Ruta del Moderisme in L'Eixample

Whether you are a fan of the Art Nouveau movement or not, there is no escaping its presence in a city like Barcelona.  Of course, Barcelona's "Modernisme" design is not singular to Spain - in Italy the style is referred to as "Liberty," in Germany, they call it "Jugendstil," and of course the French call is "Art Nouveau."  And while certain areas of Paris certainly reflect the Art Nouveau sentiment, in Barcelona, "Modernisme" seems to have truly taken root and prospered throughout the decades which followed its explosion at the end of the 19th century.  (In our opinion, whomever is responsible for preserving the movement in Barcelona should certainly be applauded. These buildings still look fabulous!)

Much of the city's finest examples of "Modernisme" can be found in the neighborhood called L'Eixample.   The posh neighborhood (which literally means "the extension" in Catalan) grew out from the center of the city in the 1870's into the early 1900's as Barcelona's population exploded, creating the need for more housing.  This just happened to also be the hey-day of the Art Nouveau movement.  It is here in L'Eixample where you will find the "Ruta del Modernisme," a tourists' scenic route, if you will, of the architectural highlights, and earmarked by the cool decorated tiles on the sidewalk of Passeig de Gràcia.

There are many artists tied to the Modernisme movement, but perhaps the most famous is architect Antoni Gaudí.  His most famous work of art is perhaps the "Casa Milà" which features prominently on the cover of many Barcelona tourist books!  Located on the "Ruta del Modernisme," Casa Milà is an apartment block that cannot be missed while strolling along the Passeig de Gracia in L'Eixample.  With its undulating facade, the apartment is more commonly known to locals as "La Pedrera" ("the quarry" in Catalan) in reference to the waves of rock that buffet the the interiors from the busy street below.

An interesting aspect of the building is that Gaudí built it with elevators only on every other floor or so.  This was meant to encourage intermingling amongst the tenants!  Renovations on the building began in the 1980's to restore it to its original splendor.  On the day we were there to visit, the magic of the building was somewhat lost in the grey light of cloud-cover... To be honest, this was not the most impressive sight to behold on our Gaudí tour, which continues below - see "Casa Batlló" and "Park Güell."  Then again, we did not wait in the stifling long line to check out the interiors or roof-top sculpture patio (though we hear it is faboo!)

Casa Milà can be visited by day or night - with guided tours.  A plethora of special exhibitions also rotate throughout the calendar year.  Expect local artists, photography and live music.  Admission to Casa Milà is €16.50 for adults (about $23 USD) and €8.25 for children aged 7 - 12 years old.  Students also get a discount at €14.85.  Night tours are offered as part of the "Secret Pedrera" program at €30.00 for adults (about $42 USD) and €15.00 for children.  This includes stops at Casa Milà's gardens, attic, apartment building and roof terrace.

Set of Drifters tip:  Travel to the neighborhood of El Raval (just off of tourist hell "La Rambla") and check out one of Gaudí's lesser known works, the somber design for Palau Güell.  The building's renovation was commissioned by a wealthy patron by the name of Eusebi Güell.  The color and splendor of Gaudí's more popular design may not exist here, but the undulating Art Nouveau curves certainly do!  The ironwork of the front gate is especially impressive and gives the building a somewhat daunting feel - which fits perfectly since political prisoners were once tortured in the basement level of Palau Güell.  Yikes!  Because the mansion is currently undergoing renovations (as of 2010), entrance is free!

Casa Milà (La Pedrera) - Carrer de Provença, 261, 08008 Barcelona, 011 (34) 902 202 138,

Palau Güell - Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 3-5, 08001 Barcelona, 011 (34) 933 173 974

La Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia cathedral is probably the busiest tourist attractions in Barcelona.  Usually, your "Set of Drifters" Brady and Doug avoid such places, but no honest Modernisme/ Gaudí tour of the city can be complete without a visit to this impressive site.  Technically still under construction (as it has been for the last 120+ years), this work-in-progress cathedral is a fantastic example of the genius of Antoni Gaudí.  In fact, after viewing this immense structure, replete with towering interior columns that look like mushrooms and exterior cornices that culminate in what can only be described as bushels of berries, visitors may find themselves wondering if the architect/ innovator was not a little bit insane!

La Sagrada Familia is actually listed on UNESCO's registry of World Heritage Sites (which is funny considering it is not expected to be completed until 2016, the 100th anniversary of Gaudí's death).

While the exterior of the facade is jaw-dropping alone, it is the interior of the ground floor chapels that will really blow you away.  After paying the entrance ticket of €12.50 (about USD $18), visitors can walk into the cathedral and see the construction team still busy at work!  Monolithic columns shoot to the ceiling and explode into elaborate flower-like patterns that inspire with a whimsical play of light coming in from the windows.  Your mouth will drop.

Of course, there is more to this place than just the views from the ground.  We highly recommend checking out the extraordinary vistas of the city from one of the 18 spires that ice the top of this truly bizarre cake.  From this very high angle, you will be granted an incredible sense of the project's total scope, as well as the intricate attention to detail imbued throughout.

There are many kiosks out front where you can grab an entrance ticket to the cathedral, but expect long lines and a wait if you want to take the only elevator up to the spires; believe us, it's worth it!  The only weird thing is that in order to ride the elevator up to the top you have to pay an extra fee on top of the entrance ticket to the elevator operator inside.  But what is your other option?  That endless curving staircase?  Can you say "vertigo?"  La Sagrada Familia is open Monday - Saturday from 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM.  

La Sagrada Familia - Carrer Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona, 011 (34) 932 08 04 14

Parc de Montjuic

We decided to check out the Parc de Montjuïc on our last full day in Barcelona.  This was probably a mistake considering that there are so many varied activities available within the borders of the public park.  Montjuïc rests on a large hill overlooking the harbor and the entirety of the city.  (Views from here are so panoramic that you may have a hard time believing what you are seeing with your own eyes!)  

At the top  of the park, accessible via a funicular tram (see "essentials"), visitors will find the Castell de Montjuïc, a military fortress built in the 17th Century.  The Castell comes complete with massive old canons and turrets that once served as outlooks for invading political enemies.  Despite the gorgeous views, the Castell is home to some pretty grisly history.  The museum which is housed here is in danger of being shut down by city officials who find its content somewhat politically incorrect.  The Castell also once served as a jail, holding political prisoners all the way up until the era of General Franco.  The fortress has also been the  site of many executions; both Nationalists and Republicans met their demise here during the 1930's Spanish Civil War.  These days, the Castell sees less execution and more high society catered arts events!

Besides the fabulous Fundació Joan Miró (see below), multiple botanical gardens, and the intriguing Museum of Ethnology, Parc de Montjuïc also contains various structures built specifically for the 1992 Summer Olympics Stadium, including an impressive swimming pavilion with unbelievable views of the city.  (While we were peeking through the gates, a young troupe of divers was busy at practice.)

If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed by all that Montjuïc has to offer, why not consider a simple afternoon stroll through the instead park instead?  Local residents from all walks of Barcelona life gather here for picnics and parties daily.  And it's no wonder - the well-manicured grounds are really quite breathtaking.  It's like Central Park in New York, only more sumptuous.

Set of Drifters tip:  If you find yourself with extra time in Barcelona, you might want to consider giving Montjuïc more than just one day.

Parc de Montjuïc - Parc de Montjuïc station, Av. Miramar s/n opposite the Montjuïc Municipal Swimming Pool  (accessible via Metro L2/L3 and the Funicular de Montjuïc, Bus 50,55).

Castell de Montjuïc -

Fundació Joan Miró

This great museum is much bigger than it looks from the outside, and in our humble opinion, really has it going on.  The fantastic hillside location inside the Parc de Montjuïc (see above) sets the stage and juxtaposes nicely with the ultra-modern design by architect Josep Lluís Sert.  Inside, be witness to a sampling of revolving exhibits featuring contemporary artists, as well as a permanent collection showcasing the whimsical Surrealist art of Spain's own, Joan Miró.  His work is much more complex and humorous than it looks from the onset so make sure to spend some time getting up close and personal with the over 14,000 paintings, drawings, textiles and drawings on display!

While photographs are not allowed inside the museum, you are welcome to snap away on the terrace outside which features a handful of Miró's eye-catching three-dimensional sculptures.

The extensive Fundació Joan Miró also boasts a great, well-organized book- store and a really nice outdoor sculpture garden.  This is the perfect spot to take a mid-day respite during your day trip to the Parc de Montjuïc.

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM, and on Sunday from 10:00 AM to 2:30 PM.  Do not miss this - seriously!  Admission is €8.50 for adults (about USD $12); students and people over 65 are €6.00.

Fundació Joan Miró - Parc de Montjuïc s/n, 08038 Barcelona, Spain, 011 (34) 934 43 94 70

Casa Batlló

Located in the upscale L'Eixample neighborhood (right in the hustle and bustle of Barcelona's main shopping thoroughfare), lies another of Antoni Gaudí's great masterpieces!   Casa Batlló, part of Barcelona's "Ruta del Modernisme" (see above), is definitely a must see for any Antoni Gaudí enthusiast or architecture buff.  The apartment building was originally built in 1877, but underwent a design renovation by Gaudí during the years 1904-1906.  Josep Batlló and his family had lived on the first two floors of the building, while the upper floors were rented out to other tenants.  (We couldn't figure out if people still lived on one of the floors or not?)

Called the Casa dels Ossos (or "house of bones") by the locals, Casa Batlló features an impressive facade, almost worth the price of admission alone... but there is much to see inside, and on top!  The inside of Casa Batlló is awash in the glow of soft lighting, gold ornamentation, and soft blue pastel tiles.  Looking back on it now, what strikes us as so amazing is how modern the whole building actually feels.  The rounded corners and shapes and space-age dynamics of Casa Batlló were totally before their time, and create a space that is truly unique.  Colorful tile mosaics, startling wrought-ironwork and curved glass windows are all features of this apartment building that make it one of the greatest examples of the Art Nouveau movement in architecture!  

Admission to Casa Batlló costs €17 for adults (about USD $22), and €14 for children/ students (about USD $17).  So it's a little pricey for a tour of a house, but WHAT A HOUSE IT IS!  Traveling with children will afford you a small break.  Tikes seven years old or younger get in FREE.

Casa Batlló is open from 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM most days of the year.  Though the lines outside look hefty from afar, a lot of the people outside are just looky- loo's who are scared off by the higher than normal entrance fee, and instead choose just to photograph the exterior facade. 

Casa Batlló  - Passieg de Gràcia, 43, 08007 Barcelona, 011 (34) 932 16 03 06

Museo Picasso de Barcelona

When arriving in a foreign city with oodles upon oodles of things to see and do, there is nothing worse than the dreaded "jet-lag."  And yet, there are times when you must submit and listen to your body's pleas for rest!  After a round of tapas, and a couple of hours wasted getting lost in the neighborhood of La Ribera, Doug was pooped and headed back to our hotel in the
Barri Gòtic.  By chance, we had just stopped in front of the Museo Picasso de Barcelona!  And even tough it was not ideal that we would not be experiencing the museum together, I was not going to miss out on the opportunity to take a look.  As it turns out, the nap may have been a better plan after all!

Museo Picasso de Barcelona is dedicated to Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, one of the most famous and prolific artists in the entire world!  This being Spain, I suppose I had some high expectations.  Unfortunately, they were not met.  The collection focuses too much on Picasso's early work (very early... childhood scribblings, anyone?)  There is very little on display from the artist's later (and more popular) Cubist or Surrealist periods.  Those who prefer Picasso's "Blue" and "Rose" paintings will fare better, that is unless the museum has loaned out the lion's share of the pieces to other locations like they had on the afternoon I visited in May of 2010.

There are some pluses of course.  The museum does feature an entire room's worth of paintings from the painter's Meninas series, a colorful and funny collection inspired by Diego Velázquez's 1656 masterpiece Las Meninas.  I was also excited to see examples of Picasso's rarely seen pottery on display.  And yet, I was still left underwhelmed, unlike our experience at the lesser known Fundació Joan Miró (see above).

The Museo Picasso de Barcelona is housed in a great location, and this is perhaps its best asset!  The museum building is actually comprised of a series of adjoining stone mansions, some with really nice interiors.  The ground floor queuing area is quite impressive and inviting.  Not surprisingly, it attaches to a brilliant bookstore in which you will have no trouble relieving yourselves of some euros before your trip back home.  Hours of operation are Tuesday through Sunday (including holidays), 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM.  Admission is €10 for entrance to the main museum and its temporary exhibition (about USD $14).  Admission to the temporary exhibition alone is €6.

Museo Picasso de Barcelona - Carrer Montcada, 15-23, 08003,  Barcelona, 011 (34)  933 196 310

Park Güell

Park Güell is another huge tourist destination that many do not miss while visiting Barcelona.  Why?  Well, for one, it is free and has no pesky operating hours to suss out!  But seriously, this is a cool place, if not a little too crowded for our liking.  (Can you say tourist zoo?)

In order to get to the park, you need to take a subway up to Vallcarca.  The area around Park Güell instantly reminded us a lot of San Francisco.  Here, the hills were so steep up to the park that the city installed escalators to transport tourists to and from the popular site!  The layout and many buildings inside Park Güell were once again designed by architect Antoni Gaudí; therefore it is no surprise that the spot features an amazing complex of fantastical architecture and gardens!  Originally, the park was designed as a planned community for the aristocracy of Barcelona.  When not enough families moved into the project, the city turned it into a public garden space - which brings in thousands of tourists each week.

The main attractions here, some might say, are the two gatehouses that stand at the front entrance to the grounds.  They look like gingerbread houses from the Grimm Fairytale "Hansel and Gretel."  And while we did not venture inside due to the crowds, one of these gatehouses features a museum that focuses on the park's history and the architect's building methods.  One of these building techniques is called trencadís in Catalan, and it takes the form of broken tiles in brilliant, or opalescent colors.  Gaudí is the master of trencadís, and its his little tiled dragon that is perhaps the most famous icon of Park Güell.  In fact, we even caught a glimpse of a most enterprising busker who traded euros for a photo of him wearing a flexible mosaic tile costume that looks just like the real dragon!!

Like the Sagrada Familia cathedral (see above), Park Güell is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Check it out for a fun afternoon of great views and surprising color!  Set of Drifters tip:  Why not hit up La Rambla's Mercat de la Boqueira first for some cheese, sausage and other picnic goodies?  You'll save some euros and end up with all the fixings for an unforgettable Park Güell lunch!

Park Güell - Carrer d'Olot, Barcelona, Catalonia, 08024

La Barceloneta (neighborhood)

One great neighborhood that has been enjoyed on multiple visits to Barcelona is La Barceloneta (or "little Barcelona").  Doug stumbled upon this area after spending a day at the adjacent beach about 10 years ago, and each time he has returned to BCN, he has made a point to visit the area.  Why?  Quite simply, La Barceloneta is where the party is - day into night!  A variety of al fresco restaurants and bars line the main street heading to the beach, but if one makes a turn left (while facing the cobalt waters), you'll find a charming neighborhood filled with elements of modern residential Barcelona life:  fishing, boating and, yes, cavorting! 

In 1718, the Spanish government designed the quarter to house people who were displaced by the former hated military force that had destroyed thousands of homes in nearby La Ribera.  The parallel streets and rectangular blocks were built to allow for easier control and access of the population.  (As cheesy as it sounds, walking around La Barceloneta today oddly feels a bit like the boatride aboard the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride at Disneyland.  But have no fear, there'll be no cannonballs catapulting over your head!)  As time marched on, the area later emerged as the perfect housing opportunity to support BCN's burgeoning harbor and fishing industry.   

What visitors will find today is a hybrid of high-end touristy eateries as well as a mish-mash of convenience stores and little bars and cafes that support the existing population.  And don't forget to keep your eyes open for the massive public art that abounds just about everywhere near the marina.  From a giant lobster that you can walk beneath to a Roy Lichtenstein's colorful "El Cap de Barcelona" (1992), we bet you'll be photo-bombing yourself multiple times within each city block!

Set of Drifters tip:  Be prepared to blush.  Portions of the strip near La Barceloneta are designated nude beaches - not that we're complaining!  Prepare to see minions of lads and lasses letting it all hang out, especially on the weekends!  We just wonder how long it takes for them to get that coarse golden sand out of their crotch! 

For more on La Barceloneta, see "Can Ramonet" in "eats."

La Barceloneta - neighborhood bordered by Passeig de Joan de Borbó and Passeig Marítim de la Barceloneta, accessible via the Barceloneta Metro stop or the Torre Sant Sebastià station of the Port Vell Aerial Tramway (see "essentials" for more information)