For our third day in Barcelona we chose two very different experiences: to visit one of the famous Gaudi houses – Casa Batllo – and to make our way to the top of Montjuic park for some amazing views of the city.
Yesterday’s visit to Park Guell hadn’t been a big hit with the girls and so this time we wanted to get them involved in choosing our next attraction. As you would expect, the Internet is an amazing source of information and we watched some videos of two very different Gaudi buildings – Casa Mila (otherwise known as La Pedrera or ‘the quarry’) and Casa Batllo. Casa Batllo is smaller and the more intimate of the two. La Pedrera is two apartment blocks linked by two large internal courtyards and is on a much bigger scale. It also has an amazing rooftop terrace.
It would’ve been lovely to visit both, but there is only so much you can do in 5 days. There is also only so much that the children will do before they switch off. Our two have been very enthusiastic and interested in the places we have taken them but they have their limits, especially if the place they are visiting hasn’t done much to enhance their experience or doesn’t have a real ‘wow’ factor. I think this may have been one of the problems with our visit to Park Guell yesterday – to them it was essentially just a walk around a (very busy) park with a few mosaics and some strange gingerbread houses!
Another factor for us (and I guess for most people) is the cost. Entry to Casa Batllo costs €22.50 for adults and €19.50 for children aged 7-18. La Pedrera is a similar amount at €20.50 for adults and €10.25 for children aged 7-12. That’s just short of €150 for a family of four to do both properties!
So we let the girls choose, and I think it was the ‘augmented reality’ audiovisual guide promised by Casa Batllo that swung the vote in its favour, and it didn’t disappoint.
Both Casa Batllo and La Pedrera are on Passeig de Gracia in the Eixample district of Barcelona. In fact, Casa Batllo was one of the first attractions we saw on the walk to our apartment on our first day and we had seen the big queues outside, so once again we knew we had to go online and book tickets in advance.
This is a very simple process in which you select your entry time from half hourly intervals. You can pay an extra €5 per person for a Fast Pass where you can skip the queue completely, but at this time of year this wasn’t an issue and we walked straight in at our allotted time.
Casa Batllo wasn’t built by Gaudi: it was actually built in 1877 and then totally renovated by Gaudi in 1904. It was highly criticised at the time because its radical design broke all the bylaws of the city, but it wasn’t long before the city council recognised it as one of the best buildings in the city.
This really is a fun house to explore. Instead of just an audio guide, you are given what they call a SmartGuide, which consists of a phone-sized tablet plus headphones. It shows you an ‘augmented reality’ of the house. This is basically a fancy way of saying that the screen of your tablet brings the features of the house to life. Sometimes this is to show you what the area you are standing in would’ve looked like with furniture and rugs etc in it. And sometimes it is to interpret the different features of the house and literally bring them to life. One of the best examples of this was in the hallway, where there are some skylights that look like turtle shells. As we were listening to the audio guide, the girls held their tablets up and moved them through the air as if taking a video of the scene. As they did so, you could see the image of the room on the screen, moving as they moved the tablet. But on the screen, one of the skylights suddenly turned into a turtle that swam across the room. This really excited the girls and was an added dimension to literally bring Gaudi’s ideas and designs to life before their eyes.
To Gaudi, architecture was art itself and he paid great attention to even the finest details of the homes and buildings he designed. Railings, banisters, balconies, doorways, even door handles were all meticulously thought through and formed an important part of the whole. He was fascinated by nature and geometry and you can see this throughout all of his work.
At Casa Batllo, Gaudi created an underwater world, with turtles, giant sea creatures, dragons, waves and ripples all represented in the architectural details. The rippled glass on the stairwells makes you feel as though you are viewing the world through shimmering water. Wooden doorways and banisters seem to curve round like waves and the two internal light shafts are tiled in sea blue. Gaudi cleverly designed it so that the tiles at the top, where there was more light penetration, are darker than those at the bottom, thus making the whole shaft look the same colour.
As well as the interior space, the SmartGuide tour also takes you out onto a large patio at the rear of the property and up onto the rooftop terrace. Here Gaudi continued his nature-inspired theme with a tiled ridge line that looks like the spines and scales on the back of a dragon, lying out on the roof. There are also four sets of chimneys, standing like bunches of brightly coloured mushrooms clad in Gaudi’s trademark trencadis mosaics. Their interesting shape was designed to prevent the smoke blowing back down the chimney.
The house is full of wonderful textures, lines and shapes and has a natural, organic feel about it. In the attic area, the ceiling looks like you are inside the rib cage of a giant creature, the walls of the much of the house seem to mould fluidly around you and in the main living room the ceiling swirls like a vortex around the central light. The handles on the windows and doors fit snugly into your hand: apparently Gaudi moulded them around his own hand and the result is that they feel really comfortable to grasp. And virtually every part of the house invites you to touch it, to feel its smoothness and warmth, to caress its shape. Gaudi also made sure that it was flooded with natural light, giving it not only the internal light shafts, but huge windows out onto Passeig de Gracia and transom windows above the doors, letting the light flow from one space to another. I loved it: the house felt so calm and comfortable I was ready to ship the container over and move in!!!
You can watch videos of Casa Batllo on YouTube or on their own website.
Montjuic Park and cable car
After beautiful Casa Batllo, we took a bus from outside on Passeig de Gracia down to Paral-lel and walked from there to the base of Montjuic Park. This vast, hilly park is in the southern section of Barcelona, right by the port and the waterfront. Montjuic is otherwise known as ‘Jewish Mountain’ and at it its base on the port side there is a huge Jewish cemetery where the plots looks like they are carved into the rock. Montjuic is where the Olympic stadium is located and it is full of walks and gardens, with pathways and steps cross-crossing its slopes. You can reach the top on foot or by bus, or you can take the less strenuous and more scenic option and travel by cable car.
Teleferic de Montjuic
There are actually two cable cars that take you in and around Montjuic park and the names for the stations are very similar and therefore confusing when you are trying to work out which one goes where. We took the Teleferic de Montjuic which is on the mountain itself. It has two sections: the first leg runs from Estacio Funicular on Avenida Miramar up to the Mirador station half way up the mountain. The second leg runs from the Mirador station up to the Castell station, just below Montjuic Castle at the top of the hill. You can pay for both legs or just one of the sections and then walk the rest of the way up or down if you are feeling energetic. The carriages on the Teleferic de Montjuic are small, seating 4 people in each and the views across Barcelona as you ascend are breathtaking.
A short funicular railway runs between the Paral-lel metro station on the edge of the Raval district in the old town and Estacio Funicular where you join the cable car, connecting the city to the base of the mountain. Your ordinary metro ticket is valid on the funicular.
Transbordador Aeri del Port (Port cable car)
The other cable car is the Transbordador Aeri del Port or ‘Port cable car’ and it runs from the waterfront at Barcelonetta across the harbour to a station on the side of Montjuic park called Mirador de Miramar. This cable car has one large gondola carriage that takes up to 20 people and you stand for the seven minute journey.
We spent some time at the top to Montjuic park, taking in the views in all directions – of the port, beaches and out to sea on one side and across the city to Tibidabo and the mountains on the other. The port was full of activity and we watched huge container ships being loaded and unloaded and marvelled at the giant cruise ships docked there.
Montjuic Park is definitely somewhere you could spend hours exploring: some of the sections we passed over in the cable car looked beautiful and interesting. However, that would have to wait for another day – we were all starting to get tired and so we headed back down the mountain on the cable car and funicular and finally got the bus back to Gracia and our apartment.