Is there anything in Barcelona that hasn't been touched by the hand of Antoni Gaudi? If you take the tourist literature at face value, you might think this is the case. But then again, everything he's had a hand in seems to have been a success. Or has it?
Parc Güell is in a location just slightly north of the heart of Barcelona and was intended as a little place of calm, a place to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life for Barcelonans. With Gaudi on board, it must have seemed like a great idea at the time, but it was a commercial flop when it was first opened. Maybe people had difficulty finding it? We did! In our efforts of avoiding the blazing sunshine, we had crossed over on to a shaded pavement and missed the signs that were there to guide foolish, wayward tourists like our good selves the right way. So, by trying to avoid the sun, we ended up walking much further than needed and then doubling back on ourselves in a large arc, asking directions of non English-speaking locals at regular intervals (a small selection of hand signals - none of them rude, I will add - did the job). By the time we got to the park's entrance, we were both feeling pretty knackered and in desperate need of a cool drink.
Just like Gaudi's buildings, this is a communal garden complex with a difference. Among the interesting features that you can see at the park are the strange collonades supporting the walkways that run around the edge of the park, the main terrace with its curved, snaking edge that is shaped like a sea serpent, offering bench seating for hundreds (and there are usually enough tourists milling around to prove this).
Perhaps the best-known symbol of Park Güell (and also one of the symbols of Barcelona as a whole) is the lizard fountain. Set in the snaking bench seating are drainage hole that connect up to run down inside the many columns that support the terrace, and the water collected comes out of the mosaic-covered lizard's mouth. Like his houses, even these works of art have very specific functions to perform.
Following Parc Güell, we made our way towards the Plaça Espanya Metro stop and immediately headed for the old Bull ring (as in the place where the bull fighting used to take place). The building is a very impressive sight from the outside, but that's all we were able to tell as it is undergoing major rebuilding work. I don't know that it will ever host bull fighting again, but judging by the impressive-looking pictures up on the hoardings, this will be a fantastic tourist attraction in a few years' time.
A little past the bullring is another strange, arty installation that appears in all the guide books - a statue called Woman and Bird. I don't know about you, but I can see neither the woman nor the bird!
Making our way back past the bullring, we found ourselves once again at the twin spires that mark Plaça Espanya. There was something about them that reminded me of the Campanille in St Marks Square, Venice (only there were two of them!). Further up the hill is the National Palace, a building that adorns many postcards in Barcelona, and usually with an elaborate water fountain display lit up at night. For us, though, there was to be no fountain display. We had arrived on a day when the whole area was being transformed for some kind of car expo, with all the major car makers seemingly trying to outdo each other with their stands.
While Manda took a break, I decided to take a jog up the street towards the National Palace for a closer look. I soon realised two things:
I hadn't intended to go all that far, but the further up I went, the less I wanted to give up and turn around. It was a bit of a vicious circle (except that I was heading in a straight line!), but I had to get a few photos from the top. I was determined, sweat and increased heart attack potential be damned! I had a lucky discovery, though - as I continued up to the top of the hill I eventually reached the location of the Barcelona Olympics swimming pool, outside of which stands an intriguing broadcast mast (it was created for the purposes of Olympics event broadcasts but also goes to prove that functional does not need to be boring or predictable - just like Antoni Gaudi, in fact!).
After running about in the sun to get these extra photos, I was pretty much done for the day and so was Manda. We finished the day with a couple of vastly overpriced drinks in Las Ramblas followed by a much more reasonably priced meal at Port Vell as we watched the sun set behind the statue of Columbus.