“We have given a diploma either to a crazy person or to a genius,” these were the thoughts of Gaudí’s professor who gave him the diploma when Antoni Gaudí graduated from his architecture school in Barcelona. He was a good prophet, wasn’t he? Therefore, brace yourself for an architectural odyssey.
Before I went to Barcelona, for some (peculiar) reason, I was not overtly excited about going there. I mean, it has been one of my dream destinations in Europe, but I didn’t devote too much of a time to reading and researching. In the end, this turned out to be a better strategy since I was not too stressed to see everything I have read about (or haven’t read about) – that’s next to impossible even for a month there.
What I did, instead, was: immerse myself into the city’s unique atmosphere, breathe, and “hungrily” devour the spellbinding beauty which was seeping from everywhere. My journey to Dubai was also not so well-researched in advance (I have a friend who told me where to go, etc.), but also had the same outcome.
Truth is, exhilaration gathered momentum in the last couple of days before the trip. The night before the flight, I only slept for a few hours and then hopped on seething with more excitement. I am sure I am not the only one who loves flying. So, when I saw the mesmerising sunrise from the plane, I was more than ready to start my dive into “las bellezas de la Perla de la Mediteranea”.
I was wondering how to start telling you about my experience in certainly the most beautiful city I have ever set my feet so far – Barcelona. But before I do, what is Barcelona?
¿Is it Gaudí? Is it Camp Nou? What about Sagrada Familia? Bread with tomato? Catalan language? ¿Es una playa bonita o montañas serradas? Columbus, stunning architecture, or humidity?
I guess I don’t have to decide since it is a conglomerate of all of the upper mentioned and a throng of other things.
Architecture. Sumptuousness, opulence – but not in that lavish Emirati style. It was just the right amount for your eyes to ponder in awe and your mind to contemplate in regal silence.
Let’s start day by day.
Day 1 – La Rambla, Citadel Park, and Park Guëll
My trip to Barcelona was enjoyed in the company of a friend. We got an apartment just 5 minutes away from Plaça de Catalunya (Catalonia Square) and this is where our journey started.
La Rambla de Barcelona
Plaça Cataluniya is a gargantuan square at which hundreds of public buses make a stopping to take the swarms of tourists back to the airport. From the square to the statue of Christopher Columbus stretches the notorious La Rambla.
You’d ask, “Why notorious?” I jumped to this adjective because the street (and many others, in fact) has this grim reputation of recurring thefts. So, it was no wonder that we saw the majority of people (and, believe me, there were literally legions of people, marching this street all day long) had turned their backpacks into frontpacks – meaning that they were carrying (or rather hugging) their belongings in front of them. Although I was not robbed of anything, be super attentive there.
I called La Rambla notorious for another reason – it’s quite expensive to have a meal there, plus the dishes are not really that delicious. Yes, we did fall victim once (or twice). Besides, the pedestrian area is quite small and there are two streets around it with countless cars and public transportation. Therefore, I suggest to just ramble, but not “gamble” (eat and drink).
On the way to the monument of Columbus, we passed by the Main Theatre, the Military Government, and, surely, lots of sophisticated examples of gorgeous architecture.
Erected for the Exposición Universal de Barcelona (1888), the monument was in honour of the first voyage of Columbus to the Americas.
Measuring around 60 m (197 ft), the monument represents Columbus, pointing to the New World.
The Seaside Walk and Citadel Park
After taking numerous photos of the “explorer”, we continued our tour on Passeig de Colom, a broad avenue generously lined with palm trees, to the Parc de la Ciutadella (“Citadel Park”).
While sauntering towards the park, we passed and stopped for a minute to marvel at Estació de França (“France Station”). Constructed in the 19th century and as the name suggests, it served as a terminus for trains coming from France. It’s quite imposing a building and currently, it is the second busiest railway station in Barcelona.
Citadel Park is a beautiful 70-acre green space which houses the Zoo of Barcelona, the Catalonian Parliament, a pond, some museum halls, and also a gorgeous fountain (Antoni Gaudí might have had a contribution there, too).
At the promenade’s northern end is situated the Arc de Triomf (“Triumphal Arch”) which is the principal access gate to the park and is constructed in brickwork with reddish colours in the style of Neo-Mudéjar.
Probably one of Gaudí’s most stupendous creations, the Park is nestled on Carmen Hill, overlooking Barcelona. Every single bench there is extensively decorated and inlaid and architectonic elements reign over the wonderland called Park Guëll.
The park, built 1910-1914 and officially inaugurated in 1926, was pronounced a UNESCO World Heritage Site and put under the “Works of Gaudí”. The ambience revolves around organic shapes and figures, influenced by the architect’s naturalist phase.
Yes, it’s hardly possible to take a photo without someone else’s selfie stick poking you in the tushie or taking at least a minor, but annoying, portion of your picture. Nevertheless, the throngs of tourists were determined to do so regardless of the vivid opportunity to lose an eye or, at least, their dignity.
Sin obstante, there are a couple of spots one might find amusing or even exciting. A view from the top of the park offers splendid views of the city and one can also see Sagrada Familia.
Park Guëll is also home to a house where Gaudí lived for twenty years from 1906 to 1925. It was opened to the public as a Museum House in 1963. It contains objects of the more intimate side of the architect.
Day 2 – Montserrat and Sagrada Familia
Montserrat – Catalonia’s Natural Phenomenon
We took the first train (Line 4) to Montserrat from Plaça Espanya. As you can see from the link, there are two stops – Aeri de Montserrat (cable car), which is at the foot of the mountain, and Monistrol de Montserrat (Cremallera Funicular Rack Railway).
We got off at Aeri de Montserrat station and took the cable car which took us from 139 m elevation to 683 m in less than 5 minutes. The ride was quite refreshing as it was very misty and a bit chilly in the morning.
Little did we know before we went to Montserrat Monastery, located at 717 m, where our jaws dropped again. Montserrat´s beauty enchants. As if the Catalan God has been going around with his saw serrating everything he saw (pun intended). Montserrat means “serrated mountains”.
We entered inside the monastery’s yard and saw a huge line of people, queuing to see the Virgin of Montserrat (one of the few Black Madonnas on the European continent). Due to our packed schedule, we only visited the church, but we did not wait to peek at the Madonna. However, I saw a replica of the Madonna in the Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral in Barcelona so if you don’t mind that you will see a replica, you can easily skip the queue in the monastery and head to the Santa Maria.
The Montserrat Monastery is a wonderful starting point for hikes as some of the serrated mountains reach a height of more than 1,100 m (~3,600 ft). If your feet are tired of marching around, you can take the funiculars to Santa Cova cave, an important pilgrimage site also known as “The Holy Grotto”, or to Sant Joan, offering a stupefying view of Montserrat from the top.
We did not go to Sant Joan, but we managed to capture some drop-dead gorgeous moments from the site of the monastery.
At around 12:30, when the bell started tolling, it was so magical I just listened in astonishment.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Sagrada Familia – the true masterpiece, the crème de la crème, la obra maestra de Gaudí.
I felt goosebumps prick my arms as Sagrada Familia’s resplendence mesmerised my body, tingled my skin, and captivated my mind, sending pleasant shivers down my spinal cord. I didn’t exactly scream, but I do recall the goosebumps. Now, you can feel them with these photos.
The crypt of the basilica is its oldest part where lie the remnants of Gaudí. He was buried there in 1926 “after a multitudinous final farewell” by myriads of Barcelona residents who came to pay their respects to the work of the prodigy.
From outside, the Basilica is nothing short of an architectural miracle. The highest tower, dedicated to Jesus, measures an imposing height of 172,5 m. Besides, there are four other towers, measuring 135 m and dedicated to the four evangelists. There are numerous other towers and façades, dedicated to different Saints and to the life of Jesus. Sagrada Familia will be finished in 2026 (commemorating 100 years since Gaudí’s death).
Day 3 – La Boqueria, Montjuïc, and Poble Espanyol
The third day was marked by a visit to the hill of Montjuïc. But before that, we paid La Boqueria market a visit.
As one of the foremost go-to tourist places, even in the morning, it was crowded. The market’s sundry assortment of goods ranges from fresh fish through cured ham (jamón) and dried cheeses to traditional Spanish and Catalan food.
At the market, my friend and I also found many stalls which sold freshly squeezed juices from various exotic fruits, ranging from guanabana through guava to coconut and mango. We found one place where the juice was solely 1 EUR for a cup of 200 ml. Its location is just several steps away from the main entrance on your right.
But let’s get back to Jamón. It is this scrumptiously palatable meat that is “extracted” from boars who have been fed with grass, herbs, and, most of all, acorns (or oak nuts). Depending on the quality (which is determined by the amount of acorns the boars consume), the prices vary greatly – from as low as 10 EUR to as much as 300 EUR per kilogramme.
It’s said that one of the best varieties is Jamón de Bellota Pata Negra (literally “Bellota Ham from Black Leg – because of the colour of the pig’s skin).
We first headed to Plaça Espanya. It’s a humongous round-about and at one of the metro’s exits is located the Arenas de Barcelona. It is a huge shopping mall, but what’s marvellous about it is its panoramic roof that offers a pants-dropping view of the city, Montjuïc Hill, and the Magic Fountains.
One can go to the roof via using an outdoor lift (1 EUR) on the left or use the escalators inside the mall (for free, of course). Either way, it’s so worth it, especially at sunset.
Overseeing the Magic Fountains of Montjuïc is the National Museum of Catalan Art (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya). It’s a fabulous building, holding amazing collections of Catalan art and church paintings from the Romanesque period.
Already atop the hill, we strolled around the Olympic City and then headed to another magnificent place which is called…
Literally “Spanish Town”, the complex area may be defined as an architectural museum, uniting many of the Spanish regions into a great village and representing fifteen communities with their distinct cultures, crafts, and architectural styles. Only the Canary Islands and La Rioja are not represented.
We witnessed glass making (video coming soon) and had a mouth-watering lunch with delectable sangria (the low-alcoholic beverage was very refreshing and only cost us around 3 EUR).
In summer, the village is also a venue to pounding techno music and revolutionising house music. If you happen to be an electronic music fan, then Poble Espanyol is definitely a must-visit place.
The famous castle of Montjuïc is at the very top of the hill and is accessible through a cable car or on foot (a single ticket is 8 EUR, while the return is 12 EUR). A better idea is to take the cable car up (because it offers jaw-dropping views) with a single ticket and then either walk down the hill or take the bus for around 1.5 EUR.
One of the most staggering views of Barcelona and its remarkable beach is from the castle. From there, one can also see the port which is one of Europe’s largest.
The watchtower at the top reminisces of the primary defensive structure of the hill dating back to 1073. Via a system of sails throughout the day and bonfires during the night, the lookout tower signalled the arrival of ships.
Barcelona’s defence was executed from Montjuïc owing to the fact that the hill controlled the inland plain and the coast. The fortress on top is to Barcelona what the Paul and Peter fortress was to St. Petersburg or the Bastille to Paris – both a bloodcurdling prison and an awe-inspiring citadel. Even under Franco’s rule, the fortress continued its operations as barracks and a military prison until 1960.
If you head from the castle down and then to the left, you will find Teleférico del Puerto (a cable car) that for 11 EUR (one-way) will take you down to La Barceloneta – la playa de Barcelona – which is what we did. Check out these flabbergasting photos taken from the cable car.
Day 4 – Barceloneta, the Gothic Quarter, and the Magic Fountains
The tonnes of palm trees, cute beach bars, and tiny pedestrian streets, meandering between the imposing buildings, make La Barceloneta area a terrific place and a must-visit. I also found bars for working out so I flexed my Bulgarian muscles.
Around the Gothic Quarter
What stroke me most about Barcelona, however, were the amazingly ornate buildings all around the city. Almost every single construction was exquisitely decorated. Gaudí’s genius, sheer opulence, and resplendence were streaming off of every corner.
I was breathing deeply every time I entered a new cathedral in the Gothic quarter. The gargantuan columns, magnificent stained glasses, and pointy domes of every one of those made me ponder in awe.
The Magic Fountains of Montjuïc
One of the must-sees, if you are into lights, is the magic fountain show which usually takes place on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night from 21:30 to around 23:00. It’s strongly advisable to be there around 20:00 to get a great position for observing the spectacle.
What I did was hop on one of the four gigantic columns, sit cosily there without being pushed, and contemplate the music and light show. Here are photos.
I decided to write a short paragraph on some of the downsides of the city so that you are prepared for some of them.
As I mentioned, at La Rambla, everybody was hugging its rucksack and everything was overpriced. Besides, every single person whom I saw smoking dropped his cigarette leftover on the ground (maybe this is not a trend, but still). I found the metro of Barcelona a bit confusing and inside it was boiling hot.
A downside for some of you might be that not everybody spoke English, but every Catalan would understand Castellano (Spanish) so that’s fine.
Food in Barcelona
Paella is a must-try (despite it having its origins in Valencia) but beware because multitudes of places offer paellas but in many of them, the paella is not really good (avoid La Rambla).
Pulpo a la gallega or “Octopus in Galician style” is another must-try should you be a fan of seafood. It’s a little piquant and comes with sea salt and an occasional potato – simply scrumptious.
And, of course, don’t forget the yummy tapas!
And when you get your teeth on that cured Iberian ham, sniffing the aroma of acorns and the light sense of mold, all your senses cheerfully celebrate life and its blessings.
The architecture slaps you in the face, permeates in you, and leaves you wanting more and more. Severely fascinated by what’s around, you continue walking as if a magical Fairy is dragging you gently by the nose. Every time she wants to show you an ornament, arch, or something else worth seeing, she will gently scratch your nose in the right direction, leaving you to experience petite orgasms every single time.
Barcelona, you hugged me with your warm Mediterranean sun and kissed me gently with your caressing wind. It’s a bit disheartening to leave you, having been part of your warm, powerful embrace, but to miss you will bring me back. Barcelona, my love for you is excessively saccharine. I can’t wait to meet you again.
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Were you as fascinated as I was (and still am) by Barcelona?