Friday, April 17, 2009

Taking advantage of the 4 day holiday for Easter we headed to Barcelona. Originally we had planned to travel around Spain at Christmas but couldn't narrow down the choice of where to go after Barcelona, so decided to make it a single city visit.
The weekend wasn't looking great when we saw the forecast was for rain all weekend, and then the hostel rang Claire on Thursday saying there was an 'electrical problem' which wasn't going to be fixed until after Easter and did we mind staying at the other hostel. Luckily for us the weather picked up, not too much rain and even a day of full sun.
When we arrived we discovered our new hostel was in a predominantly North African area of the city and it felt a little like being back in Marrakech. It was a great location with a few metro stops within easy reach and quite close to the main tourist street.
Our first tourist destination was Montjuic, where we went in search of the Cable-Car up the mountain. All directions seemed to lead to a dead-end so up we walked instead. The views over the harbour were amazing and we hadn't realised that the industrial part of the port was massive. While there we found the Olympic stadium and some really pretty parks, as well as the end of the cable-car, so we caught it back down.
At the base there is a massive water fountain which erupts in time to music and at night is lit up in different colours. We found a nice spot quite high up and then realised the show doesn't just happen at the main fountain, but includes all the small ones down the street and up the stairs (where we were sitting) as well. We hung around for around 15min and heard some classical music, as we started to walk away they started playing some more modern stuff.
Day 2 started with a visit into the Boqueria Market. The quality and variety of the fruit, veg, meat and seafood was amazing, so being inspired we booked into a paella cooking demonstration for that night. The very back of the market has a number of stalls selling tapas/meals, and most people were having some red wine or beer with their breaky? 8:30 is little early for us, although the food looked great.

The best juice ever - Orange and Strawberry Strolling along Las Ramblas (the main street) we realised it is divided into separate sections. Flowers, pets, food, boring buskers etc. If only turtles could be imported, there were heaps for sale and they were all so cute! We continued on to Passeig de Gracia where we saw our first Gaudi creation (the spanish architect) - the Casa Battlo, and shortly after the second - the Casa Mila. Seeing the queues at both of these we decided to only attempt the most well known - Sagrada Familia.
We found this clock on the walk but weren't able to figure out how it worked

Sagrada Familia
Once we made it here and saw that the line went halfway around the block we did have second thoughts, but joined in anyway and surprisingly only 45min later we made it inside. This church is amazing. Gaudi took over the construction from quite a traditional plan and proceeded to put his own flavour to it. Even though Gaudi died in 1926 the construction is continuing according to the plans that he left. His basis for design was nature and it is noticeable in all his works that there are very few straight lines. For the church he took into consideration the lighting levels and acoustics such that the windows at the top have no colour and the area for the choir is designed slightly differently to the rest to stop the sound 'bouncing back'. We found out that it is hoped it will be completed sometime in the next 20 years.

The inverted model that Gaudi used
Park Guell

Still inspired by Gaudi, we headed to this park which Gaudi was commissioned to design. When the war broke out (1914) there were only 2 houses finished, one of which Gaudi lived in. The park contains a big market square with an intricate mosaic bench running all around the edge. Underneath it is supported by 84 columns of which many are deliberately diagonal. Sadly alot of the park was sealed off when we were there but it was fascinating to walk around and pick out the Gaudi bits.


We have tried to cook this a couple of times at home but it never tastes right, so off to cooking school we went. There were 14 in our group and we started the evening by making some simple tapas with bread, tomato, meat and cheese & potato tortilla. Very tasty! Next it was a lesson in Sangria. Measures were optional but the basics were citrus fruit, ice, brandy (pour for a count of 4), red wine (a fair bit) and top it off with orange and or lemon softdrink. Stir and enjoy. Not sure what to do with the fruit, but we ate it as well. The seafood paella was great and we all got to help with the stirring while it cooked. A great evening with a bit too much excitement coming when one of the group nearly had her bag stolen. She got it back after chasing him down. Nothing lost, so all was well.


After hearing that Tibidabo was one of the most popular day-trip destinations for the people of Barcelona, we thought that we would head up there early before the crowds arrived. After getting the metro, then a tram, then a funicular railway, we discovered it was freezing at the top and we were horribly underdressed.

Apart from a fantasic view, Tibidabo houses a theme park, as well as a church. Being Easter Sunday we were fortunate to catch part of the service at El Sagrat Cor de Jesus. Sitting high upon the mountain it is very impressive from the outside, however the paintings inside were equally amazing. Heading back into central Barcelona, and the customary Tapas for lunch, we wandered the streets and settled on the Picasso museum. This museum has free entry after 3pm on Sundays, and it appears that everyone in Barcelona also knew this. After queing in the rain and being regularly hit in the head by the umbrella from the family behind us (please spread the word - a waterproof will keep you just as dry and your hands free for icecream eating) for about an hour, we finally made it inside. Pablo Picasso studied in Barcelona at various stages in his life, and the museum showed the contrast in his paintings as he developed through each period.

Casa Battlo
This house designed by Gaudi is amazing in many ways and the brochure sums it up best. "It is more then just a building, it's a legend of art. The striking mondernista facade conceals a whole world of artistic and architectural surprises."


The sun greeted us on our final day in Barcelona, so we decided to continue our walking tour, and head past Port Vell and to the beaches of Barceloneta. We paid the price for not taking hats or sunscreen (given the previous 3 days of overcast weather). Nonetheless, being in the sun was fantastic. We walked along the beach, enjoyed some great food, and some quality street entertainment. It appeared that the water was still quite cold, as most people were choosing to stay on the sand.

2 of the best street musicians we saw.
Beach, shade and dominos. What more could you want

We loved Barcelona and really only scratched the surface. This (and the rest of Spain) is definitely somewhere we will return to if we get the chance.