…Except for the horse in the room in the middle of the night. Maybe it wasn't a horse. Maybe it was a super-rude lady in heels who felt the need to pace the room in them long enough that I remember it happening. None of the rustling and general people movement in a dorm room in a hostel usually has any impact on me and I don't even realize it's happening. But this horse (for I refuse to believe anybody is that dumb or mean) was noticable.
I woke early without an alarm, and non-horse people were just getting in. I would not have even known it if I hadn't been up. I showered and noticed some mold on the ceiling, ruining my first impression of the perfect cleanliness of the hostel. Still, it was cleaner than most I've been to and the minor mold was the only flaw.
I walked out into the still-dark city just waking up and caught the moon over Sagrada Familia. I highly recommend doing a lap around Sagrada Familia if you're looking for something to do in the morning before everyone is awake. The stained glass is lit from the inside, making the basilica glow with color. The silence and emptiness allows you time for reflection and thought and processing. It's a great way to start to take it in.
Early morning Sagrada Familia
I returned to the hostel for breakfast, which was mostly bread, jam, and cheese for me, as I'm not so much a cereal person, before heading back to the tourist information center across from Sagrada Familia. In my excitement to meet my friends yesterday, I forgot to pick up my BarcelonaCard at the airport, so I needed to get it this morning. It includes a public transportation pass, which is how I intend to get around today, as well as free/discounted admissions, which I also intend to use today.
Super-conveniently, the metro is right there. I descended to take the train, and saw a nice line of people patiently waiting for the train. I thought, aww this is cute like Korea. No. The train arrives already packed. The people who exit make some room for the waiting people, but not enough for everyone. I didn't make it onto the first train and discovered myself in the "cute" line waiting to cram into the next. I don't know how someone with a stroller would manage. Fortunately, the next train was only a minute away.
When I transferred a couple of stops later, I was able to even get a seat, so I'm guessing it's only certain lines that are packed. Still, all the stairs would have been a challenge with a stroller.
The map had a picture of a cool looking building at Tibidabo, so I got off at that stop. There was supposed to be a tram to the funicular, but it was closed and there was a sign to take the bus. The bus drove through some incredibly ornate buildings and stopped at the funicular station, which wasn't open for another half hour. Even though I hadn't indicated a stop, the driver checked to make sure I didn't intend to stop here. He continued on after I told him I just wanted to marvel at the buildings.
After the other passengers got off, he started acting like a tour guide and explained what we were passing to me. He told me about the Cosmo museums and pointed out his favorite building to me. Really, the buildings are incredible and I just enjoyed looking out the window as he drove around the neighborhood.
Somebody lives in this
Since I was north and had time before I met my friends, I decided that the monastery would be next. The metro map I had was a bit confusing and wrong, but I managed to figure out how to get to the Reina Elisenda station without too much trouble. In the outer parts of the city, the trains are much less packed, but they still run every couple of minutes.
From the Reina Elisenda stop, it's a couple of blocks to the Monastery of Pedralbes (free entrance with my BarcelonaCard!). Inside the monastery, you forget that you're in a city. It's so calm, quiet, and peaceful. The grounds are green and serene. The displays were ok, but all in Catalan, so maybe get the audioguide if you want to know what's going on and can't get it from reading Catalan. Mostly, they had religious art and artifacts from various historical tenants. One room had a temporary exhibit of some unimpressive paint-drawings from the 1930s. Other than the building itself, which is enjoyable in a calming way, the only items that really caught my eye were the large books. Larger than a baby, or even a small leprechaun, these books had print big enough for the oldest eyes. In some of my pictures, they look like oversized chairs.
On the way back to the metro station, I noticed a bank that looked like a giant kid got a giant bedazzler and went to town on it. I'm guessing this is an off-the-beaten-track Gaudi building, or at least by a good copycat.
The surrounding neighborhood looked interesting, so instead of catching the nearest train, I walked around a bit. I saw lots of small shops selling gourmet food- a fromagerie, bakery, patisserie, and tiny produce store before I came to the Sarria market. It's small and the prices aren't cheap, but attentive shopkeepers stood by each stand, prepared to chop off a fish head or explain their cheeses to you. One stand called itself a bar, and a bunch of old people sat around, eating sandwiches or bread rubbed with tomato.
I didn't get anything, but it did make me hungry. Fortunately for me, a little stand around the corner sold all sorts of snacks- popcorn, homemade chips, churros, and fries. The sign said patatas bravas and he explained them to me as fries with an aoli sauce and a pepper sauce. What I got was fries with a few shakes of paprika and some mayo. They were good, and the mayo was super fluffy, but I'm not sure that I've really had patatas bravas.
My time to explore this end of town was up for now, and I metroed over to Sagrada Familia to meet my friends.
I came up from the metro and- wow- what a difference! The pre-dawn calm was long gone and replaced with huge crowds, huddled balls of tourists surrounding their guides, and the general noise of traffic.
I understand why they have timed tickets. Even with them, the inside is relatively full. By the time we made it through security and got our audioguide, it was already time for me to climb the tower. Except, you have to take an elevator up. That was disappointing.
roof of Sagrada Familia
At the top, there are some narrow passages lined with windows and peepholes that provide great views of the city and great views of the details on the upper portion of the basilica. I thought it was interesting to see the detail that goes into the mosaics that form the designs.
I also found it interesting to watch the construction workers do their jobs. And there was an interesting view inside one of the towers- it's hollow.
But after those few things, it's time to descend a very round staircase that is quite reminiscent of a snail's shell. The way down is so narrow that passing is impossible, and since there's no windows to look out of, there is no reason to dawdle. But if you get stuck behind a slow person, you just practice patience.
I had listened to the audio tour while waiting for the elevator up and continued once I was back down. Basically, it explains the symbolism of the various aspects of the building and helps you understand why you get certain feelings from the building.
inside Sagrada Familia
For example, you actually don't feel like you're inside. It sort of feels more like a forest of sorts than any church I've ever been in. That's because there is a lot of natural light coming in through the windows and not a whole lot of stone blocking it. Also, the pillars are all different materials and colors and sizes and textures, like real nature, but also all branch out at the top like trees. It's a little eerie actually to feel like you're in a calm forest while actually indoors in a crowd, but it was designed like that to assist with contemplation, meditation and prayer.
The outside is bolder and more like a stereotypical cathedral in that it has tons.of scenes from Jesus's life all over. But some of the depictions are highly stylized so that you have to fill in the details and Jesus can look like however you imagine him as opposed to some medieval European depiction. I like the Gaudi Jesus much better. (Update from later: I found out that these stylized people were added after he died, so it wasn't him who specifically made them that way.)
Sagrada Familia statues
For lunch, we didn't want to eat within a block of the church because anything that close would be only for tourists. Just outside of that range, we found a nice little kebab shop that had elevated kebab wraps that were actually quite good. Of course, the best part of mine was the cheese. The goat cheese here is so tasty!
My friends had to take the baby back, and we agreed to meet up later.
While they took care of him, I headed out to Guell Park. It's supposed to be close to the Lesseps metro station, but my recommendation is to check the bus schedule and see what will put you right at the park entrance (116 right now). It's several minutes along flat main street, and then up. And up. And some more up. And then, just when you've arrived at the park tired of climbing upwards, you realize the park is a hill and you have to climb ramps and stairs within the park.
There is a paid part of the park that you should prebook timed tickets for if you want to see, but there's also a free part. Having not prebooked, there weren't any tickets to the paid part, and I stay in the free.
Free part of Guell Park
It's pretty amazing. Like Sagrada Familia, you get a surreal feeling. The park is full of rock formations seem natural as they are not uniform.and don't seem like man would make something like that. But they aren't quite because they form bridges and pathways that just couldn't be made by nature either. It's almost as if a sorcerer came along and told the rocks to form themselves into a bridge/pavilion/whatever and they listened and obeyed. I highly recommend visiting to get that feeling for yourself.
I passed by the paid part and got a few glimpses. It seemed like it was the free part, plus everything was covered in bright mosaics.
peek at the paid part of Guell Park
I decided to use the bus to get back, as I had just done enough walking for a bit. But, at the bus stop, a family was eating these amazing-looking ice cream sandwiches. I debated asking them where they got them, but didn't want to miss the bus as the schedule said it "only" ran every 10 minutes and I hadn't seen one in a while. But then I overheard some others eyeing the ice creams as well, but who didn't speak Spanish to know how to ask. I took one for the team and found out for them. But now that I knew, I ended up getting one as well. Lots of desserts look amazing and don't taste that way. This was the best ice cream sandwich I've ever had. The cookies were chocolate chip and the ice cream was cookie as well.
Satisfied, I headed over to Casa Vicens, Gaudi's first house. It doesn't look so much like Park Guell or Sagrada Familia, and yet it sort of does. But it's more tiled and Moorish-looking. I didn't go inside because I didn't have time before I was supposed to meet my friends, but it also didn't look like it had all of the curves and eccentricities that Gaudi is famous for.
I made it to Casa Mila (La Pedrera) and found out that the baby was not in a position to come out for this, but that we would be able to meet for dinner near their hotel. I thought I'd pop into the museum and then meet them, but even with the discount card, it was 22 euro to enter- not something I was willing to pay for a rushed visit, and maybe not at all.
So I met my friends for dinner.
We ate at a place called Roco de la Vila. When you first enter, it seems like a small, cozy restaurant. And then they take you to the back, where it expands out to have plenty of room. The food there is much better than the paella place from last night. The olives, of course, weren't nearly as good, but everything else was much tastier. I had an amazing cheese platter that had a bunch of nice sheep or goat cheeses and one soft cheese in the middle that was so creamy and had the perfect tang. The romesco sauce on my dinner was exceptional. And my friends enjoyed their meals as well. I also got a glass of Cava, the local wine. It tasted like any other wine to me- nothing special- but at least I got a chance to try it. I was happy until receiving the bill. I know a lot of European restaurants put a charge on the bill for the bread they bring out (even though you didn't order it) as a way to milk a few extra Euro out of tourists. But this place charged us 3x for that. That put a damper on the otherwise nice restaurant