Hola! Barcelona

I assumed our few days in Barcelona would be underpinned by an ever-present fear that at any moment we might have our bags stolen. Anybody we’d told we were headed to Barcelona had warned us, ‘be careful with your things.’ Indeed, the first thing we saw when we came out of the metro station was a girl screaming after someone had just run off with her bag.

So we were especially mindful of our bags the whole time we were there, and fortunately we had no trouble. Despite the petty crime, Barcelona wasn’t the frightening place I had imagined it to be. It’s fast-paced and forward-thinking, but at the same time it radiates an atmosphere of laid-back and easy-going. One of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to – and certainly one of my favourites.

We arrived late at night, after a slightly stressful day of travelling. The following morning we began at Catalonia Square, the heart of the city which divides modern Barcelona with historic Barcelona. Among the many streets that shoot out of the square is Las Ramblas, said to be Spain’s most famous street. It’s a pedestrian boulevard which leads to the sea, and is lined with street artists and a variety of vendors.

Las Ramblas

Part way down Las Ramblas we came across a market; rather a famous one it turned out. Mercat de la Boqueria is a colourful food market, which primarily sells fresh fruit and fish. One of the many things I discovered about myself on this trip is that I love fish markets. It’s not like I want to buy the stuff and eat it, but I get a thrill seeing it all on display. And the smell doesn’t gross me out as much as it does others.

Inside the market

At the end of the kilometre or so of Las Ramblas, we came to the port. I didn’t get to see the sea many times during my trip, so it was especially nice each time I did. The water in Barcelona was particularly blue under the glorious sunshine that fortunately hung around for the entire time we were there.

Port Vell

If Barcelona is famous for one thing in particular, it’s the architecture of Antoni Gaudi. Our first Gaudi stop was the Parc Guell, a park atop a hill which my Lonely Planet aptly describes as a “Dr Seuss-style playground.” It’s hard to describe Gaudi’s style, because although it’s most closely aligned with modernism, it’s completely individual. The park is filled with Gaudi-designed paths, plazas, benches and more. And from the top, you have great views of the city.

Parc Guell

That afternoon we also visited Parc de la Ciutadella, an enormous park in the centre of Barcelona. Within the pretty park there is a zoo, a lake, a large and impressive fountain, several museums and countless monuments. The Catalan parliament actually sits in a building in the centre of the park. We walked A LOT that day, but it paid off in what we managed to see.

Amazing fountain in the park

The following day, we lined up for the Sagrada Familia, easily Gaudi’s most famous masterpiece, and Barcelona’s most famous building. The funny thing is, it isn’t finished. Construction is taking place even today, and there’s scaffolding all over it. When Gaudi died back in 1926, he left it unfinished. The aim is for it to be completed by the 100th anniversary of his death in 2026.

Unlike anything I’ve ever seen before

Let me tell you, the Sagrada Familia is pretty cool. I’ve been to loads and loads of religious buildings in the last six months, and while they have all been impressive, I have to admit that often when I try to recall them individually I find myself struggling to distinguish one from another in my mind. But this one was refreshingly different in its style. As we gawked up at the colourful stain-glass windows and nature-like interior, our audio-guides gave us exhaustive explanations of Gaudi’s architecture.

Inside the Sagrada Familia

We had the opportunity to go up the towers, where we had a magnificent view over the city. The church, fascinating both inside and out, was definitely a highlight of Barcelona.

A view of Barcelona from one of the towers

That same day we met up with a friend who I had lived in halls with in London, who lives in Barcelona. He took us through the gothic back-streets around the cathedral, which are full of cool little shops, bars and so forth. Then we headed to the beach (as opposed to the port) where we met another friend. The two of them took us to the El Raval district, which is one of those places that used to be seedy but is now the place to be.

With my Spanish friends, Pepe and Carla

I made many Spanish friends in London, and I have to say, they are some of my favourite people. They’re funny and lots of fun. It was great to have tour guides, but more than that, it was cool to spend time with them in Barcelona. Saying goodbye to them was sad, because although we like to think we’ll see each other again in the not too distant future, it’s not so easy.

I remember that night we went to a Spanish restaurant where I had my first paella and my first Sangria of the trip. Paella is good stuff, but Sangria was the real hit. It was the first of many…

Guesses for what we did the next day? That’s right – some more Gaudi. First stop was La Pedrera, a Gaudi apartment full of modernist furniture. It also contains a museum about his life and works. The coolest bit, though, is the roof, which is decorated with bizarre chimneys and odd-shaped structures which serve no apparent purpose other than providing photo opportunities for over-enthusiastic tourists like ourselves.

The roof of La Pedrera

Our final Gaudi destination was Casa Batllo, a house redesigned by Gaudi early in the 20th Century. Its sparkling facade stands out in the street, and the inside is no less extraordinary. In typical Gaudi style, nothing is regular. Straight lines are avoided in favour of oval windows and curving walls. The tiles are colourful, and every exciting detail carries some kind of significance – so our audio-guides told us.

Casa Batllo

After meeting an Australian friend for lunch, we went to the Cathedral. There were many chapels within it, all intricately and beautifully decorated. It was worth coming back to see. The first time we had been turned away for not complying with the modest dress code… oops.

The Cathedral was built on the top of the ruins of an 11th Century Romanesque church.

Next we went to the Palau de la Musica Catalana, Barcelona’s famous opera house. Although it wasn’t designed by Gaudi, the 100-year-old building is representative of Catalan modernist style. You can only go inside with a guided tour, and unfortunately we had missed the last English tour for the day. But we really wanted to see inside, so we decided to take the Spanish tour. Fortunately, we weren’t the only non-Spanish speakers, and the guide was particularly expressive so that we were able to understand in parts. But even if we didn’t understand, it was worth the money just to marvel at the interior. The theatre was colourful, decorated richly and in great detail; simply beautiful. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos inside.

The last place we visited in Barcelona was an art museum. Its content didn’t rate as highly in our eyes as its location. It’s situated atop Montjuic, a hill south-east of the city centre. The museum is housed in the National Palace, a remarkable neo-baroque style building. It was a bit of a hike to get up, but from there we were able to enjoy fabulous views of the city.

Montjuic

On our last night in Barcelona we had our first Tapas, which we quite liked. Overall, Barcelona was great. Our hostel was a little far away, but the metro was efficient and easy to use. We managed plenty of sightseeing (and shopping) while soaking up the sun and the buzz of what we decided is a super-cool city.

Next stop, Seville. Adios for now.

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