Parc Guell is Gaudi's crazy uncompleted folly. Commissioned by a man who obviously had much more money than sense and who ended up with very little of either, the idea was to build a magical half-town half-park on the outskirts of Barcelona. Amazingly even for a city that casually handed Gaudi a whole block and told him to do whatever he fancied with it church-wise, the fantasy town proved a step too far and it was never completed. Still, by the time work ceased, Gaudi had done enough for us to get a fair idea of what he was going to produce should he not have been distracted by that pesky basillica.
There are a number of ways in to Parc Guell but, even though it is undoubtedly the most crowded, the best way is still to go through the main entrance – because you still kind of get the wow effect of entering a different world (remember I said kind of). You can get a taxi or you can get the metro to Lesseps (Green line) and walk from there – it's about fifteen minutes away but ten of those fifteen minutes are up a steep hill. Depending on what month you're in you may want to bring emergency deodorant.
The first thing you see when you enter the park is the tourists. And the second thing. And the third thing. The fourth thing is the queue for the ladies toilets so go before you get there. The fifth thing is the only two houses of the town that were completed. Essentially they look like places you imagine hobbits living in or the witches house that Hansel and Gretel ate. Curvy and cute. You can go inside though they're less cute inside.
|Parc Guell 2. See what I mean about hobbits|
After looking at the houses for a while you can head for the lizard – the mosaic creature that launched a thousand fridge magnets. You can't miss it as most of Italy's teenagers will be lolling on it. It is a remarkable sculpture – flamboyant and colourful. You will probably wait in vain for the opportunity for a clear picture.
After you've finally reluctantly accepted that Giovanni and Paulo and their wannabe rapper hand gestures are going to have feature in your photo album after all push through the throng and head up the steps. The next thing you encounter will be what was intended to be the town's covered market where presumably the townspeople would have sold each other custom made wands and magic beans. What's fascinating about the market area is that it feels a little like being amongst the roots of a tree. Gaudi achieves this effect by not allowing any of the many pillars that support it to be completely straight. They are all slightly off to some degree or other which makes the whole thing feel more natural – he was obviously trying to blend the mad-made structures in with the natural as harmoniously as he could. While the lizard attracts young teenagers, the market seems to bring out the modelling ambitions of many of the young women who visit it. They lean against the pillars heads tossed back with one leg provocatively bent or pout with hands on their hips while their worried boyfriends do their level best to be David Bailey.
After seeing what the next Kate Moss won't look like go up the left hand staircase. Halfway up you will notice a sort of cloister branch off. Here Gaudi has created an artificial wood. It is well worth wandering down and touching it. Never did stone look more like the bark of a tree. It echoes the devotion to authentically depicting the natural world that is also shown on the Nativity facade of La Sagrada Familia.
Continue up the stairs and you will come to a wide open terrace surrounded by what is unquestionably the greatest park bench in the world. The bench is my personal highlight of Parc Guell. A vivid curly mosaic that snakes round in a large irregular semi-circle. One of my favourite things about Gaudi is how he stamps such intense creativity on seemingly mundane things – the street lamps of Las Ramblas are another example. But the park bench takes it to another level. Before I saw it, coming from England, I believed there was nothing more prosaic – dull and brown, often soggy after a recent shower, embossed with a plaque commemorating the forgotten life of a local worthy. Gaudi turns that into a blazing riot of mazy colours. It makes you want to cheer. There is pretty much always space to sit and half-turning round you get one of the best views of Barcelona and the sea to be had from within the city itself. This was intended to be the town square (though Gaudi, of course, would never allow a square to actually be square) where the local fantasy folk would sit and discuss the latest spells and the awful price of broomsticks. It's so effective that if I wasn't such a misanthropic grouch I might even consider talking to a stranger.
|Parc Guell 3. The best park bench in the world|
Not of course that you'll have any problem finding people who want to talk to you. They mainly do this because they want to sell you stuff – earrings, scarfs, handbags - that kind of thing. If you're lucky the police will do one of their regular drive throughs. Watch all the earrings, scarves and handbags disappear in the blink of an eye. It's like magic.
According to the guide books if you walk upwards from the bench into the main body of the park you will leave the tourists behind. You will find solitude, delightful hidden paths and stumble upon sculptures of all manner of animal. And while it's true that you'll leave the tourists behind I've not seen much in the way of delightful hidden paths. All I've got is hotter and sweatier.
So personally, I'd call it a day after the bench. Parc Guell's popularity means you are never going to be able to fully experience the hazy, lazy idyll its creator dreamed. But sitting on the bench and looking out to sea you might just catch a fleeting glimpse.
Useful Spanish words/phrases :
Perdona : Excuse me.
Quiero ir al Parc Guell. ¿ Cuánto cuesta? - I want to go to Parc Guell. How much will it cost?
If you fancy chatting :
¡Mira! Esto es un banco de parc verdadero. - Now that’s what I call a park bench!
Quitate del lagarto, por favor – Could you get off the lizard please?
Puede hacer pucheros hasta el martes que viene pero no aparecerá en la portada de Vogue nunca – She can pout until next Tuesday but she’s never going to make the cover of Vogue
¡Mira! ¡Mira! !La guardía urbana! Es un chiste hombre. ¿No tienes un sentido de humor? – Look out! The police! I was joking. Don’t you have a sense of humour?