Happy birthday Antoni Gaudí! Or at least that’s what I would shout at you if you were still with us. But since you were born in 1852 I’d probably also be saying stuff like, “What was life like before peanut butter & jelly sandwiches?” “How did you blow up birthday balloons since helium hadn’t yet been discovered?” or “How excited were you when electricity was invented, huh?!” or at the very least, “Thanks for all the awesome stuff. But seriously, were your balloons just like, laying around all over the ground full of moist carbon dioxide?”
In case you don’t know who Antoni Gaudí is I’ll let you in on a little secret – my cat woke me up on the morning of my wedding day by puking on my face. Oh you wanted to know about Gaudi? OK well it’s not technically a secret but he’s one of the most remarkable architects of all time. And perhaps that’s not exactly a fact, but it is a widely felt sentiment; just ask anyone with eyeballs and the ability to see in color. Like if I said Kanye West is an arrogant jerk or Nutella is the best thing to happen to pretzel sticks, would anyone dispute that? Same sorta thing…
For real though, this bearded genius opened his brain and some of the most awe-inspiring stuff I have ever seen spewed out all over Barcelona, Spain. Actually, it would be damn near impossible to visit Barcelona without seeing any Gaudí works, unless you actually can’t see as mentioned above. Just like visiting the American South and not getting handed a Bible randomly on the street – it’s just not possible. You’ve got your Casa Milàs, your Park Güells, and your one-of-the-most-magnificent-churches-of-all-time, Sagrada Familias to name a few.
Gaudí in a nutshell:
- Spanish architect
- Poster child for Barcelona
- religious man
- nature lover
- my kindred spirit
- would be really old if he was still alive today
- never had the pleasure of a PB&J …or Nutella for that matter
I want to talk more about this “nature lover” distinction, and about how every grandpa in America has a collection of shoe horns. Seriously what are they? Just whenever you’ve got time; let me know. Gaudí was especially influenced by nature and sought to use this inspiration in all of his architectural projects. This is possibly the main reason I am so attracted to him as an artist, being a nature lover myself. For some of you it may be the beard, no judgment. As you will soon see, just about every single thing Gaudí created references some natural element in the most charming way initiating a sort of game with yourself to try and match the result with its inspiration. The waves of the ocean, kelp and all. The honeycomb of a beehive. The trees in a forest. And when it all comes together? Wow. You feel as if you’ve had too much cava, stumbled drunkenly, tripped and fallen out of Spain and into a fantasy world that you never want to leave. Somewhere between Alice’s Wonderland and Dorothy’s Oz you have Gaudí’s Barcelona.
One such place I had the pleasure of visiting is Casa Milà, more popularly known as La Pedrera. La Pedrera (which means “the stone quarry” and refers to the building’s exterior appearance as such) was commissioned by Pere Milà i Camps, a businessman and the lucky jerk who married a very rich widow, to be their family home and to include a number of apartments as well. And probably massive bottles of champagne and imported exotic birds – I’m just speculating here. Casa Milà would be Gaudí’s last work and one of his most innovative, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
La Pedrera is open for visits during the day, and now after dark for their special Gaudí’s Pedrera: The Origins experience. You can tour the many rooms of the museum and really get acquainted with the magic of Gaudí, or at least what our simple minds are capable of interpreting. In my opinion, this is a great first stop on the imaginary Gaudí tour that you will find yourself on in Barcelona. I opted for the nighttime experience and it was just as sexy as it sounds. There was even champagne, y’all.
Gaudí’s Pedrera: The Origins leads you through the museum where you learn the history of Casa Milà and how Gaudí came up with his unique ideas. You’ll meet a smoking caterpillar, a bumbling scarecrow, a purple cat with human teeth that smiles way too much, a woodcutter made out of recycled tuna cans and trees that throw their own apples at you. Actually, it’s a good thing I’m lying because that actually all sounds pretty horrifying. You will however meet a friendly tour guide and a very sweet employee who has no idea what’s in the cookies he’s serving you other than “nuts.”
The tour climaxes with an audiovisual experience on one of the most magical and alluring rooftops I have ever almost fallen down ten times on. (This is not a high-heel-compatible tour.) I feel extremely lucky to have had the beautiful night that I did, and I’m sure La Pedrera is fantastic during the day, but I can’t say enough about experiencing the rooftop at dusk. And by dusk I mean like 10:30 PM. Seriously, the time zones seem a little out of whack. Let’s just blame it on global warming. Dusk in America is all, “Oh my god, there are so many freakin’ mosquitos! Ahhh!” But dusk in Europe is so peaceful. The toll of distant church bells, the silhouettes of ancient architecture against a purple sunset, a fed-up tourist beating a selfie stick peddler with his own merchandise. This is the stuff travel dreams are made of.
La Pedrera’s The Origins experience presents visitors with a glimpse inside the genius mind of Antoni Gaudí and teaches you how to properly appreciate his works and where his influence came from. I’ve broken it down by air, land, and sea.
I doubt a feature occurring in nature exists that Antoni Gaudí did not utilize in his designs. Insects, dead animals, even turkeys – you name it – can be found in his works, some even hidden in plain site. What I did not see were any allusions to lions that are afraid of their own shadows, white rabbits or their timepieces, or the wings of evil flying monkeys but believe you me, they are probably in there somewhere.*
For example, upon arriving at La Pedrera, on time and in heels too high for climbing eight flights of stairs, we were escorted through the doors you see above. OK, regular old iron doors that kind of look like lasagna noodles. Old as in – they’ve been there since before the north and south poles were the North and South Poles. Before the Titanic was a thing. But during our “orientation” in the lobby before the tour, we were told to turn around and observe the doors again…
You can now see that Gaudí designed these doors to resemble the wings of a butterfly. A terrifyingly huge butterfly, but a butterfly all the same. And this, I feel, is a perfect example of Gaudí’s charm.
Another feature from the air can be seen in the floors of some areas of Casa Milà as well as the sidewalks outside. Gaudí was fascinated and inspired by bees, not unlike myself (a beekeeper). Casa Milà has these fancy honeycomb floors and all I’ve got is a chalk drawing I did of a hive and some anatomically accurate honeybees on my kitchen wall that says, “Show me the honey!” Maybe someday strangers will be touring my house.
Once on the roof of La Pedrera, you may feel as if you are floating in the clouds. That’s how I felt at least, and this was before the free booze. Sure, you can turn around and see the city of Barcelona surrounding you, but otherwise you feel like you’ve climbed a beanstalk into the blue sky. There’s even a few helmeted warriors and giants up here. Fee-fi-fo-fum, after this let’s get some rum!
* Yes, my staff fact-checkers** confirmed that both of these books were published in Gaudí’s lifetime. So, it is entirely possible that they are, in fact, hidden away somewhere.
** As if! I had you going for a second though, didn’t I? I work alone, if you even want to call it “work”. Except when I ask my assistant*** to pour me another beer.
*** My husband who’s already getting up anyway
Allusions to our planet Earth are all over La Pedrera; they’re inescapable, no matter how many rabbit holes you fall into. Some, like the butterfly doors, are references to specific natural elements, but Gaudí loved the possibility that his creations could be interpreted in different ways by different people. An example of this can be found in the attic space of La Pedrera. (Don’t worry, I checked for spiders. The coast is clear.)
As you can see in the above two photos, while walking through the attic of Casa Milà I felt as though I were walking through the skeleton of a giant whale beast. If you’ve seen Pinocchio then you know what I’m talking about. And if you haven’t seen Pinocchio, well, you must be just like that puppet – heartless and with insides made of pine. And with a cricket for a best friend. “When you wish upon a star… Makes no difference who you are…” Ugh, pure poetry. Obviously, others probably won’t feel the same way. I’m just living out my fantasy of living inside a giant whale I guess.
At a few points in Barcelona’s fanciest attic, the “whale ribs” or whatever you want to call them come together in what Gaudí referred to as the palm tree. You can see how the “ribs” branch out from a center column resembling a heavy brick palm tree. Now I usually prefer my palm trees to come with piña coladas but I’ll settle for a history lesson instead. Just this once.
On the roof of La Pedrera you may notice that the center opening of the perimeter walkway looks like a massive sinkhole that has opened up to swallow you into the center of the earth, transporting you back into prehistoric times. You, Will Ferrel, and that guy from Eastbound and Down. At least that’s how I see it. This is one of my favorite views, as weird as it is. But that’s because I’m not afraid of dinosaurs. You know you’re on the roof of a building but you still get that uneasy feeling that you are looking down into a hole into the earth.
Because Casa Milà was originally intended as a residence, Gaudí designed the sculptures for the roof to resemble strong warriors, symbols to serve as protectors of La Pedrera’s residents. Dragons would’ve worked just as well, but whatever. And because Gaudí was all about creating things that were both beautiful and functional, these warriors also serve as the building’s chimneys. I mean, come on… dragon chimneys that blew smoke, how fantastic would that be?! Just something to keep in mind for my own future house museum, I suppose.
Even just after stepping out of your cab in front of Casa Milà you get the sense that Gaudí loved the ocean. The entire building seems to have been shaped by waves under the ocean’s surface. Like the flawless ripples of sand on the ocean floor before you feel a fish brush against your leg and destroy them with your manic thrashing.
Probably the main focal point of La Pedrera’s facade are those mysterious, weird-as-crap balconies. What is that haphazard mess of welded together pieces of old train cars? Now, while it is recycled iron that the environmentally friendly Gaudí had repurposed, this design was not random. The ironwork on these balconies was modeled after the ocean’s seaweed. Aha! Suddenly you get it.
Upon entering the building you may suddenly feel as if you’re under the sea. I guess technically that should be in the sea? I’m just referencing that classic song by Sebastian. The Jamaican crab (full name Horatio Thelonius Ignatius Crustaceus Sebastian – that is real), not Johann Bach.
Just look at the world around you
Right here on the ocean floorSuch wonderful things surround you
What more is you looking forUnder the Sea!
From the patterns on the ceiling to the wave-like staircases and open floor plan. The lighting and the colors and the textures of the columns resembling living coral. The giant octopus witch and the guy in the corner blowing on his pipe like a trumpet.
Personally, I felt a lot like Ariel in her secret grotto. The similarities are shocking – especially since I’d been brushing my hair with a fork all day. I mean, freakkyyy.
The tour culminates in an outdoor audiovisual experience on the most famous rooftop in Barcelona. The show, projected onto the surface of the rooftop giants, transports you through time and across Earth’s many environments and ecosystems. Life begins with a single cell and then, hubba hubba, everything that comes after. You will visit jungles, clouds, oceans, and even outer space, exploring all of the elements that inspired Gaudí so deeply. You will journey through history where people get straight up murdered in this video. Oh and you’ll see some boobs, nothing you aren’t already seeing all over Europe though. The music is hypnotizing so try not to forget that you’re standing on the roof of a very tall building wearing heels pretending to be a mermaid. You can watch a small sample here:
After the show, you will stay on the roof long after you are supposed to taking photos with the giants. You will make your way back down the many, many flights of stairs because you can’t find the elevator and because there is booze waiting for you at the bottom. Plus, you feel it’s only appropriate to live in the times of Gaudí himself so stairs it is! I don’t think he wore heels though.
You will miraculously find the reception area where you are actually supposed to be and are free to enjoy the free cava and small snacks, that looked delicious but that I did not try because I’m allergic to “nuts”, at your own pace. If you’d like to follow in my footsteps, I recommend one glass of cava, one glass of cava with a splash of OJ to get your daily dose of vitamins, then chug two glasses of water as fast as you can because it is HOT in Spain and you’re still dehydrated from your day at the beach. Again, boobs.
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Moltes gràcies to Fundació Catalunya – La Pedrera for sponsoring this post and showing me such an enlightening time. All opinions, photos, and bad jokes are mine, like you had any doubt.