Spring Break: Week 2 – Pt. III (Barcelona)
So after spending the first 3/4 of my break traveling around Italy, I took a trip outside of the country for the second time this semester (Interlaken, Switzerland being the first) to Barcelona, Spain. My flight arrived in Barcelona – El Prat at around 1:30 on Thursday afternoon. I took a shuttle to Placa Catalunya, one of the main Plazas along Las Ramblas, the main street through the city center, and walked a few blocks to my hostel. The hostel was recently renovated and located in an upscale building, very nice especially for the price. The owners gave me plenty of tips for getting around and places to see in Barcelona, and an hour or so after I had checked in at the hostel, I was on my way out the door with a map and a list of sites to see.
One of the most distinguishing features of Barcelona is the architecture of Antonio Gaudi. Influenced by neo-Gothic trends, his architecture reflects a unique style known as Catalan modernism. While his architecture isn’t something that I aspire to, it is very interesting to see first hand, especially after having studied it at Penn State. My first walk began with three major Gaudi works, the Casa Batllo, Casa Mila, and the Sagrada Familia. I only saw the two smaller houses from the outside as it seemed too late in the evening to make the most of the entrance fees, considering the lines formed outside of them, however I did go into Sagrada Familia. This church has been under construction since 1882, with a projected completion date of around 2026. The space inside is one of the most impressive you could ever enter, and the level of detail in the building is astounding. It was a space that you didn’t want to leave, and I probably spent over an hour inside, looking around and taking photos.
After I left the church I wandered slowly back to my hostel. Barcelona is much different from any of the Italian cities I have visited. The streets and sidewalks are incredibly wide, and the corners of all the blocks are chamfered, creating wide open intersections. This makes a much more enjoyable walking experience, however, it also makes things much farther apart.
I returned to my hostel and cooked dinner in the kitchen provided there. Since Barcelona isn’t exactly known as a city of exquisite cuisine, I didn’t feel too bad about not eating out for a few nights. After a long day of traveling, I got to bed early to get ready for the next day.
The next morning I got up and left with no real objective, just to explore the city. I walked down Las Ramblas, the main street that connects the waterfront area with the rest of the city. The street has a wide pedestrian area in the middle filled with restaurants, shops, and vendors of all kinds. It was very interesting to experience a culture outside of Italy at this scale. Most of the shops and restaurants very normal gift shops and cafes. but every once in awhile I would come across something odd, such as a small pet vendor, selling small birds, rodents, and who knows what else.
I finally made it down to the waterfront area, which has been fairly recently built up and redeveloped. Among the amenities included there is one of the largest aquariums in all of Europe. There are also an abundance of shops and cafes lining the boardwalk which surrounds the port areas filled with sailboats. There are many ins and outs of the harbor area, and navigating it is anything but direct. I finally made my way through the port out to the peninsula-like area of Barceloneta. A small, local neighborhood separates the ports from the direct access to the ocean and the main beaches of Barcelona.
I spent some time on the beach that afternoon, and although they weren’t the most picturesque beaches I’ve ever seen, it was nice to relax for awhile. After a large cloud of fog rolled in, I made my way back to the hostel for dinner.
The next day I visited two of the major parks in Barcelona: Montjuic, and Parc Guell. Montjuic is an expansive park covering an entire mountainside. At the base of the hill is Placa Espanya and Palau Nacional, part of the original facilities built there for the 1929 World’s Fair. A large portion of the hill is home to many of the Olympic facilities from the 1992 games in Barcelona. The complex was immense, and felt even more so because it was quite empty compared to the capacity for which it was designed. On the top of the hill is a 17th century fortress known as Castell de Monjuic. The castle provides outstanding panoramas of both the expansive city of Barcelona as well as the coastal area. The castle is accessible by a gondola that takes you up the steep part of the mountain, and there are a number of small park areas to visit on the way back down to the bottom.
After visiting this park, I met up with some students that were studying in Barcelona I had met the day before to visit Parc Guell. This park was designed by Antonio Gaudi, and was originally designed to be a community in it’s own right within Barcelona. The area is landscaped, but only a few structures were built, and it is now a formalized park on a steep hillside. This park also provides great views of the city looking towards the ocean, and was much more populated with locals and tourists alike. After visiting the park, we went to the Mercat de la Boqueria, a large indoor market with fresh seafood and produce of all types.
Later that evening we went back to Placa Espanya to see a fountain show that was set to music and colorfully lit. The shows lasted about 20 minutes each, and we saw parts of 3 separate ones. The range of music was widely varied from 90’s alternative to classical, and it made it pretty entertaining. After watching the fountain show, we walked over to an old bull fighting arena that had recently been converted to a shopping mal. The roof of the mall was accessible and provided more great views looking out over the city (although it was dark by this point). The renovation and repurposing of the building was really well done and was a successful reuse of the abandoned building. From there, we made our way back to Las Ramblas for dinner at a tapas restaurant. Tapas are a popular Spanish dinner option, and consist of multiple, small plates of various food like fried potatoes, calamari, and many others. It was nice to experience some of the local cuisine, and a good break from the never ending pasta back in Italy.
On Sunday, my final day of break, the city of Barcelona is basically closed. Most of the shops and restaurants are closed, and the town is relatively quiet. I had heard about a town called Sitges that I wanted to visit, and decided that Sunday would be a good day to do so. Sitges was about a half hour train ride from Barcelona, and I found out later that it is where many of the locals from Barcelona go on Sundays because it does not shut down like Barcelona. The town is a small, coastal town, with most of the main shops and restaurants lining the promenade that stretches the length of the picturesque beach. I spent the day exploring the town, taking photos, and relaxing on the beach. It was a good way to spend my final day of break.
That evening I met up with the students I had met there for dinner at a Mexican restaurant (I didn’t realize how much I missed burritos and chips with guacamole), before getting to bed early to prepare for my 6:00 am flight back to Rome the next morning. I had to catch a bus at 4:00 in the morning to the airport, but I made all my connections and landed in Rome just before 8:00 am.