Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona Through New, Yet Older Eyes

“It’s…like…in your face amazing. Wow!”: My mom’s first words when we got out of the metro station at Passeig de Gracia.  I had just pointed out Casa Batllo was directly across the street and it blew her away.  She said she imagined Gaudi’s architecture to be tucked away, maybe more like a garden or museum space, but not lining the streets alongside regular buildings.  It was even better when I could point out that Casa Mila was also just up the street on the way to our Airbnb.  Off to a good start in Barcelona!

Our host suggested eating at a spot on Placa de Rius, the neighborhood plaza.  Cadaques had a tasty tortilla, and it was also a good time to introduce my mom to pan con tomate which we ordered at about every meal.

It began to pour as we navigated our way to La Sagrada Familia so we caught a cab to ease the journey.  La Sagrada Familia is the belle of the ball in Barcelona.  My mom’s face was priceless, numerous times over.  We both loved how much Gaudi paid hommage to the natural world by incorporating organic structures into his designs.  The columns built like tree trunks, the window panes like bee hive hexagons, and the stone arches like the rib cage of a while.

With the sun now shining, the next step was Park Guell.  My mom conquered the steps up to the look out above most of the park.  We just missed the last entry ticket into the Gaudi pavilion, but enjoyed the structures free to the public.

On our walk back to the flat, we found Brotzeit, a local bakery with a delicious seeded bread.  We made a make-shift dinner with our loaf of bread, tomatoes, and lunch leftovers before our evening show at the Palau de la Musica.  The show featured Barcelona Guitar Trio & Dance paying tribute to Paco de Lucía.  Two flamenco dancers were both stunning and the guitarists told the narrative between dances with both humor and historical reference. We finished the night with churros, one filled with caramel and the other coated in dark chocolate.

On Sunday, our first stop was Fundacio Joan Miro.  We found Jardins del Teatre Grec on our uphill walk to the Miro museum.  The name is pretty literal and it was a lovely pitstop at the based on the museum’s hill.

I knew that Miro played with simplistic shapes and vibrant colors, but I didn’t know he studied haiku and wanted his paintings to convey few brushstrokes the way haiku poetry has few words.  I also enjoyed the various galleries that featured his sculpture and his tapestry work.  We finished our morning visit with a coffee and cake in the museum cafe.  Though I’m not a coffee drinker, Jamie Lynn and I remembered that Spanish coffee is super tasty and that it doesn’t make us jittery.

We rode the funicular down through Montjic into Poble Sec.  Next stop: subway to the Picasso Museum.  However, the line was around the block at the museum so we opted for lunch instead at Bodega la Puntual in El Born.  The atomic bombas had just enough heat and of course, we had to try to the Joselito tortilla with potato and chorizo- just like Jose’s signature dish.  After lunch, I attempted to recreate a Sandeman walking tour through El Born and Barri Gotic, but I lost the thread around Picasso’s mural.

But anything can be solved with churros con xocolat at Be.

We walked to Casa Mila ready for more Gaudi.  Casa Mila aka La Pedrera (the stone) has two names because when the building broke ground there were large stones and rocks blocking many of the main roads.  This building was Gaudi’s final project before dedicating the rest of his life to La Sagrada Familia.  You tour the flats from the top down.  The roof includes soldier-like steeples, and sweeping city views.  Then you visit the attic which doubles as a mini-museum, chronicling Gaudi’s inspirations, methods, and most well-known structures throughout Barcelona.  This bit was great for my mom because she could see video and scale models of Casa Batllo as well as some other lesser- known buildings.  The living quarters were anti-climatic for me other than the door and cupboard handles.  Gaudi created these as ergonomically as possible by squeezing a piece of clay in his hands to cast grip-able structures for all of the door handles.



Dinner was at a family-friendly paella spot.  Though I was tasked with eating the paella because it ended up having clams even though we asked before ordering (my mom is allergic).  She opted for the fish of the day, and the shining star of the meal was the tatine- a baked apple tart that I will ask Sam about.

We tidied the Airbnb and just before getting into the Uber, I happened to check our flight status.  The departure for London was delayed four hours due to weather!  At 5am, we were locked out of our Airbnb, and ate our hard boiled eggs with our seeded bread on a city bench.  These trusty benches had been our friends when we needed breaks around Barcelona, and they didn’t let us down now.  Though we were locked out of our Airbnb, we took on this adventure for our final morning in Barcelona.  We walked to La Boqueria Market which would open at 8am, and crossed our fingers we could find a cafe catering to the early market workers.  We found a haven at Cafe 365!  We huddled here, as the rain poured down, drinking hot chocolate and reflecting on our trip.

The rain let up right as the market opened up.  We strolled the stalls for my mom’s first jamon iberica bocadilla before heading the airport.

A flight set to depart at 7am didn’t take off until 12:45pm but that couldn’t dampen our spirits after a weekend getaway for my mom’s trip to Barcelona.

Barcelona, Spain Uncategorized

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is so comfortable with tourists that it’s easy to navigate the city in English or Spanish, as a first time visitor, veteran fan, wanderer or serious sight-seeker.  No matter the style of travel you prefer, I think a person can learn a lot with days away from their regular routine.  Here are some Barca lessons from our newly formed travel team: Corey D, May, Mrs. Woo, and myself.

  1. If you see a set of  outdoor tables packed with diners, don’t just pull up a chair with the crowd.  Take note of the table cloths.  These differentiate between eating the most popular pinchos on the block and the frozen-to-fried food at Punjabi Bar 😦 , the opportunistic restaurant whose tables are mixed in with the others!  At least we learned this lesson in our first 2 hours of arriving Barcelona.
  2. Definitely score some jamon and salami at the local markets.  Definitely say ‘Puedo probar?’ to taste a few morsels, and definitely ask the gentleman to slice your purchases unless you’re keen for an arm workout using the dull knife at the airbnb.  Corey D and May took the first jamon-slicing shift for our happy hour of baguette, yummy cured meat, olives, tomatoes, and an inexpensive bottle of red from the grocery store.
  3. Check out the Caixa Forum for free arts events.  It was an easy walk from our Poble-Sec apartment to see Julia Colom Quartet, a jazz group giving a free show.  Bonus: the concert ended in time for us to check out the Magic Fountain across the street!
  4. Lesson Four: Ask the servers what their favorite thing is on the menu… even if it feel obvious that you’re going to order some form of octopus at the restaurant called Pulpetto.  Our server pointed us towards the steak!? It was the best thing we ate that night.
  5. Wake up just a little earlier to take the long road.  You never know when you’ll need to stop to admire the street art, or shop at the bric-a-brac market along the port to purchase a cataplana copper clam-shaped plate with your friend’s girlfriend’s mom’s Euro?!  I only later learned that I’d need a gas range to cook with this treasure, but I’ll figure that out later.
  6. Keep up the daily learning by taking a walking tour- I’ve had great experiences with the Sandeman group offering pay-what-you-will prices.  Below, the cliff notes of the tour.

This square is where local came to pay taxes or came to watch an execution.  Our guide shared that Columbus walked these steps to meet Queen Isabella who sponsored his trip to the Americas. When asked who wanted to take a picture on the stairs, no one in the group budged.

Picasso’s frieze depicts various Catalonian traditions that were suppressed under the Franco regime.  It looks like a painting, but it’s a sandblasting technique with very small black stones engrained into a larger stone slab.fullsizeoutput_1b7c

We visited the historically Jewish quarter which you’d nearly miss if someone didn’t point it out.  During the Spanish Inquisition, any non-Catholic holy space had to be built lower than any Catholic space.  The synagogue’s windows were practically at the same level as the street.

This neighborhood used to be where the town met the sea port, the poorest area in town. This church was built by the port workers, men who after finishing their work on the ships, would carry stones from the quarry over a mountain to ensure a church was built in this neighborhood.  The workers are memorialized at the church entrance.

Mulberry Graveyard and Independence Square are the reminders of Catalan’s history of nationalism, and its turbulent history with the rest of the nation.  The Catalonians turned on the Spanish crown in the War of Spanish Succession in the early 1700s.  This traitorous act was confronted in the siege of Barcelona.  Starving Catalonia defenders were killed as the Spanish military stormed the city, and buried the men and boys in the square now known as the Mulberry Graveyard and Independence Square.  The crown establish a military base in Barcelona with many of the canons pointing inwards as a reminder of the pecking order in Spain.  There is an eternal flame in the red arching structure, and currently, the square is frequented by locals pushing for Catalonian independence.

World Expo Park and Arc de Triumph:  Our guide shared that the 1992 Olympic Games launched Barcelona into the world of international tourism.  The city used its funds to build a decent stadium, but one far less elaborate than many of the arenas we see today.  The city focused using funds money into the city’s transportation and port infrastructure.  The stadium’s location overlooked the sea and the city so that viewers around the world would see the Olympic events televised against a beautiful backdrop.  The first year of Olympic beach volleyball couldn’t be hosted without sand, so the city imported Egyptian sand to build the beaches– beaches that remain a magnet for tourism.  Finally, the Arc De Triumph isn’t an arc commemorating a war, but rather a ‘welcome gate’ into the garden park promenade.

7. Lesson Seven: Linger after the tour to ask your guide for local lunch suggestions.  You’ll end up at a spot like Joanet, in a shady plaza, eating baby squid and broadbeans with the perfect house white.

8. Top tip: check out which museums offer free hours.  We saw an incredible photography exhibit at the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona (CCCB).  The World Press Photo Contest rewards photographers who’ve contributed to the past year of visual journalism.

I squeezed every last minute out of this weekend with Corey D, May, and Mrs. Woo!  Looking forward to more spontaneous adventures soon.