Barcelona

May 28, 2018

Our rest days in Girona were at an end, and we were heading back to Barcelona for our first days in Spain. We were the only guests at Bells Oficis so we chatted with our host Xavi until about 10 am before heading to the train station.

At the ticket counter we waited in line to buy our tickets to Barcelona Sants station, and the agent said “Now?” Sure, we said, but much to our surprise our train was imminently arriving on Platform 1! We hurried up there so as not to miss it.

We were on the media distance train, the slower train which stopped at many stations, but that was fine because we weren’t in a hurry. Most of the stations were towns we’d never heard of, but as we got into the outskirts of Barcelona the announcement said “Next stop… Passeig de Gràcia”. That was perfect because it was only a couple of streets away from our hotel, so we hastily grabbed our bags and got off.

Casa Batlló

Casa Batlló

Imagine our surprise when we got out onto the street and were confronted with a bizarre-looking four-story building! It was the Casa Batlló, one of Gaudí’s famous designs from around 1900, and there were tourists lining up to go into it. Well, that’s what tourism in Barcelona is all about.

We had a printed map and also Maps.Me on Rosemary’s phone, but initially we walked in the wrong direction. Once we realized that, we retraced our steps and found Hostal Oliva quite quickly. To get to the reception we had to buzz in, ride a classic old elevator up to the fourth floor, and then walk along a glass catwalk. Because we were early our room wasn’t quite ready, but within 10 minutes we were able to access the room and deposit our bags there.

Elevator and catwalk in Hostal Oliva’s building

Elevator and catwalk in Hostal Oliva’s building

We’d agreed to meet Stephanie from the Rockjumper tour for lunch at a place near the Sagrada Familia, the En Diagonal bar, for lunch at 3 pm. We made our way over to Avinguda Diagonal, one of Barcelona’s main streets, and then couldn’t find the piece of paper which Rosemary had written the bar’s address on. She vaguely remembered that it was number 301, but that address turned out to be a car dealership. So we backtracked a bit and Paul went into a Colombian restaurant to ask for directions. The host was very helpful and looked it up on his phone—the bar was at number 310.

Torre Agbar (not the Gherkin)

Torre Agbar (not the Gherkin)

We were early for 3 pm, so we walked the short distance to have a look at the Sagrada Familia. It was an amazing building to see from the outside, still under construction, and we were looking forward to our visit tomorrow.

The Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia

The restaurants near the Sagrada Familia were all tourist traps, but El Diagonal Bar was outside that radius so it was a good choice. Stephanie was waiting for us when we arrived so we sat down and ordered drinks, tea for Rosemary and beer for Paul. After chatting for a bit we ordered four tapas to share; all of the food was cooked from scratch and was really good.

La Pedrera, also designed by Gaudí

La Pedrera, also designed by Gaudí

After lunch we all walked back to Passeig de Gràcia, which is lined with shopping. Many of the stores are high-end but Stephanie found H&M and went in there. She’s very efficient, though, and soon we were out on the street again. By now it was getting late so we went and had coffee and tea before saying our good-byes. Stephanie headed towards her hotel and we headed toward ours. We wandered the streets for a bit until we found an inexpensive place to have a ham bun and iced tea for dinner.

May 29, 2018

We were up early today as we’d booked 9 am tickets for the Sagrada Familia. We stopped along the way for a quick breakfast of croissants and tea and then arrived at the entrance shortly before 9 am. Arriving a few minutes early was perfect because it gave us time to look at the details on the front of the church.

Holy Family sculpture

Holy Family sculpture

The bounty of nature

The bounty of nature

The Sagrada Familia from the outside is an astonishing sight and there is surely nothing like it in the world. The Nativity entrance is the section that was completed in Gaudí’s lifetime and really is amazing to look at. The four spires towered above us, all covered with ornamentation. There was vegetation with insects in it, pelicans, a frog, and even a bassoon player. Construction is planned to be complete by 2026—so they say.

Harp player sculpture

Harp player sculpture

Creatures of nature

Creatures of nature

9 am was the first entry of the day so we beat a lot of the tour groups. Inside the church the space was immense; unlike other Spanish churches we’d visited it doesn’t have small alcoves and chapels around the outer walls. The stained glass windows are also different, in that they have geometric patterns and words rather than biblical scenes. And the stained glass on the east wall was mostly blue and green for the rising sun, and the west wall red and yellow for the setting sun.

The interior of Sagrada Familia

The interior of Sagrada Familia

It took us two hours to go through the whole place, and once we were finished we went off to follow Rick Steves’s walk around the Old Town of Barcelona.

Barcelona Cathedral

Barcelona Cathedral

Initially we had to deal with the teeming hordes on the Rambla but then we turned off into the alleys of the Old Town. The walk took us down narrow streets, into small courtyards, and past the Cathedral. We decided not to go into the Cathedral and instead continued along the walk, past sites as varied as the old Roman fort and the Barcelona City Hall.

The Generalitat, headquarters of the government of Catalunya

The Generalitat, headquarters of the government of Catalunya

By now it was lunch time so we found a place to eat, a Catalan restaurant at the edge of the Old Town. There were milkshakes on the menu so we each had one to go with our sandwiches.

The Arc de Triomf

The Arc de Triomf

We had a siesta again and Rosemary slept for almost two hours. At 5 pm we headed out for another walk, this time down to the waterfront. There wasn’t much to see down there—some fancy yachts, sure, but also some hot dog stands and the African guys who sell sunglasses and T-shirts from their blankets—so we turned around and headed back to look for a restaurant near our hotel.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

This yacht can be chartered for $425,000 (US) per week

This yacht can be chartered for $425,000 (US) per week

We ate at Divinus, which was located just across the street from our hotel. Tonight we shared a pizza, not being very hungry, but we did both manage to have chocolate-based desserts which were really good.

May 30, 2018

When we got up this morning the street outside was wet; apparently it had rained recently. So when we went out for breakfast we took jackets, although we thought it was unlikely to rain again. But we had hardly taken ten steps from the door when the first drops fell, and then the storm broke. We sheltered in doorways and within ten minutes the rain stopped again—for a while.

We ate breakfast in a little café and then waited until the rain stopped before heading out. Rosemary had tracked down a place to buy olive oil, the Santa Caterina market near the cathedral. It was bright and shiny and had lots of stalls selling good-looking meats and vegetables. The olive oil shop, a small shop off in a corner, had many different types of oil. Rosemary asked for something that would be good on salads and bread, and he brought out three types for us to taste-test. We chose two, and he wrapped them carefully in bubble wrap.

For the rest of the day we planned to visit Park Güell, the park which was designed by Gaudí at the beginning of the 20th century. It was a longish walk up to the park but the weather was now fine and we had a slight breeze. For most of the walk it was flat and then gradually it became steeper, until finally we climbed a flight of stairs and then took two escalators up to the park.

The first thing to do was to buy tickets to the “monumental area”, the UNESCO World Heritage site. The next available entry time was 2:30 pm so we took that. Luckily we did because just as we bought the tickets, the next time slot changed to 3:30 pm! We had over two hours to wait so we went for a walk in the surrounding park area, which is very popular with the locals. We walked up to the mirador to look at the view over the city and then sat there for a while enjoying the breeze. The day was turning out muggy so resting was a good option.

View over the Sagrada Familia from Park Güell

View over the Sagrada Familia from Park Güell

By now we were getting hungry so we went to search for somewhere to eat. Down below the park we found a place which didn’t look all that enticing but a little farther along we found a place which sold pizza-style breads. We had Catalan pizza (with eggplant and peppers) and some iced tea, and sat outside on a bench to eat them. When we had finished we headed back to the park and sat in the shade with water bought from one of the vendors there.

Park Güell entrance ramp

Park Güell entrance ramp

Buildings in monumental zone

Buildings in monumental zone

At 2:30 pm we went into the monumental zone. The area was designed by Gaudí and was meant to have several houses that the rich people of Barcelona could buy. But what you see now are two gate houses which are small but definitely cute, as well as a lovely terraced area with seating. The architectural style looks rather fantastical now, a bit reminiscent of the Flintstones, but the Gaudí flair is still there. We looked around for about 40 minutes and then headed back down the hill.

Broken ceramics were used as a building material

Broken ceramics were used as a building material

The Dragon Stairway

The Dragon Stairway

When we were staying in Bels Oficis in Girona, Xavi told us about the murals which were painted in the B&B. The name of the little street was “Carrer dels Germans Busquets” which means “The Busquets Brothers Street”. There were four of them, all artists. Jaume Busquets, the youngest brother, painted those murals, and then he went to Barcelona to work for Gaudí. And he was asked to design and sculpt a statue for part of the Nativity façade.

Aprofita el tems que corra com l’aigua (Take advantage of time, which runs like water)

Aprofita el tems que corra com l’aigua (Take advantage of time, which runs like water)

So on the way back to the hotel we detoured to the Sagrada Familia to look for that statue. It took a long time to find it, even with the help of binoculars, but we finally did. But it shouldn’t have taken that long because it is the Jesus, Mary, and Joseph statue right over the main door!

Jaume Busquets’s sculpture

Jaume Busquets’s sculpture

We had a siesta again, and then at 7:30 we went out for dinner. We didn’t walk too far before deciding on a place; as it turned out the food wasn’t very good, but at least it wasn’t very expensive either.

We were getting tired of travelling, so it’s a good thing that we would be flying home tomorrow. We did a bit of reorganizing but we left most of the packing for tomorrow.