Day two in Barcelona was Tao’s birthday day, and I’d planned a couple of surprises for him.
In the morning, we went to Camp Nou, home of Futbol Club Barcelona. There’s a museum tour (I’d done it before and wasn’t particularly enamoured by it, but I knew the birthday boy would want to experience it). The history of the club is actually really interesting – it was founded in 1899 by a group of Swiss, English and Catalan footballers led by Joan Gamper, and the museum tour experience is a mix of photos, stories, artefacts (such as original football strips and boots) and trophies. Oh lord so many trophies.
Tao is an Arsenal fan and we had a sad little photoshoot next to a trophy that FCB won over Arsenal…
Also as part of the tour you get to go outside the museum and into the stadium grounds – with a capacity of 99,000, its the biggest stadium in Europe. It’s somewhat hard to really comprehend just how big it is, even with photos…
One of my favourite things about FCB is their slogan “Més que un club” (More than a club). It came to symbolise the Catalan people and their desire for freedom. The slogan is printed across the stadium.
After a quick pitstop for tapas (patatas bravas with every meal, no regrets) we hopped in a taxi and sped over to Sagrada Familia. One of the most popular attractions in Barcelona, when pre-booking you have to choose a specific timeslot. As part of the tickets I bought, we got entry to the main church, entry up to the towers of one of the facades, and an audio guide.
Sagrada Familia is another Gaudi masterpiece. I don’t even think masterpiece is enough to describe it. Construction began in 1882, and in 2010 it passed the midway completion point. Currently its schedule to be finished in 2026, 100 years after Gaudi died. Previous estimates, based on the technology of the day, guessed that it would take hundreds of years to complete, but thanks to improvements in design technology (and a boost of funding), it should be finished earlier.
It’s difficult to know where to start when describing it. We entered from the Nativity facade. Ultimately there will be three grand facades – the completed Nativity facade (which has the most influence from Gaudi, having been worked on during his lifetime), the Passion facade which was completed in the 70’s, and the Glory facade whihc is yet to be completed.
The Nativity facade depicts the birth of Jesus. Because it was worked on during Gaudi’s lifetime, it’s intricate and elaborate, taking a lot of influence from nature. It’s overwhelming, to say the least.
In comparison, the Passion facade is sparse, austere and full of harsh lines. Portraying the suffering of Jesus during his crucifixion and the suffering of man, it’s a colder, more dramatic aspect. The Glory facade is still under construction and under tarpaulin, sadly!
But it’s the inside of the church that captured my heart.
Gaudi’s vision was a cathedral-sized church that embraced nature and brought light in intelligent and strategic ways. Often when we think of light and and wanting a well lit space, that space is just flooded with light and there’s no balance. Gaudi understood balance, and knew that too much light was not right for his vision either.
As you enter the church, you’re struck by phenomenal stained glass, giant tree-like pillars that spread into branches with leaves at the ceiling, and light.
The stained glass is incredible, following Gaudi’s mosaic style (seen previously in Casa Batllo for example). We sat in the church (which is in a typical cross-shape) for a long time just marvelling at the light, the windows, the colours.
The ceiling is also beautiful beyond words – there are signs of nature everywhere, the columns themselves mirroring trees and branches.
At the centre of the cross is a statue of Jesus, and despite not being religious myself, it was refreshing to see people acknowledge this is a church and not just a tourist attraction.
As part of our trip, we took the (only slightly scary) lift up one of the towers on the Nativity facade. Way up high above the city, on a sunny day, it’s a stunning experience.
That said, in hindsight, walking down the teeny tiny narrow spiral staircase, with occasional light from little windows, its quite a nervy experience. The lift up, in comparison, was a breeze. As you walk down, there are little balconies where you can step out and get a wonderful view of the city – but it’s definitely not for those with a fear of heights!
When we got back down to ground level (which took ages because seriously, that scary spiral staircase is slow-going) we explored the Passion facade and admired the towers.
An absolute must-see in Barcelona – I know everyone says that, but I have to admit, before I visited the first time, I didn’t know much about it and wasn’t that bothered. Shame on me. It’s incredible, go and see it, you won’t regret it.