So when I got my job teaching abroad in Madrid, Spain we were told by the program to arrive in country a few weeks early…you know…so as to get ourselves settled, bank accounts opened, what have you. So I arrived in Madrid on June 29th…school didn’t really start back up until the second week in September. Needless to say, I was reeeeaaaallllyyy early, lol. What to do with all this time? Travel, of course! I took advantage of the time, and one of the first places I went was to Barcelona. I was able to find a cheap Ryanair flight over, but in retrospect it would have been a lot more interesting taking the train. I was very new to the country and hadn’t quite mastered traveling by train but I sure knew how to get to the airport. It’s only a 4-5 hour trip by train from Madrid, and I would highly recommend it for any future travelers.
So Barcelona is the capital of the Catalonia, or Catalunya, region of Spain on the far east coast. The main language is not Castillian Spanish, but Catalan, a sort of French and Spanish mix that the people of this region of quite proud of. It’s a romance language, but many of the people that live in this region can speak Spanish to you as well. All the signage is in catalan however. While my first love is Madrid, for obvious reasons, I find Barcelona to be one of the most modern yet historic cities in Spain. The city is steeped in its ancient Roman and Renaissance era roots, while still boasting of the modern architectural designs of Antoni Gaudí. Being on the coast, it is also a large tourist hub for cruise ships and the like.
I stayed only a few days in Barcelona, so I allowed the hop-on/hop-off bus to guide me. It is a great way to see a lot of things in a short amount of time. I headed to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya first, which houses a good deal of Renaissance art, much like the Prado in Madrid.
I then set out to to take in the modern architecture, particularly that of Antoní Gaudi. GaudÍ is perhaps the best known Catalan architect, famous for his neo-gothic modern style. I got to see the two most famous of Gaudí’s work here, La Pedrera and the magnificent Sagrada Familia (which is still a work in progress, almost 90 years after Gaudí’s death).
La Pedrera, or “stone quarry,” is a fascinating building, originally used as a private resident. Today it is used as a cultural education center. When you enter inside you are immediately drawn to the iron work, and the interesting open air courtyard area. Don’t miss the rooftop where you can get a great view of Barcelona as well as see more of Gaudí’s work.
Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family) is simply amazing. The intricate detail on this massive cathedral will leave you breathless. It is no wonder that it is still under construction. Each facade of the cathedral is dedicated to a particular portion of biblical teachings (ie. the birth of Jesus, the Passion, resurrection, etc). There is an exceptionally long line in order to get inside the Cathedral but it is well worth the wait.
I sadly ran out of time during this particular visit and missed out on the famous Park Güell. This is definitely on my list for the next time I make it Barcelona. On the way to the Museum you do pass through the Montjuïc (Jewish Mountain) area. I also saw the royal palace, often used by the royal family when visiting Barcelona. There are some fantastic gardens here. The aquarium was also surprisingly large and comprehensive.
All in all, one of the best things about visiting Barcelona was being introduced to pintxos (or pinchos). Pintxos are like tapas on little tostadas. While this is more of a Basque area thing, it is still very typical of this northern area of Spain. You don’t often ask for pintxos in Madrid, although there are a number of pintxo bars there.
Have you visited Barcelona? What did you enjoy the most there?