Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Half-term hols in Spain: Barcelona

Last week was our midterm break (properly known in England as “half-term holiday”) which I spent in three great Spanish cities with three amazing girls and one pair of TOMS shoes. It was an awesome experience and a successful first international trip without parents. There is a lot to cover (and way too many photos), so let me break it down by city. First up: Barcelona, where we spent our first three days.
On our first day in Barcelona we went for a walk, an all-day walk that was no less than 7 or 10 miles long. Worth it! There is no better way to get to know a new city than to walk around it. Highlights of our adventure included:
The Rambla del Mar

The Esglesia de Santa Maria del Mar, a 14th century gothic church

The Parc de la Ciutadella (with delicious apple tea and stroopwafel biscuits—we are so English now that we felt lost without afternoon tea)

La Barceloneta beach

We ended the day with a dinner of paella and sangria. We saw so much more than that, including one misguided trip through a very non-touristy area of Barcelona during which we looked up the street and caught a glimpse of the Sagrada Familia!

Which brings me to day 2: our “I love Gaudi” day.
Funny story: I saw a “Globe Trekker” on Gaudi’s unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral before I left for London and thought, that is too gaudy and crazy for my taste and I don’t know how I feel about it. One look at the real-life Sagrada Familia and I was sold. I’m a huge Gaudi fan now. The cathedral itself is humongous and its final, and largest, tower is not even close to being finished. The outside is dripping with ornamentation on all sides except the front, which is more reserved. Gaudi clearly put thought into literally every inch of the place.

And the inside. The inside was breathtaking. I was literally speechless, and we all know that doesn’t happen very often. Let me just show you, then, the columns meant to be trees over the congregation and the incredibly vibrant stained glass windows that are just 10 years old and the calming white stone.

The interior was finished and dedicated by the Pope in 2010, over 100 years after the cathedral project began in 1883. Estimates for the date of the cathedral’s full completion range from 2020 to 2040, at which point I want to go back. People say that the Sagrada Familia alone is worth the trip to Spain, and people are right.

Next we went to Parc Guell, the park that Gaudi helped design and in which he lived for a few years. This has the famous mosaic lizard (which is smaller than we thought it would be, as famous as it is) and spectacular views of the city. We walked up to the top of the park, above most of the tourists, and took in the view, noting just how far we walked the previous day.

On our way back into the city center, we walked past two more Gaudi buildings: La Pedrera and Casa Batllo.

Casa Batllo on the left

Last stop of the day was the Picasso Museum, which had a lot of his early work and showed just how much talent and technique is behind his more abstract pieces. There was also a room dedicated to his study of the famous Velasquez painting “Las Meninas” which was doubly cool because we knew we were going to see the Velasquez painting in Madrid’s Prado Museum just a few days later.

Les Pains de Picasso by Robert Doisneau, 1952
This is one of my favorite photographs; I remember seeing it in early elementary school
and thinking it sooo funny. Print regret that I didn't get a copy in Barcelona.

On our final day in Barcelona we spent some time on the incredibly touristy street La Rambla and then we went to the Parc de Monjuic, a large park notable for having the national art museum of Catalunya and, more importantly, the Olympic stadium from Barcelona 1992! It was honestly kind of a dream come to true to stand under the torch and to go into the stadium; I was a baby during the Games and I have literally zero connection to them, but it was great to check “visit an Olympic site” off of my life to-do list. (Going to the Olympics is the next step, natch.)

Barcelona was great, sightseeing-wise, but it’s not my kind of city. (They are not kidding when they say Spanish men will check you out, and that was most prevalent in Barcelona.) Barcelona felt like a city dedicated to and desperately in need of tourists and while I cannot describe quite what else it was in the atmosphere that made me uncomfortable, I have no regrets about visiting. The Sagrada Familia, I’m telling you, you have to go.
Next stop: Valencia. xo

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