Seeing the huge queue at the Madrid-Atocha station did not surprise me at all. After all, I was expecting to get a ticket for the Altaria to Barcelona in the middle of traveller’s rush hour in Madrid. Midday. The only thing that I disliked was that the clerks in the ticket stalls seemed to handle all the traffic with the speed of a turtle. But then again, the queue was enormous and growing by the minute. Suddenly, the guy behind me felt the need to go visit the W.C., and asked me politely to look after his stuff. Later, and having a long time to spend before our turn to go for the tickets came, we started some small talk. The guy was actually travelling to Barcelona to meet up with a Mexican friend of his. He was a larger-than-life Arizona guy, who by the age of thirty had travelled through much of the world, and was spending his summer holidays in Spain, in anticipation of his new job somewhere in Silicon Valley, and, by some twisted surprise, a newborn kid. After a while we decided to travel together, and since I had not booked a room everywhere, why not share a room in the hostel where the girls where residing, provided that there existed one.
After buying out tickets we had some time to kill before boarding the train, a thing that meant coffee and tofu being served at the station’s deli. And then we proceeded to board the train. The procedures of boarding the Altaria are very similar to the ones of boarding an airplane. That means a metal detector, and handing out your ticket to some sort of hostess just before you get in and reach your seat. I did not have the SLIGHTEST IDEA if this happened after the Madrid-Atocha bombings, or if it had been standard procedure already before that incident. But even the latter could be logical, since the Altaria can run at up to 350 kilometres per hour. Any threat against it may, anyway, turn into something really nasty. As we sped through the vast fields of Aragon we were chatting happily. Then we passed by the mountains near Lleida, and slightly after dark we had arrived in Barcelona. Instantly, a feeling of arriving at another planet got to us. From the graffiti spread around the rails that lead to the Barcelona Sants station, someone can understand that there is, to a great extent, some craziness around the city. Some creative madness. I could add. We shacked up in the hostel quickly, and then the American disappeared into the Mexican’s room. I took advantage of the situation and went for a wee bite and a stroll around the Rambla. Then, I just returned, and sat with my book and some beer on the balcony, which was overlooking the Rambla. And while I was watching the crowd go by, I exchanged some small talk with other Mexican girl that was occupying the balcony next to ours, an anthropology student from Toluca. Sadly enough she was leaving the following morning, so we parted company with wishes for a pleasant trip.
I woke up the next morning at around eleven in the morning, for breakfast, and a chance to meet Mari Sol and her sister, (my companion’s friends), two unbelievably beautiful girls, that seemed to be a little bit spoiled, but not that bad altogether. Then me and the American (Scott) decided to part ways with the girls and have a look around town. Our first destination was the famous Sagrada Familia. The swansong of Antonio Gaudi, the city’s landmark architect, the church lies, still unfinished (projections estimate the end of the work by 2015). One thing that makes it difficult to complete it is that in the end the final prints where burnt by anarchists during the Spanish civil war. And the only one able to restore them, Gaudi, had died in a tragic accident years before that. A streetcar hit him, while he was on his way to meet some investors to fund the continuation of his work on the new church. Then, the civil war came, and after that Franco’s rule. Works came to a halt, only to recommence in the seventies, after the restoration of democracy in Spain, and Catalonia being granted some autonomy. And now authorities are trying to finish the church, based on older blueprints that came into existence.
But while unfinished, it is still a huge charm to the visitor’s eyes. There Gaudi mixed modernism with huge Gothic structures and innovative techniques, with unbelievable craftsmanship. Gaudi designed anything, from the massive statues in the entrance of the church, to the metal fence around it, a thing that he was probably used to doing while working on his other masterpieces. Probably he was the only one to work so close with everyone else involved in building, from the builders to the craftsmen that made the furniture and the iron craftsmen. The whole building, on the outside, resembles a cave, but in reality there is much more to it than that. Despite the fact that he was a devout Catholic, Gaudi also had a raging imagination, which he let run free while working on his buildings. He was also the first one to think of the concept of recycling, long before ecologic movements adopted the idea. So broken tiles, pieces of iron, and fencing, that normally would be considered as a pile of rubbish, where used as part of the outside decoration, an idea that originated from Gaudi’s first job, the renovation of Casa Battillo. This lead to building mind-blowing works of art. As we progressed in the interior, with me leading the pace, I started hearing clicks behind me. It was Scott, who before visiting the place was talking about the ingenuity of the people who built Ankhor Watt, the greatest building he had ever seen. His hand kept working the camera with almost no intervals, until we left the building. And while in the beginning I thought that he was turning Japanese, or something like that, in the end I came to realize that he was just dumbstruck by the magnificence of what he had seen.
The next stop was the infamous Casa Battillo. Gaudi’s first work of art is an orgy of human imagination. Both the interior and the exterior of the house have no corners whatsoever. In fact the interior is curvy, and, according to the thrill, it was inspired be Jules Verne’s 80,000 miles under the sea”. In fact some rooms resemble the interior of a whale. In fact this was the first bio-climatic house ever built. Air currents circulate around the house through a system of air vents carved through the doors and walls. This system makes the inside temperature at any given room bearable come summer or winter. Also there one can see the birth of one of Gaudi’s major techniques. Recycling. In order to build the façade and the exterior decoration of the building, Gaudi used rubble coming from the original building. A true visionary.
The visit ended with the two of us being exhausted and trying to get some sleep at the hostel. In the evening Scott disappeared with the girls again. I spent the next morning wandering around the Barri Gottic, getting a glimpse of the Gothic side of the city. One of the coolest aspects of downtown Barcelona is that modernist, modern, medieval and 18th century architecture mix and match. All styles mix giving the downtown area an exceptional flavour that is difficult to find in European cities. Adding to that are the millions of street performers giving their shows around the Rambla and the streets of Barceloneta, ranging from musicians doing street concerts, to amazing mimes and capoeira dancers. Barcelona is a city that has immersed itself in art.
For this reason, after a long night’s sleep and a morning dedicated to preparing for the next day’s trip down south, me and Scott decided to venture into the city’s art. And that meant going into one of the most modern buildings in the city. The Museum of Modern art.
The museum then hosted a huge variety of collections. From sculptures to animations and various forms of video art, including a surreal video which showed the statue of one of Napoleon’s soldiers taking a stroll around downtown Paris in the seventies. But the most important item was in the next rooms, where what was hosted was a collection of covers of albums that where painted by famous painters and where part of the pop/art movement or inspired by it. These included the famous banana from “the Velvet Underground and Nico”, Sonic Youth’s “Goo” and others that I can’t remember. The night ended in a tapas bar, just North of Plaza Catalunya. Among philosophy and other things, the prototype idea of some sort of fanzine or something like an e-magazine that had to do with alternative travelling and travel articles came to birth. I put it here because this conversation is what gave birth to the idea behind this blog. It is a shame, though, because during the trip I lost the slips containing both the emails of Mari Sol and Scott, and now probably they have no idea where this conversation led. Anyway at 2AM we returned at the hostel to catch some sleep. In the morning we caught a fast breakfast, and I left to catch my train. I was travelling South West, see another aspect of Spain. One that had more to do with tourism