Saturday, November 9, 2013

48 Hour Open House Barcelona 2013 - Day 1

Barcelona's a dream city if you're a fan of architecture and will probably make you a fan if you're not. There are tons of beautiful buildings both in and around the city some of which you can visit and others that are private. Each year for two days Barcelona holds a city-wide open house when about a hundred buildings, some normally not open to the public, are open for visits free of charge. It's a great opportunity to see some of the "hidden treasures".

Two years ago Diana and I had gone to both days (Day 1 story and Day 2 story) but last year we were living in Stuttgart so we couldn't attend so we definitely weren't going to miss this year. We were up bright and early on Saturday morning and headed straight to the Casa Sayrach, which I had really wanted to see:

This private building is right down the street from where we were living and I passed by it regularly on the way to the metro. Designed by Manuel Sayrach i Carreras and built in 1918 as an apartment building, it's one of the last modernist buildings to be constructed in Barcelona. What I really like about it is the undulating roof, the small vertical bars between the facade and the roof line (you'll have to look carefully), how it's designed to take advantage of it's corner location, and oh, of course the tower.

I was hoping that the tour would take us through the whole building but it only included the lobby/entry area, which is jaw-dropping. Quite a few modernist buildings, including Gaudi's Casa Batllo, have nautical themes. The lobby of Casa Sayrach made me feel that I was under water and maybe even inside some giant sea creature. I love the ceiling medallion, if an entire roof can be a medallion, that looks like a shell as well as the rib-cage-like twisty arch at the approach to the elevator and stairs:

I pretty much could have stopped after this one building as, like I said, it was the one I really wanted to see this year...but...we kept moving on. Our next stop was at the Palau Moja, which is located about a block or so from our new apartment. From the outside, this former palace-like private residence, which was built in 1714, isn't too much different from many of the other buildings in the area with it's small balconies, shutters, and so on:

But inside it's a different story. It felt very similar to some of the castles we had seen in Germany like Schloss Ludwigsburg or even Schloss Hohenschwangau with it's Baroque styling, which seems somewhat out of place in Barcelona but I guess to each his own. What's cool is, looking at just the photos in this one post, how different the architectural styles are in Barcelona.

While in line at Palau Moja, we ran into Vladimir and he told us about a nearby private apartment and artist's studio that had been renovated and was open for tours. The apartment is located in a modernist building near La Raval neighborhood just on the other side of La Rambla.

The apartment wasn't anything special as far as it's layout or location but that's what made it interesting to see. It's long and narrow, which is pretty standard for apartments in the older parts of the city. Where we're living is very similar, which creates challenges when renovating them for more modern tastes. The architect in this project removed a bunch of walls and opened it up as much as possible (top is before):

The results were fairly good with lots of relatively open spaces (for a Barcelona apartment). The things that I liked about this particular stop were that it was a "normal" private apartment, the architect was leading the tour, and they saved the original "hydraulic" floor tiles in as much of the space as possible. A view from the kitchen towards the living room:

It's tough to see more than a few buildings each day as the lines can take an hour or more and the tours can last around 30 minutes. Diana and I were dedicated to visit at least one more building on our first day and we chose to head to the Palau Macaya.

This former palace-like residence built in 1901 was designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, who was a prolific Catalan modernist architect responsible for a ton of beautiful buildings around Catalunya including (what is now) the Cordoniu cava factory, the Casaramona textile factory (La Caixa Forum), and the Casa Amateller (located next door to Casa Batllo). Actually, Puig i Cadafalch should probably be more famous than he is but he tends to get overshadowed by Gaudi even though their styles tend to be very different.

Like the Casa Amatller, Puig i Cadafalch put a bunch of mini scenes on the building facade. One of my favorite touches was at the house's entrance where he showed himself hanging out with a donkey on one side and riding a bicycle on the other side. He did this to point out the difference between the laid-back countryside and the hustle and bustle of city life...with a bicycle!

Diana checking out the details at the Casa Macaya (note the clover detail on the ceiling):

All in all, it was a very busy but very fun day. Diana and I got to see four different buildings in four different styles spanning approximately 300 years...all within walking distance...and that was just Saturday!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

More Family Visits Barcelona!

A couple of months ago my uncle sent me an email that he and my aunt would be in Barcelona for a couple of days around Halloween. There plan was to board a cruise ship that would float all the way back to the United States. Whatever! I was just happy to have some family visit me in Spain!

A lovely sunny Halloween day checking out the Sagrada Familia with my aunt and uncle:

They arrived on Wednesday afternoon and hung out until Diana and I could meet them later for dinner. Of course we took them to our favorite local restaurant, El Glop, which is where we held our wedding reception. I'm not sure if it was the Cava sangria, but they both gave it their thumbs up.

The next morning we met up at the Sagrada Familia where Diana was kind enough to wait in the 45-minute line while the three of us walked around the outside and had a chance to catch up. We got back to Diana just as she was about ten people from the ticket booth. My uncle looked at me and asked if they can just jump in line like that. Of course you can! They ducked under around the ropes and, about two minutes later, were inside the church.

They both really enjoyed and were impressed by the church. We talked about Gaudi and Barcelona architecture while we walked over the the nearby La Paradeta, which is another of our favorite restaurants. Again, they seemed to be impressed but, hey, it's easy to do only the best things when you have just 40 hours together!

After lunch, they came back to our (new) apartment. We opened a bottle of Cava and talked for a couple of hours. It was nice to have family visit our home. (Note to other family...and friends...when are you coming?) When it was time for us to say our goodbyes, I asked them to take a photo with me in front of the Canaletas fountain down the street. The tradition says that you'll come back to Barcelona if you drink from this fountain. Here's hoping for a swift return!

 A couple of interesting notes. First, my aunt and uncle paid about $550 U.S. per person for an all-inclusive cruise that went all the way back to the U.S. That seems downright cheap. I'm not really that into the idea of taking a cruise but, hey, I'm a little more interested when I heard that. Who knows, maybe one day...

The other interesting thing was when my uncle called me the next morning to say goodbye. He wanted Diana and I to know how much they enjoyed visiting with us and how impressed they were with Barcelona. My uncle even said at some point in the conversation that his expectation of the city was something like Cleveland, Ohio, based on brief visits to other parts of Spain but that the reality was something culturally more like New York City but way cleaner. It was definitely a huge compliment. And, guess what! He and my aunt were already talking about coming back for an extended visit. Woohoo! I knew there was something about that fountain!

Thanks for stopping by and Diana and I can't wait to see you guys again soon!