Kasteel Well Week 6-7: Barcelona
Landing in Barcelona was easy. Getting to our hostel from the airport was another story. Our plane was one of the last to land for the night and we touched down about 22:30. We knew there were 2 terminals at the airport and had directions to the city center from one of them. The slight issue being that we had no clue what terminal we were actually at. We finally found out we were at the wrong one and hopped on an airport shuttle bus that seemed to take us by the airport, past the airport, around the airport, and around the airport again before it finally dropped us off at the other terminal. I was using the very complicated system of following the “pictures of trains” in order to figure out where we needed to go.
We made it to the train platforms and found our train waiting on the platform. A friendly train conductor helped us buy our ticket – we could buy 1 ticket that would be good for 10 rides that we could share among the 6 of us – but we weren’t fast enough as half of us were through the turnstile the train pulled out… Our tickets were valid on the city buses too, but those left from the other terminal. So back to the shuttle and 8 loops around the airport later, we finally hopped onto a night bus into the city center. We got off the bus in the pouring rain and tried to figure out where we were. The longer we tried, the wetter and more illegible our map became. We admitted defeat and asked for directions from a nearby hotel and then off we went in search of our hostel.
Given that we didn’t make it to the hostel until almost 1am, we slept in a bit and got off to a late start on Tuesday but set our priorities right from the beginning. First order of business: food! We went to the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria which is a public market right by Plaça de Catalunya (Catalunya Square) which is one of the main squares in Barcelona. Distracted by all of the sights and smells, our group wandered apart but met back up once we had collected some goodies. My discoveries included a foot-long piece of bread covered with bruschetta & fresh herbs along with some various empanadas.
We proceeded to wander about the city for the next few hours and even ended up running into some fellow castle-dwellers by one of the city gates. They pointed us in the direction of a fountain in the Parc de la Ciutadella which was absolutely beautiful. The fountain had magnificent sculptures and you are able to climb the steps and see it all from the top of the structure. Also next to the fountain was a giant statue of a wooly mammoth. Why was it there? No clue. But we took at least 100 pictures with it. After we felt we had enough pictures climbing on the mammoth, we walked to what is arguably Barcelona’s biggest attraction: Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família.
Commonly referred to as the Sagrada Família, this church is unlike any other that you’ll ever see. Designed by Antoni Gaudí, the basilica began construction in 1882 and is projected to be completed by 2030. (We’ve already decided we’re going back when it’s done.) This is another one of those places where I know that I will be unable to capture it’s magnificence with my inadequate descriptions. Simply the scale of the building is impressive enough, but Gaudí didn’t stop there. There are to be four different façades each with a different theme and only two have been completed so far. There are currently only eight spires standing out of the eighteen planned. The naturalistic hyperboloid shapes that Gaudí incorporated into the design provide natural light while the stained glass windows shower the entire interior in a multicolored wash of light. The vertical supports are all of varying materials in order to achieve the structural integrity required but also to achieve the patterns that Gaudí envisioned. The supports branch out as they grow – mirroring trees and giving the appearance that you are looking up into a forest canopy.
The Sagrada Família is by far one of the most visually stunning buildings you will ever see. If you ever visit Barcelona, don’t miss it!
The following morning we woke up to a fine drizzle that was just annoying enough to make you wet the whole day. I personally found some joy in it after I put my rain gear on and proceeded to steal my friend’s umbrella in order to skip down the street and hang off a lamppost whilst belting out “Singin’ in the Rain”. It’s all fun and games until you steal their umbrella in a rain storm. Oops. We were enroute to Park Güell – another Gaudí creation in Barcelona – which features various architectural features that Gaudí had designed. One of the prominent features of the park is the mosaic work that covers a vast majority of the structures. Most famously is the dragon which looks like a multicolored mosaic salamander that is featured in the center of the stairs at the main entrance. There are several places in the park that provide an overlook from which you can see most of the city of Barcelona. Like any of Gaudí’s works, the park is truly something different and memorable.
Departing Park Güell, our small group (four at this point) decided to split up for a few hours, then catch up later on. A pair went to the national art gallery, while Annie and I ventured down to the waterfront. As soon as we emerged from the Metro tunnel, the rain magically stopped and the sun appeared for the first time in two days. We had tried to take a tram over the port to Barceloneta Beach but the tram wasn’t running so we decided to walk along the water instead. As we turned around we were greeted with a beautiful rainbow! Just that alone beat the museum in my opinion. The beach was taped off with police tape and we quickly attributed it to the steady 10+ foot waves crashing on the beach. Some even doubled that height before they came crashing down. There is a level of shops underneath the boardwalk on the beach level and the following morning we saw footage of waves crashing over those shops and onto the elevated boardwalk. I understand why the beach was closed!
It was beginning to get dark so we met up with the other pair and headed up to the Castle of Montjuïc via tramway. We ended up on the tram during the sunset and we had a fabulous view of the mist from the rough waves slowly floating over the city. We timed the sunset right, but didn’t consider the castle’s hours of operation and were greeted by a closing gate. I split from the group as they went back to cook dinner at the hostel and I wanted to explore some more. The castle is on the top of a hill, so I went down the winding roads that crisscross the side opposite of where we came up. Along that side are several of the stadiums that played host to the 1992 Summer Olympics. There wasn’t too much else to see on the way down, but it was nice to get away from everything and relax for a while by myself. On my way back, I grabbed a quick bite to eat. Annie and I saw that places were offering a “bikini” on their menu. Daring to trying new things, I ordered one and was treated to what was essentially a grilled cheese with ham. Not what I was expecting, but still tasty.
I retired for an early night as we were leaving for the airport at 3am, but my friends decided to go back out and stayed up all night. Somehow we all groggily stumbled onto a bus and then into the airport and onto our plane to Rome. ¡Adiós España!
As we did so much over travel break, I broke the week up into more posts so I didn’t write a novel. Links to all of the parts are here: