|Path near Barcelona's harbor|
Barcelona really attracts a variety of people, including students of all nationalities. Their official language is Catalan (though Spanish and English are frequently spoken as well); I learned that Catalan is a close relative of French, so it was actually easier for me to pick out words in Catalan as opposed to Spanish. For example:
Parles anglès? : Do you speak English?
The city has no shortage of things to do, and in the end I didn't mind having a packed weekend on the go since it felt wonderful to be outside. My first morning was spent walking the long pedestrian path near the harbor and exploring the Gothic quarter.
The Gothic quarter sits at the heart of Barcelona's old town and is known for its labyrinth of very narrow pedestrian streets boxed in by rather large block buildings. It's also home to several neo-Gothic churches, including a basilica (pictured to the right at the end of the street) and cathedral.
|The Blue Glass|
|El Bosc de les Fades|
For lunch, I headed to the other edge of the quarter to a restaurant that, in all honesty, is not famous for its food, but for its ambiance. Walking into El Bosc de les Fades Café is like entering a dark fairytale forest or Alice in Wonderland-esque world. It's like a happy hour spot plus family restaurant all rolled into one; there are tall chairs and tables for adults and tiny stools and tables for children. As I said, the food isn't spectacular, but they have hot and cold sandwiches and tapas to munch on while you admire the decor.
|Above the Nativity door|
There's a lot more to it, and if you're interested, you can read more about the symbolism here.
On the opposite side, the Passion shows scenes from Jesus' death, and again there are many hidden secrets in the carvings. For example, any row of four numbers in the 4x4 grid below and to the right (horizontal, vertical, or diagonal) adds up to 33, Jesus' age when he died.
|Altar and organ|
|Ceiling and columns|
It is unlike any other church I've seen; the stone inside is all light-colored; in fact, the columns supporting the basilica are sculpted to look like white trees and to create a forest effect. You can see different types of stone; the stone choice depends on what the columns need to support above.
Much of the stained glass itself looks simple and repetitive, but every circle above a rectangle (found in groups of three) represents the human body of a saint.
There are upper lofts lining either side which will be able to house one thousand musicians, and when it is finished, it will have eighteen functional bell towers.
The basilica is scheduled to be finished in 2026. Due to modern technology, the rate of construction is going fairly quickly. The model below to the left shows what is already built (in grey) and what is yet to be finished (in gold). The "miracle" attached to the basilica is that it has always been funded by donations (including admission fees), never official funds.
Once you enter, you can visit a small underground museum which houses the tomb of Antonin Gaudí.
If you're lucky, you can catch a short bell concert at the start of Mass time sitting in the park across the street.
I took a few hours to visit Park Güell, also designed by Gaudí. The park sits a little outside of the city center on a hill with an excellent view. You can visit it for free, but to go inside the monument area, you will need to book a ticket with a specific time. Gaudí's architecture within the park is fascinating to admire, but everything is above all functional and practical. Even in January, though, there was no shortage of tour groups or selfie sticks, so I didn't even try to take many pictures through the madness. The park has an app that you can download to your phone when you walk in that acts as a guided tour and will get you back on track if you get lost.
The most famous bit of the park is the long colorful curved mosaic bench that frames a lookout of Barcelona and the sea in the distance.
|Lasagna at El Jardí|
Most restaurants don't even open until 1pm, and I was the first one at El Jardí at 1:30. The restaurant is basically a terrace inside the Conservatory courtyard with tables, benches, and pillows lining a shallow decorative pool. I can recommend their friendly service as well as their vegetarian lasagna and fresh salad.
(On the way back from the park, if you'd like a unique-looking sweet treat, stop at Boldú, a bakery specializing in sugary snacks like the one to the right.)
|Tapas and vermouth|
That was one of my general revelations about Barcelona: their cafés and restaurants are masters of decor and ambiance. You don't feel as cramped as you do in French cafés, and there is no shortage of tasteful decorations to look at. They feel light, welcoming, and relaxed, whether you are eating solo or with a group of fifteen, and the servers always seem happy to talk with you.
|1992 Olympic park|
Afterward, I found the art museum which is beautiful just from the outside, as is the fountain in front and the shallow pools on the steps leading up to the museum. The sun was beginning to set as I took a short break to people-watch and try to make out different monuments throughout the city from afar.
I finally looped back to the castle only to find out that I was too late to go inside, so I returned to the overlook next to it to watch a spectacular sunset over the water.
The pictures probably say a hundred times more than any of my words; Barcelona is a beautiful, comfortable, and lively travel destination that made me look forward to seeing Spain itself and experiencing more of its culture. I certainly wouldn't say no to a return trip.