We awoke early because we had tickets to ascend the tower at Sagrada Família‘s Facade of the Passion at 9:15am. (We elected the early start to avoid the crowds, and it mostly paid off.) We walked up there from our hotel, and wandering through the city so early gave it a bleakly poetic feel. Breakfast was a croissant and cafe con leche from Gaudi Bakery, a stone’s throw from the cathedral. We sipped and munched while walking around Sagrada Família to find the entrance we needed, and then waited a few minutes before joining the short line to go inside.
Once inside the gates, we got our audioguides and started the tour. It took us all around the basilica and outside the Nativity and Passion facades. Unfortunately, the Passion tower turned out to be closed for maintenance, so they let us go up the Nativity tower. You take the elevator up one tower, cross a small bridge, and walk down the stairs of the neighboring tower. As you descend, you can look inside from different vantages until you reach the bottom.
Inside, the main space looks like half-Catholic, half-elven. Antoni Gaudí, the architect, based his designs on nature, and the supporting columns of the vaulted ceiling deliberately recall tree trunks with multiple levels of branches. The cathedral is sparsely decorated, as the architecture stands on its own. Stained glass windows of all colors provide a perfect balance of light throughout.
The two completed facades are both stunning. The Nativity was completed in Gaudí’s time, while the Passion was finished only within the last twenty-five years. The third facade, of the Glory, is not yet complete, having only begun in 2002. Though the two completed facades have different artists and are separated by many decades, they’re both seamless parts of the greater whole.
After finishing the tour, we found ourselves at something of loose ends. We wanted some coffee, and we figured we could formulate a plan on the fly. So we headed to Il Forno, an Italian coffeehouse less than ten minutes away, and found a table in the back where we could enjoy our mid-morning cakes and coffee. Virginia wanted to go to Casa Milà, as we’d been told by Edouard that it was worth the visit. Sounds like a plan, so we paid up (€9 for two pieces of cake and four cafes con leches, so great!) and walked over there. We arrived to find a sign saying the building was under annual maintenance until the following day. Argh! What to do?
Fortunately, Casa Batlló was nearby and the line was very reasonable. So we spent about an hour going through the multi-story home and marveling at the lack of straight lines, water imagery, and overall strangeness that was Gaudí’s hallmark.
By the time we finished, it was past 2:00pm and time for lunch. Virginia found a restaurant called La Polpa with a great-looking set menu and we managed to get the last table for two at that time. Virginia had baked pasta with bolognese, Thai red curry pork, and a coffee brownie, while I had pumpkin soup, duck confit, and cheesecake. Both of us enjoyed this with wine and espresso afterward.
Very full, we walked back to the Gothic Quarter intending to try out Satan’s Coffee Corner. Unfortunately, we couldn’t ever seem to get there on time, including now. So we walked west to a xocolateria called Xocoa (somewhat predictably, I guess) for coffee and churros. Mmm, churros. We left a little before 6:00pm, thinking we would go to dinner early because our flight the next morning was very early. But we weren’t actually hungry at the time, which left us with a dilemma. Thankfully, we happened upon a small open-air market where we could pick up a few things to munch on. In our case, that was chorizo and manchego cheese. We then said to each other, “If only we had wine!” And a few minutes later, we walked right into a wine store where I picked up a 2010 Rioja crianza. Fully provisioned, we headed back to the hotel to enjoy our purchases, pack, and get some sleep.
There isn’t much to say, as our flight was at 7:50am. We quickly checked out and headed to the airport. We were able to get one last good cup of coffee and some jamón ibérico at the courtesy lounge before our flight, and then it was time to journey back to the icy cold of Chicago.