Tag Archives: barcelona

The Great EU Quest: Spain – Sagrada Familia Day

For me it feels like the sites of today share the similar theme of different forms of worship. It’s a bit of a tenuous link, but one I think can apply to the first three things saw today.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 67/100Sight: Sagrada Familia
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Position: #16

How do I start talking about the Sagrada Familia? I mean this is something that is the definition of breathtaking and the damned thing isn’t even finished yet. 9-10 years until completion and its construction has taken the work of generations of architects, planners and builders.

The outside of the church is amazing enough. It’s absolutely massive and the tallest towers are nowhere near completion yet. Hell, only two of the three facades are nearly done – the other just looked it had barely been started.

The sheer level of detail on the facades themselves are incredible. At the moment we can see those dedicated to the nativity and the crucifixion (the third and final facade is still under construction as of writing this). They completely contrast with the other – the nativity side being more exuberant with its carvings of animals and beautifully designed leaf doors.

It’s things like the incredibly ornate doors and the cryptogram on the side of the passion facade that show just huge this project is. With most of the original designs lost due in a fire started by rioting citizens the design and building of the Sagrada Familia really has become a group effort. Oh and this is all just the outside.

That first time I stepped into the basilica itself was literally breathtaking. I just stood there covered in goosebumps and had to take a minute to register as much as I could. If I believed in that sort of thing I guess it would be called a ‘religious experience’, but for me I’ll just say that I was incredibly overwhelmed by the beauty.

Because of the vastness of the interior it is impossible to find one picture that truly showcases what it looks like. It doesn’t help that, thanks to Gaudí’s amazing use of light, the colour inside the basilica changes throughout the day.

Why? Because of the stained glass windows. The colours and positioning of the windows have been done for maximum effect – cooler colours on one side and warmer shades on the other. When we were inside there was a lot of light coming from the warmer windows which gave the space above the alter a soft golden glow.

To be honest, I did not want to leave. I wanted to just stay inside and keep exploring the nuances in Gaudí’s design. Like how the columns were all slightly different in colour and ridging. The jewelled names of the Evangelists. The long list of names that can be found within the windows themselves. Just wow. I now know what a real life version of the stone forest of Nausicaa looks like – and I know I have to come back when it is complete.

Alas, we still had many things to see so it was goodbye and onto the second place of worship some 9 stops away on the Barcelona Metro – which I want to pay a massive compliment to. We bought a 10 trip ticket and that’s really going to see us through the whole trip.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 68/100Sight: Camp Nou
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Position: #470

So yes, when I said worship I don’t think I was too out of order to put football under that umbrella. Under the insistence of the guide we went to visit Camp Nou. I drew the line at the the 25€ to do the tour since I have no interest in football. I know it’s a bit of a cop out, but that’s expensive for something you don’t really want to do.

Still, that’s another Lonely Planet site ticked off… just not one that I found too interesting.

So, hitched another ride on the Metro and got off at the southern end of La Rambla – but first we took a turn around the marina, because why not. I keep forgetting that this is a seaside city. I had colleagues telling me to go to the beach, which I didn’t do because I have no real interest in beaches. I do love the water though, even if this was a wee bit cluttered by all the port buildings.

We eventually made it up La Rambla and into what would best be described as my place of worship: the food market. In this instance La Boqueria. It’s not as big as Borough Market or Tsukiji Fish Market, but it was so interesting to look around the place!

Sadly I fell short of my aim to find a place that sold fried bull testicles (or criadillas), so I guess I’ll have to wait for another trip to Spain before crossing that food item off the list. Still, I managed to purchase some list chorizo and cheese that I need to somehow get back to London in one piece. The list of food items that I am bringing back to the UK just keeps on growing.

After a short rest in the hotel room we were back on the road, well the metro, funicular and cable car, but you know what I mean. Our final destination was Montjuïc Castle so we could get some good views over the city.

The first thing that struck me was a weird smell that was very much like the smell of cooking Heinz Spaghetti Hoops. I guess there was a restaurant nearby and the wind was in the right direction? Or maybe a tomato field was on fire? I have no idea, but what I DO know is how gratifying it is to still qualify as a reduced fee for some of these Barcelona attractions.

This is possibly the best view you can get of the city of Barcelona. The seagulls appear to really appreciate it as they circle above the sea-facing parts of the castle. Be careful of their divebombing – the hub had a misadventure with one of them crapping very near him and just clipping his forearm. Gross.

We walked down the mountain, taking in the views of Barcelona on the way down and coming across the famous site where the Olympic diving competitions took place 25 years ago. I completely get how those fantastic pictures were taken now of those divers with the city skyline in the background.

Dinner was another tapas affair – this time at Cerveceria Catalana. I mention this restaurant by name because the food here was beautiful. We ordered 7 different dishes and the bill still came out to under 40€. Some highlights were the fried artichokes, the Spanish omelette and goats cheese with escalivada (that last one was the hub’s pick, and the boy did well there).

So yea, I really think we should have been here for longer. I mean, Barcelona is one of THE cities in Europe and we only had two full day to explore it. Still, we sure made the most of it. For our final day in Spain we are venturing to the nearby town of Figueres to take in the Dalí museum. Bit nervous about this considering the Picasso Museu yesterday… but I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

The Great EU Quest: Spain – Gaudí and Barcelona

So here we are with the first of two full days in Barcelona, or should I say Gaudíville considering how much of his handiwork I will end up seeing and just how in love this city appears to be with its native son.

The first stop of the day was the Casa Battló (although I really do prefer the nickname ‘house of bones’ considering the balconies look like jawbones and vertebrae. I’ve been inside a lot of residences when in vacation, but I don’t think that I have seen or will ever see anything like this ever again. It is extraordinary, with plenty of kudos going to go the people who now run this as the augmented reality audio tour helped bring this sublime house to life.

It’s hard to adequately describe this building. Many people have tried, but I guess the best way would be that this house feels alive. The flying turtles of the guide might have helped with that… but so much of this house was utterly astonishing. Not only is this house a masterpiece on an artistic level, but it was made to be incredibly liveable with innovative and practical solutions for light and temperature regulation.

The chimneys and flourishes on the roof were another thing altogether, but I think I have spent long enough on Casa Battló – after all this isn’t the only Gaudí build that we saw today.

So off we went on our first trip on the Barcelona Metro to visit Park Güell… where we had no idea of the steep walk that was awaiting us. Whilst I would have made it up the hill without the use of escalators, I was very appreciative of their existence.

I was also appreciative of some of the views of Barcelona that we managed to get from the top of this mountain. I know that I saw the Sagrada Familia from the airplane as it started in its descent, but it still shocks me just how much this basilica in construction dominates the Barcelona landscape. I just cannot wait until we pay it a visit tomorrow.

Park Güell is one of those things I might not have gone straight for if it wasn’t for Yuri!!! On Ice. Sad but true. There was a pretty sweet scene in the show with Yurio and the Kazakh skater, which made me want to check out the Monument Park section. It wasn’t exactly the most representative of the crowds that gather there, but hoards of tourists would have spoilt the mood.

Speaking of hoards, it really was a good thing I booked the tickets to the Monument Zone in advance. By the time we got there the only tickets left were for the final window some 5-6 hours later. After the problems we had getting into the Anne Frank Huis I think I have well and truly learned my lesson about pre-booking certain attractions.

Some of the stuff that Gaudí planned and executed for this park are worthy of many a roll of film. A lot of photos were taken of the iconic staircases and the open theatre sections. I, however, heavily fell for some of the rockwork in the free section of the park. It’s extraordinary to see how he was able to use the contours of the mountain to then advantage of his work. It just feels like the mountain has chosen to sprout this terrace with its walkways, vaulted ceilings and twisted columns. Just amazing.

Sadly it was time to say goodbye to Gaudí, at least for the moment, and go for lunch. Nothing major, just some really nice sandwiches from a cafe en route to the metro station. The botifarra blanca sandwich was my favourite of the two – sadly it isn’t the botifarra dolca from the food list, but I know of a butcher that sells this and is next open on our final day in Spain… so watch this space I guess.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 66/100Sight: Museu Picasso
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Position: #371

Our last main site of the day was the Museu Picasso. Finally, a Lonely Planet thing to be ticked off! Now, considering this is on the list and Casa Battló is not, I was very disappointed.

I think the problem is that in order to have a museum dedicated to a particular artist you really need to have some of the major masterpieces. Especially if you are going to rate it among the top 500 world sites to be visited. I mean, sure the Van Gogh museum didn’t have all of them, but there were so many in that museum to make it an extremely worthwhile visit.

However, there is nothing here that I recognised. Also, which was rather telling, this museum appeared to be missing works from 10-20 years of Picasso’s life. This was the time where he painted things like Guernica, The Weeping Woman or (my favourite) Three Musicians. It was interesting to see just how talented he was as a painter from an incredibly young age… but much like some of the works on display, this museum feels a bit unfinished.

We did a bit of wandering until ultimately heading back to the hotel. Seeing how it was both Sunday and Father’s Day a lot of things were closed. Not the Ham Museum though. As tempting as it was our feet were aching and some pre-dinner chilling was needed.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

Food item: Cadi Butter

Hooray! I can tick off a food list item. It was one of those I was really hoping to find as well. You cannot get this in the UK and this now leaves me with just one butter to find. Sadly it’s Russian butter and whilst I would love to try that… I know I won’t be exactly welcome.

Cadi butter is pale and highly spreadable. Compared to other butters I have tried the flavour fairly muted. It’s nowhere near as creamy and doesn’t have as intense a flavour profile as I am used to. It’s really nice on a Tuc biscuit as the butter is unsalted and the salt on the Tuc gives it that extra punch. So yes, this needs salt.

Dinner ended up being just off La Rambla (a proper shifty will be done tomorrow) because literally no restaurant on that street scores higher than 2.5-3/5 on Trip Advisor. I mean I know tourist traps are a thing, but this is ridiculous.

Still, we were directed to a restaurant where we had our first authentic paella.

Food item: Fasolia Gigandes

Two in one day. Phew. You can’t see the beans from the picture. But they were most certainly there buried among some of the best tasting paella I’ve ever had. Apparently this restaurant is known for having good paella, so who am I to disagree. According to the menu this was a Valencian paella, which means I probably just ate my first rabbit meat.

So yes, some hazelnut gelato later and I am sat in the hotel typing up the day. I am really looking forward to what I will be seeing tomorrow morning. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some half decent pictures!

Progress: 631/751

The Great EU Quest: Spain – Arrival

There are times where it feels like you are not meant to reach your destination – this trip to Barcelona is just such an example.

Let’s just start off with a quick number crunch on the EU list:

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 15/28

I know that I am going to get to a point where I am still trying to complete the EU list after the UK has made its awkward departure, but for now I think I will just end up saying any country that has ever been part of the EU. That’ll cover me should another country make a similar decision or, for whatever reason, the EU ceases to exist.

Country: Spain
Year first visited: 2017

Anyway, back to more pleasant topics – the fact that we almost missed the plane thanks to train troubles. Oh yes, in order to get to Stansted Airport from South East London you only have two main options: train/tube or car. When you don’t drive that means a £50-60 trip in an Uber, so public transport it is.

Now imagine you get to the only station in London that goes to Stansted (aka Liverpool Street, try the cheese shop if you have time), here has been an issue with the line (that Google Maps is unaware of) and you have to make a 2-3 hour detour via Cambridge. Needless to say we just ran and ran once we got to the airport and just about made it. Not exactly the best way to start a holiday, but at least we managed to get to Barcelona!

I know it has only been 4-5 hours since landing, but I have already begun to fall for this city in a major way. It was amazing to see some of the snow capped mountains on the way in, as well as the towering presence of the Sagrada Familia during the plane’s descent.

As of the moment we haven’t explored too far, but we have had a good nose around the area near the hotel (where we managed to get a free room upgrade – which came with a balcony view and a free bottle of cava).

One of the places that we came across was Catalunya Square. We re-visited this square later in the evening because of the promise of dancing water fountains. We weren’t disappointed. They were very cute.

Of course the big question of the evening ended up being: “what will we have for dinner”. I think that during this visit to Barcelona there are two main dinners we want to have – paella and tapas/pintxos.

From the pictures you can see that we ended up going for tapas. A lot of them were things I have had before back in Britain, but being in the home of tapas everything did taste better. Especially the anchovies. They were ruddy gorgeous.

Being spring I also managed to get some calçots (which were deep-fried) and romesco sauce. I do love these giant spring onions very much and would highly recommend them once spring rolls around again.

A bit of a walk later and it was back to the hotel so hub could drain the cava as I write up the day. I have a feeling that I won’t be ticking off many food items during this holiday, but hey ho there’s so much to see anyway so any additional foods will be a bonus.