Friday, October 11th, 2013
We arrived at the Barcelona ferry terminal at 7:45 p.m. We walked to La Placa Reial and found Kabul Hostel. It was packed and crazy, but somehow we lucked out with our own room. By 9 p.m. we headed out down La Rambla and ended up trying to familiarize ourselves with this fiery city by dark.
We ended up calling it quits early and deciding we would tackle the cosmopolitan city in the a.m.
Saturday, October 12th, 2013
Feeling ambitious after a hostel-good snooze, we arrived at Placa de l’Angel to meet the SANDEMANs NEW Europe walking tour at 11 a.m.
Our guide, Sybille, was from Ireland, and despite that still being a sensitive subject for us, she was a doll and provided an excellent first introduction and impression of the city. If you ever head to Barcelona, even if your hostel or accommodation offers free walking tours, I would highly recommend this company to get you off on the right foot!
Within a few short hours, we were properly oriented to the sparkling city.
We started our tour off with a little history lesson inside Placa Rei, the former courtyard of the Palau Reial Major. We walked around the courtyard while looking up at the palace that was once home to the Counts of Barcelona and the Monarchs of Aragon. Oh, and not to forget everyones’ favorite, the executioner.
Afterward we headed to the cathedral.
The Barcelona Cathedral is quite spectacular.
We then went outside and saw the Fossar de les Moreres, the eternal flame that honors the defenders of Barcelona that died during the final battle of the War of Spanish Succession in 1714.
It burns constantly and Catalonian nationalist gather at this square on September 11th to celebrate the heroic defeat.
Sybille then took us to her favorite square, Placa de Sant Felip Neri, and quickly we discovered why. It was quiet, all closed in, and for being smack in the middle of a bustling city, you felt like you could hear yourself think.
We then made a loop back to the Palas de la Generalitat and Placa de Sant Jaume.
Sybille sprinkled in some fun facts and things to point out, such as this painting of Ramon Casas and Pere Romeu on a tandem bicycle. The real painting is inside Els Quatre Gats, a bar in the middle of the Modernisme movement in Barcelona.
The tour ended by 2 p.m. and we headed back to the hostel to grab some quickly evaporating cash. We then decided to power through and go full-tourist for the day so ended up sprinting back to Placa de l’Angel to catch the 2:30 SANDEMANS NEW Europe Modernista tour.
Our guide, Leon warned us that because it was ‘Spanish Day’ there were some riots gearing up and our tour might be forced into some necessary detours.
We started our tour at the Palau de la Musica Catalana.
The concert hall has a beautiful mosaic facade, and Leon gave us a much needed introduction to ‘Modern-isthme’. He clarified that Modernisme is a short period spanning from 1880-1910 and name dropped those we needed to know – Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), Lluis Domenech i Montaner (1850-1923) and Josep Puig i Cadafach (1867-1957).
The concert hall we were standing in front of during our history lesson was built between 1905 and 1908 by Lluis Domenech i Montaner. Domenech recruited some of the best Catalan artisans of the time to create this Catalan temple. Leon explained how magnificant the archways were, as they held up an impressive amount of weight with a broad frame.
This was due to the way the tiles were layered. Leon also pointed out the use of flowers, symbolizing rebirth.
He directed our attention to the bold combinations of materials, such as glass, ceramics, brick, stainless steel, iron and tile. Leon laughed as he explained that because of the creative application of all of these materials, the concert hall had horrific sound quality. The choir actually was a full 30 seconds behind the orchestra for years until extortionate money was invested in rectifying the problem.
Today the concert hall is still used, and the lights that reflect through the stained glass apparently produce something similar to the Northern Lights as the sun sets, and thanks to the still poor-quality sound quality, you can hear an entire concert while occupying a free spot on the nearby sidewalk.
From the concert hall we headed up towards the most expensive street in Spain, Passeig de Gracia. Of course someone asked about the Ohla Hotel with eyeballs dancing on the exterior.
Leon grew a bit taller and went on to explain how there is no historical significance to this ugly hotel, and he actually doesn’t even know who the mastermind behind the eyesore.
We also stopped in the streets to look at the ceramic tiles on the walls. Each small tile has the address number and also a picture of the trade or the business that was done inside.
We stopped at Placa de Catalunya while Leon told us to look down as we walked up Passeig de Gracia. The hexagonal tiles that were carefully laid beneath the thousands of feet stomping atop them daily were actually designed by Gaudi.
He explained that Gaudi applied the Golden Ratio to achieve his appealing design. The golden ratio has been studied and is popular for creating asthetically appealing and captivating lines when applied to architecture. Gaudi applied it to his design, and actually twisted this equation to literally make the spiral you see in the tiles.
The King of Madrid was expected to visit the renovated Barcelona for the World Fair and they were to prepare this street for his arrival. Gaudi was asked to design the road, and oh boy did he ever. With his typical creative, artistic, and overly ambitious mentality, he created an intricately detailed hexagonal stone that would be handmade and matched to create floral and spiral patterns.
We walked along the street, paying attention to and finding replacement stones that were in the wrong spot. Leon was also fired up about the ‘cheating bastards’ section of the road, where much larger mold and machine created stones were placed in the road to speed up the tedious process.
We carried on to the Block of Discord, featuring four of the most famous modernist buildings:
Casa Lleo Morera by Domenech
Casa Amatller (the chocaltier) by Puig i Cadafalch:
Casa Batllo by Gaudi:
I absolutely loved Casa Batllo more than any other Gaudi piece and I would’ve sat there all day if Leon had let me.
Instead we were prompted to carry on toward our next destination, Casa Mila (La Pedrera):
With a little background on Modernisme, Leon felt we were finally ready to see the grande finale, La Sagrada Familia.
We arrived and admired the Nativity Facade, worthy of our attention first as most of it was done under Gaudi’s supervision.
Gaudi wanted to complement nature, not upstage it. He embraced nature in all of his works, as we learned throughout our tour that day. We craned our necks to see up at the four towers, the tallest Torre del Salvador (Tower of the Savior) falling just one meter short of Montjuic Mountain.
We headed around to the Passion Facade, now a work in progress by Josep Subirach. Clearly a man trying so hard not to imitate Gaudi that it seems to be the complete opposite. This malnourished side features straight, sterile lines, polar oppositve from the opposing playful Guadi side.
We were bubbling with excitment as we geared up to head inside. Everything went anti-climatic and downhill quickly as everyone from our group headed inside and James and I plus three other people were left at the entrance being told that there was a miscount and they were two tickets short. Well, you can do the math to figure out who got to go in. James and I walked away, determined to return before saying goodbye to Barcelona.
We ended up heading toward Barceloneta and found a spot on the beach to watch the evening arrive.
By the time the sun was setting were realized we were hungry and were overdue for a real meal, so we ran back to the hostel to get ready for an evening of fun and food. We ended up walking outside of the hostel door into Placa Reial and found a place right on the square perfect for people watching. We shared a liter of wine and the best paella I’ve ever had (okay, I’ve only had it once, but still, I can’t imagine it can ever be better than this dish). We ended up having a brilliant time and stayed until they kicked us out at 2 a.m.
Sunday, October 13th, 2013
On Sunday morning we headed to the cathedral to take a peek at the interior and then relax on the stairs and admire the traditional dancing, which started at noon.
We went into the Gothic cloister which we missed out on the day before and then walked through some of our favorite streets in Barcelona.
We then decided by around 2 p.m. that we would go to the Olympic Park. We walked past the magic fountain, which wasn’t so magical since it was littered with rioting Spaniards.
We admired the National Palace for several minutes. We minded our own business and carried on toward the park, and walked into the main stadium, imagined the 1992 games and then carried on to checkout the other Olympic buildings.
We spent a few hours at the park and then rode the monorail thing down the hill and ended up taking the underground back to Passeig de Gracia.
By 3 p.m. we were hungry, so we decided to go to La Vaca Paca. It was a full buffet. James and I piled up our plates
After lunch I finally got my opportunity to sit in front of Casa Batllo, and did so for a good couple of hours.
Finally James convinced me it was time to get a move on, so we headed back to the hostel for a quick change before making plans for the evening. We originally planned on seeing the LED building Torre Agbar, but the receptionist talked me right out of it.
Instead we ended up hanging in the common room enjoying the tunes and happy hour before we decided to head out on a walk to Barceloneta. The hostel was going to club Opium on the beach that evening, and we planned on getting some tapas on the way there.
We bulldozed that plan after realizing it was a bit of a walk and instead headed straight to Opium. Why the heck American cities can’t have non-clostrophic crypt clubs I have no idea. Get a clue, get some windows and some room and let’s replicate this so I can one day return home and have this much fun. It was around 4 a.m. when James was begging to snooze, so despite it being peak fun-hour at the club, we took the second cab on our nine month trip and headed back to the hostel.
Monday October 14th, 2013
It was a rough morning but we were up and packed and out the door by 10 a.m. heading to La Sagrada Famila.
After a fantastic self-guided tour of Gaudi’s most famous work, we took the 30 minute bus to the airport and tried a new airline, Air Vueling at 5 p.m. The flight was just an hour and a half before we arrived at our next stop, Granada.