Is It Bahr-seh-loh-nah or Bahr-theh-loh-nah? – December 2014

My wife and I were planning a tour of Spain and Portugal in early December and were considering Barcelona, Madrid and Seville for cities to visit in Spain and to localize our Portuguese visit to Lisbon and the areas around it. Before finalizing our trip, however, we found out that our daughter was planning a trip to Rome from Germany, so we decided to alter our plans to incorporate a couple of days in Rome to spend time with her before she flew back to the U.S. She had planned to visit Rome with my wife a month or so prior, but unplanned commitments coupled with uncaring/inflexible superiors ended up costing her money she already spent on flights. This trip was also not without drama for her either as she initially planned to visit us in northern Italy, only to have her plans derailed once again because of her incompetent bosses. As it was, she lost money once again on a flight to Venice as well as money we already spent on her train ticket from Vicenza to Rome and a night at an adjoining room in our hotel. As it turned out, she was also planning a trip to Barcelona, so we were able to synchronize our trips together to spend time, not only in Rome, but also in Barcelona.

Barcelona as seen from a cable car going up to Montjuic from Barceloneta

Barcelona as seen from a cable car going up to Montjuic from Barceloneta

This was her first trip to Rome and we went on a whirlwind tour, covering the “greatest hits” in a day and half before we flew from Rome to Barcelona. She visited the Vatican Museums, we went on the Scavi tour, saw St. Peter’s Basilica, and scaled up its cupola…then checked out the Castel Sant’Angelo, Piazza Navonna, and the Pantheon. The following morning, we were able to check out the Colosseo, Ancient Rome, and the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument prior to hopping on a bus from Termini Station (via SITBusShuttle for €5 per person, better than the €14 per person on the Leonardo Express) to Fiumicino Airport. So off to Barcelona we went, for an enjoyable 3-night stay.

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

OVERVIEW:
Modern Barcelona, second only to Madrid in population, is inextricably tied to Antoni Gaudi and his masterpiece, the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, as well as his other modernist works Parc Guell, Casa Mila and Casa Batllo. And ever since the city hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics (who can forget the original Dream Team…with 11 First Ballot NBA Hall of Famers headlined by Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird?), Barcelona’s popularity with tourists skyrocketed from being the 11th most popular destination in Europe to the 12th most popular destination for tourist in the whole world and 5th in Europe! Throw in globally popular and iconic sports teams like FC Barcelona (with the likes of international superstars Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis “Bite Me” Suarez) and the city’s burgeoning reputation as an attractive vacation and cultural spot, it is quite apparent why Barcelonans have much to be proud of.

Barcelona was founded by Phoenicians (from the shores of modern Lebanon) and Carthaginians (from Carthage in Tunisia) around 230 B.C….although this remains a disputed claim. Eventually, the Romans conquered the Iberian Peninsula around the 1st century B.C. The Visigoths occupied the city from the Romans around 5th century A.D. followed by the Moors around the 8th century then another Germanic tribe, the Franks under Louis the Pious – son of Charlemagne, the greatest Carolingian monarch, a century later. Eventually, stemming from the Spanish Marches, the County of Barcelona was established and gained its independence from the Carolingian Empire in 988 and expanded to form the Catalonia region.

Barcelona’s (and Catalonia’s) importance and prominence rose and sank through the years. With the unification of the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile, Barcelona ceded importance and prestige to Madrid, with the former banned from trading with the recently discovered New World. Catalonia eventually declared war against Spain in the early 18th century, with backing from neighboring France. In the early 19th century, Catalonia was annexed by Napoleonic France and was only returned to Spain after the collapse of the French Empire.

Sunrise in Barceloneta

Sunrise in Barceloneta

In July 1936, the Spanish Civil War pitted Catalonia, with their resolute support for Republican Forces loyal to the democratic Spanish republic, against General Francisco Franco’s fascist Nationalist forces. Barcelona was bombarded and suffered through the civil war lasting 2 years and 8 months. To the victors go the spoils of war, so when Franco’s Nationalist defeated the Republicans, the previously autonomous Catalonia region was abolished and the use of the Catalan language in public life was suppressed and forbidden. After Franco’s death in 1975, pressure for reforms intensified and Catalonia regained its autonomy towards the end of 1977.

To this day, there is a palpable Catalonian regional pride in Barcelona visible through the ubiquitous Catalonian flags seen all over the city. Our conversations with Barcelonans further highlighted their predilection towards a more European attitude and culture than the rest of Spain.

LOGISTICS:
We flew into Barcelona’s El Prat (BCN) Terminal 2 from Rome’s Fiumicino (FCO) via RyanAir…the flying billboard, where everything was/is for sale. Incidentally, while at the Fiumicino airport waiting for our flight to Barcelona, I had to contend with an annoying passenger who had no qualms about invading other people’s personal space as he cozied up to me and a couple of other passengers as we waited to board the bus to the airplane. He got on the bus and he positioned himself to be by the door so he can have the best opportunity to make it to the airplane once the bus doors open…mind you, he has a small backpack and priority seating so he was not in any danger of running out of overhead space. Anyway, after what seemed like an eternity, we reached a parked plane, the doors open, and as luck would have it, the door I was standing next to was closer to the Airstairs leading up to the airplane doors than his…I stepped out and saw the odd fellow out of the corner of my eye, almost at a dead sprint. I guess competition got the better of me and I quickened my pace…and emerged victorious, as the first one on the plane! The odd fellow was obviously “touched”…but what does that say about me?

An alley by the Barcelona Cathedral

An alley by the Barcelona Cathedral…frequently seen on postcards

We found the Barcelona airport to be fairly easy to manage. We took advantage of the airport shuttle service through RyanAir’s website, TransferAmigo (€36 for three people door-to-door), and we were on our way to our 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment, Hispanos 7 Suiza, by La Sagrada Familia. There are cheaper ways to get from the airport to our hotel, but we went with convenience over price.

For those who prefer a more economical airport transfer to the Barcelona city center, you might want to check out Aerobus for €5.90 per person each way or €10.20 for a round-trip ticket  (either Aerobús A1 departing from Terminal 1 or Aerobús A2 departing from Terminal 2B and 2C) to Plaça de Catalunya, on the northern end of the La Rambla. There are ticket dispensers at Placa de Catalunya for your return trip to the airport if you only got a one-way ticket. From Placa de Catalunya, you can get on the Metro system to get to your final destination if your lodging accommodations are not within walking distance from there. You can also opt to take the RENFE train from the airport to the city center with stops at Barcelona Sants, Passeig de Gracia or Clot, stations that are also serviced by the Barcelona Metro system. Note that the entrance to the RENFE train station at the airport is at Terminal 2B. So, if you are arriving at Terminal 1, you would need to take the free shuttle to Terminal 2B.

A spiraling staircase on the way down from the Passion Tower at La Sagrada Familia

A spiraling staircase on the way down from the Nativity Tower at La Sagrada Familia

I highly suggest one to take advantage of the Metro system’s T10 Card which “entitles you to 10 journeys on the metro, FGC, buses, trams and RENFE” within all Zone 1 areas. The T10 card can be shared between multiple passengers and saves money as it costs €9.95, as opposed to utilizing single tickets which cost €2.15 each. The T10 is “valid indefinitely within a calendar year.”

We found Barcelona to be a pedestrian-friendly city, with most of the tourist attractions (except for La Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell and Montjuic) within “comfortable” walking distance from the city center. We took a taxi from our apartment to Parc Guell as it was convenient and straightforward, avoiding multiple transfers on the metro. It was also quite reasonable, something like €7, if memory serves me right. It was our taxi driver Adrian, who recommended the Barceloneta area for paella…seemed like a no-brainer to head for the coastline to sample some paella.

ATTRACTIONS:
Basilica de la Sagrada Familia. The expiatory (meaning built from donations) church of La Sagrada Família is a work on a grand scale which was begun on 19 March 1882 from a project by the diocesan architect Francisco de Paula del Villar. At the end of 1883, Antoni Gaudí was commissioned to carry on the works, a task which he did not abandon until his death in 1926. Since then different architects have continued the work after his original idea. Construction is still ongoing and could be finished some time in the first third of the 21st century.

The stained glass windows on the left side of the nave (on the Passion Side) symbolize Resurrection.

The stained glass windows on the left side of the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia’s nave (on the Passion Side) symbolize Resurrection.

Entry into the La Sagrada Familia, with tower access, costs €19.30 per person. We purchased our tickets in advance and avoided lines at the ticket booth. If you decide to go inside, and I suggest you do, then you would definitely want to go up the towers. During our visit, the elevator to the Passion Tower was closed so we had to go up the Nativity Tower instead. For what it’s worth, I have read the Passion Tower offered better views of the city.

La Rambla and La Boqueria. Roughly 1.2 km long and lined with lively shops and restaurants, La Rambla, also called Las Ramblas, cuts through the center of the city. We did not walk all the way down La Rambla…good thing too since I later read that the southern end of La Rambla is the seedy end, with prostitutes frequenting the area at night. As La Rambla attracts tourists visiting Barcelona, one needs to be hyper vigilant since where tourists are, there, too, are pickpockets. We didn’t witness any pickpockets during our visit, but I almost fell prey to one in Madrid.

La Rambla at night

La Rambla at night

La Boqueria located along La Rambla is a large public market in the Ciutat Vella district that dates back to 1217 and one of the city’s foremost tourist landmarks. Here you will discover fresh produce, meats, snacks, juices, and even bar/restaurants. We tried their Zumos (yummy and refreshing drink from freshly juiced fruits) at La Boqueria…for €1 a piece, it was a great deal. I wanted to try tapas at the even popular Pinotxo Bar, but sadly, they were closed when we stopped by.

Parc Guell. Another one of Gaudi’s work began in 1900 as an attempt to create a planned community for well-off families. Work was halted after 14 years as the patron Eusebi Guell realized that creating this community was not a viable endeavor due to a lack of proper transportation up to this mountainous area. It became a city park in 1922 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in November 1984.

Parc Guell

Parc Guell

Casa Mila and Casa Batlló. Casa Milà, popularly known as ‘La Pedrera’ (the stone quarry), an ironic allusion to the resemblance of its façade to an open quarry, was constructed between 1906 and 1912 by Antoni Gaudí. For its uniqueness, artistic and heritage value, it was included on UNESCO World Heritage List in 1984. Interestingly, we overheard a guide telling a tourist that George Lucas got his inspiration for Darth Vader’s iconic helmet during a visit to Barcelona and Casa Mila in the 70s…believe it or not.

Casa Batllo

Casa Batllo

Casa Batlló, built between 1904 and 1906 in the heart of the city, is considered the most emblematic work by Gaudi. Atop Casa Batlló is a roof in the shape of an animal’s back with large iridescent scales. The spine which forms the ornamental top is composed of huge spherical pieces of masonry in colors which change as you move along the roof-tree from one end to the other.

Barri Gotic and Barcelona Cathedral. Barri Gotic or the Gothic Quarter, was the center of the old Roman city, characterized by narrow cobble-stoned streets and towering majestic buildings. Barri Gotic is where the Gothic-styled Barcelona Cathedral is located as well the City Hall, Plaça Reial, and the Jewish Quarter.

Plaça Reial

Plaça Reial

An eclectic mix of traditional and trendy eateries as well as shops populate this lively area. If you are into night life, then this area is for you.

Montjuic Castle and Magic Fountain. Set atop Montjuic (or Jew Mountain in Catalan) hill southwest of the city, Montjuic Castle is an old military fortress established in the mid-17th century and overlooks the entire city of Barcelona. We took the Teleferic cable car up to Montjuic from Barceloneta… although we walked from where the cable car dropped us off all the way up to Montjuic Castle as we weren’t up for paying an additional €7.50 on top of the €11 per person we already paid for the first leg on the cable car.

Upon descending from Montjuic, we stopped by Magic Fountain or
Font Màgica de Montjuïc by Poble Espanyol to enjoy the water and light show. Magic Fountain was actually quite a spectacle, and sure to amuse kids and kids-at-heart alike.

Magic Fountain

Magic Fountain

Picasso Museum. If interested in Picasso’s works of art, then you might be inclined to spend some time in this museum. Not being a fan of his later Cubist works, such as his seminal Guernica and the Chicago Picasso sculpture, we figured our time was better spent elsewhere.

Olympic Village. The Olympic Stadium is on the western slope of Montjuic. Those interested in anything related to the 1992 Olympic Games might also want to check out the Olympic Village located along the coast in the Sant Marti district of Barcelona.

Day trip to Montserrat. We originally planned to take a day trip to Montserrat, a Benedictine monastery high up in the mountains, through Viator, but an anticipated bungee jumping adventure off a bridge in Sant Sadurni d’Anoia conflicted with this plan. Alas, the bungee jumping fell through…no pun intended.

OBSERVATIONS:
– We found Barcelona to be pricier than other parts of Spain. Barcelona was the only city in Spain that charged a hotel city tax, a common practice in other European cities outside Spain. However, we were only charged €0.65 per person per night which was mere pittance compared to the €6 per person per night we normally pay in Rome. This penchant for levying city tax is apparently a Catalan practice…although the front desk person at the hotel indicated that she wouldn’t be surprised if the rest of the country adopted the same practice since Catalonia is apparently a trendsetter when it comes to things like that.

– We sampled tapas from multiple restaurants and believe Tapas 24 was the best of all we sampled. Paella at Can Sole, open since 1903, in Barceloneta was plentiful and delicious. Although paella technically originated from Valencia, further south along the coast from Barcelona, the paella from Can Sole was superb. We had our share of hits and misses for restaurants and bakeries. In addition to Tapas 24 and Can Sole, we also liked Baluard Bakery, Mestres Forners and Las Fritas (for patatas bravas). Tossa, close to our apartment was decent. The biggest miss was Vegetalia, in Barri Gotic. Our daughter is vegetarian (where oh where did we go wrong?) and as a concession, we sought out a vegetarian restaurant for dinner…and this place lacked the flavor she came to expect.

– Spaniards eat their lunches and dinners at a much later time than Americans, with lunch starting at around 2:00 – 3:00  PM and a typical dinner at around 9:00 PM. This was even more apparent when we went to Madrid and stayed along the Gran Via…seemed like the nightlife didn’t end until the city workers were hosing down the trashed streets at around 6:00 AM.

– For those Americans used to Spanish spoken south of the U.S. border, it was quite disconcerting to hear Spaniards, at least outside Catalonia, pronouncing theirs “s” sounds as “th”. Following the Catalan pronunciation, however, Barcelona is pronounced Bahr-seh-loh-nah. Grathias!

Barcelonans actually speak Catalan in addition to Spanish…and we found out that most Spaniards actually speak another local language in addition to Spanish.

When describing Gaudi’s works, words such as gaudy (and a popular claim that the word was derived from Gaudi’s name was deemed unfounded as the word had been in use a half century before Gaudi was even born), weird, innovative, and mystical (even Seussical the Musical) have been used. However, our daughter suggested “whimsical” as a more appropriate term…and I tend to agree.

NOTES:
– Barcelona’s nickname is Barna and NOT Barca, which is the nickname of FC Barcelona, the city’s professional football team.

– We tried McDonald’s for breakfast on our early morning flight from Barcelona to Madrid…and don’t be surprised if hash browns are not part of your McMuffin meal.

– We could’ve taken the RENFE train (or the AVE express train) from Barcelona to Madrid but the train tickets were more expensive than the plane tickets we got through Vueling…not to mention the longer commute.

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Posted on April 6, 2015, in Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Mary Magsino

    Thank you for bringing the trip to life again, and I love the photos you chose and all the detail you add!

  1. Pingback: Lisbon – December 2014 | Van-Guard's Random Thoughts

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