M1626 – Familiar sights

Five days have now passed since my last post, M1626 – Very Moorish, about my visit to the Alhambra Palace from the Spanish port of Málaga. The intervening four days were very busy, visiting four different ports in four different countries, so there has been no time to write my posts about these port calls until now. Today and tomorrow are sea days as we head south-west towards our penultimate port.

The first of these four consecutive ports was the Spanish port of Barcelona. Although I had visited this port several times before, I had not previously visited it’s most famous landmark, the Sagrada Família, which I was to put right on this cruise. It’s a personal theme of this cruise that I am visiting iconic Spanish buildings – first the Alhambra Palace, now the Sagrada Família, with one more to visit to make from the final port of call.

The Sagrada Família is a large Roman Catholic church in Gothic and Art Nouveau style, designed by the Catalan Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. Construction began in 1882, Gaudí becoming involved a year later when the original head architect resigned. By the time of Gaudí’s untimely death in a road accident in 1926 it was only one quarter complete. As it was being financed by private donations progress was slow, and halted altogether during the Spanish civil war. Despite still being incomplete, in November 2010 Pope Benedict XVI consecrated and proclaimed it a minor basilica (not a cathedral which must be the seat of a bishop). A possible completion date for the basilica is 2026, the centenary of Gaudí’s death.

We sailed into Barcelona early in the morning, and once again we had the perk of being a small ship – being berthed in the nearest berth to the city centre and within a short walking distance. There were three other ships in that day – Queen Victoria and two ‘floating blocks of flats’ – they were all berthed much further out at berths requiring the use of a shuttle bus to reach the city centre. The sky was clear and the forecast was for a lovely warm sunny day – the fair weather gods were definitely back with me!

Although it is perfectly possible to visit the Sagrada Família independently, I had elected to do so using a ship’s tour for a number of reasons – it made getting there easy as it is some distance from the port, it ensured there were no issues with queuing for and securing an admission ticket, and I would have a local guide to inform me about what we were seeing. The tour was in the morning, leaving me free to explore the city further independently in the afternoon.

The coach took a bit of a tour around the city both on the way and the way back so that the local guide could point out other significant sights in the city. The guide spoke with great expression and enthusiasm, but unfortunately she spoke continuously without pauses, which I find tiring and it was hard to maintain concentration on what she was saying.

Coaches can only drop passengers a little way from the Sagrada Família, so we had to walk the last part of the way. Outside we were directed into a corral, where we were issued with tickets, and radios & earphones so that we could hear our guide inside the basilica. Waiting outside I took photographs of the astonishing facade before me, the details and design making it clear why this was such a unique and admired building. The more you looked, the more amazing detail you saw. We were outside the eastern door, and our guide explained that this facade portrayed Christ’s birth, lit by the rising sun. Similarly the western facade portrayed Christ’s crucifixion, lit by the setting sun.

Entering the building I was instantly struck by it’s huge height and the striking pillars, and by the vast and beautiful stained glass windows which simply painted the interior with washes of colour – it really took my breath away.

The guide led us to various places inside the basilica, before taking us outside via the western door where we returned our radios. We then had around half an hour of free time, which I used to briefly visit the shop before re-entering the basilica to take more photographs, particularly of parts we did not visit with our guide.

Once everyone has returned to our designated meeting point we were led back to our coach. This was picking us up at the same place as we were dropped, but it was rather chaotic there with many coaches and groups of people from the various cruise ships, and I had to have my wits about me to get back onto the correct coach. We returned in time for lunch, during which I pondered where to explore during the afternoon – where that was and what I saw will be the subject of my next post. Meanwhile I will leave you with my photographs of the basilica, which hopefully speak for themselves:

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Postscript: Tonight was the second of the two full shows by the super-talented violinist and all around entertainer E Sarah Carter, who’s fabulous and astonishing first show I called out in my last post M1626 – Very Moorish. Once again she had the entire audience enthralled and entertained not just by the fabulous way she plays her violin, but also her comedy, singing and other vocal talents. Once again we needed to expect the unexpected for a refreshingly different and fabulous show:

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