Holy Homage…

This is post number two about my recent sojourn to Barcelona with fellow emergency handbag-ger, A. And I made a promise. 

The promise was to inspire you with a post about Antoni Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s premier tourist destination and testament to the vision of one of the city’s greatest sons.

The spires of La Sagrada Familia

But now it seems like a really big promise and it’s ended up presenting something of a dilemma for me. Here’s why.

Before I went, I wasn’t really sure I would like it. The whole thing looked crude and indulgent in most of the pictures I’d seen and having visited a cathedral or several in my time, I doubted that anything could really blow me away on the church front. But like all great tourist attractions, you can’t visit a city without at least paying homage to what it deems to be the absolute best of itself.

After lining up for half an hour on Saturday morning, we finally entered at around 10am. And I was blown away…but largely by what I didn’t expect to see.

So I’m wondering whether my sharing here may actually spoil it for any of you inspired to visit for the first time. But a promise is a promise and in the interests of keeping my word, I will do my best to walk the fine line between providing you with a little inspiration and giving the complete game away. I will leave it for you to decide whether you want to stop here/look away now.

First things first. La Sagrada Familia stands in the heart of Barcelona just a 15 minute stroll away from the bustling shopping district of Passeig de Gracia (and not far from our top tapas tip from last post, Bar Mut). It is still a work in progress, begun by Gaudi in 1883 and designated for completion in 2026, a century after his death. (Anticipating that the project would outlast him, Gaudi spent the last 12 years of his life developing the plans so that work on his vision could continue after his death.)

The main entrance is via the Passion facade, which is on the opposite side of the cathedral from the Metro station and which is considerably less photographed than its famous counterpart, the Nativity facade. Make sure you get the audioguide before you start – I know they can be a bit naff but the extra few euros is really worth spending here. And finally, all of the advice says to get here early to beat the queues – also I expect to avoid standing in the fierce heat. We had a 30 minute wait – be patient, good things are to come, as the saying goes.

The ‘tour’ starts with the Passion facade, which traces the story of Christ’s judgement, crucifixion and resurrection, before inviting you to move under the wide arches of the portico and enter the cool sanctuary of the church itself.

The story of Christ’s crucifixion plays out across the Passion facade.
And this is where I gasped out loud – it literally took my breath away.
Gaudi’s vision – of capturing nature’s surreal beauty and presence – is extraordinarily delicate and bold at the same time. Imagine if you will a forest glade, dappled sunlight dripping through the canopy overhead…

Gaudi’s forest…
…and his trees.
Natural light streaming through the stained glass creates its own pallette.
The ceiling forms an ornate and dreamlike canopy overhead…
…lit only with glorious sunlight.

(Note: I took squillions of photos, trying to capture every moment when I turned and gasped at some new aspect – it’s unbelievably difficult to do it justice.)

There’s a brief opportunity to visit the under-construction Glory facade, which is at the long end of the nave-cross, before moving outside again to see the famous Nativity facade, celebrating the birth of Jesus.

The expressive style of the ‘birth’ facade contrasts with the modern starkness of its opposite number at the entrance.
Here’s where angels herald the miracle…
…of the birth of Jesus.

The audiotour finishes by suggesting a visit to the museum and workshops underneath the church. The workshops are…well, working and aside from the history of La Sagrada Familia, you can see the actual models which are created to explore both the aesthetic and practical components of building each intricate piece of this fantastic sanctuary.

Last glimpse of the towering Nativity facade before entering the museum.

We left after a little over two hours, me with a ‘considerable number’ of photos and a flat camera battery. Both awed by the morning we’d spent.

We had an amazing weekend in Barcelona with great food, brilliant weather and some excellent sightseeing and shopping. There are many other things to do which we didn’t have time for but for me, La Sagrada Familia was the piece d’resistance. The luscious cherry atop our Catalonian sundae.

Hope I’ve managed to whet your appetite.

Other posts in the Barcelona series:
Brave Beauty

This post is also part of the Post Of The Month Club – August 2012

When Two Tribes Go To War…

I celebrated my 8 year anniversary in the UK on the 21st January. I have had many firsts here – broken bones, high teas, baking exploits, snowfalls, sub zero BBQs just to name just a few. But until last Sunday, I had never been to a football match here.

In Melbourne, the prevailing game is AFL and while I would never say I was a mad fan, I watched games sporadically on the telly, chatted avidly about the Footy Tipping around the water cooler at work and have been to the MCG twice – once to watch my beloved Brisbane Lions reign supreme on the last Saturday in September 2001 and again, to the traditional ANZAC Day match between Collingwood and Essendon in 2007 on one of my prodigal visits down under.

Since getting ‘off the boat’ in 2004, I have grown to enjoy a good game of soccer (as we call it), enjoying the World Cup/Euro matches from the comfort of my couch at home but had failed to develop either the inclination or the opportunity to sally forth for real. So when a friend got some great tickets for last Sunday’s match between Arsenal and Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium, who was I to say no!?

Here at last! Emirates Stadium 29th January 2012
A little context first. My friend is an Arsenal supporter and this was the 4th round of the FA Cup (it said so on the program) so things were bound to get heated. His partner had not been particularly keen to attend so I got a guernsey by default (A-down-the-hill and I call that being an ’emergency handbag’) so I felt compelled to band together with said friend in the Arsenal camp. But in any case, Emirates is the home ground for Arsenal and we were completely surrounded by the red and white so cheering for anything but a Gunners win was likely to be bad for my health. And at heart, I’m a wimp pragmatist.

Pre-match colours from the Gunners fans
Oh dear, fun over!
The match started and Work Friend was kind enough to give me a few pointers on the teams themselves and patiently answered my neophyte questions so that I could follow the action. I’m no soccer football expert but it wasn’t long before I was muttering and shouting with the best of them. When I heard these immortal words pass my lips – What’s he doing kicking it there when there’s no-one forward? (I’ll spare you the swearing) – I suspected I may have been converted.

At half time things were not looking good (Aston Villa 2-0 Arsenal) but two penalties early in the second half (converted from the boot of Robin van Persie and yes he’s Dutch) levelled the score and before long Arsenal led 3-2.

Match just getting underway – after this I was too busy swearing watching to take pics

As the match progressed, the stadium was filled with chanting with my favourite being ‘Who Are Ya?!’ as forty odd thousand Gunners fans celebrated the equalising goal early in the second half. Unfortunately, match rivalry here spills over into a bit more vociferous argy bargy off the pitch and between that and the high ticket prices (£50+ per adult at least), I’m disappointed to say that football here does not have the same family feel as in Australia. 

Work Friend said he loved the tribalism of it and that’s the perfect description. The atmosphere in the stadium was absolutely electric and given the chance, I would definitely go again.

But first things first: I believe Arsene Wenger is awaiting my post-match analysis…

Cupcakes and champers…it’s lush!

It’s the last day of my little staycation before I go back to work tomorrow.  It’s been grey and drizzly, a perfect recovery day after a Saturday of champagne (and a few other alcoholic beverages), chocolate making and cupcake decorating with friend, A-down-the-hill (she of the emergency handbag adventure).

Yes peeps, champers, chocolates and cupcakes. On a Saturday afternoon. I think the word that the youngsters use nowadays is ‘lush’ (or is that to describe my drinking habit??)

Anyway, we met at the train station in the gorgeous sunshine and before we knew it we had arrived at The Peacock Bar – 30 minutes early (not excited – much!). Being the resourceful Aussie girls we are and having always been taught to entertain ourselves, we perused the cocktail list, read up on the Burlesque portion of the club’s entertainment offering and did a little reconnaissance on our preferred position at the chocolate-pots.

(I’d like to point out here that this was purely for the chocolate-making, not the burlesque, although there was a boobs chocolate mold and another that looked alarmingly like a woman’s…well…bits.  But this is a family blog – hi Mum – so let’s move on to less fruity tales!)

Serious dipping, dribbling and chocolate mold-filling was the first order of the day (oh sorry wait – it was the second: champers was the first!) and before long, our creative efforts were whisked away to ‘chill’ before our departure. Come to think of it, I am now wondering how on earth those little bundles of cocoa joy knew that they needed to prepare for a stressful trip home.

Then it was on with the cakes – and some rather nuclear coloured icing that kept melting a little in the heat.  But with perseverence (and a few nips outside for a hormonal flushed yours truly to un-flush cool down), I managed these little beauties:

A’s were pretty good too but she was quite speedy about it all and hers were boxed up for taking home before I got around to whipping out the ol’ HTC for happy-snapping.

So there was nothing left to do but have a(nother) drink and sample some more of the expert/organisers’ wares while our chocolates continued to get suitably chilled (remember, we did the chocolates bit before the cupcakes bit.)



After three hours or so, we were issued with our little bundles of chilled cocoa joy and, placing our boxes of iced splendor carefully into carrier bags, we set off in search of the local gbk (all hail gbk!) and a savoury snackette (a chicken and avocado burger, chunky fries and smoked chilli mayo between us) to take the edge off our sugar rush before heading home, comfortably ensconsed behind our fashionable sunglasses at 5.30pm.

(Imagine, if you will, two grown-up and determined-not-to-stop-yet children after substantial quantities of red cordial, followed by the inevitable post-cordial slump, the slavish search for carbohydrates and a doze-y train ride home.  The walk (me) / cycle (A) home from the station was never going to go well.)

Just for the record, the cakes did not really survive the trip home…

These are A’s – mine weren’t much better!

…but the chocolates were delicious.

The Adventures of an Emergency Handbag

This weekend I had two days of idle bliss planned – nowhere I had to go or be in particular and a whole lot of rather indulgent reading on the agenda! 
But at 1.30 on Saturday afternoon I got a call, an emergency handbag call requesting my presence that evening as a ‘work-do-date’. And far be it from me to disappoint a friend in need: so 2 hours later I found myself driving with my friend A into the wilds (maybe not so wild) of Hampshire to stately home,Tylney Hall.
Gorgeously frosty surrounds made this morning’s post-brekky stroll around the grounds (you know, the stroll you need to put a spring in your step after the ‘night before’) absolutely delightful…beautiful clear skies and a slight mist made it all look a bit ethereal…and we were also fascinated by a few of the more frozen aspects of our little meander!
How’s that frozen fountain?  And the frozen puddles? Pretty cool eh?
So despite the short notice and ensuing lack of sleep that followed, it was another fab adventure for this last minute ‘date’…you might want to stay tuned for another Emergency Handbag Adventure coming to this blog sometime soon…ish!