The majority of our holidays abroad have been dictated by family occasions.
In September 2023 it was the wedding of my nephew in Toronto that paved the way to a fabulous fortnight in Spain.
Weddings are a dream come true for an amateur street photographer. One gets to shoot people with impunity without running the risk of getting hammered and/or having your camera smashed.
Held in a beautiful multi-level venue it was a fabulous wedding that had tastefully decorated individual settings for the ceremony, pre-dinner cocktails, an elaborate sit-down dinner and finally a dance floor that rocked till the wee hours of the morning.
On a more sombre note, I’ve no doubt that the celebrations extended far beyond he above mentioned dimensions.
From Toronto it was onward to Spain.
If I had to list three of Spain’s most outstanding features upon which to base this blog, these are the ones I’d choose: the breathtaking architecture, the mouth-watering cuisine and last, but definitely not the least, the gorgeous women.
That being said, not one of the Spanish señoritas could hold a candle to the one I was travelling with.
I should know as I did cast fleeting glances, for purely academic reasons, from time to time. The actual interval between ‘time’ to ‘time’ being a subject that leaves plenty of scope for discussion.
Since we are on the topic of full disclosure, the entire trip was researched and planned, down to the minutest detail by Vanessa and there are several excel sheets and scores of travel links to show for it. My sole contributions were restricted yet guardedly enthusiastic, double-worded responses whenever my participation was solicited… ‘well done’ … ‘I agree’… ‘good idea’… that’s wonderful’… ‘ummmmm, yes’… just to mention a few and to help you to catch my drift!
When it comes to Barcelona the one name that completely dominates all else is Antoni Gaudi.
Be it it Batllo House (above), Casa Milla, or Park Guell every square inch of Gaudi’s works scream ‘symbolism’, ‘functionality’ and ‘uniquness’ all in the same breath. The structure below, one of several in Park Guell, is a classic example.
It is a large and unusually designed terrace (above) that provides an elevated and panoramic view of Barcelona city. The walls are heavily convoluted and intricately finished with a mosaic of square tiles that needed to be broken and re-assembled to accommodate their curved nature. The floor however, as is the the centre of each of the huge pillars, is filled with sand. Rain is filtered by the sand and collected in a large underground cistern below and used to supply water to the surrounding locality. A unique, beautiful and yet extremely functional water harvesting system!
On researching the life of Antoni Gaudi the one thing that comes through very strongly is his love for Life, Nature and Religion and evidence of this can be found in all his works. The one that really epitomises the genius of the man is the Basilica Sagrada Familia.
The image above was taken from a high point at Park Guell and from here one can really appreciate its gigantic size as it towers above the rest of Barcelona.
If the external heavily carved facade is breathtaking, the inside was mind-blowing!
36 massive columns support the roof that towers 148 feet above the ground. Each one is different, both in terms of shape and material used, and heavily symbolic. They branch out like trees as they go higher and as one looks up one gets the distinct sense of being transported from a church into a forest. As a Nature lover myself this was a genius of a man I could totally relate to and I can feel the hair on my hand rise as I write this.
With the pillars doing the job of supporting the roof, Gaudi was free to freak out on the walls.
Sunlight is filtered by banks of huge, multi-hued stained glass panels ranging from red, orange and yellow at one end to green and blue at the other.
Each shade carries with it a story that glorifies the Bible, Life and Nature. As the light streams into the basilica it carries those tales within, so to speak, bathing everything in its path in a jaw-dropping kaleidoscope of colours.
I could go on and on but words do not do this place justice. It simply has to be seen to be believed.
Tourists visiting the Sagrada come in hordes and you will be well advised to purchase skip-the-line tickets on line to avoid the queue.
Strongly recommended too is getting a ticket with a guided tour. This also goes for most of the other popular sightseeing spots in Spain. ( Some of the audio guides do not provide headphones and you may want to carry a pair with you to avoid holding the device to you ear. We had that problem when doing the Batllo House below as did many others in the image below.)
Above is the family room at Battlo House every inch of which is built with a purpose. Taking a guided tour is essential else you will miss out on the significance and functionality of Gaudi’s extremely surreal creations. Below is an image taken on the roof it represents the back of a dragon and if memory serves me right the vertical structure represents the hilt of the sword of St. George the dragon slayer.
For those interested in fauna be sure to check out the monk parakeets especially when walking around Park Guell. They fly around in noisy droves and nest in the palm trees. These are not native to Spain. The current theory is that they escaped from captivity and have now established a stable feral population. They are completely unafraid of humans and full frame images can often be obtained with a mobile phone as they feed on the fruiting bushes that line the pathway on the upper slopes of the park.
We stayed at the Seventy Hotel in Barcelona. It’s a nice hotel with excellent service and a great bar and restaurant. The food was really nice and, apart from the tapas, we especially liked the truffle risotto and the Pavlova desert.
The hotel is centrally located which allowed us to walk to most of the places we wished to visit. Yes, we were determined to put in at least 10,000 steps per day to justify the quantity of food we had planned to indulge in!
The other eating place where food and ambience was outstanding is the Le Pepita opposite the hotel. Be sure to make a reservation as the demand is high.
For all the foodies out there a must visit place is Bacelona’s Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria or simply La Boqueria. It is accessible from La Rambla, a pedestrian street that, incidentally, is well worth taking a stroll on. The marketplace dates back to the 14 century and has hundreds of stalls of every conceivable type of food ranging from raw products like fish and Iberian ham to street food stalls and restaurants.
On our trip to Spain I had carried two lenses with me. An RF 16mm f2.8 and an EF 70-200mm f2.8L III and I used them interchangeably with a Canon EOS R5 body. (I would have loved to supplement the imaging with my iPhone but tragically, on the flight out of Mumbai it got irreparably damaged.)
The profusion of colours, textures and patterns at the Boqueria was what induced me to use the 70-200 at focal lengths that were closer to 200mm. The end result can be seen in the images below.
The images represent only a small fraction of what is on offer at the Boqueria. Shot at close to 200mm they do nothing to showcase the ‘vibe’ of the place. In an attempt to do that I’ve included the image below that was taken at 75mm, although I must admit, the focus still remains an absolute reflection of my priorities!
The place is huge and buzzing with activity. Finding a seat at the numerous eating stalls takes some doing and, as in every other large Spanish city, while negotiating between the stalls and through the hordes one has to be especially wary of pickpockets.
The plan was to base ourselves in three cities and from there do day trips to the smaller towns in the vicinity. Gerona was one of the smaller towns on Vanessa’s check list for Barcelona. The train service in Spain is great and a fast train covered the 87km distance in under 40minutes.
Strolling along the narrow, far less crowded cobbled streets of Gerona was a welcome change to Barcelona. The proverbial icing on the cake being provided by the occasional pitstop for a glass of Cava or a tapas snack.
The cathedral at Gerona, Catedral de Santa Maria de Girona, is beautiful and definitely worth a visit. That it cannot compare to the Sagrada is reflected in the decreased number of tourists.
One of the highlights of our visit to the cathedral was a live choir. There was a young soprano accompanied by and organ and violin. The acoustics in the church were superb and they really helped set the mood in the church.
On returning to Barcelona, that evening we drove to the waterfront. An overpriced mediocre cocktail at the beach was adequately compensated by an outstanding seafood paella at one of the restaurants in the area.
With one day to go there were a couple of ‘must do’ pilgrimages that were pending on Vanessa’s checklist. The first was a visit to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia or Barcelona Cathedral (above).
The other was to visit and pay homage – (read that as ‘euros’) – to Zara’s flagship store in Barcelona.
Barcelona was fabulous and we felt priveliged to have a couple of stores named after us. What more could one ask for!
I was really touched by their attention to detail… They even took the trouble to replicate the messy matrix of wires and cables on my computer desk!
And that, in a nutshell, was Barcelona.
An incredible 5 days that went above and way beyond all that we had expected and it was not illogical to wonder if such a high bar could be sustained for the duration of the rest of the trip.
So… did it or did it not… Find out more in the next instalment of this blog… ‘Hola Spain… Hello Malaga!’