Park Güell and Travel Expectations

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In planning for my arrival in Barcelona, I mostly consulted travel blogs, National Geographic, and travel articles from major newspapers. All sources agree: Antoni Gaudí’s work – art and architecture – is the thing to see in Barcelona. It’s bright! And based on nature! And invokes interesting geometric forms! So, I read a lot about him and the various sites around town, putting together a walking route that would take me to each location.

I began my trip in the city center with practical concerns: eating breakfast and obtaining a Spanish SIM card. At 8:00am, the city was still very quiet. The shops don’t open until 10 or 11, and the tourists weren’t out quite yet. The city itself is so ornate and beautiful; it reminded me of Paris with palm trees (and funky mosaics!).

At that point, I was content to spend the day wandering around, looking at the buildings, interior gardens, and boutiques, but I remembered my plan and headed to Casa Batllò. You’ll know when you’re approaching one of Gaudí’s buildings by the ungodly crowd of fanny-packed, camera-wielding crowds clogging up the sidewalk out front. I reluctantly joined in, but was really disappointed by the scene. What, on the internet, appears to be an undeniably exciting façade of bright mosaic and balconies shaped like Carnival masks doesn’t actually stand out so much from the surrounding area. If it hadn’t have been for the crowd, I could easily have walked right past it. The tile pieces are so small that their vibrant colors are overwhelmed by the scale of the building, and the balconies are unique, but not particularly awe-inspiring. There is the option of standing in line and paying 8€ to cram into the interior of the building with everyone else, but I passed.

The next building on my list was covered up for repair, and I couldn’t find the third. My enthusiasm took a hit, so I abandoned the project and headed to the Gothic Quarter.

The Park Güell of the internet basically has five forms: the lizard at the entrance, the curvy bench, the view of the city behind the bench, the “ocean wave” walkway, and the medallions on the ceiling of an open market area. Google Park Güell and you’ll see. Based on this representation, I’d created an image of a large exciting and whimsical space.

I was surprised to see that the park is quite large, containing walking paths, picnic spaces, and various sitting areas with views of Barcelona below. The plants are wild: huge and largely untamed. It’s a nice park and there were a fair number of people there for their morning walks, but, again, nothing spectacular. However, if you walk to the very center, there is a small dusty landing, enclosed by a curvy mosaic bench. Since you climbed up the hill to get there, you might as well pay the 8€ entry fee to see the dumb bench, and if you get there at 8:30 in the morning, there may be only five groups of groggy teenagers there for a guided trip. Here’s a complete list of the activities that can be performed here: sit on the bench, take pictures of the bench, walk underneath the landing to the covered market space (which is empty and currently partially covered for maintenance), take more photos, and buy some crap from the gift shop. You could look around the space some more, but you already saw close-ups of everything there is to see on the internet before you arrived, and it looks better there anyway.

I don’t think that Park Güell is uninteresting or that tourists shouldn’t visit it, but I do think that the online representation is misleading. The advertised space is so small that it’s dwarfed by the rest of the park, the colors aren’t so vibrant, and the photos exclude the mundane context of the mosaics. If you’re standing on the landing, this is what you’re really seeing:

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Basically, Barcelona is a beautiful city, and you don’t have to contend with overwhelming crowds while hunting down obscure mosaics to see it.

Unfortunately, I took most of my photos on my camera before realizing I had to computer to upload them to, so I don’t have much evidence to offer.

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