Our plan was to spend a few days in Barcelona, work our way up through Southern France to our final trip destination, Paris. But, as I mentioned in the previous post, we were experiencing travelers’ burnout. And the best way to combat it was to quit moving around so often. We decided it was time to start winding down and enjoy the last bit of our travels rather than run around like lunatics. We ended up splitting our last two weeks of our trip between Barcelona and Paris. And we are so glad we did. Barcelona is fun. There is so much to see and eat and do. We loved it!
We made the long bus ride from Cuenca starting at 9am and arrived in Barcelona around 7pm. By the time we hit the steps of our rented room for the week, we were knackered. But instead of feeling stressed for lost time, we had a whole week to explore. Woohoo! We spent the rest of the week exploring the city, seeing some of the usual tourist spots, and even making it out to the town of Figueres, about a two-hour train ride, to visit Salvador Dalí’s former home now called the Dalí Theatre and Museum.
We also made the obligatory tourist visit to La Rambla, a boulevard in the heart of Barcelona’s old city. It’s a bustling street full of vendors, street performers, shops and restaurants (read: tourist trap!). Just off this boulevard lies the Mercat de Sant Josep/ La Boqueria, a neighborhood market full of colorful fruit, fresh seafood, and ham legs dangling above the butcher stalls.
It’s a rainbow of colors
Neck-deep in ham legs. I don’t think I was disturbed when I saw this in person, but this photo changes my mind.
Right next to the ham stalls was a vegetarian stall where “organic is orgasmic”. Pretty bold statement, I’d say.
From La Rambla, we were able to end up at the waterfront and we strolled around admiring the blue waters and imagining how nice it’d be in warmer weather.
There were these strange “arty” looking buoys in the water. From far away, it looks like a boy peeing into the sea. Up close, we realized it’s a boy holding a star behind his back as he gazes at the sky.
I like the boy peeing in the water better, like a Spanish version of Belgium’s Manneken Pis.
One of our main goals in Barcelona was to find a bar/restaurant that served a type of tapas called pintxos (pronounced “pinchos”). They consist of tasty morsels of various fresh ingredients (i.e. tomatoes, manchego cheese, anchovy, shrimp, iberico ham, olive oil, etc) topped on a slice of bread and held together in place by a toothpick. They are displayed in large plates on top of the bar. Pintxos are typical of the Basque region of Spain (more northwest of Barcelona. Barcelona is in the Catalonia region). But since we weren’t going to be making it to the Basque region this time around, we figured eating the pintxos in Barcelona would be close enough. Lo and behold, as we wandered around, we found a pintxos bar, and gorged ourselves silly on some deliciousness.
The normal course of action goes like this: order a drink, eat as many pintxos that your heart desires, count the number of toothpicks, pay the bill.
We also spent some time checking out the museums of some of Spain’s most famous artists, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró.
The Miró museum was really great except that I wasn’t feeling well, so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would’ve liked. The collection of his work is vast and varied, so it kept things interesting. The museum is high up on a hill in the Parc de Montjuïc neighborhood. It was a great walk from our rented room to the museum. They also had an outdoor space with great views of Barcelona.
View from the Joan Miró Foundation
The Picasso Museum is in the neighborhood of Montcada and the museum is in an old medieval building along a narrow cobblestone pedestrian-only street. Of course with the popularity of the Picasso Museum, there are plenty of tourist traps along the way in forms of restaurants, shops, and street vendors. But, it’s a cool place to just wander about and get lost.
A pretty interesting tidbit about the museum:
In 1957, Picasso had become completely obsessed with a 1656 painting by Diego Velázquez called Las Meninas. It’s a very famous painting, and it hangs in the Museo del Prado in Madrid (sidenote: Picasso’s very famous painting called Guernica is also in Madrid at the Museo Reina Sofía). The painting IS really fascinating. It looks like a snapshot from a moment in time. Picasso proceeded to paint 58 interpretations of this painting in a period of 4 months. A whole giant room in the museum is dedicated to Picasso’s renditions.
Las Meninas by Velázquez
There was also a special exhibit about the influence of Edgar Degas on Picasso, especially all the ballet paintings and bronze sculptures Degas is famous for. Picasso also created paintings and bronze sculptures with his interpretations of Degas’ works. So, the take away message for me was: Picasso really liked interpreting other artists’ works.
The rest of the museum was okay. It contained a really large collection of Picasso’s earlier works, and personal collections from Picasso’s close friends. It was really interesting to see his artistic development and experimentation through the years, but for me, I left feeling a little underwhelmed. I think mostly, I didn’t feel like the chronological setup of the museum flowed very well. Or I don’t know, maybe I had museum burnout as well…
Okay, enough whining about burnout and let’s move onto some other good stuff.
Jay and I had both been to Barcelona separately when we were in college and there was one place that had made a big impression on both of us, and we were really excited to see it again: La Sagrada Familia. It’s a gigantic Catholic cathedral designed by the revered Catalan architect, Antonio Gaudí.
Gaudí also designed some notable landmarks in Barcelona, each becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The two most popular buildings are in the neighborhood of Eixample along the very shi-shi Passeig de Gràcia.
Gaudí also designed an outdoor space called Park Güell. We took Barcelona’s awesome subway system to reach Park Güell. Outside the subway entrance, we ended up following a load of tourists in the direction of the park. We ended up at a very steep neighborhood street that had escalators to the top. Phew!
If you can peel your eyes away from this super-flattering photo of me, look behind me to see how steep the street was. Hurray for escalators!
The view at the top was awesome! We got lucky with the weather.
This street performer serenaded us with Elvis songs as we climbed our way to the top.
There was a nice winding trail that led us to the entrance of the park which was surrounded by footpaths, bridges, fountains, mosaics, and a terrace to look over the city.
A footpath underneath a bridge.
The terrace is great for people-watching and soaking in the sun. That is, if you can find a space to sit.
On the terrace looking out
Staircase up to the terrace
People were waiting in line to take pictures with this mosaic lizard.
Finally, we saved the best visit for last, Gaudí’s magnum opus, La Sagrada Familia. The building of the church began in 1882 and it’s expected to be completed in 2026. It will have taken 144 years to build this church, and exactly 100 years after Gaudí’s death. A lot of the reason that it’s taking so long is that the whole construction is funded by donations, and revenue from admissions’ tickets into the church. Also, at the time that Gaudí envisioned his masterpiece, the technology to actually build it was simply not there. Talk about someone ahead of his time!
We went there 3 days in a row trying to get inside the gates of the church and have a chance to climb one of its towering spires. First day, we arrived too late to climb the towers. Second day, the line was really, really long. The third day, the line was even longer than the day before, but we decided to wait the 2 hours in a line that circled the entire block.
I found this picture online of a scale model of what the completed structure will look like:
Come on, that’s pretty nuts, right?
And, here are some pictures that Jay took:
The Passion Facade
The door at the entrance of the cathedral
The inside was more magnificent than I could have imagined. It was incredible. Gaudí’s concept was for the columns to resemble trees. Gaudí’s vision allows the visitor’s imaginations to run wild. I felt like I was in a magic forest.
We were able to go up one side of the spires by elevator. We reached the top and was able to walk across at a vertigo-inducing height to see the city below us.
We decided to walk down instead of taking the elevator back. We ended up in a dizzying spiral staircase that took us down to the main floor.
It was pretty exciting to see how much had progressed since our last visits. I really hope one day we get to see the completed structure 15 years from now.
That pretty much sums up our time in Barcelona. We had such a fantastic time in the city. Here’s looking forward to 2026!
By the way, if you think some of the stuff we saw in Barcelona was out of this world, wait until our next post on the Dalí Museum in Figueres!