Highlights of Barcelona
Friday 10 Feb 2012
Its –11°C when we leave our home early in the morning to get a train to Geneva airport. Thanks to early booking, I have got tickets for only CHF 30 to Barcelona. Our flight is quick and we arrive at BCN by 11:30am. The airport is efficiently run and we are out in no time. Picking up a map from the tourism desk at the airport, we are pointed towards the Aerobus stand. For Eu 5.30, this bus gets us into Plaça de Catalunya.
I’ve booked at NH Duc de La Victoria, which is approximately 500m from this main plaza. Its in a side street but very central and our room facing the back of the hotel in the 6th floor is very quiet. I am very happy with my choice of hotel.
We start our exploration, heading for La Rambla, which is just a few minutes walk away. My husband spots a vegetarian restaurant for me and to my surprise, my very carnivorous husband opts to eat a filafel sandwich with me (Maoz, Eu 4:50 for a very satisfying meal). A nod towards 30 years of togetherness perhaps?
We explore the market which is very lively and full of fresh produce. A nice place to browse. Then we wander down Rambla, trying to spot buildings of interest that my guidebook lists.
We walk all the way to the waterfront and admire the nice memorial to Christopher Columbus. We’ve woken at 4 am this morning and I find myself at very low energy levels. We sip a nice glass of rosé and watch the world pass by and then return to the hotel for a rest before heading for our walking tour at 4pm.
The Tourist office in Plaça de Catalunya in just a 5 min walk from our hotel. After buying the tickets for the walking tour Modernismo, we find a bench in the square and watch the pigeons do an amazing 3-round fly past!
The walking tour is about the Modernismo catalán architecture that Barcelona is famous for. My knowledge about this being nil, I hope to learn something as well as see something. The guide is very knowledgeable and his English is impeccable but he does have a dry way about him which doesn’t add much enthusiasm to the info.
Our first port of call is the Palau de La Musica Catalana. This exuberant coloured confection is joyful to behold! Our walk continues as the guide points out interesting architecture and talks of the Modernismo movement in Barcelona.
We move on soon to the newer part of the city known as Eixample (I had kept reading it in my mind as ‘example’, I almost didn’t recognize it when the guide kept saying éshampla!). Here the roads are broad and gridded and the luxurious buildings rich with details.
There are features to see and admire in every corner!
We finally come to the world famous Illa de la Discòrdia with Gaudi’s Casa Batllo, Puig’s Casa Amatller and and Domènech’s Casa Lleó Morera. I am fascinated by Casa Batllo and would have enjoyed a visit inside. Sadly it will not be possible on such a short trip.
Casa Milà, another of Gaudi’s famous buildings is the last stop.
The walk has taken about 3 hours. Added to the earlier walk on Rambla and our 4am start to the day, I am very tired. Bapi and I are so different – when I am tired, I want no food. When Bapi is tired, he just wants to eat and eat! We stop at a Catalan restaurant and he has a prawn starter and then a paella (which he likes very much) and a couple of glasses of wine (Eu 45). I have decided not to eat, the restaurant offers nothing vegetarian anyway, not even a green salad! The bill seems steep to me, especially as I compare it to my experience in Madrid last year. When we reach our hotel, I fall into the deep sleep of sheer exhaustion.
Saturday 11 Feb 2012
We have opted to have breakfast in the hotel. Its a big spread of hot and cold food (Eu 12 each) and we enjoy a leisurely and satisfying meal before setting off towards the Cathedral, just a couple of mins walk away.
The Gothic cathedral is impressively big from outside and its proportions are even most pleasing from inside. I walk from chapel to chapel admiring the artworks on display. The variety of artworks is impressive – tempera on panel, coloured wood statuary, gilded works and stone, just to name a few. As always in cathedrals, I am drawn to the stained glass windows.
We then enjoy a short walk recommended by our guidebook through the Gothic quarter. The Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat with its window displays looks fascinating. Sadly, we have not enough time to visit inside.
We end up in Plaça de Sant Jaume where we are to meet our guide for our tour this morning. Ever since we saw Niles in Frasier (TV sitcom) buzzing about on a Segway, Bapi has been raring to have a go at it. We had seen tourists whizzing past on Segways in Paris and Vienna but I had been reluctant to try it. My balance is suspect, I can’t even ride a bike! But I wanted to give a treat to Bapi for our 30th anniversary, so I pre-booked this tour. Our guide, Edgar, gives us a historical briefing of Plaçe de Sant Jaume and then we walk to the garage where he stores his Segways. After a brief training session, I feel comfortable enough but a bit nervous about facing foot or other traffic.
I need not have feared. We go slowly and Edgar takes good care of us. Soon we are at the seaside, zipping away in comfort. We go along the waterfront as far as the Olympic port. Edgar is constrained by where he can go on Segways, so it is not a tour of the Gothic part of the city that I had expected.
It is a fun way to spend a few hours by the sea, the sun warming us on this cold winter day, the waterfront of Barcelona laid out in front of us. The tour takes about 3 hrs. I had thought that this would be easy on the legs but my feet are aching when we are done. Would I recommend it? Yes, it is a nice way to see the city but it is no replacement of a walking tour.
Edgar has recommended a Tapas bar towards we head for lunch. We peep in; its so crowded that there is no place to sit. Right opposite is an empty bar and thinking of my aching feet, I suggest we look there for lunch. Carlos is a friendly host and though he is shocked at the idea of a vegetarian who doesn’t eat fish or eggs, he bears up manfully and provides me with a tomato salad and cheese. Bapi enjoys some cured beef and sausages. My Sangria is very nice and so is Bapi’s glass of red (Eu 40).
The Town Hall is having an open day and I am happy to have the opportunity to visit. It is much more beautiful than I expected and shows a classy richness which gives me a new respect for this city. The painted room is beautiful as well as the red room. We spend about an hour inside.
I pre-booked tickets online for the 4pm slot to see the Sagrada Familia. We take a taxi from the Town Hall (Eu 6.50) which is a good decision, it is much too far to walk. At first sight, I start giggling – it is so…exuberant! It is like no Cathedral I have ever seen!
The inside makes me giggle even more! It is such a joyful and somehow frivolous place that I cant think of it as a Cathedral. But its lovely. And clever. And amazing. And interesting.
The stained glass windows make us all into Harlequins. We have taken the audio guide (4E each) and we take about and hour and a half to see it all. We don’t hurry.
Taking a taxi back to the hotel, I am happy to rest for a couple of hours before heading to the nearby vegetarian restaurant Govinda for a meal. Bapi has sacrificed yet another meal to find some place which suits me. We take a menu (15E) and with our non-alcoholic drinks, the meal is about Eu 35 for two. Food is average.
We are tired when we return to our hotel. It has been a busy two days, the hours too few to see even the highlights of a city as big as Barcelona. We need at least two extra days to visit at least one of Gaudi’s houses, a couple of museum and some further-out places of interest. For the two days that we have spent here, I think we have had a very nice intro to the city.