Once we were joined by Jon’s parents, our entourage was complete and we were ready to tackle Barcelona’s most famous and grand sights. We were also lucky to have our parents with us to experience the vibrant neighborhoods and delicious food of Barcelona.
Day 7 – Wednesday, July 15, 2015
While we were getting ready to move to a larger apartment, Jon’s parents, Tom and Ginger, were zipping through customs at the airport. They texted us hours earlier than we expected and we hustled to check-out and meet them at the Aerobus in Plaza de Catalunya. We had a happy reunion and killed enough time chatting that we were able to start walking to our next apartment for check in.
The apartment we had rented was in the Eixample neighborhood of Barcelona. Eixample was a big departure from the small Old Town streets. In Eixample, the blocks are perfectly square with tapered corners and the streets are wide with diamond shaped intersections. It has a very Parisian feel to it.
Once everyone was settled in, we set out to give the Herrs their first introduction to the city, and started at one of our favorite spots, Casa Batllo. Casa Batllo is always a pleasure to look at from the exterior. For lunch we walked back towards the apartment and stopped just across the street at Alsur Cafe. The food was good, but the cafe wasn’t as Spanish leaning as a proper first meal for the Herrs should have been. Seeing that everyone was tired, we returned home for siesta.
At 4pm we woke everyone up and rushed out the door to meet a Runner Bean free walking tour. Our tour was led by a British woman whose Spanish boyfriend was guiding another group. She specialized in art history. The tour started at the Plaza Real and walked us through the Gothic quarter. We enjoyed when she chose Tom to play ‘Wilfred the Hairy’ in a historical reenactment. She was dumbfounded to learn that Tom’s first name is Harry, resulting in a good laugh. A few other highlights of the tour were learning about Saint Eulalia and seeing roman columns, which are open to the public but hidden away. The guide also provided scarfs for our shoulders to enter the Barcelona Cathedral for a quick tour.
When the tour ended, we walked towards Barceloneta and sat down for a drink on the waterfront. Barceloneta was originally a small fisherman’s town built on a peninsula in Barcelona. While still less touristy than the Barri Gotic district, it was much more crowded than our visit 5 years ago. We looked up tapas restaurants and again tried to get a table at the highly recommended Can Maño. Unfortunately the wait was too long so we returned to Jai-ca, where we had eaten the previous week. This time we tried the house specialty anchovies, stuffed potatoes, sausage, tortilla, and octopus.
The ride home on the metro was an adventure. The cars were very crowded and for some reason there was very little to hold onto. When you saw the cars ahead twisting and turning, you knew you were about to lose your balance. Some of us had to resort to holding the ceiling to stay up.
Day 8 – Thursday, July 16, 2015
Breakfast was at Granja M. Vaidar, another place we discovered the previous week and wanted to share with Tom and Ginger. Granja M. Viader is a cool, old fashion deli where the waiters were dressed up in vests. The specialty is ‘suis’ or hot chocolate with cream. The hot chocolate isn’t coco, but is actual thick chocolate, which the blob of cream really improved. The hot chocolates and churros as well as cafes, pastries, and toasties are amazing. To show our new arrivals Barcelona, we followed a similar route as we did when my parents had arrived the week before. We walked down Las Ramblas stopping to browse through the San Josep Mercat, take pictures of the umbrella house, and enjoy the overall atmosphere. At the Columbus statue we turned to walk a few blocks along the water towards some art installations. The heat was intense and it wasn’t long before we ran back to the narrow shady streets of Barri Gotic.
To really cool off and take in Barcelona, we sat down for drinks in Plaza Real. On our way up Las Ramblas, we stopped again at the St. Joseph Mercat where we purchased Spanish ham, cheese, and peaches. In the apartment we relaxed in the air-conditioning and some naps were taken. Eventually the food we had purchased was put out creating a very enjoyable spread of snacks.
As a surprise to welcome everyone, Jon and I had planned a fun evening out. We gathered the group and rode the metro to Plaza Espana where we climbed Montjuic to Poble Espanyol. Poble Espanyol is a model Spanish village (think Epcot) created for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition. The picturesque and quaint town is now home to several attractions. I think we would have enjoyed walking around the village and stopping in shops, but we were there for flamenco. We led our parents to Tablao de Carmen and were seated with drinks (€41). The one hour flamenco show featured a guitarist, two singers, and 4 solo dancers, including 1 man. Flamenco shows are very powerful and everyone was captivated by the music and dancing.
When the show ended, we walked to Tapes Tapas for dinner. We tried to order all of the classics for our parents; paella, croquettes, cod fritters, fried zucchini, and more. To end the night in style, we went to the Magic Fountain where we watched the dancing waters for over an hour. The mist from the fountain felt great and we even danced a little.
Day 9 – Friday, July 17, 2015
Our alarm clock woke us up for what would be the start of several early mornings in Barcelona. We took the metro across town to Park Guell. The walk from the street to the park is a mix of steep uphill roads, steps, and escalators that may or may not be functional. I highly recommend pre-purchased tickets (€7) to enter the monumental area of the park. We arrived a few minutes earlier than our 10:30am entrance time, and overheard that people buying tickets had to wait until at least 12pm to enter.
The monumental area of the park consists of a large terrace designed by Gaudi with iconic mosaic benches. It also includes the cooler, columned area beneath the terrace, the guards’ house, and the gate building. My mother spotted the washerwoman column from afar, and after leaving the monumental area Jon led us to some more columned walkways overgrown with trees and ivy.
We had a lot of extra time for lunch, but decided that the area around Park Guell didn’t have enough to offer, so we took the metro towards our next destination, Sagrada Familia. Outside of the church was a busy pedestrian area with restaurants and outdoor cafes. We turned one street away from what appeared to be the main road and found Fidalga. Fidalga was one of our favorite meals. For €12 we each had a three course meal with drink included.
At 3:30pm we entered Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece and the main attraction of any visit to Barcelona. Entrance is €19.50 and includes either a guided tour or an audioguide. We had selected audioguides and started our visit at the Nativity Facade, as it was closest. Like my first visit to the Sagrada Familia, I listened to every word on the audioguide and all of the extras. The Nativity Facade is flowing and detailed and would take hours to fully explore. From there we moved to the interior of the church. Much had changed in the 5 years since we’d visited. The interior had been completed and the basilica was consecrated by the pope. The looming columns and brightly lit room were just as breathtaking as the first time I saw them. It is hard to keep your head from turning upward as your eyes follow the amazing tree-like columns.
At 4:30pm we had tickets (€4.50) to enter the towers on the Nativity Facade. A lift took us to the height of the bridge that connects the two middle towers. From the bridge, the tree of life atop the facade is right in front of you. On the other side, small spiral stairs descend allowing you to travel up and down and between both towers. At points there are small balconies to step out on.
Lastly, we visited the Passion Facade. This facade is stark and contrasts greatly with the Nativity Facade. It is my favorite area because of its stylized figures and clear story. The Sagrada Familia also has a small school building designed by Gaudi and a museum under the church where Gaudi’s workshop was. Even though we were exhausted, we stopped to walk through both of these spaces.
One of the most amazing things to comprehend is how much more is planned for the basilica. The Glory Facade has not been started yet and several additional huge towers are in the works. While construction was actively underway during our visit, the completion is not expected until 2026. With the immense attention to detail, this is not surprising.
When we were rested after a siesta at home, we headed out to dinner close to the apartment. There were many good looking pizza places nearby, and we choose Fratelli la Bufala. The brick oven pizza was delicious and hit the spot, even if the salads were a disappointment.
Day 10 – Saturday, July 18, 2015
It was time for a day trip, our first with Jon’s parents. Montserrat is one of the most talked about day trips from Barcelona and we were eager to see the mountainside monastery. Getting to Montserrat is a multiple step process, but it is easy. There are many tour companies to Montserrat and also many places that sell combined metro/train/tram/cable-car/lunch combination tickets. We used our metro tickets to get to the Placa de Espana station, the main station for the regional train to Montserrat. We purchased combination tickets from the automated ticket machines. As the train nears the Montserrat, you must continue up the mountain in one of two ways; by cable car or by cog train. We chose the cog train. While it took longer than the cable car, we were able to sit and enjoy the ride.
Montserrat was beautiful. The sandstone mountains formed tall spires around the small town. My father pointed out that after seeing the man-made churches the day before, this was god-made. The town is small, and a quick walk past booths selling cheese and nuts took us to the very end where there are viewpoints. There are also several hikes, so we started down a shady path for a few minutes. A local along the path told us that if you walk for an hour the path ends at another church, so we turned back.
The front view of the Montserrat Cathedral is hidden from the main road, but was a wonderful sight to find. We waited in a line to walk through the side of the church, past the chapels and to view the famous Black Madonna. The statue is in a small shine with doors made from silver, and has one hand which you may touch. After seeing the statue, we re-entered the church through the main doors to have a look around. The most interesting feature was the many varied lanterns hanging throughout the church.
For lunch we ate at one of the very few restaurants, a cafeteria style place. Jon wanted to walk further from the town so he could take some pictures and was joined by most of our group. While they went in search of hiking trails, my mom and I stopped in the gift shop to unsuccessfully seek an explanation for why the Monastery had been built there.
Conscience of the train schedule, we reconvened and started down the mountain on cog train and then regional train to Barcelona. Dinner that evening was close to our apartment in the Eixample area.
Day 11 – Sunday, July 19, 2015
Our plans for the day didn’t start until the Barcelona free museum hours began at 3pm, so we decided to take it easy and walk towards the city hall building where we heard weddings visit on Sundays. Along the way we stopped at Cafeto, another bakery with coffee and pastries.
To get to the city hall building we passed through Placita de la Seu (the square where the Barcelona Cathedral is). Outside a band was playing and there were some older folks doing a circular dance. While we were there, we took advantage of entering the church for a quick look around. The Cathedral was holding mass, so we were limited to the back portion of the church. It is another huge, Gothic church with decorative chapels lining the walls.
We continued on to city hall, but arrived at Placa Sant Jaume without any sightings of brides and wedding parties. (Ginger asked a guard who told us we had been misinformed that Sunday was a good time to see brides at city hall). There was a sign saying that the city hall building was free to tour on Sunday, so we took advantage of that tour while we were there. The self-guided tours allow you to wander through the public rooms of the building; the courtyard, chapel, black stairs, and other public assembly rooms, all of which are as finely designed and decorated as any palace we’d visited on the trip.
Being not far from Palau de la Musica Catalana, I was able to convince everyone to go by it. After some debate we decided to tour it while we were there. We had a few coupons and senior rates, but the ticket office gave us an even better deal by giving us a family rate. The lack of excitement to tour the Music Palace was due to its lack of notoriety compared to works by Gaudi, however the building designed by Lluis Domenech i Montaner was just as spectacular as the Gaudi buildings (and it is a world heritage site). The tour started with a 10 minute video and then allowed us to walk through the columned balcony before entering the main room which is adorned with ceramics, sculptures, and stained glass. We really enjoyed the muses flanking the stage and, of course, the amazing ‘glowworm’ chandelier.
It was almost time to get in line for the 3pm free museums, but first we stopped for a quick lunch at a 365 Cafe. When we arrived at the Picasso Museum at 2:50pm, the line was blocks long. From the back of the line we couldn’t even see the door. By 3:30pm we were at the ticket counter and given tickets for 4:30pm. After a quick drink to cool down we returned and entered the museum. The Picasso museum has over 2,400 works from Picasso including sketches and tests. It was very interesting to see his earlier, finer oil paintings and his progression into cubism. We enjoyed the museum and it sparked a lot of discussions about his various works. One particularly interesting area was a room of his replications of Las Meninas. The only disappointment of the museum was that it didn’t feature any of Picasso’s famous iconic works.
Tired, we started home for a late break. Along the way we took a quick detour past Casa Calvet, another Gaudi house just blocks from our apartment. We weren’t familiar with this one though. The detour was worth it to see another stunning building. Many restaurants were closed on Sunday, and we ended up eating at Paella del Arte. The food was good, but the service was lacking.
Day 12 – Monday, July 20, 2015
Once the group was ready, we headed towards Passage de Gracia for breakfast and to buy tickets for the Gaudi houses. At Casa Batllo, there was already a very long line for tickets. We were planning to buy tickets for later, but had hoped to do it in person to use coupons from the hop-on-hop-off bus. We decided that waiting in line wasn’t worth saving the money, so we left and bought the tickets online instead.
We ate breakfast at a small sandwich and pastry shop that quickly got busy after we walked in. Thinking about the line at Casa Batllo, we decided to take advantage of the cafe’s internet and purchased tickets for La Pedrera 30 minutes later. That turned out to be a great decision and we walked right into La Pedrera despite a long ticket line (€20.50).
Everyone really enjoyed La Pedrera. The tour included an audioguide and started in one of the two courtyards. After the introduction, the tour wastes no time in taking visitors to the main attraction of La Pedrera, the roof. The roof of La Pedrera is covered in sculptural elements created out of stairwells, chimneys, and ventilation shafts. The roof is a great place for unique photographs. Several of the stairwell elements have arches which frame churches in the Barcelona skyline including the Sagrada Familia.
From the roof, you descend into the attic which features beautiful brick arches and a display about Gaudi’s work, methods, and inspirations. We took our time and explored every display before descending once again into an apartment. The apartment was outfitted with period furniture and included many details designed by Gaudi, from the parquet wood and tiled floor design to the marble wainscoting and sculptural ceilings. Near La Pedrera, we stopped for lunch at Cor Caliu, another restaurant with a great price fixed menu.
Our only other activity for the day was to go to the beach in the late afternoon. However, we took so much time at La Pedrera that we left ourselves only a short while for siesta. When we left for the beach, we decided not to bring bathing suits, just towels to sit on. The metro ride to the beach was quick, and soon we were on the sand. The beach was still crowded. The Pacellas sat down, while the Herrs walked a half mile on the beach. The beach and the water weren’t very clean, but it didn’t stop many people from being there.
As it got darker, we started to walk towards Barceloneta for dinner. Near the beach, the Barcelona swing dance club was having a gathering and lots of couples were outside dancing. After circling around a block of restaurants, we decided to eat at Blue Beach Bar. This was a small beachside cafe with burgers and salads.
Day 13 – Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Alarms were set to wake us up early, and quick coffee and pastries followed suit while walking to the rental car company. We reserved an enormous Mercedes Benz van that could comfortably seat 9. Soon, with Jon at the wheel, we were on the road.
The day’s destination was Lloret de Mar. We had enjoyed it so much during a previous day trip that we decided to return and show the Herrs. This time, we drove straight there so we’d have more time. The morning at Lloret started hiking the hillside which overlooks the beach. Already it was very hot, and by the time we got back we could hardly wait to get into the Mediterranean.
As soon as we were settled on the beach, all 6 of us were in the sea cooling off. We spent a few more hours laying in the shade, napping, and taking dips in the ocean. The beach at Lloret is much nicer and cleaner than the city beaches in Barcelona, despite having rocky sand which heats up quickly. The water was cool and fabulous; very clear but it got deep quickly. It was the most relaxing time we had during our entire stay in Barcelona. Eventually we started to get hungry, so we took one final dip, showered, dried and went to lunch. It wasn’t Spanish food, but we enjoyed the pizzas, sandwiches, salads, and milkshakes at Ferretti. Before leaving Lloret, we took a walk through town to show the Herrs the colorful Iglesia de Sant Roma. Along the way we did a little window shopping.
Back in the car, we continued to Tossa de Mar. We walked down to the water right away and stuck just our feet in. The view from the beach is spectacular, especially because medieval walls, towers, and the rooftops of buildings flank the right side of the beach. It was extremely hot, so my parents sat at a cafe while Jon, the Herrs, and I walked to the top of the old town. It was an easy, gradual climb up the hill, but there was little shade. Along the twisting path were towers, remains of a church, and other ruins. At the very top was a lighthouse, which now houses a bar in its base. When we rejoined my parents, we needed to cool down with a smoothie. We strolled through a few of the narrow streets and back to the car.
Arriving in Barcelona, my parents and I jumped out of the car at the apartment while the three Herrs drove to Montjuic to enjoy the views before returning the car. For dinner, we met the Herrs at Alsur Cafe across the street from our apartment.
Day 14 – Wednesday, July 22, 2015
The condo was quiet in the morning as we took the chance to sleep in. Late in the morning everyone was ready, and we returned to Cafeto for breakfast. The third time was the charm for us at Cafeto. By then everyone had found a drink and meal that was perfect for them. This included large plates of tortillas and quiches.
After breakfast we took our time strolling through Old Town and stopping in a few souvenir shops. As we made our way towards Palau Guell, we decided to separate so that Tom and Ginger, who hadn’t been with us during our tour, could take one of their own. While they explored the Palau, we continued to poke into shops. When the rejoined, we went to Art Escudellers. Art Escudellers is a Spanish pottery store with hand painted items. Six years ago it had been our favorite souvenir shop in Barcelona, and it was still a lot of fun to walk through. Although we all saw a few pieces we liked, no one ended up buying anything. We made our way to the condo for our afternoon siesta and a snack of Spanish ham, cheese, and fruits from the market.
To say goodbye to Barcelona, we took our parents to Magic Nights at Casa Batllo, one of Gaudi’s houses whose exterior we had visited several times. Magic nights are held in the summer and offer live music on the roof following a discounted guided tour of the building. (€36 for rooftop performance, drink, and tour).
Casa Batllo was always one of my favorite works of Gaudi from the outside because of its colorful facade and whimsical roof. The interior of the building didn’t disappoint and was also a favorite of mine. We were given smartphone-like devices, which provided both audio and visual information as we walked through the casa. It had an nautical theme with shades of blue, curving waves, and decorative nautiluses throughout the building. A large terrace is behind the house and two tiled light-wells run the height of the building. In true Gaudi fashion, the roof is capped with sculptural chimneys and mosaic tiling. The only disappointment is that the audioguide is programed to skip a few of the self-guided stops because of the rooftop event. At 9pm, Marga Mbande performed for an hour under decorative lights with a backdrop of Gaudi. Drinks and snacks were also available and everyone had a grand final evening.
The restaurant we were headed to for dinner was closed, so we ate next door at El Boliche del Gordo Cabrera. We considered this very serendipitous because it was everyone’s favorite meal in Barcelona. The price fix menu of €20 offered a selection of 3 starters, main dishes, and desserts. The table had goat cheese salads, empanadas, cod, and steaks followed by ice cream and flan. The atmosphere and service were also a step up from our other dining in Spain.
Day 15 – Thursday, July 23, 2015
After a wonderful two weeks in Barcelona with our parents, plus the past 6 months traveling, Thursday was extremely bittersweet. Not only did we say goodbye to our parents who flew home, but it was also our last day traveling abroad.
We awoke before dawn to see off our parents who had early morning flights. We had to be out of the the apartment by 11am. For our final night traveling we had booked a hotel. With our luggage stored at the hotel until 2pm check in, we walked to breakfast at a cafe and talked a lot about our upcoming changes. After traveling for so long, we felt tired and decided to take it easy at the hotel pool instead of squeezing in any final activities. We did however do a little bit of last minute souvenir shopping.
Day 16 – Thursday, July 24, 2015
We boarded our flight back to the United States, traveling through Paris and Reykjavik. We were happy to be back home and ready to see all of our family and friends.