Jimmy and I had the great blessing of traveling with his family in October. Jimmy’s two younger siblings are both in college at the University of Utah and took their Fall Break to hop across the pond and spend a week in Barcelona.
I will be breaking our trip into a few different posts. Today, I am talking about Barcelona “general” -must see stops and the like. I will do a whole separate section on Barri Gotic, as we spent a majority of our time there, as well as a post on our day trip and the fun cooking class we took!
So for now: Barcelona Basics!
We arrived just one hour after they did and met (after some confusion) at our rental apartment late Sunday evening. After getting settled, we went out in search of the first things you should seek out while in Spain: Tapas. Oh, and sangria.
We landed at a small Taller de Tapas in Barri Gotic (the Gothic Quarter) very near to where we were staying. The city was pretty quiet, but we were welcomed in and given suggestions for our first Spanish tapas experience. Ravished as we were-and the Bertelsens were nearing delirious, I think, after their 20+ hour travel day- I cannot remember everything that we ordered. I do know, however that it was delicious and went down nicely with sangria. As most things do.
Our first full day started a bit slow as the weary travelers adjusted. Eventually we made our way to Placa Catalonya where we caught the Hop-on-Hop-off bus.
At first, the idea of a Hop-on-Hop-off bus may seem ridiculously….touristy. But first of all, they are a really fantastic way to cover a lot of ground in a city, especially one as large as Barcelona. Secondly, it is ridiculously fun to ride on top of an open double decker bus! In large cities such as Paris, Rome, and Barcelona, I do suggest taking them, especially if you have only a few days to visit. It is the best way to check off all of those “go see” things.
Such as Gaudi’s houses on Passieg de Gracia
Or some more of the incredible architecture that this city is just FULL of…
Including but not limited to the breath-taking avenues and neighborhoods, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, the 2-time Olympic grounds, Miro Museum, Mies van der Rohe’s 1929 Barcelona Pavillion (home of the Barcelona Chair) and many works of art in open squares and parks.
Speaking of incredible architectural sights, lets talk about Barcelona’s infamous unfinished cathedral, La Sagrada Familia.
La Sagrada Familia began in the late 1800’s with the intention of reaching completion as a gothic Revival cathedral. The crypt was completed in this style in 1883. In the same year, Antoni Gaudi was appointed head architect of the project. He completely changed the design and reinterpreted the Gothic style into his own practice of Modernisme. He continued to oversee the project until his death in 1926, having dedicated his entire practice and life to the project since 1914. He was said to be a true man of God with a passionate devotion to this cathedral and its message. Upon his death, the project was only about 20% complete, but he remarked that his client was in no hurry.
Since his death, the project has been passed along to many head architects. Each one has remained true to Gaudi’s original design, while also utilizing advances in technology. Gaudi fully anticipated that the design may change, but in looking at what remains of his original sketches and models (many were destroyed by anarchists during the Spanish Civil war in 1935) the designs remain quite true.
If the varying facade styles seem entirely disjointed to you, then they are doing their job. Each facade depicts a different part of the life of Christ, each completely loaded with symbology and Biblical stories. The most famous Eastern facade and currently the main entrance, depicts the Nativity, and is most akin to Gaudi’s naturalistic style. He wished for it to feel very alive and originally intended for it to be brightly painted. The western facade, with its gaunt and harsh figures, depicts the Passion of Christ. While Gaudi designed this facade in 1917, it was not started until 1954. However, Gaudi’s vision for starkly contrasted shadows and harsh boney figures can easily be seen. The main Glory facade, on the southern side, began in 2002 and is still under construction.
While the exterior of this unique structure is incredible, the interior is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
The central columns branch upwards to create a canopy of stunning multi-colored marbles and peaked vaults. Although this structural form may seem entirely ambiguous, Gaudi did in fact base the angles of the columns and arches of the vaults on inverted hyperbolas, an entirely natural form. The columns shape shift from the top to the bottom, a result of intersecting geographic forms. Even the lighting of the interior was meticulously designed by Gaudi for maximum spiritual effect.
However, the Bertelsens went all out on this tour and we did not just stop there!
We also took a tour of the eastern towers, riding up the elevator on one side, crossing the open bridge to the other, and then slowly winding our way down to the base. I am not a huge fan of heights, but as long as they are enclosed, I do alright. However, the open spiral staircase was a bit of a challenge!
Overall, it was an amazing experience to walk through this structure! A definite highlight of the trip and highly recommended to anyone, provided that stairs and small spaces are doable!
Something that I didn’t understand at all was the massive size that the completed cathedral will be. At this point, only 8 of the final 18 spires have been constructed…and they are just the lower ones. Even now the structure is huge.
Each of the three main facades will host 4 spires; 12 in total, symbolizing the apostles. These are topped with bunches of grapes and wheat, to symbolize the Eucharist. The next tallest spire will symbolize the Virgin Mary. Next up will be the 4 evangelists, each topped with their traditional symbol. The tallest of all will be a central spire representing Jesus Christ, rising 170 meters, making it the tallest cathedral in the world. It will, however, remain one meter shorter than the tallest hill in Barcelona, as Gaudi believed that his creation should not surpass God’s (but he is coming pretty darn close….).
At the end of your visit to the cathedral there is a beautiful exhibition of some of his original sketches concepts and models, as well as reconstructions of the ones that were lost in 1935. It is a real architect’s dream to witness the intricate models and parti diagrams that we studied.
Another quintessential Barcelona stop is Parc Güell. Another one of Gaudi’s creations, this massive park overlooks the city and out to the Mediterranean Ocean. Commissioned by Eusebi Güell in 1900, the park has been a touist attraction since its inception. Yet another embodiment of the Modernisme style, Gaudi’s inspiration from nature and natural forms is perfectly displayed as columns seem to naturally sprout form the stony hills and his sense for whimsy flourishes in the frosting-like tiles on the crown the buildings.
An entire day can be spent in this park and the charming surrounding neighborhood, but we spent just a few hours hiking up to its tallest lookout, which was unfortunately obscured by an impending storm.
…which eventually caught us on the way down and sent us on the Metro and back home sopping wet.
Eventually in Barcelona, you should find yourself at the water front, which we did on a few occasions. It is a great place to people watch, find (touristy, but still delicious) seafood paella, get your toes in the sand, shop, or watch an amazing sunset.
Barcelona food & drink:
Catalunya, the region in Spain of which Barcelona is the capitol, is internationally known as the home of the tapas.
Tapas, or pintxo in Basque, are small plates. Originally, they were eaten a few at a time as you make your way around to various bars and restaurants. These days, however, they can be made into more of a meal if you just order a smorgasbord of them and pass them around the table. Then everyone gets a little taste of everything. It is communal, generally super delicious, you can be adventurous and order that weird thing on the menu without too much risk, and generates a very social atmosphere around the table. You cannot very well text AND make sure you get your fork into those huevos rotos.
Honestly, there is only one thing to dislike about tapas.
You have to share.
I mean, you don’t have to share, but it is probably best that you do.
So, being Americans and all, after a few meals of tapas…we were ready for meals that came on larger plates. So we did a little exploring for other foods. The collective favorite meal of the group was found at a Ramen joint called Koku.
The place is tiny, with small tables that turn over quickly. We arrived during the late rush but were promised a table if we returned an hour an a half later. Which was about perfect because we were their last seating, so there was no rush to give up our table.
You order your broth base, meat, and any extras to go inside. I was skeptical, but the hot broth with noodles, over easy egg, pork, and veggies that showed up in front of me in a bowl with a large ladle for drinking was excellent. Add in some garlic edamame and pork gyoza and we were all happy campers!
The recommendation for the ramen joint came from Maria, our cooking instructor, who also suggested that we eat at some of the exterior stalls in the Boqueria market, or Pinotxo (Pinocchio), a stall named for the old owner with a large nose and made famous on shows such as Anthony Bourdain.
We made a stop here one early afternoon for a quick bite and found it busy, but very good. Go for the experience and be prepared for very busy wait-staff.
Other than the unique foods that Barcelona has to offer, we found some simply amazing cocktails. The only place that we returned to twice was a small bar in the Gothic Quarter called Antigua.
The Tanqueray G&Ts came in goblets and were perfectly zested, the Mojitos were extremely fresh, but the Old Fashioned was……..well, worth returning for. It was the single best Old Fashioned I have ever put my lips to. Or will likely ever do again.
Aside from that, we got to hang out with the single most enthusiastic and crazy/hilarious bar owner in the world on our second visit. We went for one drink and stayed for 4 because he was so entertaining and accommodating.
Alright y’all, this is just the start! More Barça to come!