Here is the second blog post from our recent trip to Spain/Catalonia. If you missed the first post on our time in Cadaqués, here is the link!
I often find upon leaving new city, that there is one overarching feeling I have about a place. Rome was about history, Florence was about art, Venice was magical. For me, I was truly struck how Barcelona is FULL OF LIFE, and as soon as you step into it, you are surrounded by it. We felt it in the colorful mosaics, the wild architecture, the passion for great food and time with friends, love of music and of course football, the embrace of history and the appreciation of the modern, all encompassed by Catalan pride. Everywhere we went, we were surrounded by LIFE. Each neighborhood offers up its own character to make Barcelona one of the most interesting cities I’ve visited. I was initially worried that 8 days might be too much time here, but no — we could have used 8 more. Or 8 weeks, and still not absorbed it all.
We left Cadaques on a Wednesday and made our way down the Costa Brava and into the city of Barcelona. Jeff was happy to ditch the rental car after days of navigating winding mountain roads. Getting into the city was not too difficult, as it was mid-afternoon and the traffic wasn’t bad. Once we dropped off the car, we managed to jam our luggage into a tiny taxi and headed to our AirBnb, which was located in the Eixample neighborhood. As soon as I found this apartment I knew it was a gem. Two bedrooms and two baths, and a great little balcony overlooking a classic Barcelona street.
Here is the AirBnB link to this great apartment. It was perfectly designed (the owner is an architect), clean, spacious, and the bedrooms were quiet. Doing it again, we might have opted to stay in the Born neighborhood for it’s central location and sense of history, but we really did love this apartment. Everything was either walkable, or a 5 euro cab ride away. (Casa Batlló i s a 10 minute walk, and the Ramblas is about 15.)
We spent a little time unpacking and then headed out to get the lay of the land. Within a few minutes we found ourselves on Las Ramblas. All anyone ever told us about Las Ramblas was that we’d better watch out for pickpockets. The girls decided to practice their defensive measures, but truthfully we didn’t need them and never saw anyone else having issues either. That said, we were careful with our belongings, just to be on the safe side.
The Ramblas itself is definitely a tourist spot, with lots of vendors lining it, but it was a place that was bustling, and great for people watching. It also lead us straight to La Bouqueria, a feast of every imaginable kind of food. We arrived late in the day, when many of the stands were closing, but we did get ourselves a few delicious treats and had our first taste of Jamon Iberico and Manchego.
At the end of the Ramblas is the waterfront and the monument to Christopher Columbus, celebrating his first voyage to the Americas.
Of course there is also a monument to the very special Langoustine.
You can’t be in Barcelona and not experience what Antoni Gaudì contributed to it. Gaudì was the celebrated architect of so many of Barcelona’s most famous sights. His vision was so alive and whimsical, and colorful, his works transport you to a completely other world. Our first stop was Parc Guëll, perched on a hill overlooking the city.
If you go to Park Guëll, try to get there early in the morning (and take a cab — it’s on the outskirts of the city and all uphill), as we were told it does get very crowded later in the day. Also, like most of the Gaudì spots, should book your tickets ahead of time. Most, if not all of these major sites in Barcelona, require timed tickets. Tickets for Parc Guëll can be found at https://www.parkguell.cat/en/ We reserved our tickets (self guided, monumental zone) for 9AM, then walked to the Sagrada Familia, for a 12:30 reservation there.
The serpentine wall of benches covered in mosaic like so much of Gaudì’s works, stretches the perimeter of a plaza that sits above what was meant to be a market hall below.
Here is a better view of the columns of the Market Hall beneath the plaza.
And the intricate mosaics of the Market Hall Ceiling.
This mosaic lizard is one of the more famous icons in Barcelona.
Beyond the market hall is a grotto-like viaduct meant for carriages to travel through. This washer woman is carved into one of its columns.
Next stop, the Sagrada Familia. Many people take a cab, but we decided to walk the 30 minutes downhill. Be sure to leave a little time either before or after your visit to the Sagrada Familia, to walk to the other side of the park across from the Nativity Facade. There you will find a beautiful view of the entire church, framed by trees and greenery, and it is a perfect spot for photos.
We had some time to kill before our entry time so we hung out in this park for a bit. It was great for people watching, taking in a game of bocci, and catching up on social media, of course.
The audio guide starts outside of the Nativity facade (which celebrates the birth of Christ) and covers some of the symbols and figures carved into the stone. The detail is truly remarkable.
The doors of this facade are covered in carved leaves, with little snails and ladybugs scattered throughout.
Stepping into the church, I was astounded by the use of light and color, and the incredible detail and symbolism found everywhere we looked. Gaudì meant for visitors and worshippers to feel like they were in a canopied forest.
The other facade of the church is the Passion facade, which tells the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. One important note about the Sagrada Familia — construction began in 1882, and it is not expected to be fully completed until 2026 or 2028. It’s already amazing as is — but I sure would like to see it when it is done and the cranes are gone. Here you can see the Tree of Life — set in the middle of the spires, and covered with doves of peace.
The timing of our visits worked out perfectly, because we finished around 2pm and hopped a cab to the Gracia neighborhood where we had lunch at a little pizza place called La Fermata. Great pizza and cold beer was just what we needed.
We walked by, but didn’t visit, another of Gaudì’s buildings — La Pedrera.
Our final stop that day was Casa Batllò, and also our last Gaudì tour. While the house itself is not furnished, the audio guide has a visual component with 3D renderings of what the house would have looked like with furniture. It was quite informative and interesting and pointed out many details we may not have noticed otherwise, along with the stories behind many of them.
The home was full of whimsical detail like this railing and newel post.
A gorgeous chandelier.
Wrought iron detail on the patio fence.
More great mosaics on the back patio.
Casa Batllò was meant to give the feeling of being under the sea, and it certainly did just that, especially in this central courtyard.
But the roof of the building was the most amazing place of all with its mosaic covered chimneys.
And details reminiscent of a dragon’s spine.
After leaving Casa Batllò, we came across this other mosaic covered building on the way back to the apartment.
OK so that up there ^^ was just our FIRST DAY in Barcelona. And we still had so much left to see. The next morning we headed up to Montjuic, an area all it’s own, and overlooking the entire city. First, we wandered the beautiful Jardins Lariabal for a bit.
And as we made our way further up the hill, we found ourselves at the 1992 Summer Olympic Stadium. It was so cool to imagine the parade of nations happening here.
Hungry, and with the girls bickering with each other a little bit, we decided to head down by taxi and have lunch at one of the beach side restaurants on the Barcelona beach, We passed by this colorful apartment building on the way.
Restaurant Salamanca was our choice for lunch. It’s a busy place, and a bit old school but the paella was great and the service was very professional and attentive. Ha! Ellie tried to order the pizza and the waiter told her she really shouldn’t do that. She just looked at him, and said she’d go with the paella then.
Nothing really beats the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
After we were done exploring the Barceloneta we started to make our way back. We thought we might walk half -way and then take a cab (it would be a 45 minute walk total) but we ended up walking the entire way. We stopped in the Estacio de Franca to use the bathroom (clean!), and found that it’s a beautiful building itself. I loved the light here.
On the edge of the Born neighborhood is the Born Cultural Center which features some amazing ruins, along with a great bookstore.
The girls being their usual goofy selves.
We really loved the Born Neighborhood, with is ancient buildings and tiny alley-ways.
So many nooks and crannies to explore.
Once we crossed the Via Laietana, we found ourselves standing in front of the Cathedral of Barcelona, a gothic cathedral, consecrated in 1339, and completed (aside from the towers and facade) in 1420. Such a contrast from the modernist style of the Sagrada Familia, but as beautiful as the other classic cathedrals of Europe.
Still making our way back towards the Eixample and our apartment, we crossed the Ramblas and I was literally stopped in my tracks by the light coming down this side street. I really could have stayed here as long as my family would tolerate, playing with the light, but they eventually shuffled me along
And I was wishing for any subject other than my kooky kids who just wanted to goof off in front of the camera.
Saturday was Grace’s 16th birthday so we let her choose the plan for the day, and her choice was a day trip to Sitges — a beach town, reachable by a 35 minute train ride out of the Passeig de Gracia. Important tip: There are other entrances to the Passeig de Gracia, but you want the one that is right in front of Casa Battlò to get the C2 line that goes to Sitges. (Also if you are staying in a neighorhood other than the Eixample, there may be a better station for you to use — check the link above). Once we arrived in Sitges, we strolled the streets, did some shopping and ate lunch at one of the many seaside restaurants (I don’t even know the name), and I had a glass of what I’m pretty sure was the strongest Sangria ever.
Upon returning to the apartment, we walked up the entry stairs and heard banging and voices coming from the Elevator. They were calling “HELP US! We are a Swiss family and we are stuck in the elevator!” Jeff promptly ran up to the apartment to look for tools (he came back with a spatula) and I headed to the restaurant next door to look for help. Just in case you ever need it — 112 is Spain’s 911! We spent the 10 minutes or so that it took for the Fire Brigade to arrive by chatting through the metal doors, with the Swiss Family who was getting increasingly panicked (who can blame them, really). When they were finally freed, the mom gave me the biggest warmest hug. Yes, America, you can thank us for spreading good will during a time that much of the World is questioning what the heck is going on here. You’re welcome. 😉
Recovered from our busy day, we found dinner that night a a little place called Nou Celler, We stumbled upon this place, a little disappointed in ourselves of not having made reservations and being turned away at several other restaurants because they were full (it WAS Saturday after all). By the time we got here, we were hungry, they had a table, and we took it. Sometimes restaurants that you stumble into can be disapointing, but not this one. The service was friendly and attentive, and the selection of tapas was excellent, as was the paella. (Yes, we did eat a lot of paella — it’s all Jeff and Grace wanted, and one order was enough to feed the four of us, when we added that to the tapas!)
The following day, was the Feast of St. Jordi. Or Barcelona’s version of St. Valentines Day. In honor of St Jordi (or St George), the co-patron saint of Barcelona, men give women a red rose, and the women give men a book. As legend has it, Saint Jordi slew a dragon to save a princess and then plucked a red rose for the princess from the rose bush, which had sprouted on the exact spot where the dragon’s red blood had spilled. There are stalls all over Barcelona selling roses and books on this day. We were also lucky enough to pass by Casa Batllò to see it adorned in red roses.
Our fist major stop of the day was a tour (and short concert) at the Palau de la Música Catalana — a grand concert hall, which was declared a “World Heritage Site” in 1997. This building was NOT designed by Gaudí but by the Catalan architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner between 1905 and 1908. Again, the level of detail and the bold influence of nature makes this space one of the most beautiful I’ve seen.
Next up was the Picasso Museum. Truth be told, we don’t spend a lot of time in museums when we travel, but like the Dalì Museum, an entire museum dedicated to the works of one of the great artists was impossible to pass up. I think it’s also a good way for the girls to experience art in an easier to absorb way than a giant museum like the Louvre which can feel completely overwhelming. Photos weren’t allowed in the exhibits, but here are a few of the girls in one of the common areas. They were not interested in having me take their picture, which is too bad, because the light was really pretty! Also, just like every other place we visited, you also need timed tickets here, so get them ahead!
We finished the afternoon wandering around the Born and Barri Gotic
And of course, we came upon some every day Roman ruins tucked in the courtyard of an apartment building…. no big deal. 😉
On the way back to the apartment, Ellie hit up some second hand stores she had spotted, and found herself a bomber jacket that was definitely a throwback to the 80’s or 90s.
After a great dinner at The Bodega La Puntual, we found ourselves parked in front of a bar where they were broadcasting the Barcelona/Madrid football (soccer to Americans) game on a huge TV. That was awesome, and we stayed until the bitter end when Barcelona came back and won.
The best part was following the game, when the streets were flooded with cheers, an honking horns and the Ramblas filled with people.
Tuesday would be our final day in the city, and we had a few things to check off our list. Not least of which was the famous espadrille store — La Manual Alpargatera. When you walk in, take a number (it will likely be busy) and then look around to see what you want to try. When it’s your turn, someone gets your sizes, and you decide what you want! It’s great to see the women in the back sewing the espadrilles right there.
The rest of our day was spent wandering a bit, past Barcelona City hall, into the Parc Ciutadella and then down to the waterfront for some final hours on the Mediterranean. A couple of last gin and tonics in this seaside bar (lemonade for the girls, of course).
We never made it on this tram that goes up to Montjuic. Mostly because there are a couple of us who are not that enthused about heights…But it kind of looks fun. Maybe next time.
Heading back, we hit that side street with the crazy beautiful light again, because I hadn’t spent enough time there, and this is just the way I want to remember Barcelona.
Our AirBnB: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/2464761
La Bodega la Puntual: http://bodegalapuntual.com/carta/
Taquerias Tamarindo: https://www.yelp.com/biz/taquer%C3%ADas-tamarindo-barcelona
Nou Celler: http://www.nouceller.com/en/
Restaurant Salamanca: https://restaurantesalamanca.es
La Fermata (quick — counter service pizza, but really good) http://www.lafermata.es
Parc Guëll: https://www.parkguell.cat/en/
Sagrada Familia: http://www.sagradafamilia.org
Casa Batllò: https://www.casabatllo.es
La Manual Alpargatera http://www.lamanualalpargatera.es
Picasso Museum: http://www.museupicasso.bcn.cat/en/
If you missed my first post on our time in Cadaqués, here is the link!
And last but not least — The Mother of all Maps — This is my google map of Barcelona. And yes, it is color coded. When you click on a site it will give you a link, and in the case of a restaurant, it will usually will tell you who recommended it (most of the restaurants were recommended to me by others). http://bit.ly/2rK2Wrg