Barcelona (July 2015)

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).

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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!

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Santa Maria del Mar, a Gothic church built in the 1300s. It was very weird to be in a Gothic church that was hot given our UK experience!
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outside the antique market (I think)
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big wooly mammoth in the park
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Cascada Monumental
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Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf, built for the 1888 World’s Fair
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a sample of the mass of humanity on La Rambla
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the crazily (over)crowded market La Boqueria. We walked in and walked out. Too crowded. The market closer to our apartment (Santa Caterina) was more to our liking.

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.

DSCN2717At 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.

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Pretty example (and also the oldest?) of sgraffito (layers of plaster) in the old city.
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Shrine to the co-patron saint of Barcelona, Santa Eulalia a 13-year-old Roman Christian virgin who suffered martyrdom in Barcelona during the persecution of Christians in the reign of emperor Diocletian
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Barcelona version of the Bridge of Sighs
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courtyard inside the Barcelona Cathedral
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towers that date back to Roman times (at least the foundations do)
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back to the Cathedral
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an opportunity to sit down during the walking tour
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Placa del Rei (I think)

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.

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example layout of the ruins
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mosaic
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part of the fishery (?), or winery
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fishery
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I’m a little fuzzy on the details of this. It was part of the museum and reminded us of the Christopher Columbus museum we saw on Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.

DSCN2764Here’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.  🙂

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We capped the day off with a nice tapas meal at el Tapeo which turned out to be our favorite. Shout out to our kids who ate (and enjoyed) squid, cuttlefish, octopus, oxtail, rabbit ribs and other adventuresome items. Must be the parenting. 🙂
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yes, I exist — is the lady in the corner trying to escape the photo?

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.

The afternoon was Catalunya National Art Museum (MNAC) which also has nice views of the Magic Fountain and the city.

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Castle entrance. The castle’s current form was largely built in the late 1700s.
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a hazy view of La Sagrada Familia (a Thursday destination)
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inside the castle looking out to the city
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the harbor
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the entrance from the inside
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another hazy city view

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).

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the stadium has obviously seen better days 🙂
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dirt shaving, as far as I could tell
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funky artwork near the stadium — I’m sure some bright spark can tell me what it is
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view from behind of the Art Museum (MNAC) — about where we had our picnic lunch
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daytime view of the Magic Fountain from the art museum
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interesting mosaics that had been painstakingly transferred inside the art museum
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a good stoning (no Monty Python women in beards though)
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another impressive mosaic
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Alex in particular like this one with the guy on the left saying “he did it”
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religious persecution examples
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intriguing though I don’t remember the back story
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our friend Mucha from Prague (and one of Nicole’s art projects)
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taking a blow (and waiting for Kuk)
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more modern examples from the Spanish Civil War era
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another view of the fountains and city
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looking back to the museum

Day 4 (Thursday) — Gaudí Walking Tour, La Sagrada Familia

We returned for another RunnerBean tour to cover the various Gaudí sites (at least on the outside).  It ended at la Sagrada Familia so I pre-purchased our tickets to enter after the tour (and lunch).

The tour took us by Gaudí sites Palau Güell, Casa Batlló, Casa Milà and La Sagrada Familia.

Prior to the walking tour, we brought enough clothing to get into the Barcelona Cathedral.

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inside view of the Cathedral
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the ladies all covered up
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The cathedral has a secluded Gothic cloister where 13 white geese are kept, the number explained by the assertion that Eulalia was 13 when she was martyred. I just might be getting the stink eye from this one (AFLAC!).
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before the tour, which started at the early hour of . . . 11
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rooftop of Palau Güell
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exterior of Casa Batlló
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another of Casa Batlló
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Casa Milà (La Pedrera)
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La Sagrada Familia
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closer view of the exterior artwork
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baby killing/sacrifice
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Mary & Joseph
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inside ceiling
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columns and colors
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more colors
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a view of Montjuic from the tower in Sagrada Familia
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partial view of rooftop
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outside again

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.

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reasonably early morning view of the city from Parc Güell
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an early rest in the park
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a view of the Gaudí building within the park
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3/4 family shot
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there I am again — rocking my floppy tourist hat
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kids in front of the famous mosaic salamander (“dragon”)
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salamander side shot
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columns supporting the terrace (from where the earlier photos were taken)
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nice frontal view taken from one of the Gaudí buildings
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Kuk checking out the same view as the photo above
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on to Casa Milà’s courtyard
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Casa Milà rooftop — very unique
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another rooftop shot
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and another
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another hazy view of La Sagrada Familia
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Darth Vader heads
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my favorite guys on the roof — notice the little girl “hiding” in the shade in the corner
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really cool exhibits in the attic — this one showed how Gaudí used chains and gravity to visualize (inverted) the correct arch dimensions
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On to Casa Batlló which was crazy crowded. Could have skipped this one.

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Casa Batlló rooftop
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Casa Batlló outside closeup

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.

I had read about the tasting menu and that’s what we ordered.  The service and food were both outstanding (my review); it was a worthy splurge.

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birthday girl
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bacon lemon pie; porcini royal with horse mackerel; eggplant with smoked cheese and truffle; “rossejat” noodles with squid and galanga; fish of the day (hake) with lemon verbena, mustard and flowers; pigeon with roasted onions and rocket; cheese plate; watermelon, chili and taragon; apricots with hazelnuts, lemongrass and ginger

On Saturday, we headed to the coast and to meet up with Connells.  I’ll cover that in a separate post.

Summary

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.

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