Guess who’s back!
I’m breaking the usual beauty review routine with a throwback to last spring and my (almost) two weeks of fun in Spain and Italy with three of my university colleagues. We spent five days in ‘sunny’ Barcelona and six more in Florence, Pisa, Sienna and San Gimignano. Being my usual self I took around 2 988 789 photos, which I’ll split in two posts (second one will be about Italy) in a feeble attempt to show you most of them. Here goes part one…
My expectations for the first half of the trip weren’t sky high, mainly because I’ve been to Barcelona before and while I did enjoy it a lot, it was not on top of my ‘must-return-there’ list. This didn’t change (delicious, beautiful, ancient Italy will forever hold number one in my heart), but looking back I have to admit I might not have experienced the city properly at all in my first visit. After spending some quality time there this spring I think I can finally classify Barcelona in my ever expanding list of visited places as… fun? It’s my one word definition for 5 days fuelled by sangria and paella.
~ Day One
We arrived in the late afternoon and made our way to the AirBnb apartment we had rented. It was close to Plaza de Cataluña – a walking distance from almost everything worth seeing in the city. We had just enough time to leave our stuff and head to the first attraction Barcelona had to offer – the singing fountains. They are marvelous. Pictures and video can not do them justice, so I will not include any, but trust me on this one. As for the rest of the evening – we had the very first of many glasses of sangria.
~ Day Two
Our second day began with a pretty heavy drizzle and wind, so we decided to keep the wandering indoors, finding our way to Barcelona’s Maritime Museum. The museum is housed in the old Royal Shipyard of Barcelona – which, with its renovated wooden arched Gothic ceilings from the 14th century is quite a sight, even without the almost 700 years worth of Spanish naval history between its walls. Without a doubt, the star of the museum is the 60 meter long replica of the famous galley ‘La Real’ – build in honor of the 400th anniversary of the largest battle between galleys in history – the Battle of Lepanto. It’s huge and it’s a must-see! The other exhibition I found particularly interesting and can recommend was ‘Life on the galley’. I dare you to try rowing with one of the oars if you ever get the chance to visit the museum – it’s hard!
The Maritime Museum is located at the end of La Rambla (in front of the huge monument of Christopher Columbus) and since the clouds had cleared for the afternoon, we decided to take a stroll along the water and look at some pretty expensive modern day boats. (Btw, the Aquarium of Barcelona is pretty close along the shore. I visited it the last time I was in town and while it might classify as slightly expensive, it is worth the time and money). We finished the day by climbing Montjuic – the hill overlooking the city of Barcelona, and paying a visit to its park. The top is reachable by a cable car or a funicular railway (part of the subway network). We decided to hike on the way up and took the cable car back, which turned out to be a great idea, because of the gorgeous city views. While there, we also had a look at Castle of Montjuic – an old military fortress still standing on the hill top. It’s open to visitors.
~ Day Three
On the morning of day three we took one of the many free walking tours available for tourists and went to the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona (Barri Gothic), a.k.a my favorite part of the whole city. Naturally, it encloses the oldest parts of the town, dating back to its past as a Roman province. Still, believe it or not, the quarter is not really Gothic – most of the famous buildings and squares were renovated in the late 19th/early 20th century to fit the architectural style. This doesn’t take away any of the charm though, a walk through the narrow streets is just as enchanting as you would imagine. I particularly liked Pont del Bisbe (below), the Cathedral and the Church of Santa Maria del Pi. If you happen to have the time to visit it, try to go in the late afternoon – there are a lot of street performers whose music combined with the soft light of the sunset make the place even more magical.
After the tour, we made our way to the cathedral of Barcelona – Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. It’s the pearl of the Gothic quarter and one of the most gorgeous churches in the city, although it is often overlooked, as people tend to prefer the much more famous Sagrada Familia. Still, with all due respect to Antoni Gaudi, if I have to be completely honest, the cathedral is much more attractive to me. Besides the obvious beauty of the facade, the stained glass windows and the roof with many gargoyles, the church has one more surprise – an inner garden, home to 13 white geese. Legend has it that Saint Eulalia, the patron of the cathedral and the whole city of Barcelona, was a peaceful young christian girl, who used to watch over a flock of geese. One day, once her faith was discovered, she was captured and tortured by the romans, who tried to kill her several times. At the end they managed, but she was sainted and lays buried underneath the cathedral. Her geese look over her and the city of Barcelona.
In the late afternoon we went to the second big basilica of Barcelona – Santa Maria del Mar and, as you’ve probably read in my Instagram ramblings – my favorite church in the city, because it made such a lasting impression on me. When we arrived in the basilica, we were told that there will be a service in about an hour or so, thus we figured we could just look around quickly and go on. As we were just about to leave, one of the priests climbed up the steps to the organ and started playing. Maybe he was practicing for the service or maybe he was doing it for pleasure, but we sat there, mesmerized by the music for about 40 more minutes. It was breathtaking. Out of all of the churches and cathedrals I’ve seen in my life, the memory of this one remains the most vivid and wonderful and not because it was the most beautiful or full of details and famous artworks. It was because the music and atmosphere enchanted me and this feeling hasn’t left my mind to this very day.
We ended the night with sangria. Lots and lots of sangria.
~ Day Four
Day four greeted us with rain, wind and cold, so once again we went for indoor exploration. We visited the infamous erotic museum of Barcelona and took some pretty great pictures, which I am not going to show, because hi mom, thank you for reading. The museum is not too big (you’re not likely to spend more than 2 hours there), but is lots of fun and if you’re not in town with kids or relatives, definitively worth your money.
After that we bought tickets for the hop-on-hop-off buses which go around the city and offer an audio guide with a bit of information about each of the most famous monuments in town. We followed the route until we got off at the Tibidabo stop, named after the mountain overlooking Barcelona. From there we took the funicular line to the mountain top. The name Tibidabo has biblical origin and literally means ‘I will give to you’ – a phrase said to Jesus by the devil as they looked down from an exceedingly high mountain. With its 512m, Tibidabo is the tallest mountain next to the city, so I guess the name is right. This was the one place in Barcelona I couldn’t wait to visit, because I had seen it from afar a couple of times during my previous stay. To be specific I wanted to see the church occupying the summit – Sagrat Cor (below). I was not disappointed – although the interior of the basilica is rather modest, the panoramic view of Barcelona its roof offers is breathtaking! It really is the best view in town.
The church overlooks another attraction – the Tibidabo amusement park. Unfortunately it was closed due to poor weather, so a ride on the infamous red airplane is something which had to remain on my wish list.
In the evening, we had pre-booked tickets for a tour of Casa Batllo. Casa Batllo is one of the many residential buildings redesigned by Antoni Gaudi in the style of Modernism (Art Nouveou) and is considered one of his masterpieces. Originally the building was supposed to house one large family. Today, almost all of the apartments are occupied by private owners, but the ground and second floors, as well as the stairways and the roof are open to visitors and offered as part of an interactive tour.
This building is on another level. I am in no shape or form an art critique, nor do I know anything about architecture, but even my untrained eye could get why this place is a masterpiece. Every detail, every line, every piece of the mosaics has a meaning. At times I felt as if I am inside the guts of a huge animal, at other times as if I’m on board of the Nautilus and I’m observing the ocean floor. I can not recommend it enough. If you are in Barcelona, you must visit it!
~ Day Five
Day five finally delivered the weather we expected by Spain – warm and bright. In the morning we went to Poble Espanyol – an open-air architectural museum. It consists of over a hundred buildings, restaurants and shops which recreate Spanish villages. Walking around you can see how the atmosphere, architecture and style of the buildings changes as you move on to another area of the country. There are also recreations of famous monasteries and churches as well as a movie theater where we saw ‘Fiesta – The heart of Spain’ – a short movie explaining the festival tradition and the different ways it is celebrated around the country. I liked the museum and it did spark my curiosity. I think it’s a pretty nice way to get a broader understanding of Spanish culture and traditions.
The afternoon started with a walk down La Ramblas and a visit to the Columbus Monument. Little known fact – you can actually go inside the monument for two or three euros. There is an elevator to the top floor, which offers pretty great views. On one side you can see the whole harbor and on the other – the city of Barcelona and La Ramblas, which looks pretty nice from above.
Our walk continued to Sagrada Familia – Antoni Gaudi’s dream. A big catholic church whose building began in 1882 and still hasn’t finished to this day. To finance it, the city of Barcelona uses charities and the revenue from the tourists visiting the basilica, but still the expected finish date is 2026 – 100 years after its designers death. We did not get the chance to go inside (all of the tickets were sold out), but I have pictures from my previous visit. This building is unbelievable. It does not feel like a church, it feels like the inside of a space ship. It’s light, open, colorful, modern and fascinating. To me, the design, especially outside, feels organic. Maybe because you can see how it has grown throughout the years. It’s a must-see without a doubt and worth the praises it gets, not as a church, but as a work of art.
We dedicated our last late afternoon in Barcelona to one more of Gaudi’s masterpieces – Park Guell. The park is located a bit on the outskirts of the city, but is easily reachable by public transport. Its gardens are open for visitors, free of charge, but you need tickets and reservation for the monumental part designed by Gaudi. The park is beautiful and has Gaudi’s signature style. Although it’s not on the top of my list, I’m very glad we ended our five days in Barcelona there. Antoni Gaudi’s art captures the essence of the city and maybe of Spain in general – colorful, warm, old, passionate.
As to any other place, pictures can not do justice to the atmosphere of Barcelona. It’s something you have to feel for yourself and while it’s still not my favorite city in the world, it left something in my heart and I think of it fondly. Have you visited Barcelona? What was your favorite thing in the city?
This post is also available in: Bulgarian