Solo Traveler: Themed Travel – Art

Palau Güell, looking up into the atrium. Photo by Sherry Hardage
La Familia Sagrada seen from Park Güell. Photo by Sherry Hardage
Solo Traveler: Themed Travel – Art

Themed travel was something I found myself doing without being aware of it. It appears, in retrospect, that my trip to Spain was all about tracking down modern art.

Seven of Antoni Gaudí’s projects are now World Heritage sites. It’s hard to be in Barcelona for one hour without running across his name, seeing something inspired by him or viewing a building that he designed.

I spent two weeks in the city and only made it to the beach in the last few days. The rest of the time was spent hunting Gaudí. Picasso figured into the program too. In fact most of my time in Madrid and Barcelona was passed in museums, photographing public art and looking up information about artists.

Window detail at Casa Batlló. Photo by Sherry Hardage

In the Reina Sophía Museum in Madrid, Picasso’s famous painting La Guernica has its own room and guards. On the opposite wall are photos of his process while he painted it. The original sketch on the huge canvas changed enormously over the months of creation. The final painting is a masterpiece depicting the horrors of war.

So it seemed a logical step to see Picasso’s earliest works in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. He created more than 50,000 pieces of art in his lifetime, the museum houses only a tiny percentage of that. The transition from talented six-year-old boy to world-class artist is clearly witnessed in the range of pieces.

Then there’s the omnipresent Gaudí, whose influence is everywhere, in sculptures, street lamps, and the facades of buildings. Lining the Paseig de Gracia are concrete paving stones, shaped like cells in honeycombs, with marine inspired designs, and unknowingly trod upon by people going about their business.

I visited La Familia Sagrada, Gaudí’s masterpiece cathedral that is still under construction; La Pedrera, an innovative and light filled apartment building; Casa Batlló, a private residence; the Palau Güell; and Park Güell.

Eusebi Güell, a wealthy industrialist, was Antoni Gaudí’s most ardent patron. Gaudí’s first project was the Palau Güell, a mansion so different and modern that Güell’s rather conservative wife despised it. They moved after living in it only a few years.  

Near the end of Güell’s life, Gaudí started work on Park Güell, a large property that cascades down a mountainside, now a public park filled with plazas, walkways and buildings.

Gaudí felt strongly that inspiration should come from nature, which has no straight lines, that buildings and structures should be designed only to the benefit of humans.

Tiled concrete benches that line the large plaza at Park Güell are the most comfortable concrete objects I’ve ever sat upon, and are clearly Gaudí’s philosophy at work.

Traveling with a theme in mind is a great way to keep your focus, dig a little deeper, and experience previously unknown connections. All over Barcelona, modern public art hints at roots deep in the works of Gaudí and Picasso.

Editor’s note: Sherry Hardage lives in Los Alamos and has been traveling solo in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe since she retired from Honeywell in 2009. She is a photographer, writer, and guide who organizes tours of Chiapas, Mexico through her website:

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