Barcelona day 2 – Camp Nou and Sagrada Familia

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.

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Tao is an Arsenal fan and we had a sad little photoshoot next to a trophy that FCB won over Arsenal…

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Barcelona day 1 – Casa Batllo

A couple of weeks ago I surprised my boyfriend with a trip to Barcelona for his birthday. He knew we were going somewhere (he had to take time off work after all) but didn’t know where until the day of. He’d only been to Barcelona as a tot, and whilst I’d been years ago and loved the city, my experience then wasn’t great, I wanted to go again with the best possible company.

On our first full day, I took him to Casa Batllo. One of Gaudi’s amazing creations, this former residence is full of mosaic tiles, stained glass, wavy lines (there are no straight lines in the building!) and light.

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One of my favourite buildings in Barcelona, the Noble room is my dream room. The whole building has a very visceral feel to it – this means it just “feels” right (literally its the gut feeling when something is good). Huge wavy windows let in light, stained glass balanced the light, and phenomenal chandeliers add shadows and texture.

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The ceilings are equally beautiful…

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I particularly loved photographing the lights from various angles – first how we’d normally view them, and then later from directly underneath, to see the shapes and patterns both of the fixtures and fittings but also the shadows they cast on the ceiling itself.

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I think my favourite is this next one – the directly-underneath-view was breathtaking, as the ceiling spirals beyond the light.

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Thankfully the owners of the house, Josep Batllo and his wife, who commissioned Gaudi to redesign it in 1904, were very open minded. They let him run free, and one of his most notable design features (and demonstration of how well he understood light and the need for different amounts of light at different levels) was the central atrium/elevator shaft that runs from top to bottom of the house.

Gaudi understood that at lower levels, more light was needed. He had the entire central well tiled in shades of blue. As you start at the bottom, the tiles are the lightest, palest blue – this would make the space brighter and reflect what little light reaches them. As you go further up, the tiles get darker, to signify more light reaching them, and less need for them to brighten the space.

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The rooftop and overall feel is somewhat skeletal – the roof is arched and curved and is thought to be the scaly back of a dragon (or dinosaur!), covered in more mosaic tiles to give texture and depth. It’s said that the rooftop spine, turrets and cross represent St George slaying the dragon – and I discovered that St George is not only the patron saint of England but also Catalonia, where Gaudi himself was from.

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Throughout the whole building, I got a sense of space and light – but not in a traditional way. Every element has been thought of differently, to be just right – not just typical big windows, but how the light fits the space.

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There’s also a little sun-trap terrace – it’s a little difficult to imagine what it would have been like 100 years ago because the sound of traffic and the neighbouring more-modern buildings change the vibe somewhat, but when it goes quiet, it’s a continuation of the truly beautiful building.

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^ Even outside on the terrace, the shapes are wavy and the mosaic tiles are plentiful.

Located on Passeig de Gracia, close to metro stations Diagonal and Passeig de Gracia, it costs around 25euro (that price includes an audioguide), and is absolutely worth visiting.

P.S. Should you wish, you can click through the photos and see them in an extra-giant scale. All dem megapixels at work…