Just as I was starting to get a little fatigue from all the amazing old buildings, art, and jamón, here comes Barcelona to the rescue
Barcelona, located right on the Mediterranean in the northeast Spanish autonomous region of Catalunya, has a culture (and a language) all its own. The locals speak catala, which I guess has roots in Spanish and either French or Provençal. Signs are readable but I had to communicate in “regular” Castillian Spanish for the most part. I also observed that more English is spoken here than elsewhere in Spain.
Barcelona feels by far the most cosmopolitan and modern of the four Spanish cities I visited. It has an old quarter (the barri gotic) but is mostly laid out in a semi-sensible grid with new and architecturally forward buildings all over the place. I spent three days in Barca and could have used one or two more, to be honest.
I arrived at the airport from Sevilla and took the bus into the city center to check into the hostel. Then I ran about a mile to the beach in Barceloneta. Oh man, that beach. It has great sand, a lively buzz, and warm Mediterranean water. Three downsides: rampant petty crime (watch your stuff), too many people selling stuff (“beer! Cerveza! Ice cold mojitos!” every ten seconds) and some sort of biting insect which left me with mosquito-like bites later that day. Overall I’ll take that tradeoff in a second.
After getting a nice tan I came back to shower… And promptly knocked my (very necessary, only) glasses off a high shelf, snapping the bridge. The crisis now was to restore my vision as quickly as possible, which involved a brisk walk to the Plaça Catalunya, a very long and technical conversation in Spanish with the optician (cristales = lenses evidently), and a hefty bill. Lesson learned!
Woke up to a free breakfast at the hostel and walked over to the optical shop. The glasses look good! Then I met up with my friends from Michigan: Jamie and Eeshan, with their friend Michael. We walked to the Basilica of La Sagrada Familia (the Holy Family), the last work and masterpiece of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. The exterior façades are unfinished (under construction for about 100 years, the last tower isn’t expected to be completed until 2029) but intriguing enough to get me to pay the €15 to get inside.
On the nativity façade is a statue I can never un-see…
Then I went inside. Oh my. I didn’t know I could be affected be architecture like that. Gaudí’s mastery of light gives the altar a striking ethereal glow. The rest of the space is bathed in light, much of it from the stained glass windows. Unlike all other churches I’ve seen, the windows are not figurative, in that they don’t depict symbols or people. Instead, monochrome patterns in light and dark depict ideas like the resurrection. I thought it was highly effective.
Another distinguishing feature of the interior is the column design. Gaudi, inspired by the geometry of nature, invokes a tree trunk and its branches as the basic design elements. The collection of columns was designed to give the effect of being in a forest. It gives a certain peace and lightness to the space.
I noticed several artistic choices which seemingly deemphasized Mary. For example, her corner of the transept is less ornate than Joseph’s on the opposite side, and the tower representing her will be only the fifth tallest. Perhaps this is representative of the way Gaudi practiced his religion, or of the particular tradition in Catalonia.
In the morning I ran up a hill called the Montjuïc, located near where I was staying. It’s about 500′ above the rest of the city, so it is a nice little hill climb to the top. There is a gondola to the top for over €10 – no thanks!
At the top there’s a castle which was fortified to defend the city with the long guns. I ran around the hilltop park, down past the Olympic stadium, and back to my hostel – a fun 6-8 mi route. Then I ran to the beach to cool off and enjoy some more sun.
In the evening I met up with more Michigan friends for dinner at Txapela, a Catalonian “tapas” place (actually called pinchos – the plates are a bit smaller). It was pretty tasty!
We walked La Rambla again and happened upon some amazing street music. Take a listen for yourself:
After 3 days, I fell in love with Barcelona’s character a little bit. I wouldn’t hesitate to come back here for a week or more and take some time to explore the surrounding area (and that beach!)
Off to Amsterdam now for a couple of days! ¡Hasta luego, España!