After a day spent on the bus and an evening arrival in Barcelona yesterday I have finally arrived at the Mediterranean Sea – my central trip planning point. It was thrilling to find it (I kept whispering “the ocean!” to myself as I gazed at it. From here my journey will continue north and east and wrap around until I make it all the way to Turkey in two months. I feel like today made my trip really begin!
I spent the morning wandering the area around the Sagrada Familia and then finding my ocean view. Then I had brunch with a few Barcelona locals, friends of friends who graciously welcomed me into their home in Barcalonetta, fed me brunch and gave me many recommendations as to what to see and do in Barcelona.
In the afternoon I wandered the medieval city center – a dizzying maze of narrow alleyways and beautiful cathedrals – its one of the best preserved medieval areas in Europe. I took advantage of the free Sunday afternoon openings to visit the Museu Picasso and the Museu Frederic Mares which were interesting both for their collections and for their architectural design. The Museu Picasso is a collection of (mainly) Picasso’s early works – the later being two expensive to gather all in one place I’d assume. The collection is housed in five adjoining former palaces which were converted according to the 1978 design of architect Jordi Garcés, whose hand I would like to shake. The circulation happens primarily on the ground level, where tickets are sold and the bathrooms, cloakroom and gift shop are located. You can enter through the doorway of each of the five original buildings, pass through a courtyard with stairs ascending to the main (gallery) level or pass through it toward the long interconnecting hallway of arches. Museum attendants ask for a ticket and stop you from going up the stairs without one. The arched hallway is spectacular. I couldn’t get enough of its repeating but ever differing forms, and the interventions made to open the five buildigns into each other were fascinating. Then upstairs the harshly simple, white plaster and concrete modernism of the main gallery spaces set up a very interesting contrast to the warm brick and stone below but repeated the pattern of receding door openings. I would gladly have visited the building as a museum unto itself without any picasso at all.
That sentiment goes double for the Museum Frederic Mares which I visited at the end of the day and could have spent hours or days inside (although I really did like the collection there better). Mares was a sculptor and collector of sculptures who donated his collection to the city on his death. The depth of the collection was stunning – the photo set of Mary and child carvings barely scratches the surface of what the museum had on display. I found the painted and unpainted wooden sculptures very compelling (I’ve always had a thing for medieval religious art) and could have spent the day in the ground floor sculpture gallery. I can’t quite pinpoint what I loved so much about this building but I kept walking into galleries and almost tearing up from joy and awe. The richness of the carven wooden beams, the layering of the receding archways, the slightly off square organization of the rooms just completely floored me. I was really impressed again with the way the renovation (a cursory internet search hasn’t revealed by whom) inserted modern details and connections into the original structure. I’m seriously considering paying to go back and spend another day in this museum.