Excursion to Gaudi’s El Capricho and to the Picos

It is Wednesday, May 8th. Our excursion takes us from Santillano del Mar to Comillas with Gaudi’s El Capricho and then to the Picos of Europe, where the blue cheese DOP Cabrales is produced.


Comillas – perched on a hill above the sea

The old city of Comillas is perched on a hill above the sea.

On the other side of this hill, inviting small cottages stretch along the sea.

In the center, we find small houses along cobbled streets.

Comillas was a posh seaside resort around 1900, when the king of Spain, Alphonse XII, used to spend his vacation here, attracting other aristocrats that built villas such as the noble and spacious neogothic Palacio de Sobrellano.

In addition art nouveau palaces have been built here, the most famous of which is Gaudi’s El Capricho.


Gaudi’s early work: El Capricho

The villa El Capricho (the Caprice) is an early work by Gaudí built in the 1880’s. It is a playful building, decorated with green tiles and yellow sun flowers, adorned with a minaret like tower – somewhat reminding of the Mudejar style. This is the view from below.

And this is the view from above. The white winter garden is attached to the house.

Several doors provide access to the villa – this is the one leading to the winter garden.

I like the somewhat intimate low rooms under the roof.

Then I feel like playing with the mirror.

When leaving Gaudí’s villa, we look at one another and agree, the villa was interesting, but to our taste, Gaudí’s style is close to what we would call kitsch.


Continuing to the mountains, the Picos de Europa

The sun has come out and we continue our way to the mountains, the Picos de Europa. They are still covered with snow.

Where we stop our car, we find orchids.

We head to Las Arenas de Cabrales and on the way, we admire this mountain farm on a steep slope. Tough work here.

In Las Arenas de Cabrales, we arrive just right in time to join the tour to the caves, where the DOP cheese Cabrales is maturing. We learn about the production of the Cabrales cheese. It is made out of 95% cow milk, 5% goat and sheep, and the mixture is flexible, according to whatever is available. The cattle spends summer in the mountains and returns to the valleys in autumn. The cheese is first dried and then transfered to the limestone caves, where the temperature is constant at 8 to 12 degrees, and where water dripples from the rocks producing a humidity of 90%. In this microclimate the Penicilium Claverum (similar to Roquefort) emerges spontaneously and is allowed to grow for three to six months. In the process the white cheese loafs become blue. I buy a piece of sealed Cabrales cheese.

When continuing our ride, I see this panorama in my back mirror. Wauu. The tower like mountain is called Picu Urriellu or Naranja de Bulnes (2519m).

We return home to our Casa de los Güelitos and eat a tasty cocido (hot pot) with white beans. Then we sleep once more in our quiet room – tomorrow we will change to Oviedo, the capital of Asturias.


In Catalonia (Spain): Discovering modernism in Reus

On a windy day we explore the city of Reus. It is just half an hours’ drive from Hospitalet de l’Infant, where we spend a few days in the apartment of our friends end October until mid November 2016.

Reus is the home town of Marshall Prim. He fought for the constitution of Spain, and from 1868-70 he was Prime Minister of Spain (look at the cypress – it WAS windy).


We park our car in the parking cellar located under the statue of Marshall Prim. It was another of those parking houses with small parking lots and narrow corridors. We found a comfortable slot on the fifth floor underground… if only I will be able to “climb” up from here again without getting stuck!


The Gaudí Centre

Gaudí was born in Reus. Though he never built anything in Reus, the city is proud of their son and has set up a museum about his life, his architecture and the way he worked. The museum is well curated. We learn, how Gaudí experimented to find the laws of nature that he then applied to create harmonic architectural structures. For instance he used straight lines, triangles or quadrats and twisted them to find the harmonic shapes. Based on the “law of chains” he built slim arches that could stand without counterweights (when the sides of the arches stand upright, counterweights have to prevent the arch from collapsing, like in Roman or Gothic architecture, but when they are inclined, the arches do not collapse). These hanging wooden sticks are one of experiments.


He tested everything with models, before implementing it, even studying the exposure to light.


He had an overall approach to architecture also creating the furniture.


The Gaudí Center is located at the market square (Plaça Mercada), next to the townhall and the green modernist Casa Piñyol.


Across is the modernist Casa Navas with the shop for bath and wellness on the ground floor. I buy a dressing gown (in Spanish: albornoz – the moors must have introduced this to Spain).


We have lunch in the roof top restaurant of the Gaudí Centre. The view is great, but the waiters would have preferred us not to disturb them and the meal was expensive and poor (liver cream from the tube – in Swiss German: Leberpains – served on crackers with a few salad leaves, all for 15 Euros).


The cathedral San Pere – late gothic and a no-no tour guide

South of the market square we visit the late gothic cathedral San Pere from the early 16th century.


Inside we find two sisters praying and singing at low voices. It is a solemn atmosphere. Bump! A group of tourists enters. Their tour guide starts to talk in a loud voice. The prayers continue gently. Ursula frowns and whispers: “This is an absolute no-go!”



The fish market or Peixateria Velles

Behind the church we enter the fish market (Peixateria Velles) with the sculpture of a basket containing fish products next to the entrance.


Through the gate we see the galleries and inviting restaurants and bars.



Modernist houses in Reus – a selection

Finishing off our day we follow a walk proposed by Reus tourism to discover a selection of the 29 Art Nouveau buildings proposed. This is the Casa Anguera behind the fish market…


… with a detail of the flower ornaments.


The Casa Serra and the Casa Marco mark the entrance to the small street, where Gaudí was born.


The blue tiles of the Casa Laguna adorn the street leading from the square of Marshall Prim to the market square


Not far from here is the Casa Carpa with the painted balcony doors.


With Ursula’s directions I succeed to manoeuver my car out of the narrow garage under Marshall Prim (five floors up through rectangular small corridors!).

Reus is a small town worth a visit!

Back at Hospitalet I enjoy the inside pool with the swimming lanes – it is very busy here with swimming courses and water gymnastics going on around me.

A day in Barcelona – modernism and gothic

Barcelona with its modernist and gothic districts – this is our plan for Friday. We take the train at 6:40, should arrive at 8:11, but arrive more than one hour late at 9:30. Trains in Spain – this is a special rhyme.


Barcelona’s swinging modernism
At the Passeig de Gracia station we leave the train. We refresh ourselves with two very, very excellent espressos and very, very delicious croissants… and then we start to scout for the modernist houses on the Passeig de Gracia and around it. We are in the Art Nouveau Eixample district that was plannend and built in the beginning of the 20th century.

Near the train and metro station is the block of houses that is called “La Manzana de la Discòrdia”. There are four modernist houses here and a fight (discòrdia) about which being the most beautiful of them. Gaudí’s Batlla house surely attracts the most tourists now.
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The other three houses have a lively and cheerful decoration that I prefer. This is the Casa Léo Morera built by Lluis Domenech i Montaner. We will meet this architect later in the Paleu de la Musica.
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We discover many more nicely decorated modernist houses, not all of them described in the guide books, and I cannot stop clicking:
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Even the public benches are a good match to the “swinging” modernist atmosphere here.
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The Sagrada Familia – impressive and unfortunately overcrowded
Walking in Carrer Mallorca, we see them already from far: The towers of Gaudí’s unachieved master piece, the Sagrada Familia, point to heaven like slim needles, akwardly accompanied by construction cranes, as this church has not yet been accomplished. (Gaudí had started building it in the beginning of the 20th century, then died and the construction had been stopped for some time during the civil war of the thirties and the Franco regime).
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I look forward to the museum that explains, how Gaudí wants his buildings to look like natural trees and flowers. BUT, now around midday, we would have to wait for perhaps an hour (long queue) to buy a ticket that allows us to enter the Sagrada Familia at 4pm…  No, not for us. We sit down in the park and study the richly decorated Nativity facade…
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… and then continue by metro to the Palau de la Musica.


The Palau de la Musica… a cheerful modernist music palace
The modernist Palau de la Musica Catalana is located in the Barrí Gotic amidst narrow streets. There is a nice cafeteria, where we first recover eating tasty montaditos varts.
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Then we join an Italian speaking group (they are the smallest group) to explore the modernist palace of music. The highlight is the concert hall for about 2000 people: The lamp on the ceiling is a window that lets in natural light.

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The stage is decorated with muses holding a ribbon.
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The main entry is in a narrow street. There are two large gates. The coaches used to enter the first gate, let the passengers out and then leave through the second gate. No longer today. Concert visitors enter through two huge revolving doors built into the gates.

I love this cheerful palace of music. It has been built in 1908 as a stage for the national choir (orfeo) of Catalonia. The architect was Lluis Domenech i Montaner that we already know from the Manzana de Discòrdia. And yes, this music palace has a nationalist purpose for the Catalans, but it has also become a stage for many very different renowned music artists – classic, jazz and folklore.
Let us switch times – the Gothic Cathedral is not far
Enough Art Nouveau or Modernism. We feel like more modest gothic master pieces. The gothic cathedral is not far and we walk through the narrow streets (“Gässli”) of the Barrí Gotic.

Construction of the Cathedral of Barcelona started in 1298 and lasted until 1450. The facade has been completed in the 19th century.
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The nave points to heaven with its high gothic vaults.
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The choir is in the middle – for me a heavy design somewhat offsetting the airiness of the gothic vaults. Here are the richly decorated stalls.
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“Do you believe these geese are kept appropriately to their species”, Ursula asks me. I am not sure. 13 geese walk and stand on the cloister tiles. If they wish they can have a bath in  the fountain. The 13 geese commemorate the martyr Eulalia that died at the age  of 13 years.

A lift takes us to the roof. We enjoy a beautiful view to the Mountjuïc and the church Santa Maria del Pi which is our next target.

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The narrow streets of the Barrí Gotic and Santa Maria del Pi
We continue to stroll through the narrow streets of the Barri Gotic and at the charming Plaça del Pi we have a drink. A group of musicians plays one tune of about 2 minutes five times – no, not all of them have talent.

The church Santa Maria del Pi is one of my favorite in Barcelona. We sit on the bench and breathe in the harmonious atmosphere.
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The windows have been destroyed in the Spanish War of Succession and the Rosette – one of the largest in the world – in the Spanish civil war of the 1930’s.
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Yes, the Catalans have been unlucky teaming up with the “wrong” side, and I learn that another problem was that the rich upper class not really supported the Catalan fight for their independence, but cooperated with Madrid. Hence they lost in the War of Succession shortly after 1700 and in the Civil War in the 30’s of the 20th century.


Ramblas and then Plaça Real
We join the crowds on the Ramblas of Barcelona and then turn left to say hello to the Plaça Real.
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Santa Maria del Mar – also one of my favourite churches in Barcelona
Santa Maria del Mar has been built rapidly from 1329 to 1370. I love the harmony of the homogenous style. We sit on a bench and enjoy the harmony.
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As always when in Barcelona, I say hello to the monument of the Catalans which is not far from Santa Maria del Mar. Yes, the Catalans fought bravely on the side of the Habsburgians in the war of succession in 1713/14 – but it was the Bourbons that won this war.

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The Ribera district would be great for dinner or Tapas, but now we head back to the Passeig de Gracia to catch the 19:25 train.


Returning to Hospitalet – not straightforward and again late
How does access to the Renfe trains work in Barcelona? Not straightforward…

Arriving with the metro at Passeig de Gracia we first figure out which metro entry gives access to the trains. We find this entry three cross-streets to the  north. Under the earth, we are confronted with automatic gates, but our tickets (sold in the train) do not open them.We ask and are told to press “the” button (a bell) – then someone will open a special gate. Okay, but where is that magic “the” button? Ah, here it is, the rightmost gate has such a button that could be “the” button. We press it to ring. No one opens… But then a man leaves the Renfe train area through the flipping door next to the button and we catch the moment to enter. Uff.

The train leaves precisely on time at 19:25. In Tarragona we are precisely on time. Ursula says: “Look, at 9:15 we will be at home on our balcony in L’Hospitalet.” But then the train stands for half an hour in Salou and loses another half hour, until we arrive in Hospitalet one hour late. No, no… train and Spain ARE not a good rhyme.

With a glass of Vermouth from Gallatrops we finish another beautiful sightseeing day.