Sunday, 1 May 2011

A Tale of 12 Cities - then 1

 Amsterdam, Barcelona, Budapest, Dubrovnik, Florence, Heidelberg, Istanbul, Krawow, L'viv, Tallin,Venice, Vienna:
These were the 12 cities I presented to Tom, asking him to choose 1 of the 12 for a birthday treat.
Diverse in choice, you could say.

As the time for our city break grew closer, I realised I had my favourites. After a long, hard winter, and a taste of warmth in the preceding week, I realised I wanted to head south for some sunshine.
I had my own shortlist - Barcelona, Istanbul and Venice (maybe Florence). But of course, the destination had long been arranged.

The day arrived. We drove to Luton airport. I walked around with my eyes on the ground (for fear of give away departure signs), feeling slightly disconcerted and claustrophobic. Occasionally, I heard northern languages. I convinced myself we were heading to a Russian satelite country.
I made it to the gate. Then Tom told me I had to put my bag in my hand luggage. The earphones attached to my MP3 had to come off as they were tangled up in my bag. At that moment they announced the destination - BARCELONA.
Could I have made it to Barcelona without knowing? Who knows. Difficult though, with all the loud Spanish spoken over the speakers on the plane!

On the first day, despite the metro multi tickets we had bought, we walked everywhere, soaking up the Mediterranian warmth. The old town was a maze of narrow streets and solid appartment blocks, mingled with modern sculpture and art. Finally, we made it to the sea.

I couldn't help but think of Prince Charles when I was in Barcelona. The architecture is innovative, courageous and inspirational. What would Charles have made of it?
Tom and I, tried to imagine Charles born in any other century, dismissing Tutor, Georgian, Victorian architecture along the way. Architects must roll their eyes - or laugh out loud when he speaks out against The Gerkin, or any other inspirational landmark on the London horizon.
But in Barcelona, they embrace the new, the imaginative, the creative.
The 'modernisme' period produced art noveau at its best. The Gaudi buildings are unrestrained in their fantasy, but are stunningly beautiful at the same time.

La Pedrera was sarconically nicknamed 'the quarry' by locals. The Casa Batllo is verging on Disney kitch, yet it is strangely aesthetically beautiful in form and use of materials.
The Sagrada Familia is the most controversial of all Gaudi's projects. Started in the late 1800s, the building is only half complete. Some architects are horrified that Gaudi's organic aesthetic has been abandoned in favour of modern building methods. The cartoon-like sculpted figures recently added are seen as a betrayal of Gaudi's vision.
Still the building forges ahead, and the aim is to finish it by 2026 (anniversary of Gaudi's death). Some say, it may be finished this century.
For myself, when I entered the Sagrada Familia, I was moved as I have never been moved before inside a church - the scale of the building, the light, the stain-glassed windows, the unrestrained vision, the celebration of the natural world.

Since Franco died, the Barcelonians haven't stopped building: for the Olympics and for the new millienniuum. The port is awash with exciting new buildings - so much so that Barcelona was awarded a prestigeous architecture award - the first time to a city, rather than to an individual.

I loved Barcelona. The down side to our break? Not having enough time. Feeling shattered from packing in so much.

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