We made our first return trip to Europe since moving back to the US. The primary objective was to visit our British friends, the Connells, while also visiting some place we have yet to see. We spent 5 nights in Barcelona by ourselves and then joined the Connells for a week in the Costa Brava area (covered in a separate post).
Barcelona (and Costa Brava) are in the Catalunya region of Spain in the northeast part of the country not far from the French border. Previous trips to Spain were to Madrid, Gran Canaria and Andalusia (Sevilla/Granada/Malaga).
Day 1 (Monday) — walking off jet lag
After our overnight flight and jet-lagged state, the plan for the first day was to check in to our apartment and wander around to get our bearings (and hopefully stay awake). No major activities planned.
Our apartment was in the El Born neighborhood so we started there. We visited our neighborhood church (Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar) then the Citadel Park, Arc de Triomf and a walk down La Rambla. We were suitably worn out!
Day 2 (Tuesday)–Old City Walking Tour, City Museum
We love walking tours. Tuesday’s activities centered around an “Old City” (Gothic Quarter) tour from Runner Bean. We attempted to visit the Barcelona Cathedral beforehand and we took in the City Museum afterwards.
At least we got to see the outside of the Cathedral. Apparently the ladies in the family dared to not cover their thighs so we were not allowed to go in (we would later in the week). In addition, our tour guide had some coverups so we were able to go into the courtyard as part of the walking tour.
After the tour, we went to MUHBA, the Barcelona city museum. The best part of the museum was extensive Roman ruins that lay underneath. It reminded me of a similar exhibit in Sevilla.
Here’s something unique: the caganer, [from wiki] a figurine depicted in the act of defecation appearing in nativity scenes in Catalonia and neighboring areas with Catalan culture. The name “El Caganer” literally means “the crapper” or “the shitter”. Traditionally, the figurine is depicted as a peasant, wearing the traditional Catalan red cap (the “barretina”) and with his trousers down, showing a bare backside, and defecating. Apparently, it is quite an honor to have your own Caganer. I couldn’t resist, despite the fact that it is obviously touristy. We brought home Messi.
That’s not the only fecal Christmas tradition either. There’s also caga Tió (poo log) that craps out presents when beaten around Christmas. Learn something new on all these trips. 🙂
Day 3 (Wednesday) — Montjuic Castle & Catalan Art Museum
On Wednesday we ventured over to the southwest part of the city to Montjuic. It was our first experience with Barcelona’s public transportation. We used the Metro, a funicular, and an overpriced cable car to get to the top of the hill. We used a bus to get to the museum to save a little walking and then took the metro back.
The castle allows for nice views of the harbor and city though it was a little hot and hazy on our trip. From Wiki: In the last 350 years Montjuïc Castle has played a decisive role in the history of Barcelona becoming a symbol of submission after the Catalan defeat to Spain in 1714. Since then the Montjuïc canons have bombarded the city and its citizens on various occasions and Montjuïc has been used as a prison and torture centre repeatedly for three centuries.
The castle is infamous in Catalan history books because of its role in the civil war from 1936 to 39 when both sides of the conflict imprisoned, tortured and shot political prisoners at Montjuïc, among them Lluís Companys, who was the former president of the Generalitat de Catalunya at the beginning of Spain’s civil war. Companys was executed by the dictator Franco’s regime at Montjuïc castle in 1940.
Prior to entering the art museum, we took the bus down the hill and stopped off at the Olympic Stadium, site of the 1992 Olympics. The stadium was originally built in 1927 for the 1929 International Exposition and received a significant face lift for the Olympics. Recall that the Olympic cauldron was lit via an arrow (YouTube).
Day 4 (Thursday) — Gaudí Walking Tour, La Sagrada Familia
Prior to the walking tour, we brought enough clothing to get into the Barcelona Cathedral.
Day 5 (Friday) — Gaudí on our own (Parc Güell, Casa Milà, Casa Batlló) and a special birthday
Our last day for sightseeing in Barcelona . . . having had the overview tour the day before, we decided to peruse more of the Gaudí sites at our own pace while getting a look on the inside as well. We started at Parc Güell and then worked our way back “down” to Casa Milà and Casa Batlló.
Proud to say we took a Metro/Bus combo to get dropped off at the park’s side entrance rather than having to walk up hill from the metro. We used the Metro for the rest of the journeys to save ours legs.
Parc Güell was a failed high-end housing community that is now a public park. It was designed by Gaudí.
We enjoyed trying the various tapas restaurants in our El Born neighborhood. We certainly ran out of days before we ran out of options. However, someone had a milestone birthday while we were in Barcelona so I thought we would celebrate. We left the kids at the apartment with some pasta and snacks while we headed to an eclectic and fancy restaurant: Hisop.
Hisop is in the Eixample district and not exactly close to the apartment. I probably could have found something closer but this was recommended and sounded like an experience we wanted to try. (It might have a Michelin star or at least be in the running for one.) I had assumed we take a taxi there and back but we had 4 metro tickets left and I was up to the challenge. We took a taxi/bus combo there and our first night bus on the way back.
On Saturday, we headed to the coast and to meet up with Connells. I’ll cover that in a separate post.
I’m not sure what my expectations were for Barcelona. We aren’t particularly architecture buffs and thought we might be “done” with big city visits since we have gravitated to the more rural and outdoor trips. However, I must say we had a good time and we all enjoyed ourselves. The apartment worked out well and we enjoyed the food we experienced. The pace of the sight-seeing was about right too (we left plenty on the table but got to see the main things we wanted to). I’ll doubt we’ll come back but we enjoyed our time in Barcelona — glad we got the opportunity.