I opted for not one but two discount airline trips – from Lisbon to Barcelona and later Barcelona to Sevilla. Checking out the geography, it may sound a bit weird to go from West to East to West again, but there weren’t always direct train routes. Ryanair, you suck, btw.
I also took Aerobus (the public airport shuttle) because, quite frankly, I found it first upon disembarking at Barcelona’s El Prat airport. It took me to Plaça de Catalunya, which is central to the city and within minutes of Barcelona Central Garden hostel.
Day #4 – Barcelona
This time I caught the free walking tour on the first day in; our tour guide was amazingly petite to be leading groups through crowds. She also started with the history of Catalonia and a few of common Catalan phrases.
Our tour specifically hit numerous churches and plazas in the Gothic quarter. It ended by the harbor, which was built up for the ’92 Olympics. Like other tour guides, ours had a deal going with an authentic restaurant that she could bring us (business) to in exchange for her own lunch on the house. Still, we really were surrounded by locals as we sampled the fideuà.
One of the other tourists tagged along with me to the Picasso. She adorably tried to feign interest as I slowly stepped around and examined each stroke from near and far and near again.
Consulting my map, I checked out Parc de la Ciutadella. Ignoring my map, I kept walking until I hit the beaches. The park was full of local students having a good time; the beach was full of tourists like me who just wanted to say they went to dip their toes in the Mediterranean. Silly tourist.
Squeezing in a few more sights, I rode the bus from the beach back to the hostel and a few stops farther. But Barcelona is so expensive that I only admired Gaudi lesser buildings from the outside:
By the end of the previous day, the cold that I alluded (see Lisbon) to started creeping up on me – it was a rough night with a burning throat. Ergo, my first stop of the day was one of the classic green-cross-and-easy-to-spot farmacias to pick up cough drops. But I pushed on, another theme of the trip, and hit my true destination: Parc Güell.
Okay, I realize this makes me sound old, but it’s really hard to enjoy Gaudi when every inch of his mosaic terrace is teeming with people. Thankfully, I stuck it out and wandered more of the park; the local guitar player’s music really helped drown out the noise from all the crowds and set a calmer mood. I traced the park’s trails to another of its vantage points whose height is augmented by a narrow mound with a trio of crosses. Have I mentioned how much I do NOT love heights? Yet another recurring thread through my trip.
As I was heading for the park exit, I turned back to watch a flamenco trio who had set up below the aqueduct. Later, I found the trio on youtube: Tablao Sur.
When I did leave, a few songs later, I went on to the crown jewel of Gaudi’s work: Sagrada Familia. But first, food! Tapas in shadow of the Sagrada was pretty bank. The view is truly a view of history in the making as the construction towers actively worked toward the long-awaited complete of Sagrada before my eyes.
And Sagrada does not disappoint up close either! I splurged for the audio guide and tower access. Yes, I paid extra money to scare myself silly. I really took my time at the Sagrada, well except for when it came time for the towers. A quick snapshot from the top and then I directed my full attention to my feet as I took careful step after careful step downward. Ha. Bask in the glow of these photos:
It was late in the afternoon by the time I left and returned to the hostel, but given Spain dinner times, I not only walked to La Boqueria for papaya and pomegranate (my contribution to BCG’s potluck dinner) but also I popped into MACBA to try my luck at disappointing-Barcelona-museum #2.
The hostel’s potluck was a good spread although the conversation was less stellar, making the most entertaining option of the night sitting by while other people (three Polish women and an American) played Sorry.
Day #6 – Montserrat Day Trip!
Despite researching this popular day trip ahead of time, I didn’t plan it right (the Funicular tickets were sold out). And I made two other not-so-comedic errors, sigh. But march on, right or wrong, march on…
Montserrat was still great (see above ‘!’). Just getting there involves a train ride and then choosing between another train (edging up the steep mountainside) or a cable car (also death-defying). When I did finally get there, I hurried straight to the monastery. Did I say I made two other errors? Missing out on the choir performance was yet another one. So that’s four for the day, so far. Anyway, back to the ! part of the day trip. The church is really nice, and if you see a line of people waiting for something, then you should probably get in it. No, seriously, that’s what I did and I ended up behind the altar of the basilica waiting my turn for a brief prayer at their Black Mary statue. Mary is actually another theme for this trip. Leading up to the trip, I had been listening to the audiobook version of a travel memoir, the authors of whom see Mary as an icon in her own right beyond the church’s portrayal of her. Hence, I was noticing her symbolism more than I might otherwise have seen it. And so Montserrat’s Black Mary is special.
I was also looking forward to the hiking at Montserrat. Again, silly, seeing as sightseeing is all about walking until you drop. Doubly silly as the climb is steep, the air is thin, the shoes inadequate, and the viremia by no means waning. I decided though that I had to keep going, that I would find the strength and nerves to make it to the top (and down again, down is no joke).
Back down to the monastery’s by-no-means-completely-safe altitude, I made sure to explore as much as I could. I even managed to enjoy the crowds that had been so odious in Barcelona, including watching children play a schoolyard game. It looked so fun that some dude jumped in and joined them for a round or two.
Finally though, it was time to return to the city. Always taking advantage of what’s nearby, I walked around the area of Barcelona around Plaça d’Espanya. I sat on the steps of the Palau Nacional as the sun set and the temperature dropped. Seriously silly of me because when the Magic Fountain finally lit up I realized just how far away I was and how much better off I would have been if I had waited right next to it. Still, the Magic Fountain was beautiful, and a nice inexpensive sight among Barcelona’s other attractions.
In part because I didn’t want to keep spending money and, truthfully, in part because I didn’t plan well, I gave up on the idea of a second daytrip (maybe I’ll visit Girona next time). I did my best to fill up the day with less ambitious activities: watching the Marato (Barcelona Marathon), visiting Fundacio Joan Miró, visiting Montjuic, wandering the Raval and Gotic neighborhoods, making a poor choice for tapas, making a much better choice for gelato, passing Palau Musica, and searching out a closed bookstore.
More Barcelona Pics:
Barcelona is one of our favorite destinations at Herrwego, and we are blessed to have been able to visit it multiple time and share it with our families. For more on Barcelona please read about with my mother’s impressions and our week exploring with our family.