Ahh Barcelona… where do I begin.
Barcelona was above and beyond my expectation. So much, in fact, that it ended up being my favorite city of the entire trip. To be honest prior to this trip my knowledge of Europe was close to none – I had no idea what to expect, especially in Spain. After living in SoCal for 10 years I tend to associate Spain with our neighbor Mexico simply because both countries speak similar language, but I’ve found out that they are completely different!
Day 4 – November 1, 2011
It could be that my expectation of Barcelona were set low. When I told friends Barcelona is one of the cities we were planning to visit, everyone immediately gave me tips on how to not get robbed.
On top of that we didn’t exactly get a good start in Barcelona. We took an airport bus to the city then dragged our luggage for 20 minutes to our hostel which completely drained all energy from us after an early flight, AND Spanair managed to break my luggage so I was dragging it on one wheel. Then when we finally got to the hostel the first thing we did was sit down and be briefed about all the scary bizarre tricks people use to mug tourists. Some involved pretending to be a cop asking for your ID then they’d snatch your wallet and run with it, which prompted us to look at all police officers we see on the street suspiciously for the next two days.
And… it didn’t stop there. We happened to arrive on one of their big national holiday, Día de todos los Santos (All Saint’s Day). So basically Barcelona looked like America on Thanksgiving day – all of the retail stores were closed and tourist destinations were only open for limited hours :( But thankfully, we were again blessed with a very nice and helpful staff at the hostel. Not only did they warn us about Barcelona trickeries, they also gave us a brief overlook of what to do and visit in the city and even lent us a map marked with all the major attractions and good places to eat! The hostel we stayed at was Central Garden Hostel One which I would again highly recommend because we had such a comfortable stay there.
So after briefly resting up following our intense morning cardio (of dragging around luggages), we walked up Barcelona’s major street Passeig de Gràcia to experience our first Gaudi creation, Casa Batlló.
Beautiful Passeig de Gràcia. Another thing I love about Barcelona is that the streets are so wide and spacious, and each street and block was perfectly arranged.
See this amazing shot and you’ll see what I mean.
I think, it makes Barcelona both very easy and hard to navigate. Easy because with the uniform-ness you can easily gauge the distance from one main street to another, but hard because during night time when buildings aren’t so easy to recognize each block may start to look the same after you’ve walked down a few of them and may not be able to retrace your steps back. If you have a map in hand this shouldn’t be a problem though!
A large portion of Barcelona is about Gaudi, Gaudi and Gaudi. Now, if you were as ignorant and uncultured as me, you would have no idea who Antoni Gaudi is. He was, apparently, a famous Spanish architect with a distinct style and extreme consideration for fine details. He was said to be greatly influenced by nature and religion, and this was evident on all of his works I saw.
Casa Batlló was originally a plain ol’ building until Gaudi got his hands on it and transformed it into a beautiful, whimsical piece of art. It immediately reminded me of a lot of Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli, in that “otherworldy” fairy tale feel. But of course Gaudi comes first so I would not be surprised if the latter was inspired by the former.
A void in the middle of the building. This whole building was peppered with marine/ocean elements all over. If you were taking the elevator up/down the building, Gaudi has also installed textured glass windows which is said to be simulating the feeling of ascending/descending into the water. There were many great well-thought-out details all over the house, starting from the ergonomic curve of each door and window handles, right down to the blue wall tiles on this very void which are gradually darker as you go up, because the top part gets more sunlight during the day and will appear lighter and uniform to the darker tiles on the bottom.
My favorite part of the house is this room, which i’ve dubbed the ‘rib cage room’ because it resembles a sort of bone structure of an animal. If you look at the facade of Casa Battlo, you would notice that the roof of the facade resembles dragon scales. Many of the rooms in the house will make you feel like you’re inside the animal, one of them being the rib case room.
A bit north of this is another one of Gaudi’s creation, Casa Milà / La Pedrera.
In the sea of perfectly straight and similar buildings, La Pedrera stood out with its undulating facade and unconventional roof top decorations. We were only allowed to access the roof area and one of the apartments.
An organic-shaped gate frame, another example of Gaudi’s nature-inspired style.
Rooftop decor of La Pedrera. Was said to be the inspiration for the design of Star Wars Stormtrooper.
The weather was perfect, so we spent some time on the rooftop watching sunset.
After this we took the bus down to Plaza de Catalunya…
and headed further down south to La Rambla.
La Rambla is perhaps the equivalent of third street promenade in West LA. It’s a long strip with stores on the left and right (mostly closed that day though), eventually leading to the beach. We walked and shopped all the way from Plaza Catalunya till the end of La Rambla and our feet almost fell off by the end of it.
Colombus Monument. Looks small on this pic, but it was quite tall!
and finally we reached the pier!! crossed the bridge and had more tapas for dinner..
Another thing about Spain, when in a restaurant the cost of your meals varies depending on where you sit. Generally if you sit on the terrace it would cost you more than sitting inside the restaurant. Sitting on the bar may also cost you less than sitting in restaurant / terrace.
After dinner we walked around the area more and somehow got ourselves walking into a dark quiet alley, which results in paranoid power walks because of the scary criminal stories we’ve heard about Barcelona. We weren’t about to get robbed in a foreign country!
Thankfully we found our way to the metro and back home safely, and braced for a full day ahead since we were trying to make up for the lost time today due to the holiday…
Day 5 – November 2, 2011
We finally got to see the city in its regular state. Barcelona is lively, yet not overly crowded. Their metro is equally extensive as Madrid, and feels more modern and cleaner.
Today we set out of our hostel and took Bus 24 up north to yet another Gaudi place, Parc Güell. Located up in the mountains, this place was originally built as a private housing complex but was a failed project with only two of the houses were sold. The complex became a public monument instead in 1969. All fine by me!
Parc Guell involves hiking. lots and lots of it.
but it’s so worth it because once at the top you’re greeted with a beautiful view of Barcelona from above!
Cake house! likely to be inspired by Hansel & Gretel?
We descended down the mountain once again to our main destination of the day – La Sagrada Família church. We’ve seen amazing pictures of the place and just could NOT wait to get there! So we took the bus down (I think it was number 93, you take it from the same bus station that Bus 24 dropped you off at), and then the metro down to where the church is.
Upon exiting the metro station (took the stairs up from underground) I exclaimed tiredly “Okay, now where is this thing??” then turned around, and my jaw dropped.
There it was, the grand, breathtaking Sagrada Família. No pictures we’ve seen thus far did justice or prepared us to the magnificence of this piece of art. The details on this church are just indescribable. It’s really not surprising that it has been a work in progress since 1883, and they’re still continuing to build even today!
When we got inside, Serena and I were just at loss for words. Absolutely beautiful and it ruined all the other churches we visited afterwards because none of them came even close to Sagrada Família.
The tall pillars throughout the inside of the church resembles a forest, and you can see near the ceiling that the pillars started branching out.. like trees!
We also bought a lift ticket to go up one of the towers, so we had to wait for our turn.
The tower is really tall, I think if I remember correctly about 65m tall. This gives us a closer look of Barcelona from above than Parc Guell.
We didn’t want to wait for the lift to descend down, so we took the stairs instead. It wasn’t so bad except for the part with the tight spiral staircase which can make you feel dizzy after awhile…
After successfully descending Sagrada Família, we headed down to the gothic quarter of Barcelona
Had quick bites at a place called Taller de Tapas, which serves some of the best croquettas I’ve had so far in Spain!
Our hostel happened to have Flamenco nights on wednesdays, so we were able to squeezed in a bit of Flamenco that night. you haven’t been in Spain if you didn’t watch Flamenco. We only paid €6 for ours which was good because we almost paid €30 for it in Madrid!!
The show lasted about an hour and I was pretty impressed by the stamina of these girls! as well as the main singer. I don’t know how they can keep up such show for the whole hour!
Then serena and I took the metro once again to have dinner at Cal Boter for some authentic catalan cuisine, which was just amazing! :D Read my whole review of the place here.
And that concludes our last night in Spain. We fly out to Rome the next day at 11am.