Monday, 10 October, on our Oceania cruise: Barcelona
The largest of our cruise ports since Lisbon. We did a 4-hour “highlights” bus excursion, part of which was a walking tour, yet saw only a handful of landmarks, beginning with the famous Gaudi basilica, known as Sagrada Familia. (It’s not a cathedral, because Barcelona already had a cathedral when Gaudi started, and there’s only one cathedral per city.) Sagrada Familia is still under construction, after nearly a century, but apparently the pace has accelerated and work on the main structure is expected to be complete by 2026, including a central tower that will be twice the height of any of the existing towers! The structure shows Gaudi’s well-known, primitive grotesque style (which some Americans find resemble Flintstones architecture), and the news for anyone already familiar with it is that a portion on the front, the “Passion façade”, has just been completed in the past couple years — four huge angled pillars, which represent, according to a tour guide we overheard, the tendons of Jesus as he was torn apart by his crucifixion. (How charming.) The entire basilica is a vast instantiation of every religious tradition and belief about Jesus — the birth, the death, the glory — in excruciating detail. To view it is to swing between admiration for its ambition, and disgust for its obsession, to a nonbeliever like me.
Barcelona, we were told, is the fourth largest cruise ship port in the world, the top three being in Florida. It’s also a huge cargo port. And the city and its adjacent environs form a huge view from the hilltop where our bus tour ended, Montjuic. The bus tour took us to the Sagrada Familia, but only for 20 minutes, not long enough to go inside. As it turned out, there are so many tourists anxious to see the inside, that you need to reserve tickets in advance, via the internet, days in advance. (The cruise ship folks might have advised us of that…)
The bus tour took us down the major shopping street, Pg. de Gracia, which was much like the Avenida in Lisbon, but even more grand, wide and lined with shops. We passed by two other well-known Gaudi buildings, one apartments, another commericial. We disembarked from the bus for a walk through the old-town district, one of narrow streets and ancient buildings, as in all these cities, and which took us into the city’s cathedral. Our tour guide was a character; a man who’d grown up in Oklahoma, of a Spanish mother, but who learned the language only after moving the Barcelona as an adult. He spoke fluent Spanish, but in what even I could tell was a flat manner, without the intonation of vowels distinctive of that language. He had an Oklahoma accent.
Our bus tour ending in time for us to lunch on our cruise ship, we returned to shore mid-afternoon, taking a taxi back to Sagrada Familia, only then to discover the ticket situation. We then walked all the way back through the city, down that shopping avenue and through the old town, to the shuttle bus pickup. (We’re getting 15,000 – 20,000 steps each day on this vacation.)
Also notable: a statue of Christopher Columbus, in a large square along the waterfront, famously pointing in the wrong direction.