barcelona’s arc of triumph
Most visitors deem Barcelona as Spain’s most attention-grabbing city and it’s not hard to see why. Out-of-this-world designs, chic bars, a strong culinary tradition and a plethora of things to see and do all make Barcelona the usual first stop in Spain and for many, the preeminent impression of the country. A closer look however, reveals a complex heritage. For starters, majority of the signs in the city are not even in Spanish. They are in Catalan, the native language of Catalonia, the region where Barcelona is situated. In fact, whenever I made the effort of speaking to the locals in Spanish, I would be replied to in English. People here are staunchly Catalan in identity.
barcelona seemed a lot more modern to me than many european cities
While Madrid is the political center of Spain, Barcelona is its commercial and financial heart. And while most European cities can be classified as renaissance, baroque or medieval, Barcelona appears to be more contemporary. Skyscrapers, which are less common in Europe than they are in America or Asia, are prevalent here in all shapes and forms. And of course, one cannot talk about Barcelona’s cityscape without mentioning Gaudi. Arguably one of the top reasons to visit the city, this architect’s unique vision means that many of Barcelona’s buildings appear like nowhere else in the world, leaving visitors in awe at how one man’s ideas can appear so intense, colorful and bursting with so much life.
barcelona’s sagrada familia is a sure-fire cure for church fatigue… just take a look at that thing!
Europe has hundreds of well-known places of worship and while it can sometimes leave one with a tinge of church fatigue, a sure fire cure is the Sagrada Familia. Still a work in progress despite more than a hundred years’ of construction, the basilica is a gothic delight, with elaborate facades and interiors that look like an enchanted forest or an alien spaceship depending on one’s point of view. One can simply spend hours here marveling at motifs that appear like nowhere else.
the bizarre casa mila (la pedrera)
For more of Gaudi, head to the Casa Batllo and Casa Mila which are both located in the upscale L’Eixample district. Both are apartments which were commissioned by upscale families at the turn of the 20th century. The latter is one of the architect’s most outrageous works, featuring a well-decorated rooftop filled with fantastical figures that don’t look out of place in Alice in Wonderland.
parc guell — i call this part the “sugarhouse”
Cap off the Gaudi architour by heading to Parc Guell where one finds impressive mosaic works and structures that again look like they were lifted from a fairy tale. Located a bit far off in the Gracia district, this is where people can relive their childhood by wandering amongst multi-colored mosaic salamanders, benches that twist and turn and filled with colorful tiles as well as gingerbread houses. Parc Guell remains free for now but there were talks of imposing an admission fee for the site.
another gaudi house – casa batllo
If sightseeing leaves you wearied, head over to the Rambla where there is always something happening. This is also Barcelona’s version of the Champs Elysees or Orchard Road and is usually jampacked with people. I wouldn’t be surprised if tourists actually make up 90% of the crowd. While here, make sure to stop at the Boqueria. Located just off the Rambla, this is where visitors can try several Spanish specialties without burning a hole in the pocket.
ciudad condal… it was a wednesday night and it was already 10pm.. but boy, was it packed!
On our very last night in Barcelona (and Spain as well), we wanted to try something special. We walked to the restaurant we wanted to eat only to discover it was closed. We happened to chance upon an old lady who told us that they were closed for summer. Lo and behold, she was a Filipino living in Barcelona! Soon enough, other Filipinos appeared and we asked them for some recommendations. Ciudad Condal came highly recommended. And so we walked, until we arrived near Plaza de Catalunya where the restaurant was. And boy, was it packed! Astonishingly, most of the waiters were Filipinos and they recommended us some local specialties. As usual, the tapas did not disappoint. The seafood was fantasic and the dinner was a great way to cap off this Spain trip.
The great thing about Barcelona is that it is a destination that one can never tire. This is a city where there is truly something for everyone. I stayed for a mere 3 days and only managed to scratch the surface. If you’re planning to come, stay longer. Don’t make the same mistake I did!
Tip: While many of Barcelona’s sights are within walking distance, it is a good idea to buy a 10-ride metro ticket (called T-10). This is especially cost effective if you’re traveling to/from the airport by train as well as the ticket not only covers the metro but also the buses, trams as well as the Catalan Rail network.