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Published: August 17th 2014
“Oh Barcelona, Barcelona” - Ever since we decided to spend a week in Barcelona, the song from the film has been going through my mind. It’s a light, upbeat tune. At the same time, I remembered my first visit to Barcelona, more than 30 years ago. Barcelona was a gloomy, sad place in those days. But not anymore. Barcelona is a vibrant, beautiful city, full of historical buildings and modern art projects, with sparkling sea on one side and green mountains on the other, there is no shortage of things to do and see, not to mention to eat. One week in Barcelona was only enough to skim the surface. Here are my impressions.
The truth is, I didn’t really want to visit. We only usually spend a day or two in big cities and then head out to the countryside. This time we were having a city break and not being a big fan of cities, I thought I might be bored. We arrived during Easter week. It was crowded, very crowded. Long lines at the Picasso museum meant we only visited the gift shop. We went to the Joan Miro museum which for me was a very enjoyable
experience, without being a big fan of the artist. The building is airy and light and is a fun place to spend a few hours. On the terrace there is a little pool and sculpture with a great view of Barcelona in the background. We saw other examples of Miro’s art around Barcelona. The most noticeable one being a very big sculpture, in a square, “Woman and Bird”. We saw it from the bus but we didn’t get off for a closer look. Not everybody’s cup of tea. Not really mine either. But somehow, in Barcelona, it all blends together and makes a fantastic kaleidoscope of colors and different styles, everywhere you go and everywhere you look.
When you think of Barcelona, you think of Picasso, Dali, Miro and Gaudi. (Rereading this, I am laughing -- from what I saw this is not what most people think of in Barcelona -- more like party, good times, beach and soccer.) Gaudi is the artist most associated with the city with examples of his works in parks and buildings all over the city. But really, I have never been in a city so bursting with art. And it is not just
the established artists, Barcelona has a lot of very colorful graffiti – some good, some not so. I liked the contrast of the new art on the old buildings. I also liked the shop signs painted on the awnings and shutters. From all over Barcelona you can see Gaudi’s impressive Sagrada Familia Basilica towering over the city. The Basilica isn’t finished, they are still building it with no end date. They started building it 132 years ago. Once again, we couldn’t take the huge crowds and just admired it from the outside. Later when we got to the Gaudi sculpture park, there were also long lines, so we just looked from the outside and instead went for a walk in the free gardens.
As it was a holiday, the gardens were full of buskers, some doing strange and wonderful things. There was a guy singing and playing a guitar at the top, that was frankly, indescribable. He was like the energizer bunny on speed. Another was sitting on a chair and not moving – but there was no chair. (Probably achieved by inserting a metal L-shape in his clothes.) While the mass of people wasn’t ideal, Barcelona is so
big that apart from at the biggest attractions, there was always plenty of space. There is also very little traffic. The transport is good and cheap but we mostly walked or took taxis.
Our hotel was on the Pla de Palau. Well situated for the port and beach and the Gothic quarter, right next to El Born and not far from Ciutadella Park. We had a nice room with an enclosed balcony. No view, but very private, good for sunbaking with chairs and recliner. Not expensive for Barcelona, great location and very quiet. The weather wasn’t great and we didn’t make any trips outside of Barcelona. We wanted to visit Montserrat, Tarragona and Girona. We will have a reason to come back. Actually, there are many day trips from Barcelona – easily enough for another week. This time we spent all of our time in the city.
It mostly rained in the mornings, so we’d have a late breakfast and then wander around El Born and the Gothic quarters. Sometimes we walked to the Boqueria market on La Rambla for breakfast. I had an amazing prawn salad at one of the stalls. At 10 in the morning there
are already many people but a short time after that it is too crowded to go in. Nearby is Placa Reial, a colonnaded square with a fountain and cafes. Yet another nice place to spend some time. Around Catalunya square is a shopper’s paradise, huge chain shops and department stores fill all the streets and big crowds of determined shoppers hunt down bargains.
I don’t know if it is always like that in Barcelona, or only because of the holiday, but I have hardly ever seen such big crowds. When our children were young, we always took holidays in the busiest time of year but now we only go during the spring and autumn. We have been spoiled, we are used to having tourist attractions to ourselves -- although with the advent of the mass tourism age, this is not strictly true, the big attractions are mobbed year round these days. From the top floor of the El Corte Ingle Department store there is an amazing view of the square and Barcelona. The restaurant is expensive and not interesting. We just had a cold drink before continuing.
The area around Barcelona Cathedral is full of museums
and shops. There is also a covered food market nearby. Whenever we passed the Picasso museum there were big lines snaking down the street. Not for us. We instead visited the Music Palace, a very colorful, lavishly decorated concert hall. We also visited a small museum, Museu Frederic Mares which has a collection of everyday objects from the 19th
century. Postcards, jewelry, swords, walking sticks, spectacles, old photos, hats, belts, door knockers – you name it – I love this sort of thing. Don’t be deterred by all the gloomy and mostly empty halls of wooden statues of the crucifixion, some quite graphic, that you have to pass through before getting to the good stuff ...
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