It was the beginning of the end. Barcelona. Alex and I were very much looking forward to speaking Spanish!
And Spanish we did not speak. It turns out that los barcelonés mostly speak Catalán, so much so that some exit signs were in Catalán only. I think next time we’ll have to travel further into the country to practice our (my) Spanish.
Nevertheless, we did actually speak Spanish for most of our time in Barcelona, because a) people from Spain obviously speak Spanish also, and b) our tour guide Diego, aka my brother-in-law, accompanied us throughout our stay in the country.
Diego took us on our first train journey, from El Prat airport to the city of Barcelona. Our hotel was located right next to la Sagrada Familia, probably the most famous attraction in Barcelona. It’s an exuberant cathedral that has been under construction for over 100 years. This is because the architect, Gaudí, died during its long period of construction. It’s almost finished, apparently. Even so, its exterior is magnificent.
We had had a very long morning (our day had started in Rome) and it was time for lunch. Tapas, of course. Tapas is super cheap. We love tapas. We had delicious mustard chicken, delectable cheese fondue, salty olives and overall a very nice time.
It was time for more sightseeing. We headed south and encountered a marvellous comic book store (Norma Comics), although it was more of a graphic novel store. I found this gem of a graphic novel and was very tempted to purchase it. It’s a touching story of the friendship between a Croquette and a Little Empanada:
We continued until we found Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf.
This structure was the entrance to a grand palm tree-lined path leading towards Parc de la Ciutadella. This is a lovely, relaxed inner-city park, filled with what seemed to be carefree university students, juggling, slacklining and conversing. We approached an imposing fountain featuring a sightly podium as a backdrop.
Our tour guide then directed us to the famed Barri Gotìc, which features buildings dating back to medieval times. We soon encountered the multilayered Barcelona Cathedral as well as many other old and detailed structures.
We were taken to El Corte Ingles, a supermaket-cum-department store, full of fancy foreign food and wine. We had fun looking through aisles of Spanish candy, wine (also cider), and vegetarian food. We made some purchases.
That night we went with our tour guide to meet the Costa Ricans of Spain, as a couple was having a barbecue. We caught a train to their house in the suburbs. Their apartment had the most magnificent view of Barcelona, however, we didn’t bring our cameras, so you will need to imagine the gorgeousness of Barcelona in its entirety, bathed with the setting sun. Fireworks were set off all night throughout the city and we could see all, from beach to mountain. The occasion was the Nit de Sant Joan, or, the Summer Solstice.
The following day was our Sagrada Familia interior day. I first visited the Sagrada 7 years ago, and in those days the interior was still not yet open to the public. This time however, its doors were welcoming us.
The interior was absolutely ridiculous (when I use the word ridiculous, I actually mean phantasmagorically phenomenal). I cannot believe that this was designed over one hundred years ago. It is so postmodern (by that I mean – after modern). I think the cranes are part of the architecture because they have been there for so long. There is so much detail in the interior. I particularly enjoyed viewing the fractured stained glass.
We had a ticket to ascend the right tower. We inclined up and up a tight spiral staircase, gaining unique perspectives of the façade, as well as magnificent city views, as we arose.
After our delightful visit to a most amazing monument, it was time for lunch! We ate sandwiches at a nice cafe on our way to Park Güell. By the time we had reached Park Güell it had been raining a humid type of rain and we were stranded umbrella-less at the gift shop. We waited for the rain to slow down a little before making our way up to the highest point of the park, encountering our first dodgy salesmen in Barcelona who were selling plastic ponchos for €10 (€0.50 RRP). People were actually buying them! The rain did not kill us. We made our way to the top and found ourselves another beautiful view of Barcelona.
Parts of Park Güell were designed by Gaudí. Parts of Park Güell were reminiscent of gingerbread houses.
Our next tourist attraction was Gaudi’s Casa Battlo (via Gaudi’s Casa Mila, which was completely covered due to scaffolding, so there really is no need to mention it). Casa Battlo is a very non-linear building. I rather liked it.
I also liked the building to the right of it, but apparently that was designed by Gaudi’s competitor, so it’s best to stay neutral. That building was the much more linear Casa Amatller, designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch.
That night we went to a nearby pub with our new Costa Rica friends to watch Costa Rica beat England. As you could imagine, there were many more English supporters, being the country next door to Spain (or, over the water and next door).
We finished the night with more tapas, overlooking the Sagrada Familia, with our new friends (one of whom turned out to be cousins with our Costa Rican friend in Melbourne. Costa Rica is a small country).
On our third day we caught the metro to Plaça d’Espanya to meet up with our tour guide (aka bro-in-law Diego). The Plaça d’Espanya was a nice place to wait for him. It is home to an old bullfighting ring and a grand fountain.
Alex just had to visit the famed Barcelona Pabellón (or, Pavillion). It is an architect’s delight, which features the world-famous Barcelona chairs. Alex had fun on his field trip whilst Diego and I had a coffee nearby. My first and only Spanish coffee verdict: excellent. I only drank two coffee shop coffees in 26 days – shame on me.
We walked up many stairs and saw many wonderful views to get to the mountain that is Montjuïc. Montjuïc is where the Barcelona Olympic stadium is. The Barcelona Olympics are the first Olympics I remember, and thus Barcelona is the only international city I was aware of before the age of 5, so this made me smile. The top of Montjuïc also houses the fancy Barcelona Communication Tower.
Then there were more tapas – sautéed mushrooms, dried chiles, patatas bravas, vegetarian paella and free olives. I must move to Barcelona at some stage because the food is pretty amazing and also pretty cheap.
It was a big day because then we crossed the city again to see the Pabellones Güell (or, Pavilllons), a park which again was full of many Gaudí delights, such as the dragon gate.
Our guide, who was about to retire to his nearby abode, then took us to the shopping strip on Avinguda Diagonal in the university district. We marvelled at the absolute cheapness of clothing presented within the stores of Mango and Zara, in comparison to the atrocious prices of these shops in Australia. We bid Diego a sad goodbye and headed home one last time. Our last night in Barcelona, as well as in Europe, was sadly spent at home, eating food cooked in our apartment kitchen.
Barcelona had surprised us. We were warned of the severity of pickpocketing on La Rambla (which we avoided). However, Barcelona appeared to be a very modern, beautiful and safe European city. We were very impressed.
Our last day was spent preparing for the long haul flight home. We caught a train to the airport, where we admired train buskers. Many questions were asked about my broken arm because apparently I would not be allowed to board the plane if I had only just had it plastered (thank goodness most of our trip was by rail). Soon we were off to Dubai, followed by Melbourne, to renew the regularity that is the life of working class Australians.
And so our trip was complete. It took me six months to complete my travel tales in this here blog. After several months of awe, post-trip brooding and French hospital invoice receiving (it does not end), the only conclusion I have is, that I want to move to Amsterdam!
And with that I will conclude for 2014. A trying year, a year of adventure and challenges, broken bones, hospital visits and sore feet. I wish you all the best for 2015, which I predict for my family and I will be even better and more full of luck than 2014. Bless.