Arriving in Barcelona
We docked in Barcelona to glorious sunshine; indeed, it was the start of a heat wave. Nonetheless, I fell in love with the city almost as soon as I arrived. She is designed, it seems, for tourists: transport is easy (most of the cars on the road are taxis and the subway is excellent), the food is amazing, and there are simply too many sights to see. Barcelona it is great for wandering and getting totally lost, while the Catalonians seem to have an Australian way of looking at the world. Perfect.
By the port a market was in full swing. After browsing the stalls we caught the hop-on hop-off bus, not far from where Christopher Columbus stands on his towering pedestal and points out to sea. These impressively well organised buses run along two intersecting routes (the fare covers both) with buses arriving every 5 minutes or so.
Our bus headed along the waterfront, redeveloped for the 1992 Olympics. With the sun sparkling on the water it was just lovely sitting on top of the bus and watching the city unfold. Locals and tourists were out strolling, and the bay was crowded with yachts and small boats. Like the rest of Barcelona, the place just felt friendly and alive.
Gaudi and Barcelona
As the bus returned towards the heart of the city I caught glimpses of spires and cathedrals, and side streets simply beckoned to be investigated. Every building seemed to be Catalan Art Deco, or covered with an elaborated façade, or else boasting balconies with iron railings or statues peering out from the roof corners. We passed many buildings by Gaudi. When seen in Barcelona and not studied from the pages of a book his style suddenly made sense. His buildings really do appear organic, a living part of the city. One reminded me of waves breaking gently on sand, while others had the most interesting gateways or arches. All different, all so vibrant so many years after his death.
The Sagrada Família, Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece, is simply stunning. So much has been written about this cathedral - although begun in 1882 work still continues - it is impossible to do it justice. With a five hour wait to enter, we contented ourselves with a viewing from the outside, and the promise of a return. Next time. There is always a next time.
Someone had once described the cathedral to me as a sand castle made from dribbles of wet sand. But describing it so does the Sagrada Família an injustice. It is soaring from the earth towards to the heavens, not settling under its own weight as more sand is dropped randomly on top of it. Each time I walked around the cathedral, and then when I later looked at my photos, I discovered more. The planned finished date is 2026, the centenary of Gaudi's death.
A Place to Sleep
At a charming looking cafe we stopped for a snack (after I bought a pair of shoes next door. Have I mentioned the clothes shopping in Barcelona? Leave room in your suitcase.) Hot and tired and a little overwhelmed by this stage, we simply pointed at a few things off the menu, and were treated to a toasted sandwich to die for: Dry, crispy bread filled with jamón and the most delicious cheese. It was also incredibly filling.
Our hotel, the Hotel Inglaterra ( a review to follow) was in a perfect place. Just off the main road leading to Plaça de Catalunya and near the old University, it was surrounded by tiny lanes running in all directions, each one filled with tiny shops and cafes and restaurants. My balcony with its wrought iron fence over looked the chaos of the street below. The start of La Rambla, the most famous street in Spain, was a short stroll away.
I stood on my balcony soaking it all in. The streets were filled with locals promenading, eating, shopping, enjoying. It seems every building is tall and stately, complete with wrought-iron balconies and statues. Many had mosaics. Yet the city feels lived in, it is not just for tourists. At intersections the corners are cut away, giving far more space.
A Morning Walk, Barcelona
One morning I went for a pre-breakfast stroll. I braved my way across the traffic to the Universitat de Barcelona. It was how a university should be - archways and stone colonnades, courtyards with flowers in bloom, the sound of flowing water, gardens beds spilled with flowers. Should the stress of study prove to onerous, the surrounded streets are filled with cafes and bars.
There is so much to discover in Barcelona - such as La Rambla, the Central Markets, the Barri Gòtic or Gothic Quarter. Then in the surrounding hills is the Monastery of Montserrat, the second most sacred site in Spain after Santiago de Compestella. In Terassa (30 min away by car) we entered the Middle Ages when the annual festival, complete with castellers, was in full swing. Plus a day in Barcelona without tapas, washed down with a glass of cava, is a day wasted.
Always a reason to return to Barcelona.
© 2016 Anne Harrison
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