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Sidewalks are rich with examples of art nouveau

After all that excess, the only logical follow-up is … a little more excess.

When La Sagrada Família (“the Holy Family”) basilica is mentioned in print, it’s typically followed by “Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece.” If ever a phrase did not do justice to a three-dimensional object, this is it.

If you walk up to the street from the Metro station that faces the church’s Nativity ­facade (one of three grand facades), it’s impossible not to have an “Is this real?” moment.
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poolside at the Grand Hotel Central

Real and surreal partner up at this Roman Catholic landmark, which Gaudí radically transformed by envisioning a structure that would combine art nouveau, curvilinear, geometric, organic and Gothic design elements. The result is an inspiring house of worship that would fit quite nicely in The Wizard of Oz’s Emerald City or perhaps in a Dr. Seuss story.

Gaudí, a Catalan architect, took over as principal designer in 1883. By the time he died in 1926, the church was only about 20 percent complete. Today, it’s barely past the halfway mark and has an expected completion date of 2026. Even incomplete, Sagrada Família is magnificent, rich in imagery and symbolism.

When it is finished, the basilica will rise over Barcelona with 18 towers, including a 550-foot tower dedicated to Jesus Christ. But even with only eight constructed, it’s enough to render my 12-year-old daughter practically speechless with awe.

“You mean there’s gonna be … more?” she asks when she sees a scale model of the project that shows both the current construction and the final design. Which, come to think of it, would serve perfectly as Sagrada Família’s motto.

Although the church has three facades — Nativity, Passion and Glory — the Nativity facade best represents Gaudí’s vision, as it is the only section that was finished before his death. From afar, it has been described as resembling a cake that was left out in the rain or looking like it were covered by globs of hot wax. But get closer and you can see giant turtles at the base of two columns, a pair of chameleons and a cypress tree adorned with doves, all in stone. Inside are six massive columns resembling mighty sequoia trunks, a 1,492-pipe organ, a choir loft for 1,000 singers, a central vault that’s nearly 200 feet high and room for 13,000 worshipers.

Is bigger better? Clearly, Gaudí thought so. But to take a piece of Sagrada Família home with us required a little downsizing. Fortunately, the gift shop sells a delicate bud vase that conveys some of the church’s overpowering beauty — and it fits perfectly in carry-on luggage.