Surprising things in Spain

The concert hall, IMAX theater and science museum, with an adjacent pool, are part of a complex in Valencia, Spain, that features science, nature and art. (Photo by Joe Nathan)
The concert hall, IMAX theater and science museum, with an adjacent pool, are part of a complex in Valencia, Spain, that features science, nature and art. (Photo by Joe Nathan)

by Joe Nathan
guest columnist

A September vacation to Spain has produced several surprises. Despite doing a good deal of reading ahead of time, a week into the trip, I encountered two major, unexpected surprises. These discoveries reminded me about the value of travel and the questioning or even hostile reaction that people with new ideas often encounter.

In the last week, I visited remarkable, unexpected buildings in Barcelona and Valencia.

For more than 100 years, people in Barcelona have been working on the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia. It was the life’s work of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. He spent 43 years on it.

Whether it’s the unusual spires on the outside, the use of skylights to produce a much sunnier and brighter interior, promoting curved rather than straight lines, or creation of inside columns that resemble trees, Gaudi pioneered approaches that other architects around the world have found useful.

When his initial plans were shared, some critics challenged and even ridiculed his ideas. Today the church is known throughout the world and has drawn millions of visitors. The government has provided no funds for the building, so its construction is supported entirely by donations. It’s a stunning, fascinating place.

What I heard over and over from people in Barcelona is that the church was once the subject of ridicule by some. But now it is is widely loved and a huge source of pride for people in Barcelona. (More information is found here http://www.sagradafamilia.org/en.)

One of the people who Gaudi influenced is Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. With support from government agencies, including the local government, national government and European Union, Calatrava was able to move more quickly. He and architect Felix Candela produced five futuristic buildings in Valencia.
They include a concert hall, an aquarium that Valencia says is the largest marine park in Europe, an IMAX cinema, a science museum and “the Greenhouse,” which houses a vast array of plants from throughout the world. It’s impossible to describe the futuristic appearance of these five buildings. And there’s a pool stretching along the science museum where people paddle row boats or kayaks or play in plastic bubbles that float on the water.

This Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, Spain, has been under construction since the first stone was set in 1882. (Photo by Joe Nathan)
This Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, Spain, has been under construction since the first stone was set in 1882. (Photo by Joe Nathan)

Frankly, I anticipated enjoying oranges and orange juice in Valencia. It’s known worldwide for these products. But until our bus pulled up next to the five buildings, I had no idea that they existed. Our guide noted that like the Barcelona church, these Valencia structures have had some critics. But the guide pointed out that the new buildings have produced considerable redevelopment in a formerly run-down area. (For more information, go to http://www.cac.es/en/home.html.)

Seeing these remarkable buildings reminded me about how valuable travel can be. It doesn’t have to be thousands of miles away, like our trip to Spain. When our three children were young, we loved visiting different places in Minnesota, the Midwest and other parts of the country. Every time we traveled, we saw great examples of other peoples’ creativity.

Minnesota students will have a break Oct. 20-21 as public school teachers meet. It’s a great opportunity to get away for a few days. Travel always produces surprises and discoveries, as it has in Spain.

Travel also helps each of us be more informed and educated. I think it’s one of the best things families can do with their youngsters.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is a former director and now senior fellow at the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected]