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Walk in the footsteps of the Masters
Everyone has a dream travel location, like an oasis. It’s a dream-like destination that you travel to in your mind, when you feel like you can’t stand the monotony and boredom of everyday life any longer. For me, Barcelona was exactly that kind of city – a blissful harbour, with bright sunlight and a Mediterranean affluence.
I’ve always been interested in art, and the three Masters I came to learn more about during my journey shared with me their wonderful stories. Fresh seafood and the lovely scenery are the best-known attractions of Barcelona, yet the fascinating stories of these Masters, which are remembered fondly from time to time, added more depth and flavour to this journey. The unrelenting intensity of Gaudi’s passion helped to spread his art across the world even after his death; the adventurous spirit of Columbus sent him sailing to the end of the ocean no matter what the cost; and the intrepid spirit of Picasso caused him to ceaselessly try new things up to the last moments of his life. As I walk along these three men’s footsteps of adventure and challenge, I feel my own passion reawakening deep inside me again.
Unfortunately, in the end, I had to leave the place I visited to escape from my dull life.
Let’s head for the city of Barcelona, full of stories, challenges and adventures, and the perfect city for you to rekindle your passion.
DAY 1. Following in the footsteps of Antoni Gaudi i Cornet
La Sagrada Família – Casa Batlló – Casa Milà – Park Güell
DAY 2. Following in the footsteps of Christopher Columbus and Pablo Picasso
Columbus Monument – Port Vell – Plaça Del Rei – Picasso Museum – Las Ramblas – Els Quatre Gats
Antoni Gaudi i Cornet
It was Antoni Gaudi, one of the most celebrated Spanish architects, who first introduced me to the city of Barcelona. He designed structures that were inspired by nature, such as the sky, clouds, wind etc., and thanks to his wonderful work, the Barcelona skyline draws a very distinctive curve you cannot find in any other city in the world. This highly-gifted architect was born in 1852 in Reus Tarragona. Famed for uniquely sophisticated and distinct designs, you can never forget his works once you have seen them. I remember the time when I first saw the colourful tile-crafted decorations glowing under the bright morning light of Barcelona. I was touched by their beauty and wonder so much so that the afterimage lingered with me for a while.
La Sagrada Família
(Expiatory Church of La Sagrada Família, Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Família)
La Sagrada Família, whose construction began in 1884, has a breathtaking appearance, with many spires soaring skywards and an exterior surface covered with extremely elaborate carvings. Gaudi’s passion and devotion live on in this structure of amazing beauty called the “Holy Family”.
It is still under construction and is expected to be finished in 2026, 144 years after it was started. It is said that Gaudi anticipated he would not see the completion of the church while he was alive. Nevertheless, he never relented, pouring his entire fortune and passion into the endeavour right up to the last moments of his life. Faced with his ceaseless efforts and undying passion, intense and magical feelings rose up within me for the first time since embarking on my journey to Barcelona.
This unique structure, which is composed of 3 façades and 12 spires, is beautiful and marvellous. All the carvings and statues on the exterior wall have their own stories – the “Nativity Façade” to the East celebrates the birth of Christ, the “Passion Façade” to the West depicts Jesus Christ on the cross, and the “Glory Façade” at the gate praises the glory of God. Each façade also has 4 spires, for a total of 12 spires. This represents the 12 Apostles of Christ.
Another Sagrada Família greeted me when I went inside the church. It was totally different from the outside. This two-faced structure reminded me of Alice in Wonderland. Time seemed to stop as I admired the soaring white ripple-like walls, with columns standing like tall pine trees and star sculpture motifs spilling over from above. You can’t miss the stained glass which lights up the inside of the Sagrada Família with vivid, colourful lights. The beautiful lights shining brightly behind the Cross put me into a state of awe, and while listening to the organ played every hour, you will be thrilled to the core.
Tip: There are elevators leading up to the 25 metre high towers on the east side and at the front gate. You can enjoy the magnificent views over Barcelona and almost feel Gaudi’s spirit there. Admission tickets and packages are available.
Batllo House (Casa Batlló)
Apart from special structures like La Sagrada Família, Gaudi also used to build houses for Barcelona’s citizens. Among others, Casa Batllo, which is located at Passeig de Gracia, reminds me of the waves of the ocean. It is also called Casa dels ossos (House of Bones) as it is designed like a living organism. This mansion was built for Batlló, a textile dealer, and shows off unique skeleton-shaped balconies. Covered with white ceramic discs and mosaics with fragments of coloured glass, it renders a wavy shape of iridescent yet fascinating colours under the blazing Sun. It would be best not to visit there during the middle of the day, because you can barely keep your eyes open due to the intensely bright light reflected from the glass. The interior is filled with blue tiles, so it feels as if you were in the sea.
Mila House (Casa Milá )
Casa Milà, one of Gaudi’s representative private houses, located on the other side of Casa Batlló, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984. The marvellously undulating shapes and forms of this mountain-themed residential structure can be seen throughout the exterior on the rooftop, enticing you to take a closer look at the array of sculptures displayed on the roof.
There are 2 small gardens in the centre of the building and trees all over, showing Gaudi’s belief that “structures should be a part of nature.” Inside the building, there is a well-decorated sitting room, bedroom and kitchen in which you can see the life of Spain in the past. Looking around the charmingly decorated interior, I smiled pensively, imagining what my own house might look like in the future. Each room gave me a beautiful picture of my future and I was finally led to the rooftop. There are various sculptures on the roof, as if it were a sculpture park, and all the designs are Gaudi’s own. Appreciating the sculptures that resemble a mountaintop, or mountains full of wind-weathered huge rocks, I felt as if I had climbed a “Gaudi Mountain”.
Park Guell (Park Güell )
Along Gaudi’s footsteps, which became more endearingly familiar along the journey, our path leads us to the beautiful Park Güell, which is located on the edge of Barcelona. With a fantastic view over the Mediterranean Sea, this park is loved by tourists and Barcelona citizens alike. It was once a housing complex which Gaudi and his sponsor and lifelong friend, Eusebi Güell, designed in order to create an ideal city garden with an English garden motif. Then, in 1922, Barcelona City Council bought the site and it was transformed into a place where citizens could come and unwind after a hard day’s work.
Entering Park Güell, with the mushroom-shaped columns and a panoramic view of wavy patterns, Gaudi’s signature designs are revealed. From the security checkpoint, which looks so comfy and cosy that Hansel and Gretel might come out and play at any time, handrails wind down the hills below towards interlocking tiles in the shape of lively lizards. This unique and pleasant view is very fine art. After looking at all the creative designs and colourful decorations, while standing in the centre of the park, downtown Barcelona came into view. Seeing the scenery that spans from the spires of the Sagrada Família to the Mediterranean Sea looming in the distance, it felt as if my fatigue had melted away in an instant.
The second person you should discover in Barcelona is Christopher Columbus, who is credited with finding the New World. He is considered one of the greatest men in Western history, whose contribution was to introduce Europe to the American Continent. An explorer and navigator from Genoa, Italy, he came to Spain in 1492 following his dream of pioneering a new seaway. This was because Queen Isabella, the ruler of Spain, supported his idea to open a sea route that many people thought impossible and absurd. It is quite remarkable even from today’s perspective that Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus carried out this adventure against all odds, such as the existing social conventions and many other obstacles. Let’s go meet Columbus, a man of mighty sinews venturing out into the Atlantic Ocean with only 3 ships towards the East, the land of treasure and spices.
Columbus Monument (Monument a Colom)
Compared to Gaudi, Columbus shows us a totally different type of passion. His ambition and driving force to achieve his goals were probably the reason why so many people still remember his name, whereas those who were against his plan were easily forgotten. You can find the imposing replica of Columbus at the Plaça Portal de la Pau. This monument, showing Columbus stretching out his hand towards the ocean, was built in 1888 to commemorate the trade relations with the U.S. during the Barcelona World Fair. You can feel Spain’s strong sense of pride in the discovery of the New World upon seeing this 60m high statue. On the top of the tower, there is an observatory where you can view all of Barcelona and look out to sea. You will have a special experience gazing into the Atlantic Ocean, in just the way Columbus did.
Christopher Columbus stepped onto Port Vell with the great news of having discovered the New World. The end of Las Ramblas stretches to Port Vell, where you will become curious about where the end of the Mediterranean Sea may reach and far beyond. Once it was a commercial centre, but it now is a resting place for citizens to come and enjoy the view. Yachts are arranged neatly along one side, and the Sea’s Ramblas, which is an undulating footbridge, makes you feel much closer to the Mediterranean Sea. Time simply flies while you are sitting and watching the serene ocean. In fact, I sat here quietly with a cup of coffee while gazing out over the wide open sea. That was the moment I decided to have dinner at a restaurant with a terrace beside the sea, to have extra special memories. This place was quite expensive compared to other restaurants, however, watching the limitless span of the Mediterranean Sea in tandem with the paella and the wine, I suddenly felt drunk, because of both the wonderfully palatable taste, and the view of the undulating sea. If your time permits it, visit Port Vell during both day and night, as at night it shows even more charm with the bright lights flashing around the harbour during the sunset.
Tip: Best 3 Spanish dishes to enjoy at Port Vell
Paella is a traditional Spanish dish based on rice. A mixture of meat, seafood and vegetables are stir-fried in a heated pan, then water is added and brought to the boil, and then the rice is added.
A variety of small finger food appetisers. They are good as a snack, and also go well with wine. They may be cold, such as mixed olives and cheese, or they may include fried cuisine made of seafood or other ingredients.
A traditional Spanish fried snack made of a stick-shaped dough. You can enjoy churros with sugar, cinnamon and chocolate powder on top, according to your taste.
Plaça Del Rei
It was Plaça Del Rei that Columbus headed for, after he landed at Port Vell. Columbus was granted an audience with Queen Isabella, his chief patron, and delivered the news of the discovery of the New World when standing on the 14 steps leading to the corner of the small square surrounded by walls on three sides. With this story, I could see this desolate, grey place in a new light. The building in the middle of the square is a palace of the Count of Barcelona, as well as the King of Aragon; and there is the Palau del Lloctinent, a hall of the House of Aragon’s records, and the Capella Reial de Santa Àgata on either side of the palace. Now, Plaça Del Rei has become a place for citizens to relax, and an open-air stage for young artists. There are also more hidden stories besides the episodes of Columbus. The first story is related to a small window located in a corner of the square. You can see a wall which was built with piled-up brick-like stones over the window. It is known that this wall was constructed by the Romans in the 1st century. Another story is that the garden of Palau del Lloctinent located on the left side of King Square was built in an Islamic style. This is the result of Spain having been invaded many times by Muslims in the past. The last story is that this dour place, with grey being its only choice of colour, was once used as a film location for the film “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” due to its unique atmosphere and colours.
The last Master you should meet is Pablo Picasso, one of the greatest modern painters of the 20th century. He was born in Malaga, a port city in southern Spain, and a certain depth of the freedom and passion of Barcelona can be felt in his works. Especially here in Barcelona, the vestiges of the young Picasso can be found all over. You can spend time finding the bygone traces of his hangouts with his artist friends, a distinctive world of art pieces and so much more – a delightfully interesting experience, to say the least.
First, let’s visit the Picasso Museum on Carrer de Montcada to appreciate Picasso’s early work. This museum was opened in 1963 by Jaime Sabartés, an old friend as well as a secretary of his. It was built on Carrer de Montcada, which is full of old Medieval architecture, where Picasso attended art school in his youth. Be careful not to miss the museum on the corner, as there are lots of old Medieval buildings on the way to the Picasso Museum. When Picasso was 13 years old, he moved to Barcelona, and it was in this city where the genius Picasso’s brilliant artistic talents and passion took root and started bearing fruit. His early paintings, “Science and Charity” and “First Communion”, perfectly illustrate Picasso’s relationship with the city of Barcelona that was shaped in his youth.
It is this street where the mighty pull of Picasso’s magic is most strongly felt. This is one of the most famous streets and key tourist attractions in Barcelona, leading all the way down to Port Vell. At first glance, it just looks like any other street with its many shops and restaurants, but this is where the artistic heart of Barcelona is beating hard, and where you can feel the intensity and passion of both past and present artists. When you arrive at the Picasso Museum, walking along the inner side of the alley on the floor, you can see a large mosaic by Joan Miro. Here on Las Ramblas, where the spirits of these masters can still be felt, many street performers and painters still do their very best to please the eyes and ears of Barcelona citizens and travellers ceaselessly, night and day. Sitting down on a bench to spend more time here, the daily routine of the city of Barcelona unfolds before your eyes: a throng of passers-by at an easy stroll, an array of decks that display all sorts of fruits and flowers, and not to mention all the green roadside trees. However, when the sun goes down, a totally different street appears. This street of day and night is just like music that creates different feelings. Daytime is like a lively and cheerful waltz due to the warm sunlight and fresh scent of flowers, whereas nighttime resembles a romantic sonata that makes you feel sad.
Els Quatre Gats
A café which uses a menu that Picasso drew himself? I got off of Las Ramblas to check out this information in my guide book, which I found hard to believe. An antique, pretty café appeared after I had walked for about 10 minutes. Els Quatre Gats, which first opened in 1897, is a popular destination where the group of young burgeoning artists gathered together. Picasso, as the patron, drew the design of a gentleman in a blue coat for the menu cover and gave it as a gift and a token of friendship. It was fashioned after “Le Chat Noir”, a café and cabaret in Paris, and “Els Quatre Gats” means “a few people” in Catalan. The name originates from the idea that there were four founders of this café. At that time, it was a place which was frequently visited by well-known artists, such as Picasso and Dali, among many others. It was also the very place where Picasso held his first exhibition in Barcelona, displaying a number of portraits of his friends. It had to close in 1903, yet it was re-opened in 1981 to commemorate Picasso’s 100th birthday. Many original artworks by young artists are still hung for sale on the wide walls in the restaurant; in other words, it is continuing the spirit of the arts from an earlier era.
When I came out the door of Els Quatre Gats, the street was lit by a small lamp post. It was time for me to think about the messages from Gaudi, Columbus and Picasso that I had gained from following their traces around Barcelona.
These three icons lived their lives more passionately than anybody else, like the city of Barcelona glowing under the smoldering sun. They are exemplary role models who taught us, seeking an oasis of respite from the drudgery of the mundane, to live our lives with more zeal and passion. Gaudi in his relentless pursuit of his dream, Columbus with his determination to achieve what he believed in, and the spiritual vision of Picasso pushing himself to the limit. Returning to the daily grind, however, their exemplary spirits will stay with me, creating the sense of a new beginning. So to me, Barcelona epitomises a stream of eternal passion, as well as being a byword for challenge and adventures.
La Sagrada Família
Location: Carrer de Mallorca, 401 08013 Barcelona , Spain
Opening times: 9 am – 6 pm
Website: www. sagradafamilia.cat
Telephone: +34 935 13 20 60
Admission fees: Adults EUR 15, Tower packages EUR 19.50
Batllo House (Casa Batlló)
Location: Passeig de Gràcia, 43 08007 Barcelona , Spain
Opening times: 9 am – 9 pm
Website: www. casabatllo.cat
Telephone: +34 932 16 03 06
Admission fees: Adults EUR 21.50 (18+), Children EUR 18.50 (7-18)
Mila House (Casa Milà)
Location: Provença, 261-265 08008 Barcelona, Spain
Opening times: 9 am – 8 pm
Website: www. lapedrera.com
Telephone: +34 902 20 21 38
Admission fees: Adults EUR 10, Students EUR 6
Park Guell (Park Güell)
Location: Carrer d’Olot, s/n 08024 Barcelona, Spain
Opening time: 8:30 am – 6 pm
Telephone: +34 902 20 03 02
Admission fees: Adults EUR 7
Columbus Monument (Monument a Colom)
Location: Plaça Portal de la Pau, s/n 08001 Barcelona Spain
Location: Moll de la Fusta | Barceloneta, Barcelona, Spain
Plaça Del Rei
Location: Plaça del Rei, 10, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
Picasso Museum (Museu Picasso)
Location: Carrer Montcada, 15-23 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Opening times: Closed on Mondays
Tue, Wed, Fri, Sat and Sun: 9 am – 7 pm
Thu: 9 am – 9:30 pm
Telephone: +34 932 56 30 00
Ramblas Street (Las Ramblas)
Location:Rambla dels Caputxins, 45 08002 Barcelona, Spain
4Cats Café (Els Quatre Gats)
Location: Carrer de Montsió, 3 08002 Barcelona, spain
Website: www. 4gats.com
Opening time: 10 am – 1 am
Telephone: +34 933 02 41 40
Location: Mercado de La Boqueria 08001 Barcelona, Spain