Hot on the heals of my trip to Prague came my second Jet2 deal of the month to Barcelona. This was a girls trip that I took with my friend Marianne. For a few years now our husbands have gone on a few week long backpacking trips. So we only felt it fair that we have a trip of our own. This was an idea that came up last fall, but we waited til this Spring for two reasons 1) better weather, and 2) her youngest daughter would be more than a year old and little more independent.
Our goal for the trip was to relax, see the sites, and to drink up the sun. For the first two days of the trip it was sunny and mid-60° F, and the second two days it was up to 70° F. So coming from the UK, we were loving it. And Marianne was a great addition to my ‘photojournalism;’ making sure we had pictures of us instead of just of sites like I normally take (and if theory could have just ripped off Google Images, and pretended like I had been on a trip).
Barcelona is a city that I visited twice previously. Once while in high school, and another time when I did a semester abroad in Madrid. However, I only really remember snipits: the Gaudi buildings, the harbor, some of the beach towns nearby. So with this trip I was excited to see it with fresh/adult eyes.
The Sights We Saw
After our flight and bus ride to the airport we arrived at our hotel around 2pm (prime siesta time). Fortunately, our hotel let us check in to drop off our bags, and from there we were out looking for lunch and to see the sites in the Gothic Quarter.
The first place we visited was the Picasso Museum. This museum doesn’t house Picasso’s most famous works, but it have a wide variety of Picasso’s work; allowing you to see his development as an artist. The museum is housed in a well renovated older building on a narrow street, so as with any medieval section of a city, we needed to circle several blocks before finding it. The museum gives you the option to purchase tickets for the permanent, temporary, and combo exhibitions. We opted for just the permanent collections. One feature of the collection that Marianne and I found interesting was Picasso’s take on Velasquez’s famous work Las Meninas. Where he recreates the painting in his style several times (full size, zooming in on one portion, etc.). You notice the technical elements of Picasso’s style when you have a classical painting to compare it to.
From the Picasso museum we walked to Barcelona’s Cathedral. Even though it was around 6pm, it was still open. In fact, because of the mid-day siesta many Spanish sites are open until 7pm. However, most don’t close mid-day, allowing you to see more sites in a day. From the Cathedral we walked down to the harbor and around the Barceloneta neighborhood.
The next morning was our Gaudi day part 1. We had a leisurely start to the morning and arrived at the Sagrada Familia around 10pm. The entrance to the Sagrada Familia is at the back of the church and the line for tickets wrapped most of the way around the block, so it took about 40 minutes. The Sagrada Familia was one of Gaudi’s last masterpieces. He started working on it in 1883 and very little of it was finished at the time of his death is 1926. The church has relied on private funds (and today ticket sales) to and it’s construction has been slow at times. In 2010 the Sagrada Familia was officially consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI, and the anticipated completion date is around 2026.
While this is one of the sites I had visited before, because it is still under construction it felt new. I hadn’t been in the church with a completed roof. The interior of the has amazingly high vaulted ceilings. And there a several new completed spires as well.
From the Sagrada Familia we walked south through Barcelona’s L’Eixample to see some of the ‘modernista’ apartment buildings, some designed by Gaudi. A few you can pay to enter, but ticket prices are about €15, so we opted to admire from the outside. Casa Mila is currently undergoing a restoration on the outside (you can still visit the inside and rooftop), but the scaffolding is covered with a picture (and advertisements) of what the building looks like.
That afternoon we walked back to the Barceloneta to see the beach by day and Marianne even put her toes in the water! [I didn’t. I’m a wet blanket and hate the feeling of wearing shoes at the beach, even if I’ve dried off my feet.]
That night I came down with some sort of mysterious stomach bug. I say ‘mysterious,’ because Marianne and I had the exact same things to eat and drink that evening. So if it was it was food related, and it could have been a virus I picked up elsewhere. So it made for a very poor nights sleep. It also illustrated the value of having flexible plans while traveling.
The original plan for the day was to take the train to the monastery at Montserrat. After getting exhausted eating breakfast, Marianne compassionately suggested (because otherwise my stubbornness would have had me sticking to the original plan) that we visit Montjuic. We’d be closer to home, and it’s a park on a hill, so it will be like being in the mountains.
So after my breakfast siesta, we headed to Montjuic. Montjuic is accessible by a funicular car, that uses the same type of ticket as the rest of the metro and runs about every 10 minutes.
Montjuic translates to Jewish Mountain, and was the site of a 13th century Jewish cemetery. In 1929 it hosted a Worlds Fair, and in 1992 it was the site of the Summer Olympic Stadium. Today you can find several gardens, walking paths, and the Miro Foundation. The Miro Foundation features the work of Joan Miro as well as current artists. Like the Picasso museum, the Miro Foundation doesn’t have Miro’s most famous works. But it does display work chronicling Miro’s development as an artist. The wall placards in each room also do a good job of connecting Miro’s artistic style to contemporary events; like the Spanish Civil War and Spanish life under fascism.
After the Miro Foundation, I took a nap in the park. Good thing Marianne likes to do crossword puzzles 🙂 It’s also good that sleeping in a park on a sunny day in Europe isn’t that unusual. After a lunch of bread and cheese (just bread for me), we headed back to the hotel, where I had a proper siesta. I know it all sounds very exciting, but I did rally and make it out to dinner.
Sunday we had a 7:15pm flight back to Leeds. So after checking our bags at the hotel desk, we took the metro to see Park Guell. The park is a little bit of walk from the metro station, but there are clearly marked signs. The guidebook says that it is about a €15 taxi ride from the city center.
Gaudi designed Park Guell like many of his buildings, to reflect the geometry of nature. It is a beautiful park and one of my favorite sites from previous visits. But there is one thing about the park that I didn’t remember. While the park is free, if you want to get a good look at Gaudi’s design work, you have to pay. I believe the cost is around €8. I have no memory of this from previous visits; and the Rick Steves book, which is only about a year old, mentioned nothing about this (and Rick is very budget conscious). So I wonder if this is a relatively new fee.
After that the we headed back to the center for lunch and some people watching, before catching our bus to the airport.
I didn’t do as much food research for this trip as I have done with others. So we were left with the recommendations in the guidebook (Rick Steves)and with walking by restaurants and looking at the menus. The places we picked from the guide book worked out quite well. When it came to picking out restaurants on our own we had one good and one not very good. But I generally think it is hard to get out of a vacation in new area without one mediocre meal. But here are the places that we visited and liked:
- Xaloc: We had dinner here Saturday night. We arrived around 8:30pm (slightly early for the Spanish) and were seated immediately. If you are larger than a group of two, or will be eating later in the evening, I recommend reservations. This restaurant has an upmarket yet casual feel with moderate prices. There is the traditional selection of tapas, as well as ‘dishes;’ however they aren’t full sized entrees (the prices reflect this fact). If you’re looking for a larger meal, I would recommend tapas followed by a dish, or ordering a few dishes for the table (think ‘large tapas’).
- Tapas 24: This tapas only restaurant is the brain child of a celebrity Barcelona chef, who offers tapas with a twist at affordable prices. They don’t take reservations, and most of the seating is around the kitchen counter (with a few bar tables in the corners). The tapas were excellent! But with the layout of the restaurant I wouldn’t recommend visiting with a group larger than four, and because of the high counters kids under 10 might have trouble settling in.
- Cafe De L’Academia: Nice sit down restaurant serves meals rather than tapas, but they do allow you to order a half portion if you are looking for something smaller.
One thing to note is that Barcelona is coastal town and seafood features prominently on many menus. If you don’t eat seafood at all there are still plenty of things to order (but several of them may include ham). Barcelonians particularly love tuna, often a topping on salads. So if you really don’t like tuna, it is worth asking: “tiene atun?”
Getting Around Barcelona
- The Barcelona Airport is a little ways west of the city. To transfer from the Airport we took the Aerobus. Which leaves from Terminal 1 every 5-10 minutes and makes about three stops in the city center, finally ending at Plaza Catalunya, where it is very easy to transfer to the subway line. It is the same schedule from Plaza Catalunya and back. While this is a similar method for getting to and from the Prague airport; I appreciated that the buses ran continuously, which takes the pressure off rushing to get the bus, or if there are too many people to fit on the bus. While you don’t have to go all the way to Plaza Catalunya to board the bus; I would recommend you do if you would like a seat. Transfers to and from Terminal 2 run a little less frequently, every 10-20 minutes.
- Within Barcelona we found the public transportation system to be very good. The cars are fairly new and the stations are kept fairly clean (way nicer than Paris or Rome). Tickets are sold from automated machines, which offer instructions in several languages, and accept bills; but you will need to purchase at least three tickets in order to use a €20. Single fare tickets are €2.15, so it isn’t the cheapest European metro. There are day, multi-day, and multi-trip passes available for purchase as well. We didn’t take any buses or trains on our trip, but we found that the metro covered all of the parts of the city we wanted to see. The one exception may be Park Guell, which is about a 15 minute walk (up hill) from the metro station, but I consider that reasonable for people without mobility concerns.
We had a great time in Barcelona! I don’t think the fact that I had already visited detracted from the experience at all. Barcelona has a little bit of something to offer everyone. Great food, beach, mountains, nightlife, etc. From a budgetary perspective Barcelona is cheaper to stay and eat in than cities like London and Paris, but most of the museums charge a fee, and that can add up if your hitting all of them. The parks, beach, Cathedral, and Montjuic Castle are free.