Experience Barcelona: Part 1
Despite the tumultuous end to our first night in Barcelona, Isabel and I were determined to not let a bump in the road impact the rest of the trip. This goes back to my sagest travel advice: flexibility and adaptability are key. You can't expect the unexpected, but you can be as prepared as possible and always take things in stride.
Summer afternoons in Spain bring a sultry Mediterranean heat, more oppressive than any day in Lyon. Armed with light linen clothing and foldable hand fans, we embarked on five days worth of exhausting self-guided tours of Barcelona's most venerated attractions.
1. La Sagrada Familia
As is true of every city I've visited so far, public transpiration is the optimal way to get around. We purchased day tickets for the metro, traversed across the city toward the Eixample district to behold one of Barcelona's most perennial structures and perhaps Antoni Gaudí's most famous works. La Sagrada Familia. Construction on La Sagrada Familia began in 1882, it's still incomplete 135 years later. When it's done (supposedly between 2026-2028) La Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church in the world and will have taken longer to construct than the Pyramids of Giza.
The eccentricity of the cathedrals's past, present and future is only surpassed by it's verticality and cylindrical sand castle-like exterior and the quirkiness of Antoni Gaudí himself. He saw its completion as his life mission and was forced to slowly watch funds for the project dry up over the years.
Unfortunately, we didn't think proactively enough purchase tickets beforehand to the cathedral's interior and they were sold out for the day by the time we arrived. I consider this a loss. Though the facade itself is a mosaic of colors and angles, I itch for the day that I return to Barcelona to see what I missed out on.
2. Arc de Triomf
Having a triumphal arch must be a thing in great European cities. I've now seen the arcs of both Parisand Montpellier; and now Barcelona. Each one grand and unique to its own city. (Okay yes, Arc de Triomphe in Paris is still my favorite.) Barcelona's Arc de Triomf is a welcoming gateway to the city with its rustic reddish-brown brick and detailed allegorical friezes representing traditional Spanish life. The monument was built in 1888 by Josep Vilaseca for the Universal Exposition, and is majestically situated at the end of a long promenade flocked by drooping palm tree fronds.
3. Parc de la Ciutadella
I'm quickly learning that there's something new and exciting to do, every second of every day in Barcelona. In seeking out the Arc de Triomf, we also stumbled upon the Parc de la Ciutadella. In all of my research I hadn't heard of or registered the existence of the park, so finding it was a fortuitous surprise. The 70 acre park was ample and lovely. All that we were missing was a wicker picnic basket and quilted blanket to spread out for a hazy afternoon siesta. Everywhere we turned there were drum circles, groups of philosophizing
students, children playing and musicians performing. All walks of life seem to meet and interact so peacefully in Spain.
In addition to a rolling sea of picnic blanket-worthy grass, the Parc de la Ciutadella boasts a zoo, museums, row boats and a grandiose fountain.
4. EAT!!! - Llop
No Spanish day is complete without an assortment of tapas. After a sweltering afternoon of sightseeing, we were in need of showers and sustenance. Food obviously came first and tapas were on the menu.
If you don't know what tapas are, I'll give you the Reader's Digest description. "Tapas are small plates, kind of like appetizers, that are ordered as meals in Spain and are meant to be shared among groups of people. This style of dining creates a leisurely and social restaurant experience, that allows you to try a little bit of a lot of different items instead of ordering your own meal." I work in a tapas restaurant in Kansas City and have given this spiel at least 5,000 times in my life.
All it took was a two-block stroll from our Airbnb to stumble to stumble upon a trendy little tapas restaurant. Llop is a tapas, cocktail and coffee bar in El Raval. It is bright, open, delicious and very obviously not a tourist spot, which made it appeal to me even more. After a morning of go, go, go and see, see, see; we were content to kick back, caffeinate and share an assortment of reasonably priced tapas.