- Day One – Paris via London
- Day Two – Versailles and the Latin Quarter
- Day Three – Four Corners, Four Views of Paris
- Day Four – Naples, Pompeii and Sorrento
- Day Five – Sorrento
- Day Six – Rome
- Day Seven – Vatican City, Rome and Trastevere
- Day Eight – Pisa and Florence
- Day Nine – In A Firenze-y Over Florence
It makes me a little – OK, a lot – sad that this will be my last post about Europe (for now, I hope!). Every day, every location brought something new and special. Barcelona was no exception!
Our stay at the NH Calderón was fantastic. We arrived at night but I snapped this picture the following morning. It was by far the most modern hotel of the trip.
The room was spacious even at the most basic level they offered.
Prices were reasonable, too. I’d highly recommend staying here based on its “niceness” and its proximity to all the action. We were steps away from Plaça de Catalunya, a major meeting point for the city’s most important streets and avenues – including La Rambla.
One of the things I’d heard many times about Spain during Spanish classes in high school and college – and from friends who studied abroad – is that the people there eat late and stay out even later. This post pretty much sums it up. Bobby and I actually tried to visit a discotheque (dance club) the night we arrived. It was a beautiful ballroom called La Paloma that was more than a century old, and the guidebook sang its praises. Unfortunately the hotel staff informed us that it had been closed down, so we settled for a midnight walk around La Rambla instead.
We woke up bright and early on our last day in Europe, got ready and went in search of breakfast. Our first tour was scheduled for 10:00, which made the search more problematic as most places didn’t open until 9:00 and we had a long walk ahead of us. Starbucks was the exception.
I sort of love the alternate spelling of “Jenn.” I think maybe I’ll use “Jhen” every once in a while just for fun. We grabbed coffee (me) and egg sandwiches to go and headed northeast toward the breathtaking, the beautiful La Sagrada Família. Even the cranes can’t take away from its grandeur.
The story of La Sagrada Família is a fascinating one. It is the masterpiece of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. Before coming to Barcelona I had never heard of Gaudí, and upon leaving I wanted to know everything about him (see if I can convince you of the same by the end of this post).
At the time of his death in 1926, the church was less than one quarter complete. That’s it! Construction progressed slowly after that and only just passed the midpoint in 2010. Gaudí’s successors have done an incredible job of bringing his vision to life based on the drawings and teachings he left them, but they also want to make sure they get it right. They anticipate the church will be completed in 2026 to mark the anniversary of his death. This is why it’s impossible to get a picture without those cranes in the background!
Many people have said that there is absolutely no church like it anywhere in the world, and I would have to agree. A look at this small portion of the front door (both doors are designed this way) gives you a hint at what sets La Sagrada Família apart.
Our adventure began with an elevator ride to the top of one of the spires in the Nativity Tower.
Ultimately there will be 18 of these spires in all – there are currently eight that correspond to four apostles at the Nativity façade and four apostles at the Passion façade. The Glory façade is the third and final grand façade of the church, and it is yet to be completed. It will face south, while the Nativity and Passion façades face east and west, respectively.
The views looking east were incredible. Barcelona is beautiful.
You see those white doves and green leaves in the left side of the picture? They are part of the Tree of Life, and one of the many reasons why the Nativity façade is my favorite. It is full of ornate sculptures and colorful designs like this one.
You aren’t going to find many churches with fruit-inspired spire tops. Gaudí’s work can best be described as Gothic naturalism that transforms nature on buildings and other structures.
I felt like I was in another world.
We continued walking along the Nativity façade, taking in the exterior of windows that would look completely different from the inside of the church.
As we walked down the staircase leading to the bottom of the spire, there were several balconies along the way where you could stop and look out – or up, in this case. The Tree of Life looks completely different from this angle, doesn’t it?
Barcelona does, too. This sculpture gives you a preview of the ornateness of the Nativity façade.
When we reached the foot of the stairs, we looked back from where we came and saw this gorgeousness. If it isn’t already obvious, La Sagrada Família was a favorite site from the trip.
So let’s talk about those façades! I’ve already showed you the Passion façade – it’s the one we first came to on our walk, facing west toward the setting sun. In contrast to the Nativity façade it is very plain, with a lot of bare stone. It’s meant to be harsh as it represents the Passion of Christ.
The Nativity façade is dedicated to the birth of Jesus and, as I mentioned, faces east toward the rising sun. There is no better way to describe the look and feel of its design than melted candle wax. I have no idea how they managed to achieve this effect but it is fantastic. The façade is decorated with scenes meant to be reminiscent of elements of life. It is divided into three porticos that each represent a theological virtue – hope, faith and charity.
It’s truly something you have to see in person to fully appreciate, but the pictures give you a glimpse.
There are those fruit spires again! Everything comes back to nature on this side of the church.
The Glory façade is set to be the most intricate and striking of them all. Construction began on it in 2002, and although you can’t see much of it yet, we were able to get a look at the door. Ultimately the Glory façade will serve as the main entrance, and in the center of all that bronze is the entire text of Paternoster (the Our Father, or Lord’s Prayer) in Catalan. On either side of the prayer is the phrase, “Give us this day our daily bread” in fifty different languages.
Once we had finished ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the outside, we headed indoors. We truly didn’t think it could get any more impressive, but it did. One look at the stained glass windows and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported into a kaleidoscope.
Then there were the columns. True to his love of nature, Gaudí designed them to look like trees and branches leading up to the ceiling. I think he achieved this feeling quite well, to say the least.
The ovals with pictures and text are symbols of the four gospel evangelists.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: there is truly nothing like this church.
Even the altar is unique. I should also note that Gaudí’s tomb is in the crypt below it.
We left La Sagrada Família in awe, promising ourselves a return trip in 13 years.
Last but not least was the school that Gaudí designed for the sons of men working on the church. It’s not a large building by any means, but even something so tiny by comparison is considered a work of architectural greatness. He truly had his own style.
Our time at La Sagrada Família may have been over, but the Gaudí journey was only beginning. We decided to check out a few of his other buildings, along with the works of other architects that have been preserved on Barcelona streets. First we arrived at Casa Batlló (right) and Casa Amatller (left).
The former was completed by Gaudí in 1906 and is the centerpiece of the so-called “Block of Discord.” It glimmers in the sunlight with colorful ceramics and is thought to be a representation of the legend of Saint George and his dragon. The curved roof and blue-green scales are like a dragon’s back. We didn’t go inside, but I’ve heard that it is equally spectacular.
Casa Amatller was designed by the architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch, a contemporary of Gaudí, in 1900. It also has a ceramics-covered façade, as well as beautiful stone and ironwork.
From there we headed north to see La Pedrera, which is thought by many to be the ultimate representation of the modernista movement. The name means “Stone Quarry,” and this one was also done by Gaudí. It was opened in 1907.
I loved the wavy shape of the limestone, another nod to nature.
We headed back south to visit Casa Lleó Morera, the final member of the “Block of Discord.” It was built in 1905 by Lluís Domènech i Montaner and is now home to an upscale leather-goods store.
The intricacy of the stone work on all of these buildings truly captivated me.
At this point we’d worked up quite an appetite, so we decided to stop for lunch at a tapas restaurant called Cerveseria Catalana. We took advantage of the warm weather by sitting outside, which was also perfect for people watching.
The restaurant had an extensive beer menu with selections from several countries, but we decided to go local and ordered a pair of Estrella Damms, a Catalan pilsener. They really hit the spot.
We shared a couple of tapas to start. The asparagus and mushroom combination was fantastic, with the perfect amount of marinade and flavor coated on each.
But it was the “bravas” potatoes that won us over with their spicy tomato and aioli topping.
We each also ordered a flauta, or mini-sized sandwich. Mine consisted of grilled pork loin with Roquefort cheese, and it was incredible. We couldn’t have asked for a better meal!
After lunch, we made our way down Rambla de Catalunya until we reached the plaza just south of our hotel. We enjoyed the fountains for a bit before heading still further south on the most popular street in Barcelona: La Rambla.
This street is busy no matter the time of day. There are sidewalks along the outside and one major pedestrian thoroughfare in the center, full of small shops, local artists and performers. And apparently, plenty of pickpockets, though we luckily had no problems while we were in town.
We veered off La Rambla into La Boqueria, Europe’s largest public market and a foodie paradise.
We wandered along the more than 300 stalls, checking out the various offerings from the vendors.
There was literally a shop for everything you can imagine.
Healthy, fresh foods galore. But of course my eye went straight to the “fresh candy.”
I mean, you can see why. There were SO. MANY. OPTIONS.
Bobby had to reel me in, but we left with a bag of goodies that I wished would last forever.
Fresh candy in tow, we made our way down to the end of La Rambla and the pier!
There was a wonderful walkway along the pier toward Barceloneta, a neighborhood that has become popular in recent years – especially after the 1992 Summer Olympics – due to the large number of restaurants and attractions.
We knew we were headed in the right direction when we spotted this sign offering “Kisses & Fun.”
By this time a few rain clouds had rolled in, but that didn’t stop us from walking the beach!
We snapped a few hilarious photo sequences of each other, but got a nice one of us, too.
Our main objectives were to walk the beach and find the restaurant we’d be dining at for dinner later that evening. Once both missions were accomplished, we said goodbye to the Mediterranean for a while and headed back into the Latin Quarter of the city. After visiting La Sagrada Família, the Catedral de Barcelona looked very traditional, indeed.
Still, it was beautiful outside and in with its massive archways and chandeliers.
Next we visited the Plaça de Ramon Berenguer el Gran, home of one of the largest surviving sections of the second Roman wall that dates to the 4th century A.D.
Rising above the wall is the 14th-century Palau Reial Major (Royal Palace), Santa Agata chapel and a Gothic tower. These were better viewed from Plaça del Rei, which is where the Catholic Monarchs are said to have received Columbus upon his return from the New World in 1493.
Next we saw the Temple d’Augustus, which basically consists of three Corinthian columns that are the best preserved relics of the Roman city. They are a bit off the beaten path and surrounded by another building these days, but still in pretty good shape all things considered.
We continued to explore, passing a bridge of carved stone over Carrer del Bisbe…
…and a random building with a gorgeous exterior that was hosting another market in its courtyard.
Before we wanted it to, the sun was beginning to set on our time in Barcelona. We headed back toward the beach, passing the monument to Christopher Columbus as we walked.
The lobster sculpture in the photo below was one of our favorite art pieces along the pier.
Finally we made it back to Can Majó for dinner.
Our waitress brought out bread and olives to start. The tomato paste on the bread was awesome.
Bobby and I decided to order cava over sangria, after hearing that it was the more authentic Spanish drink of choice. We shared a bottle of Sumarroca. The white sparkling wine was the perfect way to celebrate an unforgettable vacation.
For dinner we chose the shellfish paella marinera, and we weren’t disappointed.
It was warm, hearty and full of flavor. Between the two of us we demolished the pan!
As if we hadn’t done enough walking already, we decided to take one last stroll up La Rambla instead of riding the metro back to our hotel. We got a better look at Christopher Columbus in the spotlight on our way back. But there was one more Barcelona adventure we had to experience…
We ordered a pair of San Miguels, another Spanish beer option, and watched as FC Barcelona dominated Mallorca 5-0. It wasn’t the most exciting game, but it was still a lot of fun.
We had such an amazing time together on this trip and although it was exhausting (self-inflicted), we’d relive it over and over again if we could. Thankfully, these blog posts will help us do just that.
Until next time…