From Quirky to Imaginative a Welcoming City
By Charlene & Richard Mixa
Bienvenidos a Barcelona! Welcome to Barcelona! A cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, the city is defined by quirky art and architecture, imaginative food and vibrant street life. A dynamic city where Medieval roots of the mazelike Gothic Quarter border the modernist personality of architect Antoni Gaudí, and the tantalizing treats of its diverse restaurants.
So much to see! Hop aboard Barcelona Bus Turistic, an open top double decker bus, to get a glimpse of the major landmarks and places of interest. Terrific! With three routes and a two day pass, we can choose where to explore while the comprehensive audio guide (in 16 languages) educates us about Barcelona, each landmark, as well, as the intriguing past and present of this lively city. Boarding at the Diagonal Avenue stop, we locate seats on the upper open-air deck with 360 degree views. The Red Loop route travels 23 stops into the city. Fascinating sights are the massive Sants Station, one of the most used transport hubs in the city, at Montjuïc are fantastic panoramic views of Barcelona and the Olympic Park for the 1992 Summer Olympics, and the blue waters of the Mediterranean are seen at Port Vell, Barcelona’s waterfront harbor.
Hopping off in the Gothic Quarter, we stroll to the Barcelona Cathedral, one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in Barcelona. An imposing cathedral, construction started in the 11th century with its neo-gothic façade finished in 1890. Inside, this massive cathedral houses 29 side chapels each with a unique design. The Cloister of the Cathedral is dedicated to Santa Eulàlia martyr, the patron saint of Barcelona. Tortured to death in the late Roman period, her body lies buried under the high altar. In the Cloister we find a refreshing respite with small chapels, gardens, and fountains. Gleaming of solid gold is a precious monstrance, a liturgical device used to house the host, in a small museum at the Cathedral. An elevator ride to the roof offers magnificent expansive views of Barcelona.
Exploring the Gothic Quarter, we roam to Las Ramblas, the central most boulevard which cuts through the heart of the city centre. A vibrant and lively promenade lined with shops, restaurants and mini-parks is bustling. Walking along the boulevard is hectic so we divert to side streets. Away from the crowds, we enjoy a relaxing lunch and unique shops. Continuing our walk we arrive at Plaça Catalunya, a large square in central Barcelona where the old city meets the 19th century building city. Quickly catching the next Bus Turistic Red Loop bus, from the top deck we have great views of the plaza with its beautiful fountains and statues.
Who is Gaudi? As the bus winds through the city, we see the stunning designs of Antoni Gaudí was n renowned architect in Barcelona. Admired by architects around the World for his most unique and distinctive architectural styles, Gaudi designs are influenced by nature. Passing by Casa Batlló (La Pedrera) we are awed at the radically different architecture with naturally curved construction stones, twisted iron sculptures and the famous “skull and bones” balconies. Unique is an understatement for Gaudi designs.
Barca! Barca! Arriving at Camp Nou, the Barcelona football stadium, fans are cheering for the Barcelona football team (soccer to us). With a seating capacity of 99,354, it is the largest stadium in Europe. Picking up tickets, we locate Gate 85 and are faced with a stairwell to the top. Climbing the stairs, we finally step onto a large hallway with entrances to the stadium’s upper section. Fantastic views of the stadium and city are a reward for these seats. Tonight Barcelona faces Rayo Vallecano. Fans cheer, flags wave, music plays, and enthusiastic fans are thrilled as Barcelona handily defeats Rayo Vallecano 5-2. Go Barca!
It’s a sunny Sunday October morning with clear blue skies. A short walk to Plaça de Francesc Macià, a beautiful square and an elegant shopping and business area of Barcelona, we board the Bus Turistic Blue Line bus. Passing by numerous intriguing sights, we hop-off at Sagrada Familia, a large Roman Catholic church designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. Construction began in 1882, yet it is still incomplete. Today, a minor basilica, its architecture is like no other church in the history of the world. The structure has a fairy tale castle-look with numerous tall towers. Just walking around the exterior, each view brings a new feature of Gaudi’s intriguing personal interpretation of Gothic architecture. Back on the bus, we pass more unique sights including another Gaudi masterpiece, Park Guell, a public park systems composed of gardens and archtectonic elements. Sorry, there is not enough time to see the park on this visit. We finish the bus ride in the city centre which is less crowded on Sunday.
Fun! Food! Drinks! The Sandeman’s Tapas Experience on Sunday evening promises plenty of sampling and sipping. How did tapas begin? Tapas means “top or cover.” A Spanish king was drinking in a tavern when a sandstorm came up and a servant put a slice of ham over the King’s wine to keep out the sand. Liking the idea, the king began having wine “with a cover” resulting in the tapas we know today. Our first tasting is a tapas and white wine at TXIRIMIRI – Pintxos Y Kaxuelitas Vascas, a restaurant featuring a northern Spain Basque-style menu. Walking to Segons Mercat, hailed for fresh fish and tapas, we find seats at long tables in a backroom. Tasty treats are four tapas of bruschetta, croquettes, potatoes, and sausages with more wine. Strolling the narrow streets, we arrive at `Restaurant Pasa Tapas where a sampling is a delicious paella.
Drink from a porron! A porron is a traditional Spanish glass wine pitcher, which looks like a cross between a wine bottle and a watering can. Cornelius, our guide, demonstrates by bringing the spout very close to his mouth, tilting it forward slowly so the beak points towards his teeth. Once the liquid starts pouring out, he pulls the porron away from his face while looking up. He finishes by lowering the porron, bringing it closer to his mouth and quickly tilts the spout up. Everyone gives it a try. FUN! More excitement awaits in the restaurant’s bar. It’s Apple Shots! Luckily, after all the food and drinks, we find our way to the bus and to our hotel. The Tapas tour was a fantastic finale for our visit to Barcelona. Good food and lots of libations!
If you go:
Barcelona is a city with amazing sights, landmarks, shops, eateries and more. Our short visited limited visits to museums, parks, and historic sights. Barcelona Tourism was most helpful on suggestions on this visit. Barcelona Bus Touristic was great for giving us an overview of the city on a weekend trip before a Mediterranean cruise. We are so glad we did the Sandeman’s Tapas Tour as it gave us a new appreciation for the Spanish cuisine and culture. Our hotel was the Hesperia Presidente on Diagonal Avenue. Very good clean hotel and so convenient for getting around. We highly recommend Hesperia Presidente. Personally, we preferred being away from the congestion of the city centre. Utilizing the Bus Touristic and the city buses, it was easy to get around.
Barcelona Turisme, Alegre de Dalt, 26, 08024 Barcelona (Espanya)