The second stop of our multi-city European adventure was Barcelona. Barcelona is definitely my favorite European city so far. It’s unassuming and charming. My male companions likened it to the “girl next door” versus the sophisticated, more high maintenance girl that is Paris. We arrived the morning of Easter Sunday so our first stop was Barcelona Cathedral for Easter Mass. It was quite the challenge indeed to concentrate during the Mass having attended the Castellano service and being surrounded by the resplendence of the Barcelona Cathedral.
It was a good thing we arrived on a Sunday: free entrance to the Picasso Museum! We lined up as early as 1 pm and ended up entering by 3:30 pm. One thing I learned – find travel companions who can find entertainment in the smallest of things. I’m not known to be a very patient person and had I fallen in line by myself, I would not have lasted the 2 and a half hours! Time passed by really quickly as we talked and even played taboo while waiting in line and before we knew it, we were inside the museum. The rest of the day was spent exploring the streets looking for the best place to have tapas and churros – which is almost every corner of the city!
The next day, we traversed to the home of FC Barcelona, Camp Nuo, where we were able to learn more about the roots of the popular football team that prides itself as being “more than a club”. Though we were not as big a fan as Mar is, we appreciated why the team based in the quaint city of Barcelona was able to capture the hearts of more than a million fans worldwide.
It was also more than a stadium, Camp Nuo featured a Museum where the entire history of the club – both in and out of the sports world, was detailed and all the awards they received were displayed. They even had corners dedicated to their most famous players such as Ronaldinho and Messi.
One of the things I loved about Barcelona is how it strikes the balance between it’s old-world charm and the eccentric architectural style of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. We were only able to explore three of his major works, but his designs could be seen scattered all around the city. We ventured up to Park Guell, which was literally an uphill battle. The park is located atop El Carmel which required us to take several escalators and walk up a curved path. I’m not a fan of upward climbs but I must say that it was worth it. Park Guell is filled with architectural marvels and a breathtaking view of the city (as shown on the first picture of this post).
We were also able to explore Casa Mila, also known as the La Pedrera. Perhaps it was the construction being done on its facade at that time but it felt well camouflaged for a building with such distinctive features. It did not feel out of place in the middle of the city. As you enter, you are welcomed by the atrium that provides the view of the clouds above.
The best feature of the building is most definitely the roof which is just full of indescribable designs – differing depths and unusual figures that are simply a feast to the eyes especially when viewed together with the beautiful blue sky.
The following day, we decided to delve deeper into Catalan history by visiting the Mercat del Born. A seemingly regular (by regular, I mean it by Barcelona standards – still an aesthetic marvel) building from the outside, the Mercat del Born actually houses the ruins of the destroyed Market in the el Born district during the capture of Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War. Despite now being considered as part of modern day Spain, Barcelona still shows some deep attachment to their Catalan roots. In fact, in the surrounding area of el Born, there are still banners that call for the independence of the Catalan people.
After having lunch in the popular food market, Las Ramblas, we finally went to our third Gaudi for the trip – his magnum opus – La Sagrada Familia. From afar one can already see the majesty of this unfinished Church. Up close, it is truly an overwhelming sight – the size of the Church together with the intricate, yet meaningful designs both on the facade and of the interiors can be too much to take in at first glance.
La Sagrada Familia (The Holy Family) is a complex Church. Every detail was there for a reason – there was no randomness in its design. One of the outer spires have the word Sanctus in plated lettering, while the names Mary Joseph and Jesus, the Sagrada Familia, can be found above the main entrance of the Church.
At the basement of the Church, there is a museum that contains several information on Gaudi’s life as well as blueprints and prototypes of the Sagrada Familia and other Gaudi works. The burial place of Gaudi can also be viewed from a small glass window.
We were fortunate enough to witness the Sant Jordi Day in Barcelona on our last day. The entire city was filled with stalls selling roses and books. As part of the tradition, ladies would give men books and men would give the ladies roses – like the Catalan equivalent of Valentine’s Day except even the boys get to receive gifts as well. We had our Barcelona City Walking Gothic Tour on that day as well, where we were able to walk around the city and learn about the history of the different buildings, Churches, and locations that were on our path. This entire trip has really helped me appreciate structured guided tours. Initially, I wasn’t fond of going in tour groups, but the lessons and stories that only locals can teach you are definitely part of the experience of visiting the city.
Despite having stayed in Barcelona the longest, it still feels like we were not there for long enough. As we all ranked our favorite cities at the end of our trip, this charming, picturesque city found its way on the top of most of our lists. I’m surely going to go back. The question now is when – perhaps when the La Sagrada Familia is finally completed. As it stands today, it already is quite grand. I can’t wait to see how it looks when it’s done!