Spain is the countrified equivalent of the Power Rangers.
Like them, Spain is a collection of autonomous regions with their own personalities, strengths, abilities, cultural flavour, symbols, history and, in some cases, official language. The emphasis here is on the word “autonomy,” in that each autonomous region governs itself, having their own parliament and their own set of laws, called Statutes of Autonomy. Put all these autonomous regions together, and you get Spain. The regions are the Power Rangers and the combination of their Zords (Mastodon! Pterodactyl!) make Spain a MegaZord. Yes, my childhood was lovely, thank you.
In non-crazy, non-early ’90s teen-speak, if the European Union is an amalgamation of countries, Spain is its microcosm. It must be very like trying to control a team of wild horses, with each one straining at the bit to go whichever way they want to go. Imagine those unique, multi-faceted autonomous regions uniting to make one great nation and country under God. However convoluted it may sound, these crazy Spaniards make it work.
It’s true that each region has its own distinctive character and taste – even smell. Having spent days exploring the haughty grandeur of Madrid, and the graceful beauty of Granada, arriving in Barcelona was a splash of cold water. It was like stepping into a time machine and being thrown into a completely different era. If Madrid is the Red Ranger (leader, big brother, stoic and strong) and Granada the White Ranger (formerly bad, now good, always and forever the hottest), Barcelona would be the Pink Ranger.
I thought I knew what grand was, having seen the palaces and gardens of Madrid, and the imposing citadel of the Alhambra. Barcelona took the word grand, and shot it into the stratosphere. It’s huge. Its roads are wide and its buildings take up so much space, it makes Madrid seem almost cramped by comparison.
The jewel of the autonomous region of Catalonia, the city moves to the beat of its own drum. Barcelona is deceptively young. It was a Roman city in the Middle Ages, so it isn’t really young at all, it just seems to have drunk from the Fountain of Youth somehow. It’s colourful, and bright, and fast-paced, and weird, and eclectic and you can feel its sheer, unbridled joy and delight in just being different. It seems to be a city that hasn’t forgotten the glories of the past, but is busy making sure it stays relevant and on the cusp.
That modern feel is fitting, because its most famous son was at the forefront of Catalan Modernisme – a cultural revival of what it meant to be Catalan. Antoni Gaudi was the architect of much that would give Barcelona its new international identity. His most famous masterwork, the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia is, of all the truly wonderful landmarks of Barcelona, the one whose identity is irrevocably bound up in that of the city. Just as huge, just as grand, just as unbridled as the spirit of Barcelona itself, it’s an architectural marvel. And, like Barcelona, it’s not yet done (they broke ground in 1882!) . Some wonder if it ever will be. Blog Sagrada Familia, its official architecture blog, is a great source of information, and a way better resource than listening to a travel guide drone on and on!
I first saw The Sagrada Familia at night. There was no rhyme or reason to the timing; the bestie and I had met up for an ultimately underwhelming dinner in the Gothic Quarter, walked to the Arc de Triomf, and, not ready for the night to end, realized the church was in the general direction of wherever we were headed (nowhere – sometimes, being aimless is fun), and decided to go and see it for ourselves.
The Sagrada, as envisioned by Gaudi, has three facades: Passion, Nativity, and Glory. Of the three, it’s only Glory that’s still in the beginning stages of construction; the Nativity was the first to be completed, while the Passion was completed in 2018 (it took 64 years). I knew none of this when we first saw it that evening; I expected a convoluted construction site and got slapped in the face with the sheer ambition and scale of Gaudi’s genius instead. I just knew I had to see it in the full light of day.
Day or night, the Sagrada is a marvel. Not everyone is fortunate to be gifted with the ability to bring the fruits of a fertile imagination to life. We spent a good half an hour staring up at the Passion facade, completely flabbergasted. Bowled over. Thrown for a loop. Gobsmacked. Words fail. The attention to detail is ridiculous. It’s stark and forbidding, a message of suffering and pain, as Gaudi intended it to memorialize the suffering of Christ in his last days. It is said that he decided to completed the Nativity facade first because he thought the Passion might render anyone who viewed it averse to continuing construction.
I don’t think I took as much photos as I thought I had. A lot of what I did get to take doesn’t come close to what it actually does look like in real life, which made it a bit frustrating. To be fair, there’s only so much the camera on one’s smartphone can do, and I admittedly am not the best at finding great angles (I am also generally #nofilter because I am lazy), but mostly it was because I was too busy gawking. Sometimes trying to capture a moment ruins it, and it’s best to just stand there and take it in. And that’s not just true for the Sagrada, it’s true for the rest of the city, and for the whole of this last great adventure of the year.
There is more to Barcelona of course, than Gaudi. I had a lot of fun hopping on and off public transportation, feeling like a local. The most affordable way to see a city in the shortest amount of time is to take public transit, and Barcelona has a lot to be proud of when it comes to that. I respect cities with efficient transit (if only because mine can be oh so frustrating sometimes), and it’s very easy to get around in Barcelona. The food was quite good, too. It’s a very metropolitan city, and at first I didn’t feel quite as attached to it as one would like, but that was because I had left my heart in Granada.
Just like the Power Rangers, we all had a favourite, and Granada (the White Ranger) was mine. There was so much of it I didn’t get to see, and so much more to explore. If I ever do manage to go back to Spain, it will be to Granada – and Andalusia – I will return. This time, Le Hubs has said he’ll come along, so that’ll be a wholly different experience!