And the hits just keep coming. Our last stop of this one-month, 50th Anniversary Extravaganza with Mom and Dad was Barcelona, Spain. It has been, and remains, one of our favorite cities. Mediterranean climate, wide boulevards, stunning architecture, tapas and Cava… what’s not to like?! We saw little to no evidence of the Catalonian Independence unrest, though it was definitely top-of-mind for people in the city. The city was hip, happening, clean, friendly and gorgeous. We hope these latest bumps in the political road won’t cause lingering disruption.

Our last stop… Barcelona, Spain. 

Waiting for us at the point of disembarkation was this van. For the four of us and our guide. This is what happens when you mention you might have an extra suitcase or two… oops.

The highlights of Barcelona are most certainly topped by all things Gaudí … Antoni Gaudí, who’s Roman Catholic faith was so intense and integrated into his work, he was nicknamed “God’s Architect.”

We started with Gaudi’s Park Güell (pronounced ‘Gwell’). Park Güell was intended to be an estate for well-off families. In 1885, industrialist Eusebi Güell, Gaudí’s patron, bought the site located on a hill with little vegetation and few trees, but with splendid views over the sea and plain of Barcelona. He instructed Gaudí to build a garden city, in which nature and housing would form a symbiosis. The idea was to recreate grand British residential estates, and Güell entrusted the development and urban-planning of the entire estate to Antoni Gaudí. The estate made provision for 60 triangular plots with a complex network of paths, viaducts and steps to cope with the steep topography of the terrain. Gaudí was a pioneer in providing practical solutions for would-be residents while aspiring to achieve a total work of art. However, by 1914, Güell chose to halt construction work on the project because no one was buying. Although much had been done on the land and the estate is like no other, the conditions of plot acquisition, the exclusive nature of the estate and the lack of proper transport to the estate from the city made the project a commercial flop. Eusebi Güell’s heirs offered the estate to the Barcelona City Council which decided to acquire it in 1922 and opened it as a public park four years later.

Gaudí’s multicolored mosaic salamander, popularly known as “el drac” (the dragon), at the main entrance of Park Güell.

Quite a view from Park Güell, with Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia looming large on the horizon.

Antoni Gaudi was the most well-known architect of the artistic style known in Catalan as Modernisme, which included the modern mosaics of Barcelona.  This radical approach to mosaics developed in the late 1800s/early 1900s mixed traditional, square cut tiles with irregularly shaped pieces selected from broken ceramic tile–a technique appropriately called broken tile mosaics.

The lushness, symbolism, symmetry and artistry of Park Güell make it truly one-of-a-kind.

When the weather’s pleasant, residents and tourists relax and take in the view on the terrace. 

Below the terrace, shade from hot sun or shelter from rain is provided by soaring columns.

Again, symmetry, symbolism and a symbiotic relationship between art and function.

Gaudí lived in this house on the estate for several years with his father (who lived to age 93) and his niece.  It is now the Gaudi House Museum where several of Gaudí’s original works are displayed.

Gaudi perfected his personal style through inspiration from organic shapes. He put into practice a series of new structural solutions rooted in the analysis of geometry. To that, he added creative liberty and an imaginative, ornamental creative style.

These two (gingerbread house!) pavilions formed the porter’s lodge of the old estate.

Between Gaudí works, we loved touring and walking around Barcelona.

In Barcelona, we stayed at the Hotel El Palace Barcelona. The hotel was originally completed in 1917 as the Ritz Barcelona. Built by César Ritz, it was a sister hotel to the Ritz hotels in Paris, London and Madrid.

The lobby of Hotel El Palace Barcelona. Ornate, yet with modern touches such as the ceiling lights.

About to leave the Hotel El Palace Barcelona for a long morning walk around downtown Barcelona.

Barcelona contains a number of beautiful old government buildings.

Well preserved and beautifully maintained.

Even renovations were kept tidy and picturesque. This canvas showed a mock-up of what the renovated building will look like.

 Christopher Columbus… pointing at the way to the New World?

Proud lion sculptures guard the base of the Columbus statue.

A pedestrian bridge connects a newly developed shopping/restaurant area with the city.

…and is adjacent to a large marina full of sailboats.

And finally, a spectacular finale to a spectacular trip, we visited Gaudí’s magnus opum, Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family), a Catholic basilica whose first stone was laid in 1882. Mark and I visited about 10-11 years ago, and we were blown away by the progress and changes since then. Of course, it has been under construction for 135 years, so hopefully progress continues rapidly; we’d love to return to see the final product in 2026.

The Sagrada Familia is Gaudí’s crowning achievement. In 1882, construction of Sagrada Família commenced under architect Francisco Paula de Villar. In 1883, when Villar resigned, Gaudí took over as chief architect, transforming the project with his architectural and engineering style, combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms. Gaudí devoted the remainder of his life to the project, and at the time of his death at age 73 in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete.

Gaudí, pictured shortly before his death in 1926.

Over the years, work has continued on the Sagrada Familia with a number of artists contributing their vision of what Gaudí would have wanted. When we visited over 10 years ago, many of the fruits on the towers were still under construction inside the building.

These sculptures were contributed by a Japanese artist. Notice the Asian faces.

And then, there are the contemporary-style sculptures of Biblical figures and stories.

We found this style extraordinary, but there has certainly been much controversy around the varied contributions from multiple artists.

The church plan is that of a Latin cross with five aisles. The central nave vaults reach 150 feet while the side nave vaults reach 100 feet.

The stained glass windows, soaring tree-like columns, symmetry and symbolism in every detail were breathtaking.

We couldn’t get enough of the colors that changed with the sun’s direction and intensity.

The view up top was mind-bogglingly beautiful.

This picture illustrates what the Sagrada Familia will look like when it is finally completed. Its completion is scheduled for 2026—the centenary of Gaudí’s death. When La Sagrada Familia is completed, it will have 18 towers. 12 of the towers represent the apostles, four of them represent the evangelists, one will be designated for the Virgin Mary, and of course the last one, the highest one in the middle, will represent Jesus Christ. We’ll be back to count them, just to be sure.