Destination: Barcelona, Spain (Part 1)

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La Barceloneta beach (Feb 2016).

Towards the end of my first week of vacances d’hiver last year as an assistante, I headed over to warmer climates as means of escaping the Normandy cold. After a few days in the southwest of France (namely, Bordeaux, Pau, and Toulouse), I hopped over the France-Spain border to make my way to the latter country, for even more pleasant weather.

Now, I actually had been to Barcelona ten years prior to visiting it last year, as I’d gone with my family for summer vacation (as part of a tour along the Mediterranean coast). It’d been almost a decade since then, and I wanted to return. Considering that there were buses from Toulouse to there for pretty cheap, I thought that it would be a good opportunity to go back.

That said, I woke up super early on my last day in Toulouse to head over to the bus station next to the gare to catch the 6h40 bus out to Barcelona. The bus ride over was uneventful, but pleasant and five hours later, I arrived!

Tired and hungry, the first thing upon getting to Barcelona was to get lunch. From the bus stop, I headed towards the beach, where I’d looked up a restaurant there that served one of the best paëlla in the city. I’d been craving it, so I wanted my first meal in Spain to be that!

It was about a 40-minute walk over; along the way, I passed by the Arc de Triomf, a towering entrance gate built in the late 19th century for the city’s world fair. Eventually, I made it over to the beach and I’m not exaggerating when I say that the combination of the bright, warm weather and views of the Mediterranean Sea left me almost teary-eyed…in a good way! Considering that I hadn’t been to the beach since leaving home back in September (technically, I’d visited the Normandy beaches, but that wasn’t the same…), I was in sore need of the sun, blue skies, and palm trees. In a way, Barcelona made me feel back at home, away from home!

I arrived at the restaurant (conveniently located along the beach) around 12h00, but it actually wasn’t opened yet; it would open at 13h00 for lunch. I’d forgotten that meals in Spain operated on, well, “Spanish time,” meaning that they happen at a later time. Normally, I would eat lunch around 11h00 or 12h00, so having to wait until 13h00 (14h00, in some cases) was a bit strange! During my time in Spain, I had to adjust myself to this, which turned out fine in the end.

Any case, I took a small walk along the beach, soaking up the sun and just hanging out by the warm, Mediterranean ocean before I returned to the restaurant around 13h00 in time for it to open. I was seated promptly and ordered my lunch (seafood paëlla and vermouth). The food came out soon after and although the paëlla was meant to serve two people, I was hungry and you can bet that I demolished all of it! Paired with the sweet, strong vermouth, I was feeling the beach vibes for sure.

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Paëlla and vermouth for lunch.

Satisfied, I paid my bill and headed out towards Las Ramblas, aka the heart of the city. My hostel was located in that neighborhood, so I went over, arriving and checking in around 14h00. I dropped my belongings off in my room (shared with around eleven other people) and decided to head out again around 15h00 to wander the streets and perhaps check out Montjuïc, a neighborhood hill famous for its Font Màgica (“magical fountain”) and Palau Nacional, which houses a museum dedicated to Catalan art and architecture.

I strolled down the long, wide pedestrian street on Las Ramblas, which despite being the February month (aka winter season for tourism), plenty of tourists were out and about, along with buskers. Souvenir shops and tourist-trap restaurants with waiters shoving menus in passerby’s faces were also common occurrences. All the same, the lively atmosphere in the late-afternoon overcast sky was pleasurable.

Next, I decided to head over to Montjuïc: from Google Maps, it said that it was about a 40-minute walk from Las Ramblas, but I didn’t mind the distance. I admit, though, it felt a lot longer when I ended up walking it, but eventually I made it over around 16h30 and saw the grand Palau Nacional towering at the top of the stairs. Unfortunately, the Font Màgica was under construction then, so I wouldn’t have been able to see its beautiful lights show, should I’d returned at night. I didn’t climb up to the top of Montjuïc, but a photo of it did the trick.

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Palau Nacional at Montjuïc.

Feeling rather tired from the long journey and walking around, I decided to return to my hostel and call it a day. Walked back, stopping briefly at a small market near the El Raval neighborhood for some groceries for the next few days (I would be staying three nights in Barcelona) and made my way back to the hostel. Had a small supper, showered, and then turned in for the night.

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El Raval in the evening.

The next morning, I woke up early again to head over to la Sagrada Familia, of which I hadn’t visited since the last time almost ten years ago. The place opened around 9h15 and, knowing that it would be crowded as heck already then, I decided to get there beforehand to purchase my tickets and at least have a shorter wait time. Took the metro over and arrived when there was no line at the ticket office (yes!). Paid about 15 euros, and then I headed over to the entrance outside, where tourists were let in at time intervals (the first being 9h15 when it first opened). I was one of the first to be admitted inside and I entered the towering church, admiring its multicolored stained-glass windows of all shapes and sizes. Its architect, Antoni Gaudi, was certainly a genius when it came to playing with form; touring through the historical exhibition within the church, I learned that he’d been inspired by shapes found in nature, from honeycombs to trees. In fact, the inside of the church has beams structured in the form of a tree, which I hadn’t thought of before, but found it incredibly fascinating. To blend nature with architecture, well, that’s really impressive.

Unfortunately, due to the slightly drizzly and overcast weather that morning, I wasn’t able to access the top levels of the church, which I’d wanted to check out. Disappointed, I just stuck with touring the bottom level and was basically out of the place within 30 minutes. Kind of a rip-off with the 15-euro ticket, but then again, weather can’t be controlled! Considering that the Sagrada Familia is scheduled to be completed in 2026 (a century after it was originally conceived) and considering that I’d visited Barcelona spaced out over ten years (2006 and 2016), I’ve made it my goal to return in 2026 to not only see the finished product, but also say that I’ve been each decade since the first!

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La Sagrada Familia.

Afterwards, I headed to Casa Battló, another of Gaudi’s creations. Essentially, it’s a house with a distinctive architecture, a somewhat wavy, topsy-turvy structure that reminded me much of a Dr. Seuss’s book. I hadn’t visited it the last time I was in Barcelona, so I knew that I had to check it out this time around! It was located on the big, commercial street of the Passeig de Gràcia and aside from being another of Gaudi’s work, the Casa Battló is known for being part of the “Block of Discord” (Illa de la Discòrdia), which is one of four modernist buildings constructed during the early 20th century by prominent Spanish architects, Gaudi himself included. I also visited two others the following day (Casa Lleó Morera and Casa Amatller), and while I preferred the Casa Battló in the end, it was a good experience to visit and admire the rich architecture of the city.

Any case, I arrived at the Casa Battló where there was, of course, a rather long line to enter the otherwise small, narrow building. Just like with the Sagrada Familia, it was pricey to get in (about 17 or 19 euros), but I found the visit to be enjoyable, especially informative with a cool, interactive audio guide that gave plenty of information of each room and each piece of furniture inside of the home. Climbing the stairs, it was a small workout, but not bad at all; along the way, I could admire the pastel-blue walls, which gave me the impression of being underwater…very apropos for the city being by the sea!

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Close-up of the Casa Battló.

I reached the rooftop level, where I didn’t necessarily get spectacular city views (just that of the bustling streets below), but there was more surreal architecture to admire, with what seemed like a dragon tail popping out of the chimney and so forth. I don’t know how Gaudi thinks up these ideas, but again, they’re ingenious!

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At the top of the Casa Battló.

Despite the expensive ticket, visiting the Casa Battló is worth it for the weird, but creative architecture. Plus, with the amount of Gaudi-based and Gaudi-inspired buildings in the city, it’s no wonder that Barcelona is considered the “Gaudi mecca” of Spain.

At the risk of this post running for too long, I’ll save the second half of my trip to Barcelona for the next post. Stay tuned!

TL;DR This is my 100th post on this blog! 

 

— Rebecca

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