Monday, 13 July 2015

Spain (Catalonia) – The beauty of Barcelona

July 10-11

Hello everyone!

Bon dia from the Catalan lands once more! Whilst we’ve enjoyed the laidback vibes and siestas of village life in this autonomous province of northeastern Spain, there’s one place in Catalonia which is bursting with energy and vibrancy: Barcelona.

It would be a struggle to name something desirable that isn’t available in the de facto capital of Catalonia. Snow, perhaps, if that’s your thing, for the weather is generally glorious all year round. Maybe independence, though I wouldn’t run down La Rambla screaming that too loud.

The fountain in Park de la Ciutadella

Rancios - a slightly bigger version of tapas - including patatas bravas and succulent calamari

Barcelona has so much to offer. It thus doesn’t matter to me in the slightest that I’ve been here before, a mere six-and-a-half years ago. Let me tell you, it is a markedly different experience walking down Barcelona’s most famous road on a drizzly January morning (I did say generally glorious weather) compared with a sunny July afternoon. The amount of people, for one, changes enormously.

My friend Dean and I atop one of Gaudi's strange buildings during a 2009 trip to Barcelona

You can see from the line for the tourist bus just how busy Barcelona was this time

La Rambla is the main strip, beautifully protected from the beating sun by arching trees which can at times resemble a natural tunnel. Quite why so many people see this as the must-see aspect of Barcelona is beyond me. It is essentially a road, not one with a particularly stunning building or monument at any point, packed with sardines mulling about from tacky shop to tacky shop, all the while constantly checking their pockets in fear of the phone they just took pictures with being nabbed.

A snapshot of life on La Rambla

Looking west up La Rambla

I think it’s what’s around the main drag which is more impressive. Take La Boqueria: the food market. A hive of activity whose essence, though some parts are clearly aimed at tourists (donut ice-cream?), may not have changed for centuries. The floor of the fish section is wet from workers dragging their load of prawns and swordfish to the stands. Colours and smells enliven the senses. Not to mention the fantastic fruit on offer.

I can see why they sell it - 1% of me was tempted to buy it just to see how strange it tastes...

Some of the offerings from the sea

Cherries from La Boqueria, which were bursting with flavour

La Boqueria is on the western side of La Rambla. To the east is Barri Gotic: the Gothic quarter. Here streets wind and narrow into single file lanes, a marked change from the American-style layout of the rest of the city. The district oozes history. From George Orwell Plaza (he lived here for a short time) to the Generaliat, from which independence was proclaimed in 1931, the Barri Gotic has many stories to tell.

La Generaliat: Catalonia's parliamentary building

Al fresco artwork in Barri Gotic

Considering its sheer size, it is surprisingly difficult to spot the quarter’s main monument, La Seu, from a distance. Easier to find is the Plaça Reial, a light and lovely spot just a stone’s throw away from La Rambla. I found it incredible how serene the square was considering its proximity to such a loud and boisterous street.

A rear view of La Seu

The charming Placa Reial

Some aspects of Plaça Reial were designed by a man called Antoni Gaudi, an architect and sculptor who has left an indelible mark on his city. Eclectic Gaudi constructions are visible throughout Barcelona, from the Willy-Wonka styled Casa Batllo to the twisted columns and asymmetrical mosaics housed in Parc Guell.

The evocative and imaginative Casa Batllo

A spire in Parc Guell

His crowning achievement, however, is Barcelona’s iconic landmark: La Sagrada Familia. Also known as the still-unfinished Sagrada Familia.

La Sagrada Familia

Construction started in 1882 so that’s a whopping 133 years and counting. I guess as St Vitus Cathedral in Prague took over 500 years to fully decorate they have time on their side. It’s taken this long for a variety of reasons, ranging from the Spanish Civil War to rich locals stopping bankrolling the crazy design that looks like a Tim Burton version of the Magic Kingdom. What I will say is that construction has visibly progressed since my last visit in 2009.

On my previous visit there was no white lettering on the front of the church

An example of some of the detail visible on the rear side of the church

There is every reason for them to take their time. It is an amazingly intricate design, something that Hogwarts would be proud to call its own. The signature Gothic flicks are visible on all of the basilica’s eight current spires, the height of which supposedly will be just lower than the nearby Montjuic mountain due to Gaudi’s preference for natural wonders to elevate higher than man-made structures. Other finials are topped with fruit to symbolise abundance and fertility.

If you were to climb one of the spires you certainly would have earned your fruit!

The Sagrada Familia is currently planned to be completed in 2026: the centenary of Gaudi’s death. There is a strange beauty, however, in being able to witness is being constructed. Think of a time when you've walked past a street artist and you stop to watch him at work for a little while, silent in awe of their talent. This is similar…just with cranes.

So big it's impossible to squeeze into a jumping picture

We were only in Barcelona for 36 hours but I feel there is so much to write about this buzzing city (siestas do happen, as we found when searching for food to buy before our flight). It is fiercely proud to be Catalan yet also has a truly international vibe matched by few cities in Europe. It has something for everyone – even snow lovers can come here for a bit before skiing in nearby Andorra! I’ve once again thoroughly enjoyed my time in Barcelona and will definitely return for longer in the future.

Love you all


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