10+ Things to do on the West End of Toronto

By Steven Wright

Feels like summer in the city even thought its barely spring in Toronto, that has inspired me do a series of articles of things to see and do in this great city! Toronto is Canada’s largest city, the capital of the Province of Ontario and is constantly evolving. It is a vibrant and culturally diverse city, who’s unique neighborhoods are great to explore to get the whole experience eh. The third article of this series is dedicated to Toronto’s West end; here you can find some amazing shopping, great restaurants, interesting neighborhoods, theatres, galleries, museums and Toronto’s entertainment district.

Bloor-Yorkville
(Bloor Street West / Cumberland Street / Yorkville Avenue between Yonge and Avenue Road, TTC stations Yonge / Bloor or Bay)
If you are shopping for luxury goods and designer brands then this is the neighborhood for you. The Bloor Street West strip includes luxury brands like Tiffany & Co., Prada, Chanel, Coach, Hermes, Harry Rosen, and Canada’s luxury department store Holt Renfrew. Shopping continues with designer boutiques on Yorkville Avenue, Cumberland Street and Hazelton Lanes Shopping Centre. If you are searching for the perfect pair of jeans then I would recommend a stop at  Over the Rainbow (101 Yorkville). The neighborhood features a number of 5* hotels, high end condos, and fine dining. This is a good neighborhood for celebrity spotting, especially in September during the Toronto International Film Festival, grab dinner on the patio at Sassafraz for a bird’s eye view.

Royal Ontario Museum / Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art / Bata Shoe Museum
(100 Bloor Street West, TTC Station Museum / 111 Queen’s Park TTC, Station Museum / 327 Bloor Street West, TTC St. George)
Just west of Bloor-Yorkville you can not help but notice Architect Daniel Leibskind’s redevelopment of The Royal Ontario Museum, the grand entrance makes a huge impression as you look down Bloor Street. The collections are dedicated to understanding world cultures and natural history. ROM Fridays feature a special rate from 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm. Friday Night Live @ROM includes Pop-up food, drink and DJs with $9 cover and $5 drinks, general admission is $15.  Not many cities can boast a museum of ceramic art and footwear, but Toronto has both! Across the street from the ROM on Queen’s Park find Canada’s only museum dedicated to ceramic art, The Gardiner Museum. The museum has gained international recognition and the new modern building has added more than additional gallery space, it includes a new restaurant by Canadian Chef Jamie Kennedy. If you get the chance join one of the clay classes in their state-of-the-art clay studios, instructed by professional ceramists. They have a Friday night program and family days on Sunday’s, general admission is $12. Travel down Bloor Street West to St. George Street, there you will find a building that resembles a shoe box, inside find the Bata Shoe Museum. The museum is dedicated to the history of footwear with an extensive collection of shoes from around the world. With over 12,500 shoes in the permanent collection there is something for every shoe lover. General admission is $14.

The Annex
(Bloor Street West between Avenue Road and Bathurst Street, TTC Stations St. Gerorge, Spadina, and Bathurst)
The Annex is a primarily residential area north of Bloor Street, but with the proximity to University of Toronto this is the preferred neighborhood for students and educators a like. The Bloor Street West strip is filled with restaurants, cafes and bars with street side patios great for grabbing a bite and people watching on the busy streets, some of my favorites are Future Bakery (483 Bloor Street West) for their mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy and Insomnia Restaurant and Lounge (563 Bloor Street West) for brunch. Grab toasted marshmallow homemade ice cream from Greg’s Ice Cream (750 Spadina), then catch a documentary film at the newly renovated Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. For an unique shopping experience don’t miss Honest Ed’s (581 Bloor Street West) the massive store has everything from dollar store items to fine antique pieces worth thousands of dollars and absolutely everything in between. Next to Honest Ed’s visit Mirvish Village, an area dedicated to art, culture and cuisine with many one of a kind vendors. In July the area is host to The Fringe Festival, Toronto’s largest theatre festival. Grab dinner on Harbord Street just one block south of Bloor Street between Spadina and Bathurst. Here you can find Toronto’s best fish and chips at a little take out stand, Harbord Fish and Chips (147 Harbord Street) or if you are looking for fine dining try Spendido (88 Harbord).

Little Italy
(College Street from Bathurst to Ossington, TTC Streetcar 506)
If you feel like a little Italian, the make sure to drop by Little Italy, the strip along College Street is filled with restaurants, bars and patios and it is a great place to spend an evening or a weekend brunch. Cafe Diplomatico (594 College) opened in 1968 and is one of the most recognizable restaurants, recently featured in Toronto Director, Atom Egoyan’s film Chloe. Kalender Restaurant and Bistro (546 College) is a great spot for dinner or weekend brunch with a great atmosphere and amazing food. Then take a relaxing stroll window shopping and grab a gelato at Dolce (697 College). If you are coming for a fun evening out start with martinis at Souz Dal (636 College), the open after dark and then head to Andy Poolhall (489 College) for a little pool and dancing, live music and djs at  The MOD Club (722 College) or dance the night away at El Convento Rico (750 College).

China Town
(Spadina Avenue from College to Dundas, TTC Streetcar 510)
One of the largest in North America, Toronto’s China Town is filled with great shops, grocery stores, herbs and Chinese remedies. There are a number of restaurants that encourage family style dining, you can order a number of items and share with your family or group around a large table equipped with a lazy Susan, other restaurants feature Dim Sum, order what you want off the carts rolled to your table. My favorites include Yeuh Tung (111 Elizabeth) for their amazing Chicken in a Hot Pot, the  Hua Sheng Supermarket (293 Spadina) and Tap Phong Trading Co. (360 Spadina) for amazing deals on kitchen ware and other home items.

Kensington Market
(Kensington Avenue, Baldwin Street & Augusta Avenue, TTC Streetcars 510, 506 & 505)
Just west of China Town find Kensington Market. Its a great area for vintage clothes and furniture, and craft shopping, picking up some groceries or grabbing a bite to eat. The last Sunday of the month from May through October the area is pedestrian only. Some of my favorite stops include Blue Banana Market (250 Augusta) for one of a kind gifts, Bungalow (273 Augusta) for retro clothes and furniture, Tom’s Place (190 Baldwin) for designer suits and accessories at discount prices, Global Cheese (76 Kensington) for exotic and specialty cheeses to bring home and enjoy, and vintage clothing favorites Dancing Days (17 Kensington) and Courage My Love (14 Kensington).

Art Gallery of Ontario
(317 Dundas Street West, TTC Streetcar 505)
I may be a little biased, but it is so amazing to have a small piece of Gehry excellence in Toronto. Toronto born Architect Frank O. Gehry’s transformation of the Art Gallery of Ontario has accomplished his goal of bringing the gallery to the public. The large glass exterior of the museum, incredible new entrance, the brilliant staircases and 5th floor tower are worth the price of admission. The museum is one of the largest in North America and houses a collection of works from 100 AD to present, the galleries feature Canadian, European, photography, the Thompson Collection, and two of my personal favorite are the contemporary and Henry Moore galleries. General admission $19.50, Wednesday nights entry to Permanent Collection is free from 6 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. When you have finished in the AGO, go behind the building down Beverly Street to Grange Park, here you can see the final gallery: the exterior staircase leading to the big blue Gehry box a top the AGO and the Ontario College for Art and Design‘s Tabletop, designed by acclaimed British Architect Will Alsop.

Queen Street West
(TTC Station Queen or Osgoode, Streetcar 501)
You can spend a whole day on Queen West, so put on your comfortable walking shoes. Start at Bay Street with Toronto’s Old City Hall and City Hall Nathan Phillips Square on the East and West, then continue to the West side of University to start your shopping day. No matter what you are shopping for there is something for you on Queen West, from salons, shops and restaurants, you can get a make over, redecorate your house, catch up on the latest fashion trends, buy some great fabric and stay well nourished throughout the day. Some of my favorite stops for home decor are Pavilion (739 Queen W), Quasi Moto (789 Queen W), Style Garage (938 Queen W) and The Queen West Antique Centre (1605 Queen W). For fabrics don’t miss Designer Fabric Outlet (1360 Queen W); for shoes B2 (399 Queen W) and Get Outside (437 Queen W); and if your with your man there are even a couple of stops for him Atlas Tools (233 Queen W), Active Surplus (347 Queen West) and Steve’s Music (415 Queen W). If you are coming in for the weekend consider staying at one of the boutique hotels The Drake (1150 Queen W) or The Gladstone (1214 Queen W) and have dinner at Ultra Supper Club (314 Queen W).

Entertainment District
(Between Queen Street and King Street from University to Spadina, TTC station Osgoode or St Andrew, TTC  Streetcars 501 or 504)
This area is the heart of Toronto’s nightlife, there are lots of great restaurants and bars to start your evening before heading out to one or more of the attractions in this area. Here you will find the Canadian Opera Company and National Ballet of Canada at the Four Seasons Centre, Broadway shows at The Princess of Wales and The Royal Alexandra Theatres, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and other large events at Roy Thompson Hall, and a little further west you will discover Toronto’s “club land” where you can bar hop and dance the night away in one of the many clubs, or catch a movie screening at the Bell Lightbox, the home of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Financial District
(King and Bay Street, TTC Stations King or St Andrew, Streetcar 504)
The area around King and Bay Streets is the Financial District and home to some of Canada’s tallest buildings, 5* luxury hotels and condos, incredible restaurants and great public spaces. One of my favorite stops in this area is Cloud Gardens, a small park between Richmond and Adelaide just west of Yonge, make sure to visit the Cloud Forest Conservatory while you are there. For a little history enter into the lobby of Commerce Court North (243 Bay Street), which was once the tallest building in the British Commonwealth for over three decades. Across the street at King and Bay, find TD Centre, designed by Modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who even convinced the City of Toronto to allow him to change the sidewalks around the building to match his masterpiece. Here you can grab dinner at one of Canada’s best restaurants Canoe (66 Wellington Street) on the 54th floor overlooking the city, or visit Canada’s design museum the Design Exchange (234 Bay Street) in the former location of the Toronto Stock Exchange, general admission is $10, every Tuesday evening between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. admission is pay-what-you-can. Stay at one of Toronto’s newest 5* luxury hotels Trump Toronto (325 Bay Street) or the Ritz Carlton Toronto (181 Wellington Street West).

King Street West
(King Street West, TTC Streetcar 504)
King Street just West of the Financial District and South of the Entertainment district offers a number of great restaurants and bars, a great place to grab a bite before or show or have a late dinner. My favorites are Lee (601 King W) by famed chef Susur Lee, Rodney’s Oyster House (469 King W), the European style Bier Markt (600 King W), and French bistro Crush Wine Bar (455 King W). I have a couple of other favorite stores in this area, one is Design Within Reach (435 King W) for modern furniture and home design, Lee Valley Tools (590 King West) for great gardening, household items and tools and Mountain Equipment Coop (400 King W) for everything relating to outdoor activities from apparel to tents, backpacks, canoes and much much more.

Liberty Village
(South of King Street between Strachan Avenue and Dufferin Street, TTC Streetcar 504)
A whole neighborhood has popped up in these former industrial lands, now a hip new neighborhood with loft conversions of historic buildings, new developments and condos and an abundance of sores, boutiques, trendy restaurants and bars. For brunch head to trendy Midlred’s Temple Kitchen (Unit 104  85 Hanna Avenue) then go shopping for home accessories at West Elm (109 Atlantic Avenue), or play some pool and grab a bite at The Academy of Spherical Arts (1 Snooker Street).

Roncesvalles Village
(Roncesvalles Avenue between Queen W and Howard Park, TTC Streetcar 504)
If you have never had Dill Pickle soup then visiting the Polish area at Roncesvalles Village is your opportunity stop at Cafe Polonez (195 Roncesvalles) for a bowl like no other. There are a number of other Polish bakeries, delis and restaurants offering up old world charm and traditional music throughout the village. In September there is the Roncesvalles Polish Festival. Its a great neighborhood for shopping or you can also catch a movie at the Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles), one of Toronto’s oldest cultural venues.

Toronto Posts:
10+ Things to do on the east end of Toronto
10+ Things to do on Toronto’s Waterfront
Winterlicious – Toronto’s dining gem

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NYC Redux

By Steven Wright

It had been 10 years since I had traveled to New York City, I was last there in June of 2001, just months before the 911 tragedy, and since I had not had the desire to travel to the US, focusing my traveling dollars on European destinations. All that changed with  The Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s announcement of Savage Beauty, an exhibit dedicated to the evolution of Alexander McQueen‘s fashion career and an homage to his life. I had followed his career through the years with the help of Jeanne Becker and Fashion Television and I was not going to miss this opportunity.

After years of talking about my NYC experiences I was able to introduce Mike, my sister and her new husband to the big apple. There are a lot more options for traveling to NYC these days with Air Canada and a newly announced West Jet route offering direct flights to Laguardia, along with many American carriers servicing Laguardia, JFK and Newark airports. Living in the core of the city my choice for this trip was Porter Airlines from Billy Bishop Airport on the Toronto Island. As this airport is relatively small, there is less traffic through security, the airport is very accessible at the base of Bathurst Street with ferry service to the island, (a walkway development starting soon) and there is even complimentary shuttle service to/from Union Station. Air Canada services Montreal through Billy Bishop as well.

The Porter experience is all about service, the complimentary Porter Lounge features an amazing coffee and beverage bar, complete with snacks. Then relax at a table and chairs, or leather arm chair and enjoy the daily news and free WIFI. On board their fleet of Bombardier Aerospace Q400 turboprop aircraft the only seating options are window or isle, so you never have to sit in the middle. The beverages are complimentary and you even get a light meal on every flight from amazing attendants. This makes this an enjoyable voyage. Porter destinations include: Ottawa, Toronto, Montréal,  St. John’s, Halifax, Québec City, Mont Tremblant, Moncton, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Boston, Chicago, New York, Myrtle Beach, Timmins, Burlington VT, and Washington DC.

This was my first ever arrival at Newark, I was used to the transfer from Laguardia and JFK, but found the trip into the city from Newark easy, cheap and enjoyable. You can take the airport train to Penn Station, New Jersey and then transfer to a train into the city for under $10 USD. For this trip we stayed at the Sheraton Tribecca, close to my old stomping grounds in SOHO. The newly constructed hotel has great rooms with king sized beds, there is a restaurant in the lobby along with a Starbucks, and a $40 transfer by limo to and from Laguardia.

The continued evolution of NYC over the past 10 years had brought new high rise condo buildings, and boutique and other large hotel chains spreading their wings in previously undesirable locations. Trump Hotels and Suites have popped up like Starbucks all over the city. There are many more 5 star luxury hotels than ever and all over the city. The city seemed somewhat quieter, there was less horns honking, people yelling and emergency service sirens. Many new boutiques line the streets of SOHO and Tribecca including DASH by the Kardashian’s, Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons, and other luxury brands like the Issey Miyiake Boutique which is a must stop as the interior was designed by Frank Gehry.

Speaking of Gehry, make your way down to City Hall and the base of the Brooklyn Bridge to see the largest residential tower in New York designed by Gehry. New York by Gehry at 8 Spruce Street offers luxury apartment rentals in glamorous suites with amazing views of the city and beyond. The building is silver in colour and almost wave like in design, a reference to the East River, the building looks almost like it is moving when the sun reflects off the curved surfaces throughout the day.

One of the newest attractions is The High Line, redeveloped from an out of service elevated rail line, the area now features public park space and activities for New Yorkers and tourists a like. The High Line is located on Manhattan’s West Side, it runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues.

The newly opened National September 11th Memorial and Museum and the construction of the Freedom Tower and other buildings are well underway on the World Trade Centre site. The area is a hub of activity with visitors watching the buildings rise floor by floor and to pay respect to the lives lost. My favorite department store Century 21 is still located at the corners of Church and Courtlandt Streets and a great stop across the street from the 911 Memorial.

Times Square has cleaned up and is presenting a more family friendly environment, with the elimination of one of the lanes of traffic, providing a pedestrian walkway for tourists to enjoy all the sights and sights of the area. Broadway is holding strong with many performances Tuesday to Sunday, and you can still get day off discounted tickets at TKTS in the centre of Times Square. Further up Broadway, Columbus Circle has been redeveloped including the new corporate offices of Time Warner and Anderson Cooper’s talk show, across from Central Park.

Central Park is still the ultimate escape in the city. We took the opportunity to walk around the Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, to visit Strawberry Fields, the Bethesda Fountain which was featured in Angels in America and the Hans Christian Anderson and the Alice in Wonderland statues. We got some ice cream from a vendor and enjoyed watching some of the league soccer and baseball games throughout the park. A bevy of activity was created as Police, pedestrians and other carriage operators realized a horse drawn carriage was racing down West 59th Street into traffic, towards Columbus Circle without a driver. Thankfully the carriage was stopped and the horses appeared ok as they were reunited with their owner.

We visited the Guggenhiem Museum, American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibit was a patron favorite with line ups around the museum to gain access. Once inside the exhibit space, visitors had the opportunity to view clothing, accessories and footwear by the infamous designer including pieces from his early collections from alma mater Central St. Martens. Although very crowded the exhibit was awe inspiring and a great opportunity to experience the world of Alexander McQueen.

As a lover of ’90s NYC and Seinfeld, we traveled to 2880 Broadway at 112th Street for a lunch at Tom’s Restaurant made famous as the coffee shop throughout the Seinfeld series. Mike was ecstatic to be able to order multiple bowls of cereal, just like Jerry, while we joked about the big salad and who was going to pay the bill, it was our own Seinfeld episode. The food was typical of other greasy spoons through the city, cheap and filling.

Although it had been a decade since I had visited Manhattan, my love affair with the city continues. With more air competition from Toronto to NYC, its actually cheaper to get there leaving you more room to stay at one of the new 5 star hotels or to indulge yourself in more shopping.

New York Posts:
NYC Flashback
Photos:
New York Stories
MY Gehry Gallery
Gehry Posts:
Going for Gehry
Basque in the beauty of the Guggenheim and more in Bilbao
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Barcelona Beach, Mountain & Fountain

Going for Gehry

By Steven Wright

It was in 2001, at Harbourfront Centre‘s World Leaders: A Festival of Creative Genius in Toronto, when I was first introduced to Frank O Gehry. The evening was an intimate conversation with the Toronto born Architect talking about everything from designing furniture and jewelry to his current project for the Guggenheim Foundation. Listening to him talk about his process, use of materials and using new technologies to bring his sketches to life was inspiring and has had a huge impact on my travels since. Some travelers explore destinations to visit historical sites, which I enjoy as well, but as I choose destinations, proximity to a Gehry building is a highlight for me.

As a huge fan and follower of Gehry Partners LLP, I love to explore and compare Gehry’s initial sketch to the modeling stage and then completed building. The process is incredibly fascinating, the sketch is normally a squiggled line on a napkin or scrap piece of paper when inspiration hits; it is hard for most to discern the complete vision at this point. The next stage is modeling, building specific geometric shapes out of paper and foam core, his process of bending, crumpling, folding and creating is an arts and crafts master class. Once satisfied, the models and structures are scanned into the computer using Gehry Partners software to not only create a 3D model , but also to determine how to best construct the structure including a part list. Years later when the construction is compete, if you look back to the initial sketch you are able to fully understand the complexity of what Gehry sketched. Sydney Pollack even created a film about the process called Sketches of Frank Gehry.

While film and pictures try there best to represent the brilliance of these structures, there is nothing like experiencing Gehry first hand. My first opportunity was at the DZ Bank located at Pariser Platz 3, inside the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin. The exterior of the building compliments the other buildings, but the real treasure is found inside the lobby. One of his inspirations and reoccurring themes in Gehry’s work are fish and their form, this is evident at the DZ Bank. The interior atrium is filled with light streaming through the fish scaled glass ceiling, offices along the exterior of the building have glass walls to the interior to make the most of the natural light, glass continues on the walkways outside the offices allowing the light to filter down to the lower levels. Another glass ceiling covers the conference centre that occupies the entire lower level using the natural light coming from the atrium above. The use of glass and wood makes this modern space both welcoming and warm. At the back of the atrium, there is a very organic form that continues the fish reference resembling internal organs. Although this is a private business office, you can ask to take pictures from the reception in the lobby. The opposite side of the building features luxury condos.

On a former industrial parcel of land on the Nervion River in Bilbao, a little known town in north western Spain, Gehry’s squiggle on a napkin was transformed into the incredible titanium Guggenheim Bilbao. When you first catch a glimpse of the building from the streets of Bilbao you are drawn into the structure, wondering how the forms were envisioned and possibly built. The blue administration buildings lead you to the grand staircase and to the entrance to the museum. The building features reflecting pools and pedestrian walkways along the river, the BI-631 highway runs through a section of the building, I found it necessary to walk around the exterior numerous times to experience all of the buildings grandeur. After the sun sets, the building continues to shine into the night, beautifully lit, reflecting off the river, a sight to be seen.

Through the entrance, you are surrounded by light, the tall glass panels that line the entrance create an incredible entrance and welcome into the buildings. Each gallery is unique in shape and size and leads the patron through the collections complimenting each artist expression. Make sure to visit the cafe to compare your experience with the initial sketch. Today the museum is a major tourist draw, with a modern airport and transit system, being close to the beautiful beaches of San Sebastian Spain, southern France, and the opportunity to stay at Hotel Marques De Riscal in Elciego,  also designed by Gehry.

I was elated to hear of plans for Gehry to remodel the Art Gallery of Ontario. The project was plagued with infighting with AGO donors, but came to fruition giving Toronto, Gehry’s birthplace, their first taste of Gehry. The AGO features an amazing glass front that brings much needed light into the museum, the glass fused with metal seems to change colour, depending on the weather. The new grand entrance and Gehry staircases on the interior and exterior of the building are magical and the bold blue box on the roof contains new modern gallery space and compliments the OCAD University table top building next door. The AGO remodel also features new rental space that is often used for wedding ceremonies and other high profile events. Who wouldn’t want to be married in a Gehry space?

Media Harbour, beside the Rheinturm TV Tower on the Rhine River in Dusseldorf, is developing into a hub for arts and media production. This is the site of Der Neue Zollhof, a series of 3 Gehry buildings, more like sculptures of wind blowing into 3 sails on a boat. The buildings are brilliant with windows jetting out to maximize light and provide the best view of the Rhine, the exteriors coloured silver, red and white. The buildings are the perfect backdrop to the marina in front, and provide areas to relax and grab a drink or romantic dinner at the steakhouse with Gehry’s name. Der Neue Zollhof starts the transition from the Historic Old Town into the modernity of Media Harbour. Walking around the exterior, the shapes and use of materials again leave you in awe of their brilliance and Gehry’s genius. There is public parking right in the building if you want to start here and walk the piers of Media Harbour or head to the World’s Longest Bar in Old town along the Rhine.

Gehry’s first public sculpture was commissioned for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona. The Gehry Fish, a huge sculpture made of woven steel provides a landmark of the entrance into the Olympic Port and the former Athletes Village. Today the village has been turned into a beach destination with retail shopping, restaurants and cafes, hotels and a casino. Enjoy your day on the beach and your evening on one of the patios around the fish sculpture, its amazing to see it reflect the sun throughout the day and come alive at sunset.

NYC recently added to its Gehry collection with the opening of NYC’s Largest Residential Building at 8 Spruce Street. Located by New York City Hall and the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, the 870 foot tall stainless steel clad building gives the illusion of movement with its exterior resembling waves. The waves reflect the light through the day almost transforming its exterior in a dynamic way. With incredible views of the harbour and many bridges, all the amenities you could every want, 8 Spruce Street just might be the ultimate NYC address. While in NYC also check out the Issey Miyake Flagship Store at 119 Hudson, and the IAC Building at 555 West 18th Street.

I am looking forward to visiting the Dancing House in Prague, The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas and continue to hope that Toronto will one day have its own Gehry masterpiece.

Photos:
MY Gehry Gallery
Gehry Posts:
Basque in the beauty of the Guggenheim and more in Bilbao
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Barcelona Beach, Mountain & Fountain

Walking with Gaudi

By Steven Wright

Barcelona is filled with the influence of Catalan Architect Antoni Gaudi. Many of the buildings in the city pay homage to his use of wrought iron, mosaic tile, and organic lines with reference to nature and God. Any trip to Barcelona is not complete without spending some time admiring these UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Parc Güell
Getting to Parc Güell is a bit of a hike, whether you arrive by tour bus or metro, there is still a climb to get to the entrance of the park, but I promise the climb pays off. The first thing you notice is the oddly shaped, brightly coloured rooves of the buildings inside the fence, especially the chimneys, organic shapes I have seen before. The wall that leads you to the gate is adorned with mosaic tile nameplates announcing you have arrived at your destination.

Take notice of the intricate wrought iron gates as you enter the park, through the gates there are a few buildings that look as though they were off the set of an animated movie, inside you will find souvenirs and washrooms. There are two grand staircases around gardens with mosaic tiled sculptures and fountains leading you upwards. You arrive at a large room that was dug into the hillside on the next level, with numerous dominating pillars holding up the level above. As you explore this area, you are shaded from the sun and the further you travel back, you notice the sea breeze circling around the room providing natural air conditioning giving purpose to this space. My Mother decided to hang out here while we explored the park, when we returned she was chatting up a whole group of people who took this area as a great place to relax and socialize.

Climb another set of stairs to have an incredible panoramic view of the city and the sea. You are overwhelmed in both the beauty of Barcelona and in the incredible amount of colour in the mosaic tiled seating around the entire structure; each section is uniquely patterned throughout the incredible landing. Continue to explore the walkways throughout the park to discover more Gaudi buildings, incredible sized Agave growing of the sides of the rock cliffs, and artists selling their wares. Park Güell seems like it was Gaudi’s lab, the testing ground for many of his techniques.

Entrance to the park is free and is frequented by both locals and tourists so I would suggest going early to beat the crowds and the afternoon sun.
Metro: Lesseps and follow the signs

Casa Vicens
Located at Carrer de les Carolines 24, Casa Vicens was Gaudi’s first important work. Today it continues to be a private residence, but the residents are open to the numbers of admirers that come to see the exterior of house and grounds. Move to the side of the house to find a small chapel at the back of the property, where you can light a candle and reflect.
Metro: Lesseps or Fontana

Casa Milà – “La Pedrera
Located at Passeig de Gràcia 92, La Pedrera is a high end residence building that stands out along this luxury shopping area. The structure is organic in design with rounded corners, brilliant wrought iron decoration, and an air of elegance. From the ground you notice brightly coloured tiles around organic shapes contrasting with a series of Roman Soldier sculptures on the roof of the building. Around the corner there is access to a tour of the roof and an apartment in the building. Once inside, you will pass through this rounded courtyard, with windows lining the walls to the roof. Notice the large metal and rounded glass door, the residents’ entrance to the building, before grabbing the elevator to continue the tour on the roof.

The roof feels like an artist studio. Walking up and down short staircases to see sculptures of Roman Soldiers, standing alone and in a group surrounding strategic posts on the roof. There is a series of chimneys, winding up through the roof giving interesting perspectives of the city through the diamond shape openings. You are then drawn to the egg shaped sculptures, brilliantly coloured, covered in mosaic tiles.

Heading back inside you are guided through the attic of the building. It’s filled with the reference material Gaudi used to create and build. There are models and other interesting displays leading to what I consider the gem of this tour. You enter into a 2 bedroom suite, complete with 2 kitchens, and a maid’s quarters all set up at the era of the building. I was struck with the amazing use of space, the long hallway connecting all of the rooms, the incredible light pouring into the suite and of course the view of the city beyond the suite. This is a great opportunity to get a full Gaudi experience.
Metro: Passeig de Gràcia or Diagonal

Casa Batlló
Down the street at Passeig de Gràcia 43. find Casa Batlló. Brilliantly coloured on the exterior with an incredibly beautiful roof line and chimneys. Look down to see that Gaudi even had the sidewalk changed. Best viewed from the opposite side of the street, there is a tour as well.
Metro: Passeig de Gràcia or Diagonal

Sagrada Familia
Tourists and the faithful line up for hours to get into Sagrada Familia, the church that has been under construction for the last 128 years and is estimated to be under construction until at least 2026. You first notice the 8 spires of the building leading to the sky, they are surrounded by multiple cranes that will continue to build the 4 remaining spires. The building is very complex, even from the outside, if you’re with a group I would suggest having someone keep your spot and take the time to walk around the exterior, 2 of the 3 exteriors are complete. Everywhere you look is something else amazing from the structure, to the windows, and the stones and bricks holding up the spires.

All of a sudden you discover the Nativity facade, amazing intricate detail carved into stone, covering the whole side of the church is the story of the birth of Jesus. You can spend hours looking at the detailed forms brought to life in the artists rendering. It is breathtaking and beautiful and it is almost overwhelming to take it all in. At the very top see a Gaudi coloured Christmas tree with doves flying out of it.

As you get to the entrance you are struck by the passion facade, numerous stoic, hard angled sculptures with harsh tool marks for finish, made to represent the Passion of Christ and the sins of men. Two massive metal doors covered in words from the Bible in many languages are the entrance into this heavenly space.

Once in the cathedral, you are awestruck, you feel like you are in a forest of light. The pillars holding up the roof look like tree trunks and that you are walking through an arbor created by trees. The altar is filled with light as the sun shines through roof window surrounded by a gold. Religious or not, this space can make you believe.

There are a couple of museums on site with more Gaudi information and some artifacts that have been put on display for safe keeping. You can also take an elevator up the spires to walk along the roof and climb down a circular staircase beck to the cathedral.
Metro: Sagrada Familia

Photo Gallery:
Click to see my Gaudi Barcelona Gallery

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