You know you live close to Europe when you plan an overnight to Barcelona. We had never been to Spain, and T had Canadian friends spending a few days there as part of their European trip. So, there we were on a Tuesday morning heading to the airport. Our flight was delayed so we landed in the afternoon, greeted by sunshine and wispy clouds as we approached Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf. Were we the only ones who didn’t even know Barcelona has an Arc de Triomf?! Fun fact: it was built in 1888 for the Universal Barcelona Exposition.
We met up with T’s friends and their 3 boys, then went back to the apartment where they were staying to freshen up and drop off our bag. We had a pretty chill afternoon. We walked past the zoo and tram tracks down to the Mediterranean Sea. It wasn’t warm enough to swim, but we did get to put our feet in the water so I consider the beach visit a success!
For dinner, we went to the grocery store across from the apartment where we found lovely fresh produce and CHEAP fantastic olives. I really didn’t know olives could be so cheap and still taste so great. If you’re an olive lover, this alone is reason enough to visit Barcelona! With dinner consumed, kids went off to bed and beverages chilled and ready, the adults sat around chatting for hours.
When we got up in the morning, we assembled breakfast and prepared to head out, until we made an unfortunate discovery. The boys had lice and travelling/close quarters meant that it had spread to the grown ups as well. T and I made a quick dash to the pharmacy where, with a combination of our Spanish and the pharmacists English, we managed to get lice treatment and a bottle of tea tree oil. We went back to the apartment to help treat everyone, and then we showered thoroughly with tea tree oil to minimize our risk. The downside of all this was that we lost the entire morning, but T and I agreed that the upside was more important: we were really glad that we were there when this all happened so we could help!
With everyone’s hair taken care of, we got out and walked to the stunning basilica: La Sagrada Familia. Building began in 1882 and Gaudi became part of the project in 1883. He transformed the original plans and designed a masterpiece that was to marry Gothic and Art Nouveau styles, and he was reportedly involved until his death in 1926. After more than 40 years of work, he was unable to see this massive project through to completion; it is currently estimated to be finished in 2046.
We took our time, wandering around the outside of the entire building, taking in the contrast between old and new construction, between the illusion of melting stone and the brilliance of the coloured mosaic details. Of all of the buildings we have seen, I believe this one is most underserved by photographs. From the basilica, T and I parted ways with his friends so we could do some more exploring. We took another stroll around the basilica and then continued our mission to see as much Gaudi architecture as possible.
With only a day to explore, we decided not to go inside but rather enjoy the structures, and that worked out well for us. We loved the organic lines of La Padrera (it’s proper name is Casa Milà, but is known by ‘La Padrera’ which means the stone quarry). The inside looked stunning, and is definitely earmarked for any potential future visits (you can see some photos here). In the top right corner, you’ll see a more typical building; this one is literally across the street from La Padrera. We were amazed at how its straight lines stood in such opposition to the organic shapes of the trees, in stark contrast to the fluid way that Gaudi’s building (top the left) becomes part of a shared landscape.
Only blocks away stands Casa Batlló: an absolute masterpiece covered in stone detail, metal accents, woodwork and ceramic mosaic tile, and featuring countless skeletal features (something Gaudi was evidently known for). I really have no words for these buildings; I’ve never seen anything like them. Forgive my underwhelming write up, and instead take a moment to look at the details of these structures (as well as you can from the photographs). I’m usually pretty anti-wikipedia but I’m making an exception. Go to the Casa Batlló page, then click on the photo of the house and scroll through to see remarkable photos of the interior and of the roof. It looks so much like a fantasy or a movie set that it’s difficult to believe it was designed by Gaudi as an actual family home (for the Batlló family, hence the name). Casa Batlló is on the main shopping strip, which has a bit of the feel of Paris’s Champs-Élysées but with a more laid-back style. It has other beautiful buildings that would stand out in any other city, or maybe even on another block, but sadly they pale in comparison to Gaudi’s work so they probably go a bit unnoticed.
By now, we were hungry! We’ve learned to get off the main drag to find better prices and a more local vibe. We ended up at a tapas place that was FULL of locals. The popular drink choices (as in, this is what everyone else in the restaurant had on their tables) were bottled water and Coca Cola. We went with the cola, but from there it was all brave choices. We let the waiter make recommendations and we went with it. We ended up with roasted artichoke, baby squid in beans, a plate of olives, tomato bread, and a sauté dish with mushrooms, asparagus, egg and artichoke. The verdict: every dish was oily. So very oily. If I remembered the name of the place, I’d tell you not to go there. I will say this: it was good to get out of my comfort zone and try some new foods. Fellow travellers: what has your experience with tapas been in Spain? I’m really hoping this was the exception and not the rule!
With our flight drawing nearer, we made the most of the weather and walked around the city. We passed La Sagrada Familia once more, then the Plaza de Toros Monumental (built in 1914, it was the world’s only Art-Nouveau bullring and the last active bullring until it’s closure in 2011. Now, it is a bullfighting museum, but we didn’t go in). We went to the hotel to pack up, and spent a little more time at the park with our friends and their kids before saying our goodbyes.
On our way back to the airport, we walked past the Arc de Triomf. We hadn’t really realized it, but upon arrival we were so busy looking for T’s friends that we hadn’t taken it in, so this time we stood for a few minutes enjoying it before hopping in a taxi.
Home again, home again… until the next time!