns and were delighted to find an area beneath the benches with beautiful mosaic ceilings. Almost back at the entrance we saw the little village of fantastic houses designed by Gaudi, mosaics and spires, strange shapes and all the while in the background the spires of Sagrada. Something about the houses made me think of gingerbread, but perhaps I was just hungry.
We passed the house where Gaudi and his family spent their final days. It is possible to buy a ticket and go inside to see how he lived and the furniture he designed but time was getting on and this would have to be one more reason to come back again. Finally we were back where we began and the final surprise was the giant mosaic lizard fountain, hidden from view at the start by the crowds and the greenery at the entrance.
Outside in the real world again it felt like we’d been in a dream. We ere dazed by all we’d seen. We wandered past little souvenir shops, stopping to glance at all the Gaudi themed tat. Amongst them there were a few gems and I bought my own mosaic salamander to remind me of my trip. At least it was downhill all the way back.