Friday, July 11, 2014


The grace of travel is that it's difficult so when it's time to leave the sadness can be borne.

But would that I had another week here, or a few days even. I've barely scratched the surface of this infrastructure.

Today, on our last day in Barcelona, we went to see the famed Sagrada Familia (the unfinished church, active construction of which has continued for more than 100 years). Let me assure you, it was as much a hardhat zone as a place of worship. Really, for its masterful architecture (and it has outlasted, one can argue, the religion it serves) its current format disrespects - dare I go there - its religious proposition.

In full disclosure, there are few peeps who have been raised more Catholically than me (especially in this day and age). I respect the Church enough not to go there, most of the time, because my beliefs do not align.

However, in this instance (and because I did not see it when I was in Barcelona last) I went for the architecture but I was astounded by the faith that fuels the engines. I was also astounded by the general lack of respect I observed. Where I come from, you don't take selfies directly in front of an Icelandic choir (the most beautifully composed, might I add). Moreover, you don't clap when it completes its choral exercise, but that's a whole different story... You do not wear club clothing (especially as the church rules stipulate modest dress). You do not speak in the central zone, demarcated from the rest as the meditative, prayer space. I could go on.

Um, let's interrupt this rant with some photos of the neo-Gothic (and seriously modern) marvel that is this place, shall we?

This sculpture, associated with the Passion of Christ, was beyond moving. The engraved doors, behind, were like nothing I've ever seen before.
That light is entirely created by the chromatic (and I do use this as a means by which to relate colour to music) stained glass.

There's something so Hannah Barbera about this exterior when you see it in photos. In real life, it's stunning.
Those pillars...
Have you ever seen stained glass like this? It's designed to be neither too dark nor too light because either extreme inhibits sight. This is a place of clear observation.

I know I sound like a crotchety old lady much of the time. (In truth, whenever I've played that game wherein you have to assess your "spiritual age", I have been 50 - like, since I was 5.) Righteously indignant is my natural state. I feel very strongly about how things should be and, when they fail to meet my expectations, the fire - like a dragon's breath - is unleashed.

It appears we return to the theme of Kristin's vacation: expectation.

My resilience was undermined by my kryptonite: terrible crowds, bright light and noise. Put these together and it's a recipe for my undoing. Thank God we had the foresight to book the tickets online. That meant we bypassed much of the queuing, though by no means all of it. We did have to wait in the unremitting sunlight for 15 minutes. (I forced Scott to leave our apartment with plenty of time to spare.) And then, the "pilgrim" hum, amplified by the acoustics - and at odds with audible construction - followed me ominously like a hive.

Scott swears he didn't know that a trip to the Bell Tower would be a claustrophobic horror - a descent even as an elevator drew us into the air and left us (unceremoniously) to make our way down an endless, dangerous stone staircase replete with constant opportunities to kill oneself by accident, by falling from unthinkable heights. Am I the only one who feels inclined to jump when confronted by heights? Am I the only one whose field of vision narrows (a propos of which, Lord, I was sorry to be wearing those progressives)?

I cannot begin to tell you of my thoughts during that part of the visit though a very nice Chinese woman, who walked in front of me, was kind enough to reassure me (in English) at regular intervals, saying such things as: This part is safe. Look, there's even a railing here. Yeah, to keep you from certain death.

On the way up, the elevator guide had a lively, foreign-language conversation with some other Catalan speakers. I could only pick out the words "claustrophobic", "scary" and some anecdote about people losing their shit half way through. I should have said no then and there, but Scott got all: It's going to be fine. They wouldn't let us do it if it were dangerous. Never listen to people who aren't afraid of heights.

I think it's safe to say I had a complex experience of the Sagrada Familia. And really, you must visit (despite the challenges) because it is a marvel in the truest sense of the word. Just don't go up the Bell Tower.

I drank my face off at lunch.


  1. This is on my list of "places I must visit"...even if it means taking my life in my hands. Hope the boozy lunch helped.

    1. It helped. :-) The massive onslaught of carbs didn't hurt either!

  2. I visited the Sagrada Familia 13 years ago when interrailing in Europe and I was also shocked by the lack of reverence shown for the building. For me, it was the walls where people had been carving their names and initials for years. It's a cathedral! I think anyone with any kind of respect for religious buildings would find that horrible.
    Also re the staircase, I also found it dreadful. It felt like it was going forever and by the latter stages I was basically dragging myself along the wall, knowing that the only way was to continue as you couldn't go back. Argh! I can't imagine doing it again as I was much less scared of heights at that point. I also feel the same about heights, scared that I will launch myself off. Erk...

    Anyway, glad to hear that you've had such a great holiday.

  3. I'm so glad to know that I'm not the only one who feels that way about heights. Seriously, K, I did the same thing - dragging myself along the wall. Trying to grip the stones?! The graffiti (initials engraved and freakin' tagging???) was just a travesty.

  4. I didn't go up the Bell Tower, but Sagrada Familia is so amazing, even from the outside. One of my favourite buildings anywhere. People (read tourists) tend to forget that many of the great sites in Europe are in fact churches and regardless of their religious affiliation, should be accorded respect. I remember seeing names carved on the top level of the Tower of Pisa and being similarly disgusted (Pisa is co-located with a big-ass cathedral).

    1. Isn't it? What a testimony to vision. I went to Pisa and I don't remember the carvings (mind you, I was there in the early 80s). I'm just so saddened to see how people desecrate beautiful works of art because they're in the form of architecture. THose idiots would never take a knife to a Rembrandt! (I hope.)

  5. Just finished reading all the posts on your vacation. I also feel like jumping from heights and I would never go up the bell tower