Benvinguts a Barcelona!

by Michael

We didn’t originally plan to go to Barcelona. I wanted to leave it for another trip during soccer season so I could go to a game at the Nou Camp. But after much consideration, we decided that our next destination after Spain would be Slovenia, and the best (cheapest) connection was a flight from Barcelona to Trieste, Italy followed by a bus to Slovenia. So Barcelona it is.

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Barcelona is a lively city, with lots of people on the beach soaking up the sun and playing volleyball. Others are out in parks, some with amazing shows like these fellows with giant rings (video clip here):

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Street performer in front of Barcelona’s cathedral.

Barcelona has great food options — more creative and diverse than Madrid, and more expensive. Barcelona also has beer culture, meaning I can get IPA and dark beers (something which hasn’t always been possible in the areas that we’ve visited in Spain). But like the food, the good beers costs more as well. Not more expensive than San Francisco, but far more expensive than Madrid. Staying on budget in Barcelona was going to be tough (impossible). I tried to not worry since we were only going to be here for 3 1/2 days, one of which would be visiting Montserrat, and just had to accept that we would get back on budget in Eastern Europe.

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Great tapas at La Plata in the gothic area of Barcelona.  They only serve four tapas, so we ordered them all.  Delicious!

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I’m a hoptimista… or something.

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The Santa Caterina food market was home to lots of tasty treats.

Barcelona visits typically include La Sagrada Familia. As they should. As did ours.

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The world’s most visited construction site.

The building is amazing, unlike any other church. The use of height and color is impressive. When we entered, the sanctuary was bathed in the blues and greens that show up in the early morning light — apparently in the evening the reds and oranges on the other side of the sanctuary make it look like it’s on fire. Elizabeth visited ten years ago while the sanctuary area was still under construction and open air, so while this was her second visit the building was very different. We lucked out and even though we didn’t reserve ticket times in advance (notice a theme?) and the sign at the start of the ticket line said that the next available time was in six hours, we were able to walk right in.  We think that this is likely because we bought the (over-priced and not super exciting) audio tour along with the entry ticket, but we aren’t sure.

Gaudí designed the building to rely on natural elements, such as columns that resemble tree trunks, in order to avoid using exterior flying buttresses.  The result is that when you walk in it feel like you’re in a forest.

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[Elizabeth’s note: One element of the modern construction that the site’s audio guide and informative signs gloss over is that Gaudí died shortly after the Nativity facade was constructed and that most of the building’s plans were destroyed in a fire.  As a result, there is considerable controversy that the more modern design elements are not in keeping with Gaudí’s vision.  Still an amazing building despite the architectural design conflict.]

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In a sign of the times (turn of the 20th Century), this sculpture from the  Nativity facade (that was constructed during Gaudí’s lifetime) shows a dragon (representing the devil) giving a terrorist a bomb.

The typical tourist visit also often include Montserrat. As they should. As did ours.

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Looking up at Montserrat from the train station.

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Montserrat is a mountain with a monastery that is a short train ride from Barcelona. The “Black Madonna” is the object of pilgrimages, and the church is impressive. But what was more fun for me was hiking on trails on top of the mountains, which had very interesting geological features and shapes.

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We waited in line for about 45 minutes for our turn to walk behind the altarpiece and touch the black Madonna’s orb.

A gondola brings guests up to the monastery and a funicular railway takes guests even further. From there we walked to St. Jeromi, the tallest peak in the range. It was about an hour out, a little less coming back. We purchased a pass from the Barcelona tourist office that covered the train ride, gondola, and funiculars, which simplified the visit.

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Riding the gondola up the mountain.

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And the funicular.

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Hiking up to St. Jeromi, the highest mountain in the park.

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The mountaintops were really unusual and popular with climbers.

There are also cats at Montserrat. Some are quite friendly.

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We also visited the Picasso Museum (timed to visit on a free day!), the Parc Güell, the grounds of the 1992 Olympics, and the fort (also a free day!) all of which were nice — but I’m going to spend the rest of this post on something that gets less attention: the City Museum of Barcelona (Museu d’Història de la Ciutat).

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Wandering around the Olympic stadium.  You could pay to go down on the field and take shots on the goalie (and the fake defensive mannequins — on one end dressed as FC Barcelona and on the other end as RCD Espanyol).

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While visiting the fort, I bought a Vichy Catalan out of a vending machine without knowing if it was a soda or beer.  Turns out it was a horrible lemony sparkling water of some sort.

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Catching a glimpse of Park Güell. Unfortunately, they have a timed entry ticket system for the park and the next available entrance wasn’t for hours.  Oh well.

There are some exhibits above ground that provide some history of the city and that resemble many other anthropological museums, but the real treat is underground. The City Museum of Barcelona (Museu d’Història de la Ciutat) is built atop Roman and Middle Ages ruins, so the basement is a maze of catwalks over the ruins. There are former vessels that were used for storing wine, walls, houses, and pretty good labels to let you know what is going on. Here are some pictures:

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Glass walkway over a section of the ruins.  The complex was huge!

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Looking down on the pottery remnants of huge urns for wine storage.

Even though we attempted to take it easy in Barcelona and did not try to pack in all of the sights, our visit ended up being exhausting.  We had a great time though!

[We’re making an attempt to finally get caught up on getting our blog posts up.  This post describes our visit to Barcelona on July 2-5, 2016.]

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