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Spain

Sagrada Familia

Barcelona, Spain

…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

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.
Ornate house

Ornate house


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

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.
Monastery

Monastery


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.
Gaudy bank

Gaudy bank


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.
Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia


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

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.
mosaic details

mosaic details


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.
Inside tower

Inside tower


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

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

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

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

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.
Casa Vicens

Casa Vicens


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

Posted by spsadventures 11:51 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Bienvenidos a Barcelona

Barcelona, Spain

This is my first time traveling with a child. I had no clue what to expect.
The parents came with a stroller whose top is basically a car seat, so it was actually easy to get a taxi to their hotel. We got settled there- they popped up a portable bassinet, changed a diaper, and then packed the stroller with whatever they needed for the day.
Beach

Beach


On our way to food, we walked along the beach a bit. People were out playing, strolling, and just generally enjoying themselves.
Not a whole lot seemed to be open, and I couldn't tell if that was because it's off season or because it was too early/late. We did find a cafeteria with some sandwiches though. And right away I had one of the foods I had read about ahead of time- tomato-rubbed bread. That plus cheese makes a simple sandwich, and it's tasty, but I think I still prefer slices of tomato. The fresh juice was amazing though. I don't know what magic they did to make it so great since I saw them throw the fruit in their blender, but it was maybe the best juice I've ever had. Maybe their pineapples, grapes, or Mandarin oranges are from somewhere special? I don't know. I just know that it was next level fabulous.
I was full from lunch, but then we saw some kid on the street eating fries from a cone, and suddenly I had room for some cheese-smothered fries in a cone. The guy who made them seemed almost professional in the way he tossed the fries in their bowl and artistically poured the melty cheese over them
Fry Guy

Fry Guy


We were headed towards the cathedral, but got a bit turned around in Barceloneta, a small neighborhood right by the water. It was cute and quiet, and I hope to have more to say about it another day.
This temporary phone I'm using because my last died in Kenya sucks. It didn't adjust to the local time. But, that meant that we arrived at Jaume 1 early for the 2pm free tour instead of missing it. Early enough to grab some churros and chocolate at the cafe that faces the tour meeting point.
Then, we met our guide for the Sandeman's free walking tour- Macarena. She took us around town to see the various sights, gabbing a bit about herself, life in Barcelona, and the sights along the way. It was certainly a lively and funny presentation, but I could have done with a touch more history and "this happened here because...".
We did learn some of the history. The tour started in a courtyard where some lady was singing high-pitched church style music. The acoustics transformed her performance from just another singer in the street to something heavenly. The guide shared with us some of the ancient history of the city, and told us about the buildings in the square- the palaces and executioner's home, but didn't tell us about any interesting executions.
Historic Gargoyles

Historic Gargoyles


We moved around the Gothic quarter and into the hipster Born area a bit.
At the cathedral, we saw what it looked like before the facade was redone for the world's fair, and the contrast to after. Here, the street performer was playing Despacito and Vente Pa Ca. Maybe he and the church music lady need to change places.
More Modern Gargoyle

More Modern Gargoyle


We learned about the Saints venerated by the city- two women (one of whom the Romans tortured and martyred) and St. George- as well as a very hairy king who founded the bloodline succession of kings in the area by fighting off the Muslims so well. Apparently the flag of Catalunya also comes from him. His shield was golden colored. As he lay dying from a battle wound, he reached into it, got his fingers bloody, and dragged them across the shield, leaving 4 red streaks on it. Hence the Catalonian flag. The Barcelona flag combines this plus a cross of St. George (because he slayed the dragon haunting the area.) And the Catalonian independence flag contains the normal Catalonian flag, plus a blue triangle with a white star, like Puerto Rico and Cuba- others who got independence from modern Spain.
Flags of Spain, Catalunya, and Barcelona

Flags of Spain, Catalunya, and Barcelona


We also saw San Felipe Neri square, where a lot of movies I've never seen were filmed, but if you're in to that kind of stuff, it might be interesting.
This fountain is a movie star

This fountain is a movie star


The only stop where we saw some modernism was a lawyer's association building where Gaudi had redone the inside and a mailbox. (As it was a historical building, he couldn't do too much more.) Touching the mailbox is supposed to bring you luck or something, so of course I touched the rubbed down spot. But really, it was just a cool chance to touch Gaudi's work.
Gaudi mailbox

Gaudi mailbox


During one stop, one of the other tourists got pooped on by some pigeons. Here is where traveling with a whole stroller full of stuff comes in handy- we had baby wipes to help him out. Overall, the baby slept most of the tour, and was really well-behaved.
We walked back to the hotel to get rested up, but also because nothing was open for dinner yet. Restaurants shut down in the afternoon and don't reopen until around 7. Here is where I learned what baby schedule is like.
Apparently, the baby needed to sleep, but he couldn't be put in the stroller for that. So my friends tried putting him in the crib and holding him and a bunch of other strategies, but nothing really worked. So they put him in the stroller and we went to dinner anyway. I think he fell asleep on the short walk. He was quiet at least.
We picked Xiringuoto Escribida because it was on the tour guide's list of places recommended for paella. It is right by the beach though, so the view is amazing. We got to watch the moon rise over the water- incredible!
The prices reflect this view though, and aren't worth it. The prices also might be higher because the restaurant can't turn over tables quickly. When you order paella, they bring you a sand timer so that you don't have to constantly bug them about when your food will finally be ready. It takes a while. While we waited, we munched on olives. These were worth the excessive paella price. These were the best olives I've had in my life. Ever. I live in the Mediterranean, adore Wegmans' olive bar, and travel a lot. These were perfectly textured- not fibrous or too soft. These were sweet and salty and olive-y without being strong or bitter. These were so amazing that I asked where to buy them. The waiter said they were "Grandma's recipe" and that he didn't think you could get them in a store, only online. I will check because WOW.
The paella finally arrived. Of course, this is when the baby woke and started crying. So two of us ate while the third held the baby and then my friends switched places. They cook the paella in a huge pan and while it's big and presented nicely, flavor-wise, the paella was not impressive. It lacked salt and flavor and there wasn't even a salt shaker on the table.
When we finished, we said goodbye for the evening, still without a clear plan for the morning. I walked a few blocks to a taxi stand because I didn't have my public transportation card yet, didn't know exactly where the hostel was, had luggage, and was tired. It was a relatively short ride, but was almost 10 euro by the meter. On the one hand, it wasn't as bad as I feared, on the other, this is an expensive city. At least I got some interesting conversation from the cab driver.
The hostel, Barcelona & You is 2 blocks from Sagrada Familia. It's quite nice. Everything is clean, fresh, and simple. The beds are set up like little cubby rooms, each with a curtain for privacy/light blocking, a light, socket, and shelf. The main room has some couches and the kitchen. It's small and simple, but pretty ideal. I got checked in, settled, and slept well.

Posted by spsadventures 11:23 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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