After a great time in Madrid last year, we went back to Spain over a bank holiday weekend to the ever-popular tourist destination – Barcelona. With a winning combination of stunning architecture, warm weather, beaches, excellent wine and delicious food, it’s no wonder the city is so popular with tourists. One of the first things that comes to mind when you think about Barcelona is probably Gaudi. The legendary architect has left an indelible mark on the city and I will be writing about his works that we were able to experience in a separate blog post. But before we get to that, I’m going to tell you about all the other stuff we got up to.
Quick side note; for the first time, we had a female pilot during our flight over!
On arrival we became quickly acquainted with the popularity of Barcelona as a tourist destination. Large tour groups were gathering in the arrivals hall and as we made our way to the exit, we were caught up in the herding of a huge group of Chinese tourists. We were kindly directed down an escalator which thankfully is where we had to go to buy train tickets anyway so it worked out in the end. Public transport is reasonably priced in Barcelona, about €21 per person for three days of unlimited travel on buses and the metro. It also includes travelling to and from the airport which is a bonus because that is not always the case. The airport train is super clean, very smooth and also apparently driverless, so we could sit right at the front and watch the tunnel speeding by.
On our first evening, we went to the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc after dinner. With a name like that, it’s hard to know what to expect. The nearest metro is a short walk away and as we made our way to the main fountain, we strolled past an incredible avenue. Instead of being lined with trees, it was lined with jets of water that blanket the area in the sound of rushing water. It made me feel calm despite the crowd.
The area around the fountain was packed with people all vying for a spot to watch the half hourly shows that started at 8pm. We squeezed ourselves in and proceeded to be pretty darn amazed with the water, light and music show that erupted from the fountain. Most fountains are partly broken with water coming out unevenly or some spouts not working at all. Sometimes it’s a trickle and other times it flows like a river. This fountain was a masterful display of what a fountain should be like. At times it was a growing mist coming straight for us, other times it was countless individual streams like an enormous quirky mechanised punch bowl. The jets of water shot impressively high eliciting many ‘ah!’s and ‘oh!’s. We stuck around to watch three iterations of the show. By the second one, we were able to get quite close to the fountain and ended up getting a bit wet from the spray. The best part was everyone singing along with the music. It’s quite an unexpectedly fun and beautiful experience.
On our way home from the fountain, we came across a group of breakdancers performing for the Saturday evening crowd. They seemed compelling and energetic so we stuck around and even threw a couple of euros into their hat.
The train ride home that evening was not pleasant. At some point three boys got on, they must have been about 12, and they proceeded to hassle passengers by touching the faces of strangers and shoving a paint soaked rag into people’s noses. I was very uncomfortable as they came to Richard and I. They tried to touch us and spoke in rapid Spanish (or Catalan – I don’t know the difference), and giggled as they said ‘ni hao’. As was inevitable in this situation, further down the carriage the kids got into a scuffle with another male passenger. A few other people stepped in and tried to calm both parties down. One guy looked ready to beat them into a pulp but his girlfriend convinced him to sit back down. After a run in further down the carriage, the kids came back and one simply took hold of one passenger’s skateboard and proceeded to try and yank it out of his hands. The jostle that entailed felt like it was escalating but thankfully we arrived at our stop where we, and the guy with the skateboard, got off. It would be a lie to say this experience didn’t colour Barcelona a little for me. While we were not in imminent danger, it was not a comfortable environment.
On Sunday morning our first stop was the Cathedral of Barcelona. It’s a large a beautiful Gothic cathedral which is free to enter. The cathedral is dedicated to Eulalia of Barcelona, one of the patron saints of the city. Inside is also a peaceful Gothic cloister with trickling water features, resident geese and a variety of statues.
While wandering through Plaça Sant Jaume, we impulsively decided to check out Ajuntament de Barcelona. This pretty building is where the city council lives and is open to the public. We were able to wander around with very few other people. The building is beautiful and the interior pretty grand for a local council. I enjoyed this unexpected find and would recommend it as a quick stop to enjoy excellent local architecture for free.
At 7pm on Sunday night we met with our guide for a food tour that would last until just before midnight. We visited three restaurants and enjoyed a variety of food from the sea and the forest, including white anchovies, fried baby squid, cured beef, pork sausages, and goats cheese served with honey and roasted vegetables. There was also an array of other dishes and various local wines that Richard enjoyed. The final stop on our tour was a very modern (and reasonably new) restaurant serving interesting tapas with quirky plates and dramatic flair. We dined our way through many new-age tapas including huge olives, pistachio coated goats cheese, dramatic smoked tuna, ox tail, octopus with white beans and a decadent hazelnut fondant for dessert.
Our guide was a friendly mild mannered fellow from Austria who told us about his love for the city that made him stay. Remarkably the whole group of 9 was made of Londoners although no one was actually originally from London!
With an additional day due to the long weekend, we decided to spend a little time in the outdoors. In the beautiful warmth and sunshine, we walked up to Montjuïc Castle. The views were great and the castle had an enormous flag flapping proudly on top of the hill.
After taking our time to enjoy our surroundings and working up a little bit of a sweat, we caught a cable car back down the hill. We entered a very tourist-y area and were wary of finding substandard food but happened upon a great little tapas spot where we had an incredibly satisfying lunch. We happily munched our way through fried squid and green peppers (which are quickly becoming one of my favourite staples in any tapas meal!), stunning tomato/Catalan bread, and anchovies with eggplant.
With full bellies, we wandered through the Gothic quarter, admiring the beautiful buildings and enjoying the warmth. Eventually we reached Parc de la Ciutadella. It’s a large green space spanning 280,000m2. There are water features and a nice fountain along with a zoo. It’s a really great space that is clearly popular with locals and tourists alike.
At the end of our time in Barcelona, we finally went to the beach! The coastal area of Barcelona was traditionally a port so a few of the beaches are man made. That meant the beach was a bit disappointing! Regardless, it was nice to be near the ocean and we happily spent an hour lazing around eating strawberries we purchased on the way. It seemed like an appropriately relaxing way to end the weekend.