Barcelona is one of those cities where you are constantly looking up to see what interesting architectural treat is dripping from nearby buildings and constantly looking down to make sure you don’t step in spanish dog doody. Barcelona is somewhere I didn’t really research because I always knew I would come at some point (in fact the BCN in the title is the airport code which I use everytime I search for a flight). So laugh if you knew, but I had no clue about all of the fascinating architecture. The structures (buildings, park walls, street lamps) themselves are the art and frankly it’s much more fun to look at than a wall of paintings!
Anyhoo, I had a rough first day because it rained and I hadn’t been quite ready to leave the comfort of Rob’s home. But once I got into the swing of it again, I really enjoyed Barcelona.
Antoni Gaudi’s influence is everywhere here. I would describe his work, if you aren’t familiar with it, as surreal, funky, trippy, organic, colorful…basically fun! It does have a serious component but I admit I have a hard time taking the more serious structures (ie churches) seriously. The first thing I headed to see was the Sagrada Familia, an insane church that was Gaudi’s final work. It is actually still a work in progress and a site to behold. I didn’t even made it inside because the towers were full when I arrived and that was the part I wanted to see. Knowing I’ll be back, I bailed on seeing only half the inside and just walked around the perimeter taking lots of shots of it. I also wandered to a Parc Guell, which Gaudi created as essentially a subdivision, where it was lots of fun to walk around and take pictures of whatever surprise you stumble upon next. I will upload pictures at some point soon.
The next day I decided I needed to get out of the city so I went to Montserrat. This is an amazing place – a working monestary (first built in 900 AD) and a physically amazing site. I went to hike but many people go on spiritual pilgramages (or to just be a tourist). There are huge rock formations shooting out of the ground. I went to the small natural history museum on site where I learned all about how the land was formed, as well as some history of the place. It has a long history of resistance to religious suppression and was also the center of Catalan resistance during Franco’s rule.
I rode a funicular up above the monestary. It is a system where the cars run on a track and use gravity to help them get up and down efficiently. The car going down pulls the car going up, while the car going up slows the car going down. I planned to do a 4-5 mile hike up to a supposedly amazing lookout point. On the way up I met a guy named Dirk from Germany who was also traveling alone and doing that hike. So we hooked up and hit the trail. Thankfully younger Germans generally speak excellent English so conversation was easy. In fact, I learned it is required for 6 years in school – Dirk is an English teacher, ha! About 3/4 of the way to the top the rain moved in and we heard some thunder. Being on top of a huge rock ridgeline in a thunder storm did not sound fun, so we booked it down the mountain in record time. I was sore for 2 days from bounding down huge “stairs” cut into the trail! We were drenched and cold when we hit the bottom (I love it – fun in the woods!) so we toured the beautiful inside of the cathedral. I enjoyed the space tremendously. Not being Catholic makes me feel a bit like a cheater when I’m in a functioning church and I certainly don’t understand the rituals, however most of the tourists had left so I was able to relax. There is a famous statue of the Virgin Mary there (La Moreneta or Black Virgin) that was supposedly carved by St Luke. You can walk through and touch the orb she holds, attesting your faith or asking for blessing.
We had a coffee and rode the train back to the city. After making plans to meet for a concert the next nights we went our separate ways. It was raining again and I was tired, so I had a quick dinner with a lovely Brazilian woman I met in the hostel and went to bed! She was a huge fan of modern art and convinced me to see the Joan Miro museum the next day. I don’t really like modern art simply because I don’t understand it! But I figured this would be the place to give it one last try. And let me just say that I did try. I really, really did. I rented the audio tour and contemplated and studied and relaxed/meditated but it just would not come. So I admit defeat. I do not get modern art. And the entire time I wondered if I it’s how my brain works and if it’s related to why I don’t get JAVA!
I had gotten one of those hop-on/hop-off bus tickets so I just rode around for a couple of hours, checking out the city. Afterwards I ate the best fresh pasta in La Boqueria Market, then did a bit of shopping and site-seeing on The Ramblas. Lots of street artists, lots of tourists and apparently lots of pick-pockets. You hear lots of stories about Barcelona’s petty crime and I met a guy straight off in the hostel who had his bag snatched while at lunch the first hour he was here (the guy grabbed it and ran as he was exiting the restaurant, but the owners caught him). So I was extremely paranoid at first…didn’t carry a purse or anything. But after seeing tourists with cameras dangling out and backpacks with the zipper open, I realized there were far more obvious targets. I still maintained my vigilance, didn’t carry much cash or my passport and wore my purse tight and in front at all times. Thankfully I didn’t have any troubles.
That evening, I met Dirk for a concert in the amazing Palau de las Musica Catalana (Catalan Concert Hall). I wanted to see something there just to see the inside but ended up lucking out and catching a beautiful show by a famous Spanish classical guitarist MANUEL GONZÁLEZ. He played peices representing a number of the regions in Spain (and after visiting many, I realize how different the regions are from each other). Afterwards we went to a pub for a few beers. I haven’t found myself doing the nightclub thing much here. In small towns it’s fun and manageable, but the big cities are not my thing. Plus you walk around all day and honestly it’s a challenge to have more than a drink or two most nights.
I did some other minor sites and a lot of window shopping in Barcelona. I definitely have a to-see list for when I return. The next day I caught a bus to the train station and flew off to Bilbao.