Barcelona

Our trip began on a high note in Barcelona. As I mentioned in this post, this trip made me think about what makes for a great city and for me, a great city is a place where you continually run into things that excite or inspire you.

Parc Güell

In most cities, everything is packed closely together so there’s often no need have a specific destination in mind: you’ll often stumble on the very things you’d hoped to see just by going out on a walk. This was my experience in Rome: we hopped on the subway and got off two stops later only to find ourselves right at the foot of the Spanish Steps. On our walk back from dinner that night, we passed the Pantheon and then Trevi fountain. We didn’t have to go sight-seeing in Rome; we just had to walk around the city and the sights often presented themselves.

The best cities, in my mind, are like this, places where it’s hard to get it wrong — like Rome or Barcelona.

We rented an apartment in the El Born area of Barcelona and we got lost in the tangle of medieval streets every time we left the apartment, but we always ran into something we’d hoped to see or something that we were happy to see. We turned a corner and unexpectedly found ourselves at the Palau de la Música Catalana. On another excursion, we came across the Santa Caterina market with its wavy, brightly colored, tiled roof.

Santa Caterina Market

After seeing La Sagrada Familia (one sight that we’d specifically headed for), we walked down the wide boulevards of the L’Eixample neighborhood and soon found ourselves looking at the Gaudi-designed Casa Batlló and then La Pedrera.

(One quick note about La Sagrada Familia: go inside! I didn’t expect to be so blown away by it, especially after seeing so many churches in Paris and Italy, but La Sagrada is unlike any church I’d ever been in before. While so many Italian churches are so busy, every inch covered in gold, marble and paintings of cherubs, La Sagrada is surprisingly spare inside. So many churches are often dark, but La Sagrada is full of light; it feels expansive not cloistered. I took many pictures but none really did the place justice. You’ll have to go there and see it yourself.)

There were lovely little details all around Barcelona. The light posts (shown above), were ornate. The sidewalks were often stamped with a circular pattern or a fleur de lys motif. Many of the buildings had extra flourishes, too, like a door knocker shaped like hands holding an apple or a botanical design printed on the underside of a balcony (shown below). The signs for shops and especially the signs in the markets were often inspiring, too. I could have taken pictures of the different fonts and colors all day.

Barcelona felt very European to me. Some parts of Barcelona reminded me of Italy. The narrow medieval streets, for example, were like a cheerier, cleaner version of Palermo, while Barcelona’s grand boulevards, Arc de Triumf and Parc Ciutadella all seemed very Parisian.  But the Gaudi influence gave the city something unlike any other city I’ve visited.

First impressions don’t always pan out, but I’d had a good feeling about Barcelona from our very first day when we went out in search of coffee and found ourselves at the pedestrian plaza around Barcelona’s Arc de Triumf where we watched the locals pedal by on the city’s public biking system, bicing. A few blocks away, we found a little coffeehouse with a decent looking espresso machine where a group of men watched a local soccer game on the TV. Afterwards, we walked past a store with a book called ‘La Caca Magica’ (The Magic Poop) displayed in the window and promptly went into buy a copy, feeling like Barcelona was going to work out just fine for us.

View from our apartment onto a pedestrian-only street

If you’re going to Barcelona, I strongly suggest staying in the El Born area. (We rented an apartment from Habitat Apartments). El Born is in the middle of the Gothic quarter and close to La Ramblas but without the hordes of tourists or the McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets. It has good metro stops and a lot of pedestrian-only streets; it’s near a park, the Santa Caterina market and the beach area of Barceloneta.

While you’re staying in El Born, I also suggest reading The Angel’s Game. Although the end of the book didn’t entirely hold up, the story takes place primarily in El Born and it was fun for me to be exploring the same streets I was reading about.

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2 Responses to “Barcelona”

  1. Anita Mac Says:

    I’ve heard so many great things about Barcelona. Hoping to have a visit next spring – will have to look into the El Born area – I am happy to avoid the tourist hordes and fast food junk – bring on the tasty Italian meals cooked for Italians!!! (Maybe this winter I should work on my language skills – haven’t got any but is worth a try!!!)

  2. marinachetner Says:

    Great post about a city is Love. I just posted on Parc Guell and remembered the trip all over again. like you, I loved the lamp posts, the balconies, the cosmopolitan feel of the city. La Sagrada was amazing – I found blogging about it a little hard as it just awed me so much. I will check out that book – The Angel’s Game. Thank you for a lovely post!

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