Barcelona, a distinctly European city, with touches of French culture, particularly in the architecture of its many grand abodes, with the overarching and unmistakable atmosphere of the Catalan people; a certain sense of uniqueness that never makes itself obvious yet is always present. Maybe in the way a certain word is spoken or a specific gesture serves as a constant reminder that Catalonia is most definitely a country and culture in its own right, despite its political troubles.
Large parts of the city were designed by Antoni Gaudí, an architect who practiced the style of Modernisme, or Catalan Modernism. His style is utterly unmistakable, completely unlike any other school of architecture that I have ever known. It is all at once colourful and chaotic and beautiful.
The most obvious and well-known example is the Sagrada Familia, an enormous cathedral whose construction began in 1852 and continues today. I had read of this building before, but nothing compared to seeing it for my own eyes, it seemed as though each of its towers began as separate entities, only the grow together into this architectural chimera. Even though it is covered in scaffold and constantly enveloped in the roar of constant construction, it is still a beautiful and distinctly unique sight.
About one hour outside of Barcelona, lies the small municipality of San Feliu de Codines. It is in stark contrast to the busy hustle of Barcelona, a small and quiet countryside town. I found myself comfortable here, I think because it almost reflected the difference between my home town in Ireland and the city of Dublin, where I lived for many years. I suppose it is the same in most places, a large city as a kind of cultural and social hub, surrounded by satellite towns.
The French cross-cultural influence is more noticeable in here. Being only about three hours from France and the Pyrenees, the culture and architecture has more in common with the Southern France than Spain.
The building are built of thick sturdy stone, with tall heavy wooden doors at their entrances. The interiors are all aged burgundy tiles and carved mahogany and pine furniture. Olives and tomatoes lie in bowls alongside loaves of bread, and meats hang out to dry in every kitchen.
In particular it was the vistas that I found most attractive, to use an old cliché, the views are stunning. The municipality is situated high in the mountain ranges; blistering heat during the day and freezing cold in the midst of night. Surrounded by rolling mountains and hills, covered head to foot in trees, with the occasional sheer cliff face breaking the illusion of looking at particularly detailed painting.
I find it odd that simply enjoying scenery and natural beauty is not something I did often in Ireland, I know for a fact that my homeland is very beautiful, though perhaps I took it for granted, or perhaps I simply didn’t feel the need to explore it, just as you don’t explore or admire your own house in the same way you would another’s.
After our short stay in Catalonia, we travel to Lima, the capital city of Peru, and the first real stop in our South American adventure.