This morning we started at La Sagrada Familia. Fortunately we had booked tickets in advance because even at 9:30 the entire day was sold out. As mentioned before, Barcelona is groaning under the weight of tourists, much like Venice. Yesterday we saw a sign on La Rambla which said "Your holiday. Our everyday." We spoke to one person who said much of the problem is driven by unlicensed apartment rentals, although this seems more to be a contributing factor rather than the main reason. The 'issues' are more like: a fantastic city, with plenty to do, with easy transport connections, relatively cheap, fantastic food and great weather. Who wouldn't want to visit? The downside of this is It seems any major tourist attraction in Barcelona now requires an advance ticket, particularly if it has anything to do with Gaudi. Our advice: do your research and book ahead to avoid disappointment.
We booked a tour of the tower and had chosen the Passion facade, which faces west. We went up the 65 meters in the lift and got out to a tiny terrace between two of the apostle towers. It was a bit of a "is that it?" moment, although the view was spectacular. We were also able to view some of the Venetian glass mosaic tile tower adornments up close. We were also close enough to touch the representation of Jesus' ghost as it ascends to heaven. After that there was a rather dizzying spiral staircase to get down to ground level.
We went to La Sagrada three years ago, so can see how the construction has moved along. The pediment over the Passion doorway (representing Jesus' ribs) is new and the scaffolding over the northern cloister is gone. Inside it seems more of the glass has been coloured. This is still the most beautiful man-made structure we have seen, with the inside looking like a forest and dappled light flooding the nave. We had an audio guide as part of our tour and so learnt more about the construction, including the imagery used to represent the sacred family and Jesus' sacrifice. However construction continues almost interminably, although the exterior is scheduled for completion in 2026. We spoke to the young woman at our hotel reception about booking a room for 2026. She shrugged her shoulders and said: “They were building it when I was born. They will still be building it when I am dead. Of that I am sure.”
As said previously, La Sagrada Familia is consecrated as a Basilica, not a Cathedral. This is because the building is not the seat of a Bishop (there is already a cathedral in Barcelona). Notwithstanding, Gaudi designed the building to be “cathedral like”.
In the afternoon we caught the bus to Placa Espanya and explored some of the Montjuic region. After a quick visit to a shopping centre inside an old bullfighting arena, we went to the Mies van der Rohe designed Barcelona Pavilion. This was another of those "is that it?" moments. The building is small and not mounted on the top of a hill or surrounded by grass as represented by the 'photo-shopped' photos. It consists of a single room, an internal courtyard with a reflecting pool and wide breezeways surrounding the building. There is a larger reflection pond outside. In the original design there was a small bathroom and kitchen but these have been given over to the shop. Having said that, the design is a minimalistic masterpiece and the attention to detail is amazing. The patterns in the various stones are all carefully aligned. The roof really does seem to float, held up by tiny polished aluminium columns. The building is still modern, over 90 years after it was first built.
It was now mid afternoon and only mad dogs and tourists were out in the sun. The temperature gauge said 28 degrees and 70 percent humidity but it felt much hotter. We walked up and around part of Montjuic before returning to the impressive Palau Nacional, which houses the Catalan Art Gallery. This building was originally built for the 1929 International Exhibition.
There is a big push for Catalan independence throughout Barcelona. People fly the Catalan flag rather than the Spanish flag and there are many "Si" banners hanging from balconies all around town. Catalonia is one of the 17 autonomous regions with Spain, which allows them to have their own President, Parliament and judiciary. Catalonia (like Basque and to a lesser extent Galicia) is trying to take autonomy that one step further. A referendum is scheduled for 1 October, which unfortunately will be only symbolic because the Spanish courts have deemed it unconstitutional.
In the evening we had dinner at one of the many street cafes lining the local streets - sardines and fried bocadones (anchovies) for the Navigatrix and paella for the Navigator. Then we caught a cab up to Park Guell, another of the Gaudi highlights originally designed as the landscape for a housing development which never built. When we arrived everything was sold out but we had the magic three words: "We pre-booked online." Tickets are essential as the main part of the park is limited to 400 visitors at a time – we were checked in and also checked out. Echoes of La Sagrada Familia abound through the space, reflecting how Gaudi used nature to influence his designs. The landscape architecture of the park is even more naturalistic, with retaining walls looking like waves, or the columns looking like palm trees. We lined up to take our obligatory photo of Barcelona and the Mediterranean from the serpentine garden bench. Everyone was very polite, even offering to take photos of strangers so everyone got a ‘private’ moment. The park is beautiful and much of it can be explored without buying a ticket. We did not want to leave but by now it was nearly 10pm and it was getting dark.
We walked to the metro (fortunately all downhill) and returned to the hotel. On the way past the Basilica we were able to see the stained glass windows lit up from inside, which was spectacular.