We visited Barcelona in 2004 and again in 2007. Barcelona is one of the best cities in Europe to visit, with interesting sights, great food, and an excellent subway system. Also, almost everyone speaks English, which makes it really easy to get around.
The works of Antoni Gaudi, one of the most influential architects of the late 1800s, is one of the highlights of Barcelona. A member of the Modernism (Art Nouveau) movement, his unique style used nature as the basis for his designs. His works include a house (Casa Batilo), apartment building (La Pedrera), a park (Parc Guell), and many others.
His most famous work is the cathedral La Sagrada Familia, which was started in 1884 and is expected to be completed around 2040 (typical time span of a medieval cathedral). Gaudi was known as “God’s Architect” not only for this work but because he worked without putting his plans on paper. He designed many of his structures upside down by hanging various weights on interconnected strings to determine the best load-bearing structures. In an age long before computers, this allowed him to use gravity to calculate the natural curve for an arch or vault.
One reason for the long duration in constructing the Cathedral is because it is privately funded. Toward the end of his life Gaudi was obsessed with finishing his masterpiece and spent much of his time approaching private donors for contributions. Sadly, in 1926 he was run over by a tram. Because of his ragged clothing, no one recognized the famous architect. He died three days later, and during his funeral half of Barcelona mourned his death. Today the Cathedral has a tour that allows you to walk to the top of one of the towers. The interiors are as unique as the exteriors.
The old section of Barcelona (and by “old” I mean Roman old) has cobblestone streets are just wide enough for a single car. As we strolled throughout the old city there were still remnants of city walls and plazas that date back to 100 AD. The Cathedral incorporates some of the remaining Roman walls in it's structure.
Saturday and Sunday in front of the Cathedral a 10-piece band played Catalonian music as the plaza was filled with folks doing the Sardana, a traditional Catalonian dance. Between eight and 20 dancers form a circle and hold hands, then move their feet to the music in increasingly complex patterns. There must have been over 150 dancers in the plaza and the dance went on for well over an hour. It was really a treat to watch.
If you get a chance it is worthwhile to take the funicular (an inclined railway) up to the top of Tibidabo, which is the highest hill in Barcelona. We took the subway, then a tram to the funicular, which carried us the rest of the way to the peak. The view from Tibidabo looks over all of Barcelona to the south and a wooded range to the north and if the air is clear you can see Montserrat. Temple del Sagrat Cor (Sacred Heart Church) is at the very top of the peak and is quite lovely inside. It is actually two churches with an upper and lower part.
Just down from the church is a small amusement park, which had six rides including a roller coaster, Ferris wheel and House of Horrors. It is quite a dichotomy walking around the peak with so much difference from one side to the other. One note of warning though - make sure you ride the funicular down one hour before service stops. The line is long and the tram driver has no problem with leaving people stranded there when his shift ends. It happened to us, and we had to walk the mile to the bottom of the hill to get the subway back to our hotel.
The food in Barcelona was very good. One of the culinary treats of Spain is tapas, which are like appetizers. Tapas bars are fairly common. Most folks will go there for lunch and have a variety of tapas along with a glass of wine or beer. One place we went to had the tapas all lined up on the top of the bar. Tapas vary widely between Iberian ham, fish, shrimp, other seafood, duck, or vegetables, on a small piece of bread or toast. Each is prepared differently so there were about 15 to 20 different kinds. Since you are charged by each individual piece, the bill can add up quickly. However, I would not recommend eating at the open air cafes along La Rambla, as their food is mediocre at best. But they are a great place for a glass of beer or wine and people watching!
No trip to Barcelona is complete without a stroll along the La Rambla, which is the main promenade in town. Open air cafes, flower and news/book stalls line La Rambla. Street performers called buskers do their thing in hopes of a coin or two. They usually act like a statue with their face and hands painted. We saw Atlas holding the world, copper cowboys, silver maidens, a couple of human trees, Jack Skellington (from the Tim Burton film “Nightmare Before Christmas”) as well as others. However, some are making “spray paint” air pieces and others are performing acrobatics or magic tricks. There are only 50 licenses given out during the day to keep the number of street performers limited, so it can be an entertaining walk without being overwhelming.
Except for the tram, our experiences in Barcelona were excellent. As one of the major gateways for Mediterranean cruises it is certainly worth spending a couple of pre-cruise days in this interesting and vibrant city. In my opinion it is one of the best cities in Europe to visit, since it has interesting sights, great food, an excellent transportation system, and almost everyone speaks English. If you visit, I hope you enjoy your time there as much as we did.
Barcelona - Casa Batllo - Entry Stairs
Barcelona - Casa Batllo - Entry Stairs
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