After our previous day of exploring the well worn track, we’d had our fill of old Barcelona and its beautiful Gothic monsters. We now wanted to explore some more of the city so by way of contrast we chose to start our second day with a Modernisme walk around the Eixample area as recommended by our guide book. But first breakfast! We picked out a healthy dose of carbs and caffeine from one of the bakeries near our hotel and although it didn’t look that exciting we had a great cup of coffee and some lovely pastries and all at a fraction of what we’d usually pay in London.
Whilst writing up this part of the report I thought I’d dive back into the films I’d mentioned in my introduction hoping they would allow me to get a better appreciation for the city I’d come to love. What was most evident was how much more we saw in a single day than Vicky and Cristina saw in two full months of Barcelona. It was clear that despite the pretence they had no real love for this wonderful city and simply used it as an attractive background to their chaotic relationships. Maybe it’s the times we’re in, but outside of their native New York, Allen’s characters seemed even more unpleasant than usual. When even a ‘struggling’ artist has a huge mansion of a house along with his own private aircraft something is very, very wrong in that world. Thankfully unlike watching Vicky Cristina Barcelona for the umpteenth time, walking the streets filled with Modernista masterpieces was an incredibly rewarding experience.
We did our book’s suggested walking tour in reverse order by starting out from Urquinanona and zigzagging up towards Diagonal. As we walked with our eyes fully engaged we realised we’d already passed and missed some of these wonders whilst hunting for dinner the night before and cursing our luck when I broke my suitcase changing trains at Passeig de Gracia at the start of our trip. You could say our initial experience was like Locke’s in Antonioni’s film The Passenger as at that point we were simply attending an appointment and our surroundings were irrelevant. Perhaps like David Locke we too were at first unconsciously sucked in to the world of Gaudi, before later purposefully seeking it out, though of course our motivation was quite different!
We continued our walk along the Carrer d’Ausiàs Marc and found that almost every other building felt like a work of art. Our third stop pictured below was the Enric Sagnier designed Casa Tomàs Roger which is actually two buildings, number 37 and 39 built between 1892 and 1895, the former with a glorious entrance lobby.
We kept walking along Carrer de Casp with the white columned building at number 46 catching our attention. We continued looking upwards at the intricate stone work of the Church of the Sacred Heart and the contrasting Brutalist blandness of the Ministry of Justice of Catalonia.
Known as the house of spikes due to its turrets and gables, it reminded us that life in modernisme land often felt like one big fairy tale!
Famous for not having a single straight line this beautiful maritime themed building was once the laughing stock of the city for its unusual form. These days it is one of the must see sights in Barcelona. It was a shame we did not have the time to go inside and take a proper look as did Vicky and Cristina oh so briefly when they climbed onto its famous roof top. By way of contrast the image of La Pedrera depicted in The Passenger from 1975 is a completely different animal to what we experienced both in the more recent film and from our own observations. When we find David Locke and The Girl on the rooftop it looks like another building. The blinding golden hue of Allen’s August sun is absent, the warmth of the stonework we witnessed in our photograph above was a dull Great British grey. In Antonioni’s film the iron balconies were crumbling with rust, the mosaic of white tiles on the turrets had faded and was falling into disrepair. As his two characters moved towards one another we become witnesses to a domestic argument down below, largely hidden behind a washing line filled with clothes. By contrast in Allen’s movie the bright rooftop was filled with tourists from across the globe. Likewise, the view below in The Passenger was a far cry from the busy, colourful and clean Ramblas you see today with its designer boutiques and international crowds.
After stuffing ourselves with tapas we headed back on the ever efficient and convenient metro to Sagrada Família and immediately our breath was taken away and that was just at the size of the queue to get in! In actual fact the queue moved rather quickly and we were soon inside though not before some very strange people watching moments…
Either that or they’d just robbed the local Gap of its entire supply of chinos and blue Oxford shirts. Jokes aside this was an amazing way to spend a few hours appreciating the skill and vision of this magnificent monument to Jesus. I am not a religious person by any means but La Sagrada Família was truly the wonder it is made out to be. The excellent audio guide really enhanced our visit and we will definitely have to come back if and when it’s finally finished sometime in 2026. In Woody Allen’s comedy we are treated to nothing more than a few establishing nods to culture with a quick flash of The Sagrada Família’s giant bell towers as our two leading ladies hit the tourist trail in the first fifteen minutes of the film.
We moved towards the apse, then got a close up view of the humongous organ before looking down into the peaceful depths of the crypt. Vicky and Cristina on the other hand just about managed a single shot of this wondrous space.
Interestingly Almodovar also uses the Segrada Familia as an establishing shot of Barcelona in All About My Mother. Unlike Allen’s empty film Almodovar’s is loaded with meaning as Manuela who has just lost her son, slowly passes and takes in the Nativity façade with its ode to faith, hope and charity on her taxi ride. Three values that are true and present in the film along with the theme of reincarnation (or at the very least the opportunity for a second chance). On the other hand The Passenger is the only one of the three films where we don’t even manage a glimpse of the Segrada Familia, not from any of the street scenes or even the establishing shot of the city from the cable car to Montjuic.
Seeing as you can never have too much Gaudi in one day we decided to enjoy sunset at Park Guell which was Gaudi’s take on an English garden and was the one area Allen returned to over and again in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
After a huge dose of tourism we wanted to keep it real, so to speak and headed into the unknowns of Gracia for dinner. Gracia was supposedly Barcelona’s trendy neighbourhood filled with students, artists and the like so we were expecting it to be reminiscent of East London and although it wasn’t like London’s hipster paradise it didn’t disappoint. As it was still early for dinner by Spanish standards with it only being 20:00 the restaurants were still closed so we sat in a small square and people watched for a while before heading to our chosen place for dinner.
Our restaurant that night was Mesopotamia an Iraqi restaurant which we were lucky to have to ourselves for the entire evening. Our guidebook told us that its “menu is based on Arab ‘staff of life’ foods such as yoghurt and rice.” We took their advice and ordered “the enormous taster menu, which includes great Lebanese wines, a variety of dips for your riqaq bread, bulgur wheat with aromatic roast meats and vegetables, sticky baklava and Arabic teas.”
Despite it being completely burnt on the outside it was perfectly cooked and delicately flavoured with rose water underneath that carbon coating. I have to say that this was a great tasting meal from beginning to end and what particularly impressed us was how different it was from the many heavy hitting Persian/Arab influenced kebab-centric restaurants we have frequented over the years in London. Sadly it seems that the inconsistent cooking we experienced was not a one off as this restaurant has since closed its doors. We headed back on the metro full to bursting, ready to enjoy our final day in Barcelona and the high speed trip to France that followed.
Coffee In Catalonia
- Part 1: A Sanity Saving Getaway
- Part 2: The Barri Gotic Quarter, The Born & Sant Pere
- Part 3: Gaudi’s Modernisme Paradise
- Part 4: The Englishman That Went Up A Hill Then Got On Some Fast Trains