A few moons ago in 2004, we went to Spain with our high school Spanish class. We hardly knew each other then, but we sat by each other on the plane. A year later, we started dating and little did we know (or maybe we did) it would be the first day of the rest of our lives together.
What I would give to still have those white teeth and that complexion…le sigh. Coffee and sleep deprivation has done us no favors over the years. Weren’t we cute, though? So cute.
The one city we hadn’t seen in España after that trip was Barcelona, known as Spain’s second city. Probably because the purpose of the HS trip was to practice our Spanish and Barcelona- sorry, Bar*th*elona- speaks Catalan. Well, actually, Spanish, too. They speak both languages. They fly the Spanish flag and the Catalan flag. And it’s kind of confusing.
I can’t go on without mentioning how the trip to Barcelona came to be in the first place. German Wings is a Lufthansa airline and they offer something called blind booking. For 33 Euro, you can select a departure airport and a theme for your trip (Party, Culture, Shopping, etc.) – each theme contains various European destinations. For a 5 Eur fee you can eliminate destinations that you may have already been to or don’t want on the list. Once the booking is complete, your destination is revealed. We love the airline, especially the extra leg room, and wish we had known about the deal sooner.
We’ve always wanted to make it back to Barcelona to feel like we’ve really seen all of Spain but it’s never been very high on our list. When we clicked submit on the blind booking purchase, we held our breath for a long 30 seconds, both secretly hoping we’d end up going to Budapest. I have to say, neither of us were disappointed when Barcelona was our fate, though! We grabbed Rick Steves, booked a room at this hotel and anxiously awaited the weekend of our trip.
We arrived right at sunset, but the sheer fact that we got to see sunlight at made all the annoyances of traveling worth it. And there were palm trees. It was snowing back home and we weren’t wearing coats and looking at palm trees.
We had dinner at the hotel restaurant, put Owen to bed in his own room (we love hotels with separate bedrooms!) and enjoyed the view from the 21st floor in the complimentary robes and slippers while sipping Spanish wine. Royals? I think yes. If we did nothing else on the trip, I wouldn’t have even cared.
But we had big plans to see the city full of history, so sitting around in robes, appealing as it was, was out of the question. After breakfast, our first stop was The Rablas, the main boulevard. It reminded me of Champs-Élysées in Paris or the boulevard leading out of Wenceslas Square in Prague. And there was this hunk of a babywearing dad who so kindly posed with his cute baby for my picture.
Walking along the pedestrian only street, we gawked at the Barcelonese life around us: a grand opera house, elegant cafes, flower stands, a neighborhood once swarming with prostitutes (pretty sure it still is), artists, street performers, fantastic shopping, and plenty of tourists like us.
After hopping back on the main drag, we detoured again to this explosion of a produce and um, animal parts market. La Boqueria is a large public market that is lively and busy.
Well stocked with chicken legs, live snails, whole fish, oranges and fruits galore, you name it, and other various pieces of animals (gross), this place is a mish mash for the senses. Odorous, crowded, loud, and colorful.
All that delicious raw meat and various animal parts gave us quite an appetite so we started our search for lunch…I’m kidding but we were pretty hungry. There are tons of touristy restaurants along the boulevard but we took a side street to find something a bit quieter. Along the way, I left my face print smudge and drool on the glass of this store window. Ladies, enjoy.
I wasn’t allowed inside. 🙁 Apparently, I “own too many shoes.” Never. Never ever can you have too many shoes. It was more like our checked bag is already too full and there was no way I could narrow it down to just eight pair.
So onward we went until we found a little cafe with big windows and an inviting atmosphere. We ordered two glasses of sangria (the best I’ve ever had), paella, and a variety of tapas.
And my lunch dates were really the best part of the whole experience.
Who remembers Gaudi from their high school art class? I actually do. And who remembers that he was big deal in Barcelona? I didn’t. But he was and he certainly left his mark all over the city. The Palau Güell is a mansion designed by the man himself. It was our first look at his work and gave us a taste of just how innovative his work was for the 1880s.
I, for one, love his style. It’s geometric. It’s captivating and so modern. Straight lines and corners are everywhere on this apartment building which are so not his bubbly, non-rectangular style at all (as we later learned from seeing more of his work). All things pointy are off-set by two parabolic-arch doorways and elaborate swirly wrought-iron work at the entrance. I’m not huge into architecture, but after seeing this building, I’m thinking, man, this Guadi guy, he’s pretty awesome.
The main boulevard led us to the edge of the earth. It is flat, right?
No, silly. It’s round. The dude at the top of this monument set out to prove that the earth was round (except he was only 2,000 years too late thanks to Greek mathematicians). This dude is NOT the president of the Flat Earth Society. He’s Christopher Columbus. This monument marks the spot where he debarked after returning from discovering America (let’s just ignore the fact that millions of humans already inhabited this great “new” land). So, there’s this statue of him in Barcelona and he’s pointing at America. Everyone wave eastward and say hi! What he’s really pointing at is the waterfront. It’s gorgeous, you guys.
A wooden pedestrian bridge, with waves like the sea, juts out into the marina towards a shopping center, movie theater, an aquarium, and piles of people.
And if you’re into yachts, there were a few of those, too.
We made our way back to land toward the Gothic Quarter where the Romans first built the city that would become Barcelona. It’s the most historic, characteristic, and colorful neighborhood of the city. We meandered the tangle of streets on a cultural scavenger hunt, beginning with the Cathedral of Barcelona. Just outside the church, are the two Roman towers of the Plaça Nova. They were once the guarded entrance gate to the ancient Roman city of Barcino.
The mighty facade of the Cathedral of Barcelona represents the center of Christian worship since the fourth century.
We stepped inside to view the vast size of the church’s interior, the many ornate chapels, and borrow a pew for an emergent diaper change.
We took an elevator up to the terrace to soak up breathtaking rooftop views of the city.
On our way back to the train station, we stopped by the Roman Temple of Augustus, the summit of Mont Táber. It was here in the highest spot of the city that the Romans founded the town of Barcino in 15 B.C. (ish). They built a fort on the hilltop to protect the harbor. Inside the imposing temple are four huge columns, from around A.D. 1.
Just up the road from these impossibly old columns was the square which once housed the Royal Palace of the kings and queens. Chris Columbo stayed there in 1493 along with six New World Natives (the Indians). King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel honored him with the title of “Admiral of the Oceans.” There wasn’t much to see there except a pigeon.
And when you’re 1, a pigeon is the coolest thing ever. So we chased it.
We made our way back to our hotel, had dinner at a restaurant nearby, and called it a night with a bottle of wine while making plans for the next day. We were exhausted from a full day of walking and sight-seeing but anxious to see more of the incredible city.