Barcelona, Spain

After only 5 weeks of Spanish we are finally here….We’re in Barcelona baby!

We’ve been here for just a couple of hours and we’ve been taken in by a local lady. I’ve had a shower and I’m already drinking a cerveza (beer).

One of the best things we’ve done in the past was to create a profile on Couch Surfing. Over the years we’ve hosted countless guests in our own home in Australia, but now it’s our turn to be hosted, and you know what? 

We’ve found the most perfect host in Mercedes, she’s just gorgeous and as much as she’s using her English, we are doing our best in utilising the Spanish that we’ve learnt.

Mercedes picked us up from the airport and after what seemed to be a marathon effort getting through passport control, it was refreshing to have a local whisk us though the carpark and into town.

I have to say the streets in the local area we’re staying in are narrow, but with a small car Mercedes makes it look so easy. In a matter of days it’s going to be my turn as Elena’s organised a hire car from Granada to Seville. 

With an over generous supply of food it seems to be a European tradition to make sure your guests leave the table a few kilo’s heavier. Mercedes had us well fed on local “pan” (bread) and her speciality, on omelette filled with onions and potatoes.

I’ve discovered that 5 weeks of Spanish wasn’t enough to hold a long winded conversation and I’m surprised at what I can remember which isn’t much when I’m grasping for sounds in conversation that are familiar. Elena’s faring a little better and her and Mercedes are chatting about family as the albums come out and we are somewhat introduced to our hosts children, I can see that we’ve struck gold in such a wonderful host.

it’s early spring and in the late afternoon, yet people are at the beach. Give this place another month and it will be packed!

Mercedes wants to show us around, so we’re soon back to the car and zipping around the city centre. Not far from where we are staying is a massive park set atop a large hill called Montjuic. From here you get great views from both the city and the Mediterranean as Barcelona plays a large part in shipping to South America. 

As day turns to evening we park the car in an underground carpark and explore the older part of the city on foot. 

Our first stop is to an old market the Mercedes used to visit as a child. It’s a fascinating place as under the old market is an excavated site of Roman ruins that has only been discovered a few years ago. 

The market was designed in 1873 . The structure is supported on cast iron columns with a flat roof covered in glazed tiles

The earthworks under the markets make for an interesting visit and are worth taking a look at. The iron works of the old market building leave their mark on the post industrial revolutionist style that is reflected in several buildings around the older city.

Elena and our generous host Mercedes walk the lanes at night

As we roamed through the little laneways we were thankful that we had the local knowledge of Mercedes, as we really had no idea of where we were going, so we just tagged along behind our newest global friend as she meandered through the cobbled streets. Barcelona is not only bonita (beautiful) by day but it’s muy bonita (very beautiful) at night. The little lanes can be deserted one minute, than as you turn the corner you’d be forgiven in thinking that you’d just stepped into the heart of the city.

Returning to Mercedes home for tea and another assault of chocolate doughnuts and local biscuits (our host was so generous) we were soon done for the night.

It was to be an early morning tomorrow, with walking tours planned for the morning.

Ah, Barcelona…. loving your hospitality.

Day 2

Elena loves walking tours, so this morning the plan is to get up early and catch the first admission into one of the most famous icons of all Barcelona, Sagrada Familia. This has to be Goudi’s finest architectural work and is yet unfinished. It’s estimated that the structure will finished in 2026. Which will coincide with 100 year anniversary of the death of the great architect. 

Construction of Sagrada Família commenced in 1882 by a different architect with Gaudí becoming involved 11 years later after Francisco resigned as the head architect. Taking over the project, Gaudí transformed it with his architectural and engineering style, combining Gothic and Art Nouveau forms. Gaudí devoted his last years to the project, and at the time of his death at age 73 in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete. Sagrada Familia’s construction progressed slowly, as it relied on private donations and was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, only to resume intermittent progress in the 1950s. Construction passed the midpoint in 2010 with some of the project’s greatest challenges remaining and an anticipated completion date of 2026, the centenary of Gaudí’s death. The basílica has a long history of dividing the citizens of Barcelona: over the initial possibility it might compete with Barcelona’s cathedral, over Gaudí’s design itself, over the possibility that work after Gaudí’s death disregarded his design, and the 2007 proposal to build an underground tunnel of Spain’s high-speed rail link to France which could disturb its stability. Describing Sagrada Família, art critics said “It is probably impossible to find a church building anything like it in the entire history of art” and “The most extraordinary personal interpretation of Gothic architecture since the Middle Ages.

From Mercedes casa (house) it’s a 6 stop journey to Sagrada Familia, and with the tickets secured for the metro by Mercedes during our walk the night before, we’re soon negotiating the underground metro. One great point is that most directions are underpinned with English, which can be either a help or a hinderance to my learning Spanish experience.  It’s only a 20 minute ride before we look like a couple of meerkats leaving their burrow. A quick glance around and we discover Mercedes directions were right, you literally pop up right next to Sagrada Familia!

It’s one of those surreal moments when you’re standing next to such a historic building. With the tickets Elena purchased online we’re now right at the front of the queue in the earliest admission. Sagrada Familia  opens at 9am and with the cool morning breeze it’s a very comfortable start to what is going to be a very busy day.

The admission includes the opportunity to climb high into the towers and experience the whole building from a height of 50m. The lift is small and with 5 people it seems that if you’re overweight, this experience is going to test your abilities. 

Not only is the lift small, the stairs are narrow and I’m not a large person, but the distance between the outer walls was only marginally wider than my shoulders. There is a direction of travel, however there’s always one person that seems to misunderstand that and arrow is a universal symbol and is not a language misinterpretation. This is the moment were I manage to get very up close and personal when squeezing past a couple of Asian ladies who continually change direction to try to get the one more picture at the expense and frustration of all the other visitors in the towers.

The stairs spiral down, and down …… and down. Forget trying to go fast as you descend as you will get dizzy in such a tight spiral staircase.

Donned with our audio guides, cameras, and water bottles there was no doubt I was a tourist. The beauty of having the audio guide is that you get  a clear understanding of what Gaudi was trying to achieve in the creation of the Sagrada Familia. There are several points that are signposted that give a great narrative of the history of Sagrada Familia. Just be sure to follow the direction of the arrows otherwise you’ll get confused as the where and what you’re looking at.

To have a good look around the Sagrada Familia you need to allow at least an hour, I guess it depends of your religious conviction and your passion for photography, of which I have only one. Look I get the whole religion thing, but as anyone knows me it’s not a topic I look upon favourably. So if it’s up for debate give me a beer or two and I’m ready to discuss my thoughts. As long as we walk away from the table being friends and can see each others point of view. Sadly this doesn’t happen, and it’s because of this the world is in the state it is now…. Enough said.

Sagrada Família is a large Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, designed by Catalan Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí.

It’s almost a 2km walk to the meeting point for our free walking tour that’s scheduled to depart at 10am. Elena downloaded a great App called maps.me that works offline for navigation, sadly Elena’s no expert at navigation. Now I’m holding her little iPhone that’s covered in girly bling as I post the phone in each direction trying in vain to work out which direction we need to take. One really cool aspect of the App is that it has a compass option and shows the distance to the next corner. 

Arc de Triomf was built by architect Josep Vilaseca Casanovas, as the main access gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair.

We start at a leisurely pace as we come to terms with how the App works and after a couple of false directions we’re soon heading in the right direction, sadly we’re now needing to pick up the pace. We see the guide in the square on the other side of the road and wait for what seems like eternity for permission to cross. As we cross the road the whole tour group has disappeared down one of the many laneways! Now what? We are literally lost and have missed the beginning of the tour by a matter of 60 seconds!

We run up one lane and then another frantically trying to catch up. Elena listens in to one group, nope that’s Spanish, our group is in English… Finally we meet up in a small square and merge into the crowd.

Our guide for the morning is a very passionate and vibrant Vera. She has impeccable knowledge of the city and we soon find ourselves captives in the history of early Barcelona. As we walk through little lanes, some of which Mercedes showed the night before, we get a deeper understanding of what early life in Barcelona would have been like.

There is no comparison between our home city and Barcelona. From a European perspective we have no history that is as rich and old. 

Anyone who follows our blog knows that we love free walking tours as they do give a great insight into the heart and soul of a city. Vera is one of the best we’ve had, her English is impeccable and it’s during our first break we discover her heritage is similar to Elena’s, growing up in the Soviet Union. 

It’s about now, as we enter the little coffee shop and bar suggested by Vera that we become acquainted with that ever so famous nectar of the gods…. Sangria. An intoxicating brew of fermented frutas (fruit) and served in a tall balloon like glass. At a cost of 7.50 euro for the two glasses we are now faced with trying to drink it all before we embark on the second part of our walking tour. 

Vera has convinced us to join her this afternoon on a Gaudi walking tour. So it’s settled, we paid 14 euro each and we’re spending our day with Vera, learning all there is to know about medieval Barcelona for the morning and an enjoyable afternoon looking at modernist architecture of Spain’s most gifted son.

Can you see the works of Gaudi?

The walking tour finishes outside of the historic markets we visited last night. Vera suggests a great place to grab a burger and gives us directions to our next meeting point for our Gaudi Tour this afternoon.

Read Elena’s post here, more about our Gaudi tour.

Gaudi’s buildings are impressive, I just wished we had more time in Barcelona to explore them in depth, but with limited time we needed to keep moving, tomorrow we’d need to be up early as we need to get to Madrid and then on to Cordoba. 

Even if you’re not an architecture freak, if I lined up ten buildings of different styles you would be hard pressed to not guess which one was a Gaudi creation. His uniques style transcends decades and in some of his works you’d be forgiven if you thought they we quite recent. Personally, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the tour, but I was impressed, the only regret I have now is that given more time I would loved to have explored inside each of the buildings in more depth…. Oh well, it just means we’ll have to come back to Barcelona again in the future.

With a fond farewell and a promise to give Vera a good review on trip advisor we parted ways and made for a quick coffee stop before making our way home via the metro to Mercedes place.

Dragging our feet through the door and making for the shower, our day in Barcelona was done.

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