Gaudi - Tapas - Architecture - History - Lifestyle
01.10.2008 - 04.10.2008
Instead of going to Venice before heading to Rome, we've decided to visit Spain. I’ve always wanted to see Gaudi's work in Barcelona and places that I’ve only seen in movies like Parc Guell in Les Poupees Russes and La Sagrada Familia. The changing weather started challenging my immune system so I bought a box of Vitamin C (€2.50) from the airport. The Renfe train (€2.70) took us to the city (Barcelona-SANTS station) in 20 minutes. The train station is quite a walk to and from the airport so it’s hard when you have a lot of luggage to wheel around. It took 15-20 walk to the train station. So, allow yourself some extra time to get to the main flight terminal when takin the train to the airport. The transportation (train, Metro) in Barcelona is not as convenient as the other places we’ve visited. The Metro system in the city is a big maze that branches out in all directions. There are several points of transfer and sometimes, it’s hard to tell if it'll be a long walk to transfer to the next line. It’s common to see people running in the long halls to catch the next metro. It can get really hot and steamy down there during the day, much more in summer. It's a great place to do some people watching and listen to street musicians. We bought T-10 1 Zone L5 Metro card (€7.20), which is good for 10 rides and is shareable with other people.
We were booked for 3 nights at Felipe II hostel, which is fairly close to the Metro and near La Sagrada Familia. We didn't know that the main office is on the 5th floor and we skipped the narrow, old-fashioned elevator, which could have made it easier for us. It was a mess! They can not find our reservation and the room that we’re supposed to get is already occupied. Fortunately, we have the email that describes the whole correspondence (price, a non-smoker, double room). They had us take a look at couple of rooms. They're horrible - super tiny and no windows). We were so thankful when the owner offered a quad room with balcony in the center of city - by Las Ramblas, for an extra €8/night (total is €55/night). Pension Sangre at 1 Carrer de Simo eller (next to Boga / Sofra 18 restaurant) is right at the other end of Las Ramblas. We had the whole floor to our self for 2 nights and it was just a perfect location, so close to everything and so full of life at night. It’s supposed to be a bad neighborhood according to the reviews but from our experience, it’s one of the best place to stay. We walked around Barri gothic that night and tried to find some good Tapas but most of the shops and restaurants are closed. We tried some “tapas” at El Setial (€20 for 2) and they’re quite good. There are a lot of historic and artistic museums, castles, remains, aqueducts, and the streets are still in the traditional stone paved roads lay-out.
We were going to check out the aqueducts and medieval towns in Tarragona, an hour away from Barcelona, the following day but decided to spend more time with the city instead. Gaudi’s work and signature is in every corner of Barcelona. La Pedrera (€9.50 each) is amazing and it’s where I really had a 101 on Gaudi’s life and work. It made me see the real genius behind Gaudi's creativity. His techniques were out of this world and yet so earthy. It’s just a matter of seeing and understanding how labor-intensive, imaginative, innovative, and futuristic his ideas and works are to feel that high level of respect and appreciation to his work. The roof of La Pedrera is marvelous. A good 360 view of some of the major highlights of Barcelona can be seen from here, including La Sagrada Familia and Torre Agbar - a bullet-shaped tower by Jean Nouvel, which displays a great light show at night. Casa Amattler, Casa Batllo (€17 fee) and La Sagrada Familia (€14 fee) are very inspiring and just plain unbelievable - especially during his time. La Sagrada Familia narrates the joy of Jesus birth and the passion of His death through the 14 stations of the cross and the Sorrowful Mystery carved in stone. There are a lot of restoration projects going on in Barceona (and even in other parts of Europe) that it's probably worth visiting these places again to see what the "original" work is really like.
Parc Guell is my favorite place in Barcelona. It’s full of surprises and it gives me as much happiness as seeing Disneyland the first time. This is an extraordinary park filled with colorsful tiles pieced together in creative, unique patterns filled with character and surprises and a gothic touch. This is where I really experience a powerful unison of art, nature, engineering, and architecture in perfect harmony. It's quite a hike to get up there and the Metro is quite far from there but it's a definite must see and it's free! You can also take a bus or two by walking throgh a shop-filled street to the major street. The buses are usually packed though. One good souvenir I found here is a replica of the colorful iguana (€5) that Parc Guell is known for but it's made of foam instead of a breakable ceramic. It still has the shiny, colorful tile and it actually looks like a ceramic souvenir at first.
Museo Picasso is the place to understand the life and mind of Picasso through his art. You can see the changes and stages that he’s going through from his paintings and you can almost feel his thoughts through the complexity and abstract behind his work. I was surprised to not find a replica of Guernica. The museum was a little hard to find in a labyrinth of streets since finding the streets’ name can sometimes be a challenge. But near the museum are restaurants, shops, and chocolate/dessert stores. Granjala Pallaresa is a popular place to try some churros con chocolate (€4 for two). Since the summer is over, I was not able to try any horchatas (made from almond nut).
Not far from there is the best Tapa place that we’ve tried and it's in a place called Sagardi, which is near the church of Santa Maria del Mar (by Jaume Metro stop). For €20, we were able to share 8 different tapas and a wine. They are really great, authentic, mouth-watering, and tummy-filling tapas. There are other tapa places like Café-bar Xador at Argenteria 61-63, but they’re not as great and very pricey, too. In the same square, you’ll find several gelato places, shops, and restaurants. On our way back to the “pensione” (bed and breakfast place), we passed by a crowd gathered at the courtyard of Archeologica de Barcelona. They were dancing different traditional/ballroom/folk dances. We tried the Polka and it was really fun. For some reason, it always end up in a big, endless loop/circle as they go around and try to get the people to join the “dance train”. There’s a guy playing an accordion, harmonica, drums, guitar, and there’s one singing. It was awesome! I could have danced endlessly in that square.
Whereever we go, we always end up walking along the busy hub of Las Ramblas. It stretches from Monument a Colom (a memorial to the great explorer Christopher Columbus) in the south to Placa de Catalunya. This is where you'll find human statues dressed in fancy costumes and waiting to surprise passersby with a sudden movement. It's filled with shops, restaurants, internet cafes, etc. Near the Colom is "Easy" Internet cafe, which charges €2 per 47 minutes and it's just around the corner from Palau Guell (€9 fee), another marvelous work by Gaudi. Midway of Las Ramblas, you'll find Mercat - La Boqueria where you should sample and buy different "jamon" (hams), native fruits, cheap coffee, pastries and baguettes (€1-2). You should try this fruit called Pitchaya (€2). It looks strange but very delicious! At the end of Las Ramblas and the beginning of Placa de Catalunya, you'll find a good tourist information center where you can buy a BCN card, which is a great way to get free Metro passes and discounts to museums and other highlights of Barcelona. It's by the Metro station across from the fountain. In this area, you'll also find El Corte Ingles, a shopping mall with a big food court a top the 9th floor. This is a good place to find some good souvenirs that are fairly priced and buy less pricey food from the supermarket at the ground floor. I bought a nice kitchen towel here with a print of La Sagrada Familia for (€6.50).
The Montjuïc is a hill located near the center of Barcelona (Metro: Espagna station). It features a large number of attractions including the Spanish Village, the Montjuïc Castle and a large number of sights and attractions, most of them originating from two major events that took place here: the 1929 International Exhibition and the 1992 Olympics - the Anella Olímpica. With the arrival of the Olympics in 1992, the many gardens on the Montjuïc were given renewed attention and since several new gardens were added. Some of the most interesting are the Nou Jardí Botànic, a botanic garden with more than 2000 different plants created in the 1990s and the Jardins de Mossen Costra i Lljobera, with hundreds of different types of cactuses.
Palau Nacional (National Palace) is the central pavilion of the International Exhibition. The majestic building in neo-baroque style is home to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC). Its collection includes Roman, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque art as well as 19th and 20th century works of art. Another remainder of the 1929 Exhibition is the Poble Espanyol (Spanish village), a collection of houses in different Spanish architectural styles. The village was originally slated for demolition after the end of the Exhibition, but due to its popularity it was kept intact.
The oldest sight on the Montjuïc is the Castell de Montjuïc, a large 18th century fortress, originally built for the defense and now houses the Museu Militar (military museum). The fortress can be reached by a funicular and cable-lift, which starts at the Paral-lel metro stop. At the center of a plaza in front of the Palau Nacional is the Font Màgica or Magic Fountain, which consists of a series of cascades and fountains between the Palau National, the main exhibition center on the Montjuïc, and the Plaça d'Espanya at the foot of the hill. From here, you have a great view of the palace, especially at night when both the building and the fountain are illuminated. The colorfully lit fountains dance with different water forms and exhibitions with the music played every top of the hour. People gather around it at night to watch its grace. Right next to the fountain is the Pavelló Mies van der Rohe, built by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as the German pavilion for the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition. Like all other pavilions, the German pavilion was demolished after the exposition, but since it is considered one of van der Rohe's most influential works. It was reconstructed in the 1980s. The glass and marble building is typical for Mies van der Rohe's work, whose maxim was 'less is more'.
Barcelona is a fusion of traditional and modern, young lifestyle filled with rich history, art, culture, and love for life. It's a place where people embrace everyday living, take lots of siesta, and laugh and dance the night away. During our short 3-day stay in Barcelona, we realized how there's just so much of the place to experience and see that it will keep you coming back for more.