I’m really quite confused about Barceloneta Beach, the one closest to the downtown core and nestled in the shadow of the Olympic Park. Our Busabout guide told us that it was an artificial beach and many of the people that I talked to in Barcelona agreed with this, stating that it was built for the 1992 Olympics and that sand is still trucked in (or boated in) from the Egyptian deserts.
Online, however, none of the tourist pages seem to confirm this and the Barceloneta Wikipedia page states that it makes an appearance in Don Quixote. So, I’m left to draw the conclusion that the beach was there, then it became terrible and now they’ve turned it into a manmade beach.
There was a girl in my hostel who was in Barcelona for the second time because she loved the city so much and she wanted to spend some time at the beach. She was horrified by the fact that I had been in Barcelona for 24 hours at that point and didn’t make the beach a priority… um, I never make the beach a priority and after seeing the one in Barcelona I was reminded of why.
It was crowded, it was busy, the sand had a strange, gritty texture (apparently there have been health concerns in the past regarding the sand quality) and there were people trying to sell you things every few minutes. I didn’t even bring a bathing suit down as I planned to just walk through the neighbourhood, and I was glad I didn’t. There were constant offers of mojitos, cans of beer, towels, sarongs… you name it, someone on the beach was selling it. I was glad to just wander along the beach, peering into a few of the shops and walking in the Barceloneta neighbourhood to get out of the sun for a bit.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, away from the hustle and bustle of the beach, is the Gaudí designed Park Guëll. The initial goal of the Park was to create a high-end housing development but it proved to be commercially unsustainable and the entire project was abandoned in 1914. There were only two houses built, out of a planned 60, and neither of the houses were actually built by Gaudí. He did remain faithful to the project, however, and moved into one of the two houses in the early 1900s.
Why was the project abandoned? One reason could be the location – to get to Park Guëll you have to walk up a hill. A very big hill. I took the subway to the Vallcarca stop, which is supposed to have the shortest walk and the most escalators (why punish myself?)… and it was still a pretty brutal trek. There are outdoor escalators, but you still have to walk up a steep incline in order to reach the park entrance. People don’t want to walk up massive hills every day, no matter how good it is for their legs. Our guide for the Gaudí walking tour gave us another reason – apparently Gaudí and Guëll were known for being arrogant and no one wanted to be their neighbour.
One benefit of the hill, however, is that the view is fairly incredible. You can even see the Sagrada Familia under construction in the distance. I can’t help but wonder if watching the building of the church helped Gaudí in his decision to devote himself entirely to the Sagrada Familia upon the failure of Park Guëll. You can climb to the top of the hill (mountain?) if you so desire, but I read a few things online that advised against people doing it with “expensive cameras around their neck” or “females alone”, so I decided against it. One of the girls on Busabout, who didn’t Google Park Guëll, went to the top and said that she didn’t see any reason why there would be those warnings online. Maybe there is such a thing as too much information…?
It’s free to enter the park and wander through most of the site but there is a fee for people who want to enter what is called the “monumental zone”. This is where the bulk of the work was completed during the construction phase and includes a massive staircase, a covered room that would be used for markets, two buildings for gatekeepers’ and many mosaics. There is also a large public square at the top of the staircase which is enclosed by a beautiful tiled bench which is supposed to represent a sea serpent.
The salamander/dragon which has become an unofficial symbol for Barcelona is also in the monumental zone. Good luck getting a photo with that – this area seemed to have the highest concentration of tourists jostling for position, desperate to pose with the tiled animal.
It costs €7 to enter the monumental zone if you buy the tickets in advance over the Internet. Otherwise, you can buy tickets at the park or at the ticket machines in the subway stations for €8. I didn’t regret buying my tickets to go into the monumental zone – I really enjoyed the ability to explore some of the buildings and structures that were created. There was a small exhibit in one of the entry houses that was supposed to talk about Gaudí and modernism in Barcelona, but really just had a lot of interesting photos to examine. It looked as though very little has changed in the park since construction was stopped in 1914.
One interesting part of that building, however, is the lack of hard lines. Gaudi didn’t seem to be a fan of corners, straight lines or anything really rigid – it’s probably why his buildings are so whimsical and playful. I can’t imagine the challenges in decorating a non linear home, however, and I suspect that whoever lived in the house didn’t hang a lot of pictures.
The fee to enter the monumental zone has only been instituted in the past few years and, based on some of the signage around the park, it’s a bit controversial. You can go in after 9pm or 9:30 and not be charged a fee, but it quickly gets dark and the site isn’t very well lit. There are several benefits to charging a fee, that I could see. One is that the vendors and touts stay outside of the gates, so you get a peaceful hour or two away from the hustle of Barcelona. Two, and this is probably the most important, is that the city can pay for security staff. Not to sound arrogant, but other people are the reason why we can’t have nice things. There was no graffiti etched into anything and things seem remarkably well preserved. I saw some stupid tourists climbing into some of the carvings and waterspouts built into the walls. Since there was security, they could be there to quickly tell the tourists to get down and behave. I don’t understand why people think they have the right to climb all over things, etch their name into it or do whatever they want… if the fee pays for security to prevent damage then I have no problem paying for it.
Park Guëll is really quite magical but, to be honest, if Gaudí had designed an entire subdivision I think it would have come out looking something like Whoville. I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it would certainly be more interesting than living in a suburban McMansion!