In case you don’t understand the title, it says Return to Spain: Once upon a time in Barcelona…
So apparently I love Spain so much, I had to go back! Well sort of. I’ve always wanted to go to Barcelona but it’s not easy to get to from Malaga. From Toulouse, you’re there in two easy train rides in about 5-6 hours. Way more feasible than taking the overnight train from Malaga. Since I have a week long break, I and 3 other girls from Dickinson decided to visit Barcelona for 2 days. The 2nd half of this week (meaning I’m leaving tomorrow) I’m going to Paris for 5 days. It’s a mandatory trip organized by Dickinson so I don’t really have a choice. I know all of you are going “Oh what a life! Being FORCED to go to Paris!” I’m looking forward to it but at the same time I’m not. Why?
1) I’ve been to Paris 68956 times. (Ok not THAT many but a lot)
2) I’ve seen most of what there is to see. Eiffel Tower? Check. (make that twice) Sacre Coeur and Montmartre? Check. (2-3 times) Versailles? check. Notre Dame? check (more than once) the Catacombs? Check. Arc de Triomphe? Check. Champs-Elysees? Bateau mouche? Check. the Louvre? Check. And you get the picture. I haven’t been EVERYWHERE but I’ve done more than my fair share. I’ve even been to Disneyland Paris twice. Which is kind of sad for an American whose never been to Florida and never gone to Disneyworld. People STILL find the fact I’ve never been to Florida surprising. MOM. I’m going to Miami senior year spring break to rectify this.
3) Cold. Paris during the winter? Not so fun.
And well there’s more but I’d rather tell you all about Barcelona.
So last Friday Erika, Gaelle, Allison, and I took the 6:42 train from Toulouse, switched in Narbonne, and got into Barcelona a little after noon. There was some panicking in the beginning because Erika, Gaelle, and I had made it onto the train without seeing Allison so we didn’t know whether she had made it or not. As the train departed, I called Allison and it turned out she had made it and was on the train. We didn’t see her until we got to Narbonne though because we had reserved seats and Allison’s seat wasn’t in our car. Oh and there was a 5th girl from Dickinson traveling to Barcelona as well but she was going there to meet her family. We parted ways with her shortly after arriving in Barcelona.
We got into Barcelona a little behind schedule and figured out which metro to take and what stop to get off at. Our hostel was a little confusing to find once we got in the building because we weren’t too sure what floor it was on. But we found it alright and we had our own room so none of that 12 people to a room craziness. For a first time hostel experience, I didn’t think it was too bad. The hostel was in a really nice section of Barcelona called L’Eixample and had all these brand name stores like Valentino and Gucci on the street. This means the neighborhood wasn’t sketchy and we always walked around together as a group anyways so I never felt unsafe. It seemed pretty decent. My host mother was generous enough to lend me a sleeping bag and a towel since the hostel didn’t provide them for free (and a lot of them don’t, you usually have to fork over a few euros). The only thing I didn’t like too much was the fact our door didn’t lock. But we did have storage lockers in the room so we just stowed our valuables in the lockers while we were out and about and held on to our keys. Speaking of valuables, I didn’t even need any passports (remember I’m a dual citizen now 😀 ) to enter Spain. My French national ID card sufficed.
Once we got settled in and got some lunch right around the corner from our hostel, we decided to hit Las Ramblas, about 15 minutes walking distance from our hostel. I quickly discovered again I have a terrible sense of direction. The maps the tourist office provided us with weren’t well marked so thank god Allison and Erika seemed to have a good memory of where we were headed. I think if I had been alone, I would have paid more attention to where I was walking.
On the way to Las Ramblas, we passed a few of the houses the famous Catalan architect, Gaudi, designed. In fact, Casa Mila, one of his most famous works, was right down the street from our hostel. The other, Casa Batllo, was a bit further down. I can’t even begin to describe Gaudi’s architecture. I was surprised my mother had never heard of Gaudi (or maybe she forgot?). I’m am wondering whether the English word “gaudy” is inspired by Gaudi’s architecture. The word means ostentatious and showy which is a perfect way to sum up Gaudi’s style. However a quick look up of the word gaudy shows me its random derivations which I don’t really care about. I guess Gaudi just lived up to his name then. The man was seriously a genius, pushing the boundaries of architecture and constantly inventing new techniques to build things. He incorporated a lot of natural elements into his works. The results are simply astounding. If you’ve taken a look at my pictures on Facebook, you’ll see for yourself what I’m talking about. I’m not a huge fan of architecture but even I was able to appreciate Gaudi’s uniqueness.
In fact all of the architecture in Barcelona is mesmerizing. It is probably my favorite city architecture wise. The buildings just simply mesh well together and at one point I was taking pictures of the towers of all the buildings. It’s all so beautiful to behold and goes well with Barcelona’s vibrant energy. The only sore eye in the city is probably the Torre Agbar, this really ugly phallic and metallic looking tower. I didn’t find out what the heck this ugly thing was until I left Barcelona. It just looks like a giant pod out of some bad science fiction movie.
So we finally got to Las Ramblas, this very touristy section of Barcelona with lots of restaurants and bars and of course, street performers. There were some back in Malaga on Calle Larios too and I’ve seen some in the Montmartre section of Paris. There definitely were some very interesting costumes… I never give these people money because honestly I find it kind of dumb. They just stand there motionless and expect you to pay them to move. And then there’s the weird clown ones that make weird screechy bird noises (probably pressing something in their hands) but I’m really afraid of clowns and it just weirds me out too much.
Anyways we headed down the looooong stretch of La Rambla de las Canaletes. Las Ramblas is actually 6 different streets interconnected but I think we were on the main one. I was alert for pickpocketers because I had learned beforehand that this specific area was a prime target because of all the tourists. We went past a bunch of flower vendors and other stands selling all kinds of knick knacks and for some reason, a lot of people selling birds. Kind of random. We briefly entered La Boqueria, this huge food market selling all kinds of fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, chocolate… I bought a strawberry-banana shake and it was soooo good. Absolutely amazing.
We reached the end of crowded Las Ramblas and headed down Rambla del Mar on a very modern looking bridge that went past Port Vell. We went past the huge monument commemorating Columbus’s discovery of America and all these pretty boats in the harbor. Once at the end of the walkway, we paused for a few minutes to figure out where we were headed next. I glimpsed the World Trade Center Barcelona, the funny looking lighthouse that had some kind of cable car ride running through it, and the aquarium. This part was unexpected since none of us really knew we’d hit the water once we got to the end of Las Ramblas. If we had headed down further along the coastline, I’m sure we would have hit the beaches at some point. However, it’s obviously not beach season and we didn’t come to Barcelona to go to the beach.
We then walked over to the Gothic Quarter and wandered around there for a bit. It’s mostly pedestrian and a lot like a labyrinth with narrow streets opening up into spacious squares. We also ended up visiting the Catedral de Barcelona/de Santa Eulalia, the patron saint of Barcelona. Here’s some history from… you got it, Wikipedia:
Cathedral of Santa Eulalia (also called La Seu) is the Gothic cathedral seat of the Archbishop of Barcelona, Spain. (Though sometimes inaccurately so called, the famous Sagrada Família is not a cathedral). The cathedral was constructed throughout the 13th to 15th centuries on top of a former Visigothic church. The neo-Gothic façade is from the 19th century. The cathedral is dedicated to Eulalia of Barcelona, co-patron saint of Barcelona, a young virgin who, according to Catholic tradition, suffered martyrdom during Roman times in Barcelona. One story is that she was exposed naked in the public square and a miraculous snowfall in mid-spring covered her nudity. The enraged Romans put her into a barrel with knives stuck into it and rolled it down a street (according to tradition, the one now called ‘Baixada de Santa Eulalia’). The body of Saint Eulalia is entombed in the cathedral’s crypt.
One side chapel is dedicated to “Christ of Lepanto”, and contains a cross from a ship that fought at the Battle of Lepanto (1571). The body of the cross is shifted to the right. Catalan legend says that the body swerved to avoid being hit by a cannonball. This is believed to have been a sign from God that the Ottomans would be defeated.
The cathedral has a secluded Gothic cloister where thirteen white geese are kept (it is said that Eulalia was 13 when she was murdered). The cathedral was built throughout the 14th and 15th centuries.
The only thing that kind of stunk was that the cathedral is undergoing renovation on the outside. The main facade is completely covered by scaffolding. However the scaffolding is in turn hidden by a huge panel that has a likeness of the cathedral right over it. It’s really weird to see the natural 3 spires of the cathedral sticking out only to have the rest of it disappear behind its own picture. Oh well, I suppose it’s nicer to look at than ugly scaffolding.
We had dinner on Las Ramblas, some paella, tapas, and sangria. Neither were too good… at least I can say I’ve had real paella and sangria back in Malaga. We then sped walked to the Park Montjuic (near Plaza de Espana) to watch a water show at the Font Magica (Magic Fountain). This beautiful fountain has some impressive looking jets and a very elaborate system of controlling them. For about 15 minutes every half hour on weekend nights, the fountain jets “dance” along to a variety of different classical songs as the light change the water’s appearance. Basically the jets do a bunch of crazy tricks as the music plays along. But it’s still really cool and it was worth going to see it. Though I’m not sure the crazy pace we walked at was entirely necessary. Behind the fountain is the The Palau Nacional which houses the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. We didn’t go there during our trip but it is very palace like looking from the outside. We also weren’t far from the Olympic Stadium built for the Barcelona Summer Olympics in 1992 (originally built for the 1929 World Expo).
After that, we were starving again. We headed back to Las Ramblas and saw a place that served waffles and ice cream. We made a beeline for it. I’m not kidding, I was famished. I ate my ENTIRE waffle bathed in chocolate and cookies and cream and it was probably the best thing I ever ate in my life. We were just so hungry and exhausted from our day. The waffled and ice cream really hit the spot.
Needless to say, we basically slept like babies when we went back to the hostel. We had walked a lot and even though people were talking and being kind of loud out in the hallway, I found I barely cared because I was so tired. My legs were so sore and were still hurting when I woke up the following morning.
Saturday was another busy day and very Gaudi oriented. Off we went to see La Sagrada Familia, the church designed by Gaudi which began construction in 1882. And yes, it is still under construction and probably will be for another 20-40 years. Gaudi oversaw his most ambitious project until he died in 1926 when he was run over by a tram. He was buried in the Sagrada Familia’s crypt which I don’t think is accessible to the public because I did not see his tomb in the church.
I took so many pictures of La Sagrada Familia. It is just so structurally different from anything I’ve ever seen before. The towers are so elaborate and imposing looking and the different facades are covered in engravings leaving no spot bare. The inside has a lot of scaffolding and nothing like pews or the altar has been done yet. If you would like to read more on the history of the Sagrada Familia’s construction (it’s been under construction for over a 100 years) check out Wiki here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagrada_Familia.
If you ever go to Barcelona, you can’t skip the Sagrada Familia. It is just an amazing piece of architecture and like nothing you will have ever seen in your life. You can also climb the tower but you have to pay extra so we opted not to do that. It is kind of a rip off because you are paying to essentially see a church under construction. But trust me, there is enough detail on the inside that make the entrance fee worth it. I hope they finish construction during my lifetime. It would be nice to come back and see the finished product.
After Sagrada Familia, we got some lunch and I was happy to be able to eat tortilla de patatas sandwich once again. My Spanish host mother used to make me that a lot for lunch. Afterwards, we headed to Parque Guell, a very famous park Gaudi designed. We had some trouble getting there, taking a bus packed with a lot of senior citizens for some reason going up a very steep hill so we were all holding on for dear life. I’m kind of used to the whole squished like sardines bus thing thanks to Malaga and la linea 11 which I had to take to go down to el centro and Cursos. Gaelle, Erika, and Allison were way more freaked out by it. We got off at the wrong stop because the bus driver forgot to tell us when to get off. So we trekked back up the hill and eventually found the park. We knew we were in the right place thanks to all the tourists.
Even though it’s overrun by tourists, Parque Guell is another Gaudi sight you cannot miss. And here we go again with Wikipedia background info:
Parc Guell is a garden complex with architectural elements situated on the hill of el Carmel in the Gràcia district of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. It was designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí and built in the years 1900 to 1914. Count Eusebi Güell added to the prestige of the development by moving in 1906 to live in Larrard House. Ultimately, only two houses were built, neither designed by Gaudí. One was intended to be a show house, but on being completed in 1904 was put up for sale, and as no buyers came forward, Gaudí, at Güell’s suggestion, bought it with his savings and moved in with his family and his father in 1906.
Park Güell is skillfully designed and composed to bring the peace and calm that one would expect from a park. The buildings flanking the entrance, though very original and remarkable with fantastically shaped roofs with unusual pinnacles, fit in well with the use of the park as pleasure gardens and seem relatively inconspicuous in the landscape when one considers the flamboyance of other buildings designed by Gaudí.
The focal point of the park is the main terrace, surrounded by a long bench in the form of a sea serpent. To design the curvature of the bench surface Gaudí used the shape of buttocks left by a naked workman sitting in wet clay. The curves of the serpent bench form a number of enclaves, creating a more social atmosphere. Gaudí incorporated many motifs of Catalan nationalism, and elements from religious mysticism and ancient poetry, into the Park. The visitor was originally greeted by two life-size mechanical gazelles (a major euphemistic symbol of ‘the young beloved’ in the Hebrew strand of the medieval love poetry of the region), but these have since been lost during the turbulence of war.
We didn’t enter through the main entrance so it took us awhile to find the sea serpent terrace and the famous mosaic dragon at the entrance. The architecture once again is fantastic and so beautiful. The colors of the mosaic tiles just astounded me which is what the surface of literally just about everything is decorated with. You can visit the house Gaudi lived in in the park grounds but you have to pay for that. I was content just admiring it from the outside though I’m sure there was cool stuff to see inside it too. If you don’t have access to my Facebook albums, I suggest you google image Parque Guell because you will be amazed at how unique the landscape of this park is. Best of all, it’s free. So you get to enjoy Gaudi’s art for absolutely nothing, unless you count the bus/metro fare to get there. We pretty much all went picture crazy. You also get some pretty sweet shots of the view of all Barcelona and the Mediterranean. I didn’t realize how much Barcelona is spread out until we were on the side of the mountain up in the park. It is a pretty big city.
After Guell, we took the subway towards the Picasso Museum (seems like I can never escape the guy no matter where I go). Picasso spent some time in Barcelona, I’m not really sure at what point in his life (he moved there with the fam in 1895). What I liked about this Picasso Museum (I’ve already been to the one in Malaga) is that each room was devoted to a specific stage of his art. You clearly saw the evolution from Picasso’s early classical works, especially paintings he completed when he was very young, to the Cubism style which is what he is famous for. Personally I like Picasso’s classical works better because I’m not that big on abstract art that could be drawn by a five year old. The museum was in some kind of Gothic palace and there was a temporary exhibition of Picasso works from all sorts of different museums.
I thought it was interesting but I’m not a huge fan of Picasso and luckily the other girls were tiring just as much as I was so we kind of zoomed past the last few rooms. We did end up eating churros con chocolate at some point during the day to refuel since we were walking so much. I can’t remember if that was before or after Picasso though. That night we ended up eating at Burger King on Las Ramblas. Yeah I know, super touristy and American but we just couldn’t be bothered to look for a more Spanish place because we were so hungry and tired.
We decided we’d finally go out since Barcelona is known for its partying. However we decided to be close to the hostel so that we didn’t have to walk far. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t realize our hostel was in a ritzy shopping neighborhood making bars and nightclubs scarce. We probably should have just stayed on Las Ramblas. Oh well. We walked around for an hour, including stalking some guys who left our hostel in hopes they were going someplace exciting. Turns out they were getting falafel… in Spain. That was probably even lamer than going to Burger King for dinner. So we gave up and went to our hostel where it turns out drinking was going on in full force.
I was a little surprised the hostel was so lax about the drinking since it was right in the lounge area but no one was being super ridiculous so I guess it was alright. I feel like other hostels might have stricter rules about that though. These Italian guys were trying to pressure me and Allison to take shots of rhum out of a mug because the hostel didn’t have shot glasses available. And since they didn’t speak English so well, they thought they had to show us how to do shots. One of them asked me if I had ever heard of Hoboken which I know is in NJ. And he kept going on about how Hoboken is such a great place which I could not agree to because I know absolutely nothing about the town. And then the Italians harassed us when they saw we were getting ready for bed and insisted we go out to a club with them. Well it turns out it’s probably a good thing we stayed put because they ended up paying a 20 euro cover charge. I like dancing and a good cocktail now and then but not for 20 euros!
Sunday we checked out which consisted us giving back our locker storage keys. We left our luggage behind the desk and headed down the street to Casa Mila, another building commissioned to be designed by Gaudi:
Casa Milà, better known as La Pedrera (Catalan for ‘The Quarry’), is a building designed by the Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí, and built during the years 1906–1910, being considered officially completed in 1912. It is located at 92, Passeig de Gràcia (‘passeig’ is Catalan for promenade or avenue) in the Eixample district of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
It was built for the married couple, Rosario Segimon and Pere Milà. Rosario Segimon was the wealthy widow of José Guardiola, an Indiano, a term applied locally to the Catalans returning from the American colonies with tremendous wealth. Her second husband, Pere Mila, was a developer who was criticized for his flamboyant lifestyle and ridiculed by the contemporary residents of Barcelona, when they joked about his love of money and opulence, wondering if he wasn’t rather more interested in “the widow’s guardiola” (piggy bank), than in “Guardiola’s widow”.
The design by Gaudi was not followed in some aspects. The local government objected to some aspects of the project, fined the owners for many infractions of regulations, ordered the demolition of aspects exceeding the height standard for the city, and refused to approve the installation of a huge sculpture atop the building—described as “the Virgin”—but said by Gijs Van Hensbergen in his biography of Gaudi, to represent the primeval earth goddess, Gaia. 
Casa Mila was in poor condition in the early 1980s. It had been painted a dreary brown and many of its interior color schemes had been abandoned or allowed to deteriorate, but it has been restored and many of the original colors revived.
This apartment building is insane. On the outside and on the inside. It was just ridiculous, I can’t imagine living in a building that is so funky and wavy looking. We visited the attic with the vaulted ceilings, the roof, and a floor that was specifically set up to look like it was turn of the century. My favorite part was without a doubt the roof. It had all these modern looking sculptures and was just from out of this world. The views of Barcelona were incredible. We also ran into Gaby, another Dickinson program participant who was staying outside of Barcelona visiting friends. It was just so unexpected!
So yeah Casa Mila was nifty and I wish I could have visited Casa Botlla, another Gaudi designed house not far from our hostel. However we had to head back to Barcelona Sants station to catch our train and we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to get there. I got back Sunday night around 11:30, managing to catch one of the last metros after our train got back into Toulouse. I was on my own for 2 days since my host family had left for the week to go skiing at their chalet in the mountains. That was actually nice. I had been with the same 3 girls for 2 days and I needed a break, some quality me time. I’ve come to discover I am not a people person and I prefer being alone a lot. Not all the time, I’m not a hermit either. But it was nice to come home to an empty house and just relax before repacking for Paris.
Paris will have to wait for another entry… I’m exhausted and I need to go do some work (haha yeah finally after all the freaking greves). However I would love to return to Barcelona someday. It really is one of a kind–despite all the annoying signs that are written in Catalan. I wouldn’t mind living there.
Ok gang that’s a wrap for now. Hope all of you are doing well in your respective corners of the world.