I might as well say it from the onset; Barcelona is most likely one of the greatest cities I have ever visited. Let’s bring it back a little bit though.
We departed from Valladolid’s sad excuse for an airport which makes Harrisburg’s look like La Guardia. We boarded our Ryanair flight towards Barcelona safely but scarily and arrived on the outskirts of Barcelona after an hour in the air. We headed to our hostel and were immediately welcomed by a few Scottish and Irish students also studying in Barcelona looking for apartments. Since it was late we spent the night grocery shopping and talking with two gentleman from the UK about various topics including cultural and lingual differences between the UK and US. Hilarity ensued.
The next morning we set out for La Sagrada Familia, one of Gaudi’s most stunning works. It is an unfinished church that many would describe as “Disney-esque.” I understand the comparisons but I believe this label is a metaphoric slap to the face of Gaudi as this is not some gimmick to attract consumers but an incredibly unique work of art that the world has never seen before. It was truly an amazing spectacle and I hope to return to see it when it is finished.
After the church we continued our crusade for Gaudi’s works in the form of La Casa Mila and another building across the street whose name escapes me at the moment. These two works are located on the same street called Paseo de Gracia, one of Barcelona’s main streets that leads one to Plaça de Catalunya, a central point with beautiful fountains and places a plenty for local skaters.
Interestingly enough I found myself comparing Barcelona to Philadelphia quite often. La Plaça was very similar to the squares and little parks around City Hall in Philly like LOVE park and Logan Circle. When we traveled past La Plaça we found ourselves on Barcelona’s most famous street called La Rambla. This street is famous for its restaurants, street performers, and night life. To me, La Rambla was like being back on South Street with the constant bombardment of people and things to do. Further down La Rambla we visited an incredible Market/Restaurant hybrid which I could only compare to Reading Terminal Market in Center-East Philly. Through the cramped open-air market were several fish stands for which Catalunya is famous for. Moreover there were micro-restaurants where you could order Catalunyan entrees and attempt to find somewhere to sit.
La Rambla eventually spits you out right by the beach which was perfect timing for our group as we decided to eat our lunch on the sand with the sweet sound of the Mediterranean waves to accompany us. The beach was situated in an awesome neighborhood called Barceloneta which had many landmarks and statues that reminded me of the bay area in Baltimore.
After lunch on the beach, we headed back north to wander around and luckily for us in Barcelona there is always something to go see. After walking north for about 5 minutes we spotted an amazing looking park called Parque de la Ciutadella. It was full of young people playing soccer and older people walking around, some taking their dogs for a walk (everyone has a pet in Spain….everyone). The park had a ton of things to see and do including a castle/zoo, and an unknown monument that our group thought paid homage to a sea god. Whether it was Poseidon or Neptune we didn’t know.
Right beside the park was a pedestrian street (Passeig de Lluis Companys) that led to an enormous arch called the Arc de Triomf that was built in 1888 to serve as a welcome from Barcelona to other nations. It was filled with long boarders who looked to be having the time of their lives cruising down the street.
The next morning we hopped on the metro and headed to the famous Park Guell, yet another Gaudi landmark and I must say it did not disappoint. This free park is located on a hill and visitors are constantly in contact with Gaudi’s works which makes the climb all the easier. As you climb through the park there are multiple levels you can stop at and gaze at the splendor that is Barcelona from a distance. The whole city is visible and it was cool to see La Sagrada Familia and the Mediterranean from that altitude. Once we got to the top the view was all the better because now we could view the back side of Barcelona which seemed to feature an amusement park and a castle off in the distance on another hill. Also close to the top was a pretty fancy looking soccer field. It would’ve been so nice to play on but kids were practicing. Someone’s gotta be the next Xavi. But this is a must see sight for anyone going to Barcelona. The views are phenomenal, the trails are fun and filled with amazing art/architecture and the price is unbeatable (free).
During our descent we were very tired and listened to three different musicians on our way. The first was located near this rock formation turned viewpoint with a religious cross. He was an American playing an old steel lap guitar and he could definitely play. I threw some money his way before we sat down and listened to some banjo further down the pathway. Further still we got caught up in a group that was listening to this traditional Spanish band that performed bilingually which was interesting. I have a video of them that I will put at the end of this post.
After Park Guell we were wandering around aimlessly and finally found a Carnaval parade of which I also took a video of and will link. It mostly featured kids in strange garb, sometimes old and traditional but colorful and others in more contemporary costumes one would see during halloween. Most of the kids were playing percussions instruments while others were tossing colorful bits of paper. We followed them around for a little while until we headed towards Camp Nou, the home stadium of FC Barcelona. Although we could not go inside (without paying 30 Euro for the tour) we did get to see the outside and walk around the official stores which were cool. It is another must see. Even those who do not appreciate Fútbol should have fun exploring the stadium of Europe’s best team, and that’s hard for me to admit being a Chelsea fan.
Exhausted as we were, our group persevered and made it to the Olympic Park where the 1992 summer olympics took place. It was, oddly enough, a barren place but it was nice walk around and see all the buildings and footprints of the major athletes. The 92 olympics were the first to allow NBA players into the competition so of course our group was pretty excited to see Michael Jordan’s footprint near one of the stadiums.
Towards the end of our olympic excursion we were shocked to learn that the gates were closed off at night and they must not have looked for or saw us wandering around and almost locked us in! We ran to one gate that was about to be closed but we yelled enough for them to hear us and we made it out safely.
After almost being trapped in the olympic village, it was about time to head down the “mountain” and attend a flamenco show in town. This was certainly one of the more interesting and Spanish things we’ve done so far. It was nice to get a big dose of culture to conclude our time in Barça. The flamenco show consisted of two dancers, one male one female, two classical guitarists (who could shred….classically), an amazing singer and a percussionist who used his hands to keep the rhythm on what looked like a box. I’ve since been told Flamenco borrows from many different cultures and exemplifies Spain’s ties with both Latin American and Muslim culture. The show started with an instrumental and slowly incorporated more “Actors.” The guitars would start and then the singer and percussionist would come in before the dancers came out on center stage. The dancers were an intricate part to the performance as they enhanced the show emotionally and also added to the rhythm of the music with their tap shoes. At any rate I also have a small video of the performance that I will link below.
After the performance we headed back to our hostel, grabbed our things and made our way to the train station for our overnight bus to Madrid and that is where I will leave you for now. Hasta Luego!