Whilst my husband and I were in Europe this year our sons flew over to spend a few weeks with us. Before they caught up with us, though, they headed to Barcelona for a brief look at a city they had heard so much about. Here is Josh's story....
After a long flight into any destination in the world, often the last thing you want to do is explore a lot. But even after arriving from Dubai – a combination of hype, excitement and curiosity meant that we just had to look around.
In the arrivals terminal of the very impressive Barca airport, my brother and I immediately received some friendly advice from travelling Scots to be very wary of pick-pockets on the streets of Barcelona. The rumours are true then – the desperate locals do catch out the unsuspecting tourists more frequently in the Catalan capital than anywhere else in the world. Whether or not our new Scottish friends had been victims themselves, we didn’t ask.
Staying at the Rialto Hotel, we were literally just a street off the famous Rambla, and were perfectly positioned to explore Barcelona’s greatest sights. And, with nothing more than a map we acquired in the airport, we navigated our way down La Rambla to the pier, and ultimately, the Mediterranean Sea. The smell of fresh waffles was unavoidable, and after snaking our way across the quirky Carrer del Mar, we had an afternoon tea of fresh paella on the seaside balcony of a shopping centre located next to the Plaça de l’Odissea. As well as being almost completely surrounded by water, this Plaça (or square) is particularly popular as it often hosts music concerts and other large scale events.
Luckily we enjoyed fabulous weather, and if you’re a fan of huge albatrosses and massive yachts, I certainly recommend visiting the Barcelona pier. It’s fresh produce and crystal clear views are just the surface of what it offers, but unfortunately that was all we had time to see.
As day two greeted us, we were intent on meeting Barcelona’s more well-known landmarks, namely La Sagrada Famiglia and Park Güell. We travelled on foot, but this is only recommended if you consider yourself very fit or have plenty of time – because of course, Barcelona is on a very obvious slope towards the sea. Walking is the best way to really experience Spanish life though – crowded streets and frantic street vendors were present the entire way, as were large Catalan flags hanging from apartment windows. Proud of their city would be an understatement.
The colossal Sagrada Famiglia has to be seen to be believed. It’s a cliché but, similar to the Eiffel Tower and the Colosseum, it’s true scale is unimaginable. For now though, we’d have to pass, as the line to enter was already several hundred deep, and it was only mid morning. Take my advice, if you want to see La Sagrada Famiglia (which you do), arrive as early as possible and pre-book your tickets online. Gates open at 9am.
As the natural hill of the city got steeper, we ventured up to Park Güell – another of genius architect Antoni Gaudi’s creations. The Park covers 17 hectares in total and countless hundreds of metres of dazzling mosaic work. The park is guarded by my favourite Catalan identity, ‘el drac’ – a large mosaic water-feature salamander. Inside the park you can take in brilliant gardens and flora, the Gaudi House Museum, the world’s longest park bench and most importantly, stunning views of the city highlighting how elevated the park is. I didn’t expect much going into the UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it finished as my favourite Barcelona moment.
We made quick time back down the hill, and passed through the brilliant Arc di Triomf located on one of the main roads, Passeig de Sant Joan. It was erected in 1888 for the World Expo of Barcelona, one year before Paris build the Eiffel Tower for a similar event. Back then it was the entrance to the city but since then, Barcelona has blossomed beyond it.
La Rambla is aptly named – a bustling, busy market-clad street where one can find themselves wandering in awe along the full extent of the 1.2 km stretch. Newsstands and florists are constant for the entire way until ice cream vendors take charge where the street meets the water.
For our final day in Catalunia we had La Sagrada Famiglia at the top of the list for things to do. In order to beat the crowds, we aimed to get there with plenty of time before opening. We arrived at about 8:30am, and joined the line at about number 100. Compared to yesterday, we were happy with our position.
I can confirm that it is certainly worth the wait, regardless how long you have to linger outside the entry gates. Antoni Gaudi’s (yep, the same guy from Park Güell) most famous structure seemingly increases in size once inside. He began the project in 1883, and through almost completely private funding, the structure continues to crawl towards completion. The gate takings and lift fares are the only thing keeping this incredible project going.
It’s hard not lose your stomach when peering out over Barcelona from one of the many spires, which rise as high as 170 metres. After some spiral staircases and a few encounters with gargoyles, you return to the main chapel. It’s difficult to remember that it is in fact a place of worship, and not just an architect flexing his figurative muscle. Included in the entrance fee is entry to the museum and info centre, which is equally as interesting. I’ll let you discover the reasoning, the symbols and the legend behind the brilliant basilica.
Regrettably, the train station was our next scheduled destination, meaning our time was up. My first time in Barcelona was a lot of fun, albeit probably way too brief. Don’t be surprised if you see me again soon, Barca. If you’ve never been yourself, squeeze it in your next itinerary – you’ll have a lot of fun, and see a new side of Europe that isn’t evident anywhere else.
Story: Josh Schönafinger