Enjoying Barcelona’s Beaches and Medieval City

Barcelona is much more than just Gaudi’s work.  We enjoyed it’s beautiful weather, it’s beaches, it’s markets, and it’s Ciutat Vella (Old City).  We spent most of Friday and Saturday in the old city and walking along the beach.  While November wasn’t quite sunbathing weather, it was still nice enough to walk along the boardwalk in short sleeves, eat tapas outside at one of the restaurants, and sit on the bench enjoying the view of the Mediterranean Sea.  Other than the beach, a Christopher Columbus statue that is pointing the wrong way and lots of boats, there isn’t too much to see or do along the waterfront, but it’s a great place to relax and enjoy the sublime weather.

The Boardwalk, Boats, and Food

The medieval part of the city is between the waterfront and where our hotel was.  We stayed in the new part of the city which is officially outside what use to be the ‘old city’s’ wall.  The new part of the city is incredibly clean, beautiful and modern.  It has every thing you could possibly need.  At times I almost forgot we were still in Spain.  It’s very westernized with lots of high end shops and restaurants and nearly everyone seems to know English (and French, and Catalan, and Spanish).  The ‘old city’ however is unique – you know you’re somewhere special.  It almost feels like you’ve been transported back in time.  Most of the old city dates back to the middle ages and there are even some Roman ruins dating back 2,000 years.  Like Toledo, there are lots of narrow, cobblestone streets which are for pedestrians only – making it fun to wander around.  Most of it is very well preserved, clean and safe.  Inside all these beautiful old buildings are museums and churches as well as lots of cute shops and restaurants hiding in there too.

Restaurants, Markets and Art in Barcelona’s Medieval City

Among this maze of streets and alleyways we found the amazing Cathedral first, and then we saw three other old churches: Santa Maria del Mar (which use to be on the ocean and over time has become landlocked), Santa Maria de Pi (which was surrounded by art booths), and the cute little country church, Sant Pau de Campo.  I really liked Sant Pau de Campo. It’s really tiny and it’s the oldest one in Barcelona at almost 1,000 years old.  It use to be out in the sticks, now it’s in the middle of the city.  When we were there, there were some musicians practicing inside and the acoustics were amazing.  Barcelona’s old section also has it share of quaint plazas, hidden courtyards, parks, musicians, art,  festivals and fresh food markets too.  Despite spending the better part of two days down in that area, we didn’t come close to seeing everything.  We’ll have to come back to Barcelona for sure.  Just like Madrid, there is so much to see and do around there, it would take a long time to complete that list.

Narrow Streets, Stained Glass Windows and Musicians

Visiting the Old Churches of Barcelona

To see more pictures of Barcelona, click on the picture below:

So much yummy cheese! 🙂

 

 

 

Barcelona: La Sagrada Familia

Looks a bit gaudy (I mean Gaudi)

Exterior of the Church

One of the most memorable sites we saw in Barcelona was La Sagrada Familia (The Sacred Family). It is actually the most visited attraction in Barcelona – so make sure you make reservations ahead of time if you want to see the inside.

It’s hard to get a really good picture of it because it is so large.  Also, the exterior of the church is still undergoing construction and there are cranes around it. They actually began building the church 130 years ago and they don’t expect to finish it until at least 2026.  All entry fees are going toward it’s completion.

The design is very unique – a mix of Gothic and Modernism – almost like two different buildings in one.  It’s been called everything from “hideous” and “strange” to “spiritual”, “sensual” and “exuberant”.   It is definitely “over-the-top” and completely different than any building or church I have ever seen before.

There is a great explanation of Antoni Gaudi’s designs and inspirations inside the church.  I appreciated it because I like how Gaudi’s architectural inspiration came from nature.  He did not use straight lines…since there are no straight lines in nature.  All the designs in his buildings are based on nature itself (animals, plants, and minerals).  Robert appreciated it for all the mathematics involved (parabolas, hyperbolas, ellipses, polygons, etc).

The most recent construction work is very modern looking and (I think) deviates from the portion that was constructed during Gaudi’s lifetime.  However, Gaudi’s plans were such that he wanted it to evolve over time.  The main entrance to the church is through massive metal doors – completely covered with words and symbols.  The inside of the church is very light, open and spacious.  There are some simplistic drawings on the floors but the ceiling is incredibly detailed and beautiful…it was like looking into a kaleidoscope.  The main pillars are the size of giant sequoias soaring up and branching out into the ceiling.  The four center pillars have the names of the four evangelists on them.  The sides are full of stained glass windows and there are spiraling staircases going up each tower.  Above the alter is a crucified Christ suspended by a stained glass parachute.  Below the alter is a small chapel and a crypt where Gaudi is buried.

Inside La Sagrada Famila

The outside currently has 3 sides and 8 towers.  Only two sides are done.  When it’s finished there will be 18 towers (one for each apostle, each evangelist, Mary and Jesus), eventually making it the tallest church in the world.   The first side (the Nativity) was constructed when Gaudi was alive.  It is incredibly detailed.  It depicts events related to life.  There are religious scenes from Christ’s life (his birth, Mary, Joseph, angels, rosaries), but there also lots of other symbols of life in general (trees, flowers, leaves, vines, branches, coral, birds, turtles, chameleons, horses, etc).

Detail of the Nativity Side

The second side (the Passion) was started in the 1950’s and it depicts images related to death (the stations of the cross, skulls, bones, etc) and more symbolism (alpha and omega, magic squares).  This side is very modern looking (not anywhere near as detailed) and very different than the first side.

Detail of the Passion Side

The last side (Glory) is just a solid block right now.  It will eventually depict images of the resurrection and afterlife.  Under the church is also a large museum containing not only the designs and complete history of the church but also a workshop where people are actually creating pieces for the exterior.  It’s all really interesting and fascinating…a true work in progress.

La Sagrada Familia is one of those few places that you will think about long after you’ve left.  There is so much to look at and absorb…no matter how long you are there, you won’t see it all.  Even now I look at our pictures and I see things I didn’t see before.  It is an amazing place.

 

Thanksgiving in Barcelona: Gaudi and Goodies

View from our Apartment – Casa Mila in the center

Since we couldn’t easily go home for Thanksgiving break, we decided to go to Barcelona instead.  We heard the food there was fabulous plus we would have a 4-day weekend to explore the city.  We left Wednesday night and instead of driving (which would have taken us 6-7 hours), we took the high speed train (at 180 mph) and we were there in 2.5 hours.  The train station is also conveniently located in the center of the city, so we were even checked into our apartment by 10pm.

We booked a place on the main shopping street in Barcelona….Passeig de Gracia.  The hotel surprised us with an upgrade to a 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment (it was really nice but way more room than we needed).  They also gave us a box of chocolates and free internet service – all for the same price as a little hotel room. 🙂  The location was perfect, the view was great and the weather was perfect.  The second night we were there the city turned on the Christmas lights so the streets were all beautifully lit up.

Casa Botilo

Thanksgiving morning we out to have our coffee & pastry and decided to spend the day seeing Antoni Gaudi’s work.   Gaudi’s architectural work is so different and wild….seven of his properties are recognized by UNESCO as outstanding examples of early 20th century architecture.  Each of his works is more like a piece of art than it is a practical building.  He designed everything from lamposts, to buildings, to churches, to parks.  We actually spent all day looking at his creations.  It was like walking in fantasy land.  We first saw Casa Mila and Casa Botilo, then we went to see his masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia.  The church was amazing and we spent three hours there.  You can see and read all about it in our next post.

After our church visit, we headed to Park Guell….which is a park designed by Gaudi.  It’s not easy to get to, but it is on top of hill so it has a great view of the city.  It was an incredibly beautiful day and it was great to be spending it outside.  Visiting the park was so much fun and also very relaxing.  We sat on the park benches soaking up the sun, looking out to the sea and listened to several musicians and bands playing.

The design of the park is so whimsical and colorful!  I felt like I was in the Hansel & Gretel fairy tale.  The entrance even has what looks like two gingerbread houses.  The walls surrounding it undulate, the park benches are either circular or wrap around like serpents, there are cute little mosaic creatures and beautiful tiles throughout.  Curvy trails are all over the hill, going thru little tunnels and leading to all sorts of different places – including the house Gaudi lived in (which is now a museum).  I could have easily spent the rest of the day here but it was getting late and we still hadn’t had lunch.  We headed out and immediately found a great little cafe near the park and ended up having a majorly delicious little Mediterranean pizza and a mouth watering Iberian ham sandwich.

Park Guell in Barcelona

It was already early evening when we took the subway all the way down to the waterfront and walked up the infamous mile long street (La Rambla).  We stopped there to buy some evilly good chocolates at Le Boqueria (a huge farmer’s market) and then picked up some wine, cheese & bread to snack on before going to our Spanish dinner at 9:30pm.

Our restaurant was only a few blocks away from our apartment so we walked there.  It was a small restaurant with only 10 tables but it is very popular.  I had to make reservations several weeks in advance.  The dinner (which consisted of multiple courses) was fantastic.  Every dish they served was simply amazing and so different…so many colors and flavors.  Some of the things we had included bread, stuffed olives, spicy nuts, a tricolored caramel shot, foie gras on pastry crust with caramelized leeks, scallops, roasted suckling pig, a celery-lime sorbet, a cheese plate, banana mouse with ice cream and caramel sauce and finally several chocolate samples. Robert ordered the local wine pairings.  It was great to be able to taste so many different local Spanish wines with each dish.  This was by far the best place we ate in Barcelona and so far the best in Spain.  Just thinking about it makes me want to go back.  We sure hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving – there is so much to be thankful for!

Thanksgiving dinner