Arriving in Barcelona
Although I’ve been to Barcelona several years ago, it’s the first time I’ve arrived by plane. As we flew into Barcelona, it seemed we were making a direct approach over the city to the airport, then quite suddenly the plane veered off over the ocean, and started to descend, actually, very close to the water, so close in fact, I was wondering if there was a problem and we had to make an emergency landing into the ocean. Nothing was out of the ordinary, we landed on the runway, on land. The first of many surprises in Barcelona.
Barcelona is a very large city, 1.7 million in the administrative limits, but if you include the urban area it jumps to 4.6 million, making it the 6th most populous urban area in the European Union. More than 5 million people live in the metropolitan area, the largest on the Mediterranean Sea. Enough about population size, I just wanted to make a point about how large the city is, but how friendly its inhabitants are in spite of the size of the population, that is, from my experience. Interestingly, the first day I was here I had people approaching me for directions! I must have been starting to blend into the local milieu.
Here’s just one experience I had the first day. I went into a shop near the “Palau de la Musica Catalana” situated near the quaint Born district of old Barcelona, an area full of narrow, winding pedestrian walkways, small shops and boutiques, cafes and restaurants. As I was browsing in the boutique I got talking to the salesperson who was so friendly and who ended up giving me all kinds of tourist tips, where to eat, where to find a good flamenco show, be ready to go early to the major sites to avoid the long line-ups, in short some of the best advice I received during my stay in Barcelona. And it was given in such an exuberant and friendly manner. So my impression of Barcelona began with that encounter and it didn’t change for over three days of visiting.
Where I stayed
While in Barcelona, for my first three nights, I stayed at Lodging Apartments City Centre on Arago Avenue. Accommodation was a small apartment, very modern, very clean, with a kitchen and living room/eating area. Staff occupied an office on the ground floor and were there to greet me when I arrived. They are there from 9:30 am until 8:00 pm during the week, and 10:00 am till 2:00 pm on weekends. As a single, senior traveller I felt very secure in the building. The staff were exceptionally friendly and helpful, so I can recommend Lodging Apartments. These apartments are also very close to some of the major sites such as Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera, Picasso Museum, Palau de la Musica Catalana, Barcelona Cathedral and Parc de la Ciutadella. I would say no more than a 20-minute walk to any of these places, but I’m a pretty fast walker!
Where I ate: Cafe Buho, at 84 Saint Joan
And how lucky I was to find a lovely restaurant just a few minutes walk from my apartment, called Cafe Buho, at 84 Saint Joan. The first time I ate there was on my second day for lunch when I had a mushroom soup and hummus with toasted bread, and even though this was a simple meal, it was delicious, and I was hooked. Interestingly I had made a connection with one of the waiters the night before as I was coming back to my apartment, I wasn’t sure where I was, it’s interesting how things can look quite different at night, compared to daytime, after all it was my first day here. The waiter took the time to show me where I was and how to get to my apartment. It turns out I was only a few minutes away. But it was the courtesy of that waiter that compelled me to go back for my first lunch there, one more example of the kindness of the local people.
My two suppers there included a chicken dish with both roasted and pureed artichoke hearts, with salad greens, and a risotto with eggplant and apple puree. As well as an extensive menu of entrees (smoked salmon, vegetarian burger, beef and other choices) they have several appetizers to choose from including a nice selection of cheeses. They also offer delicious fruit drinks, for example a “Virgin Mojito” with mint and apple juice or strawberry drink with various other juices. I enjoyed every dish I tried. My sense is that their menu selections have a creative and fresh “twist” and are geared towards healthy but delicious taste sensations.
What did I visit in Barcelona?
This is Antoni Gaudi’s church still in the making. Antoni Gaudi is Barcelona’s most famous architect and his work is seen throughout Barcelona. Gaudi spent 40 years of his life as the main architect of the this building. It is the 8th wonder of the world in the making as evidenced by the cranes and the workmen one sees tied by safety ropes and working on the exterior of the church. It is estimated the work will be finished in 2026, the 100th anniversary of the death of Gaudi. Of the 18 spires originally planned only eight have been built. Their completion will make this church the tallest church building in the world.
Gaudi used a revolutionary art form called “trencadis” tiling which consisted of smashing up ceramics and making mosaic patterns out of them. Examples of this type of work on the spires at Sagrada Familia, at Parc Guell and on some of the chimneys at La Pedrera.
La Pedrera (The Stone Quarry)
Another of Gaudi’s works, this unique building was completed in 1912, an apartment block so imaginative and fanciful, that truly shows his creative genius. On the rooftop are chimneys resembling warrior helmets and marshmallow-like ventilator ducts. The front of the building has a wave-like design and a flow to the wrought iron balconies, everything he did was so unique in design. The building holds the offices of a centre dedicated to Gaudi and apartments.
Palau de la Musica Catalana
It is a concert hall designed by architect Lluis Domenech Montaner and built between 1905 and 1908, a miracle really when one sees the building. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The guide who led us through the building said that there are over 300 concerts per year. The concert hall was designed so that natural light comes through the numerous stained glass windows on the sides, and in the ceiling is a magnificent stained glass skylight that allows sunlight to permeate the entire hall. One feels joyful and uplifted with the tremendous light coming in in all directions.
Another highlight of the building is the front balcony with its stained glass windows and rows of brightly coloured mosaic pillars.
Parc de la Ciutadella
Built in the 1860s, this park is a place of calm against the hustle and bustle of urban Barcelona. Highlights of the park include a man-made lake where you can rent a row boat, and an intriguing Baroque-style cascading fountain with cherubs, winged lions and nymph-like statues throughout.
Walking through this park, I felt that I had time-travelled back to the 1960s and the hippie days. Many individuals strumming guitars and other instruments, and some people juggling or walking a tight rope. Oh, the good old days.
Other sites I experienced:La Rambla is a one-kilometre pedestrian walk-way starting near the port at the statue of Christopher Columbus. It’s lined with restaurants, souvenir shops, flower shops, caricaturists and buskers.
I also visited Barcelona’s Gothic Cathedral and a highlight for me was Picasso Museum which traces Picasso’s life as an artist. It boasts the most extensive collection of his earlier work, some painted at the early age of 10. It was fascinating to learn the stages of his life’s work as an artist, what influenced him and how this impacted on his work.
I’m planning to visit Parc Guell tomorrow, another example of Gaudi’s influential and whimsical work. Tomorrow in the evening I meet up with my group tour with G Adventures. And tomorrow at 9:30 pm I have the great honour of attending a flamenco performance in Palau de la Musica Catalana.