Barcelona, a city of mystery and mystique! We had two glorious days in Barcelona to discover its hidden wonders. Lin and I explored narrow streets which looked like alleys, saw breathtaking cathedrals and learned about an architect with a dream. Two action-packed days in Barcelona officially started our “Insight Vacations” in Spain, and I fell in love with Barcelona!
Day 1 – February 29, 2020
On our first day of our official “Insight Vacations” tour, we woke up early at 6:15 a.m., adjusting to the time change. Our group planned to meet downstairs at 8:15 a.m. to buy Hop-On, Hop-Off tickets at the desk and tour Barcelona on our own. Everyone showed up and purchased their tickets, except our faithful leaders, Jerry and Mary Beth—they slept in. I loved the group’s response—total acceptance.
Again it was a walk to Diagonal Street, “Avinguda Diagonal (Catalan pronunciation), in Spanish La Avenida Diagonal is the name of one of Barcelona’s broadest and most important avenues. It cuts the city in two, diagonally with respect to the grid pattern of the surrounding streets, hence the name.”
But this trip was leisure stroll, and we caught the bus to go down to the port because Jerry and Mary Beth had been here thirty years ago and wanted us to see the area where they stayed. The Hop-On Hop-Off bus provided a Barcelona guide book and ear buds to listen to the recorded tour guide’s comments as we passed sights. Lin and I wanted upstairs on the top of the open-air bus. Initially I had some problems with the sound but figured it out.
The whole idea of the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus ticket was to see the whole city and then go back to the specific places that caught our eye—we ended up not doing that.
Our grouped stayed on the Red line until the port, passing many amazing sights, but then we left the bus about 11:15 a.m., agreeing to meet back at 12:15 p.m if we were going to continue with the group (who went on to have lunch together and tour the rest of the city on the bus). Lin and I opted to stay down by the port. We first took pictures of the Christopher Columbus (Colon) Monument.
“The Mirador de Colom, also known as the Columbus Monument, is an impressive pillar dedicated to the explorer Christopher Columbus in Barcelona with an observation deck at the top. It stands 197 Ft (60 m) tall and sits at the end of La Rambla, very close to the city’s port.”
After that, a flea market caught our eye, and we wandered through it. From there we headed towards La Rambla and then down alley-like streets so charming and alluring. Bicyclists rode by us as we meandered down narrow streets with hanging flower baskets—so picturesque. Needless to say, we didn’t make it back by 12:15 p.m
One more narrow street tempted Lin, so I waited and watched people, one of my favorite pastime in foreign countries. People of all ages on bicycles surrounded me. Lin and I reunited and went shopping. Then we had a delicious lunch outside at the Casa Lola restaurant “in the heart of the La Rambla Catalunya” in the brisk, cool air, sampling “tapas” which
“. . .are at the very heart of Spanish lifestyle and culture. Everywhere in Spain, you will find lively, noisy bars serving small plates of superb flavours and local delicacies.
It is essentially a style of eating rather than a form of cooking. Tapas mean sociability, friends and family.”
Our lunch consisted of shrimped with garlic and pepper, patatas bravas (a potato dish but not like our potatoes), and a pasta salad with shrimp, crab and pineapple—can you tell Lin and I like shrimp!
After lunch, we hopped back on the bus and hopped off to see the Basilica of St. Maria del Mar “. . . a church in the Ribera district of Barcelona, Spain, built between 1329 and 1383 at the height of Principality of Catalonia’s maritime and mercantile preeminence. It is an outstanding example of Catalan Gothic, with a purity and unity of style that is very unusual in large medieval buildings.”
We paid the $7.50 to enter and what a delight it was! I had a big disappointment though. After our trip to Costa Rica, I took my Canon Rebel in to be fixed and thought it was, but at this point, it repeated the behavior from before—so frustrating. I could still take pictures but had to turn it off and on after each shot!
In this church, I started a tradition I tried to continue throughout our tour—I bought a candle and lit it for my loved ones. I had no idea how many churches or cathedrals we would visit!
Again, we hopped on the bus again and went to the Barcelona Cathedral where we only took pictures outside. I bought three precious bracelets there. It was here we realized we were running out of time, so we stopped for gelato and some relax time before we rushed back to our hotel for our evening activities. We were able to sneak in a nap!
Our tour group met downstairs at the hotel—all 39 of us—with our tour guide, Brad Dick. He handed out bags and information, then we boarded our bus for the first time to go to dinner as a group. Our group split up and sat at different tables to meet our companion-travelers. We sat with a couple from Singapore and enjoyed a traditional Spanish meal with a wide variety of small plates. What a nice introduction to our tour group!
Lin and I ended the evening when we returned to the hotel with a walk to the neighborhood “farmacia” (drug store) to buy him Dramamine in case he got motion sickness when we moved around the bus from the seating chart.
What a fascinating first day in Barcelona!
Day 2 – March 1, 2020
Lin and I selected an optional excursion for the morning to Montserrat, an 11th century Benedictine monastery, 38 miles northeast of Barcelona. A local tour guide, Santiago—Santi for short—joined us and pointed out highlights on the trip in Barcelona and then in the countryside.
Montserrat is built up on the side of a mountain, so we took a narrow road that zigzagged back and forth to arrive at this breathtaking place.
Montserrat’s history has mystery to it: “It is not known exactly when Monks first came to Montserrat and began to build a Monastery. However, it is believed that in the ninth century four of the Chapels were built on Montserrat Mountain. . .”
Santi led us on a tour of the outside then we went inside to see the venerated Black Madonna. Afterwards we were given time to explore, shop or grab a bite. I went inside the church and zoomed in on the Black Madonna from the sanctuary, but I got a great close up when I walked by!
We returned to Barcelona, picked up the rest of our tour group and Santi started a tour of Barcelona with a look at one of Antoni Gaudí’s houses, La Casa Mila. Before this trip, I had never heard of Gaudí—maybe that shows my ignorance, but after visiting Barcelona and his creations, I’m in awe of him and his vision.
Antoni Gaudí “. . .was a Catalan architect known as the greatest exponent of Catalan Modernism. Gaudí’s works have a highly individualized, one-of-a-kind style. Most are located in Barcelona, including his main work, the church of the Sagrada Família. Gaudí’s work was influenced by his passions in life: architecture, nature, and religion.”
Also we drove by Gaudí’s La Casa Batlló, but I didn’t get a good daytime photo of it.
Our next stop was Gaudí’s most famous creation, La Sagrada Família, “. . .a striking example of Gaudí’s unique Art Nouveau architecture and is filled with religious symbolism and meaning. Eight of the intended 18 towers have been built, which rise to over 100 meters. The towers represent the Twelve Apostles and each one bears the name and statue of its apostle.”
I can not put into words what this structure is like—massive outside with spires, color and small scenes from Jesus’ life, but we as I entered this sacred place, light exploded through stain-glass windows. Santi told us the orange and red on one side depicted the warmth of the south, and blue and green on the other side was the cold from the north. I was speechless! The light streaming through the windows colored the whole inside of the cathedral—it was sensory over load! I couldn’t believe the inside size!
We left through what will become the new entrance which depicts the passion of Christ. To the side was a small workshop where Gaudí worked for over forty years, dedicated to the completion of his dream.
Afterwards we had a 45-minute lunch break, so part of our group gravitated across the street to small pizza place for lunch. Our next stop on the city tour was the Gothic area of Barcelona, and we revisited the Barcelona Cathedral and the area where Lin and I had been the day before. A gigantic crowd mobbed the area—some sort of walking donation. We returned to the hotel and rested—I was exhausted from our long day of touring, and it wasn’t over!
I thoroughly enjoyed our evening tour, returning to some of the places we had seen during the day and the day before. We returned to the Palau Nacional, the National Palace, “. . .a building on the hill of Montjuïc in Barcelona. It was the main site of the 1929 International Exhibition.”
I captured the evening view of the palace and then the city from the palace—breathtaking view! I bought a copy of a children’s book about Gaudí in Spanish, Los Sueños del Gaudí, “The Dreams of Gaudí” and look forward to reading it.
On our drive up Montjuïc hill, we passed by the Poble Espanyol museum, the Spanish town with tall figurines of a Spanish man and woman. Then our tour continued on to the “Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys,” originally built for the 1929 International Exposition and used as the main stadium for the 1992 Olympics.
From there we ventured down to the Olympic Village by the pier for a delicious seafood and cheese dinner. We finished this feast with Crema Catalana for dessert, a Spanish delicacy, similar to Crème Brûlée.
We ended the evening driving by Gaudí’s two houses, La Casa Batlló and La Mila lit up at night. Gaudí’s architecture took on a eerie feeling at night! As we drove back to the hotel, Lin and I lamented about all the attractions in Barcelona we missed and vowed to come back—it had been a glorious day!
Our two days in Barcelona started this trip off right!
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