Prior to the past weekend in Barcelona, I'd spent a mere eight hours or less in this northeastern Spanish city. Upon disembarking from our cruise ship as a nineteen-year-old, I quickly determined that Spain was far inferior to Italy. After all, I'd spent five days in Italy, so I had some good experience to go on, right? I remember climbing a tower in the Sagrada Familia (and strangely I don't remember anything else about that gorgeous church), frantically searching for a couple of family members that we'd been separated from, and eating paella by the water. And that's it.
This past weekend, though, I got a much better view of the city and spent just a little more time there. Barcelona is sprawling, and has a very unique feel as compared to Madrid. Mediterranean, close to the mountains, and steeped in a rich heritage of art, I loved walking to the port and sitting by the water, wandering the tiny back streets of the Gothic Quarter, and seeing Art Nouveau, modern art, and gothic-style buildings and churches almost side by side. We did the Airbnb thing again, and though this one wasn't as nice as the ones we have rented in the past, it was still a good launching point and served as a good home base. We went with two friends from the auxiliar program, so we enjoyed exploring the city together. In addition to commiserating with each other and telling funny stories about our teaching placements ("Did you have anchovy heads on bread for snack last week? We did!" and "I was licked twice last week by a student," as though these things are now completely normal), we sat around and ate chocolate and chuches (candy/sweets you can buy at the store...think Sour Patch Kids), drank wine, and read David Sedaris essays and laughed till our stomachs hurt.
Here are a few things we did in the city:
1. Window shopping (well, I did a little more than window shopping, I confess...), including visiting some Christmas markets set up around town.
2. We stopped in churches and saw belenes--Nativity scenes--and enjoyed the warm, candle-lit atmosphere. In one church, a wedding had just taken place in the front section, and the bride and groom were taking pictures with family and friends!
3. Walked through artisan food markets and under trees and streets strewn with Christmas lights.
4. We were wowed by the Sagrada Familia cathedral, built by Antoni Gaudí. I know his style may not be some people's cup of tea, but I found that I really liked it. At the risk of sounding ignorant, I'll just say it: traveling in Europe, I sometimes feel like every church I wander into looks the same after a while. But the Sagrada Familia is uniquely creative and artistic, but it's not over the top. In fact, I found this church more worshipful and reverent than many of the other churches I've been in--it turns your eyes upwards, and there is very little distraction by way of sculptures and pictures and So-and-So's (supposed) bones from the fourth century. Instead, the stained glass windows flood the columns and the floors with magical, tinted light. The facades are intricately carved (the birth of Christ) or starkly bare (the passion of Christ), depending on which one you're looking at, and there are so many understated details that you could look at this church for days and not catch it all. We were really glad we paid for the audio guide, which helped us understand how the building was constructed and what we were looking at so much more than if we had just read the placards around the church.
5. One morning, we made our way up to Park Guell, also designed by Antoni Gaudí. I love all of the tiles and glass that he used on so many of the structures in the park. It's beautiful and totally worth going to, though I noticed it's a place to photo bomb and be photo bombed (so many people EVERYWHERE posing in front of EVERYTHING). If you go, save yourself a little bit of time and buy your tickets online.
6. On our Gaudí tour, we made one last stop at Casa Batlló (pronounced Casa Buy-oh...I'd been pronouncing it as Casa Bat-yo for a while. Thanks a lot, Catalán.). Because I know next to nothing about architecture, the free audio guide was very welcomed here! This house was designed by Gaudí and occupied by a wealthy Barcelona family during the architect's lifetime. He paid attention to every detail in this house, giving it an ocean theme with curved surfaces, shades of blue in many of the tiles, and ceilings and staircases reminiscent of seashells.