While Barcelona is a city that is well worth a weekend-long visit, our recent jaunt to the Gaudí inspired corners of the Catalan capital left Andrew and I wondering if we are cut out for full-on urban tourism.
We started off our trip by checking into a sweet room that we found through airbnb.com. I can highly recommend this website for anyone looking for a less expensive alternative for accommodations when travelling in mid-sized to large cities. We have noticed a few gems located in pristine countryside in popular travel destinations as well. After meeting our hosts, Silvia and Oscar, we hightailed it to the Barrí Gotic, where we checked out the medieval cathedral that has been undergoing renovations for at least 5 years. After wandering around the twisty, romantic streets for a couple of hours, hunger, and panic, set in. One of the biggest challenges in a large city is finding a place to eat that isn’t too touristy, isn’t too expensive, is a good value and has a decent atmosphere. Our conclusion is trying to get a full meal in Spain in the evening when Americans are accustomed to eating dinner just isn’t going to turn out well. At night, clever restaurant owners hike up meal prices since they know typical Spaniards won’t mind since they aren’t eating dinner and typical tourists will pay since they are ravenous at a time when almost no one else is stuffing their face. We unfortunately got stuck in this trap and seeing as hungry people aren’t happy people, it didn’t turn out well.
Saturday morning we ventured over to Parc Güell, where an English style garden, decorated beautifully with sculptures, tile mosaics and innovative design by Antoni Gaudí, offers a vista back over the city of Modernism. It was packed with weekenders though, making it a little difficult to enjoy. The highlights of the venture to Barcelona for me were on Saturday afternoon, when we lucked into a delicious Asian meal for a reasonable price. The restaurant featured a conveyer belt with small tapas sized portions of different Japanese delicacies. After eating our fill of surprising samples of sushi, clams, fried vegetables, green seaweed vegetable, steamed dumplings and edamame from the handy dandy conveyer, we were served generous portions of miso soup, buckwheat udon noodles, grilled seafood skewers, grilled vegetables and a mixed sushi plate. Don’t worry dessert was also included. I must say though, after comparing the Spanish menú with the Asian inspired one, I left the Japanese restaurant still quite full, but much more comfortably so.
Once back on the street, we headed up to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s most famous, unfinished work. The unique cathedral spires must be the tallest edifices in the city and the church itself merits a visit to Barcelona. Unfortunately, admission to discover the inside of the cathedral for yourself is steep (+/-10 euros; similar to prices at other Modernist points of interest) and it is a well-known icon on the international tourist map.
Sunday included a walk up to Montjuïc, where we checked out the site of the 1992 summer Olympics. We then drug ourselves up to the top of the monte. Once atop we enjoyed a Spanish fort that also functioned as a interrogation prison during the Franco dictatorship.
After lunch we made a quick stop by the Picasso museum (free after 3pm on Sundays. An impressive little museum; it is well laid out and won’t take more than an hour and a half to explore the permanent exhibit.) We finished our visit by resting on a bench in the Parc Ciutatdella, moseying down by the water, admiring the statue of Christopher Columbus (who, ironically, is pointing in the direction of Libya) and by rolling our eyes at the sights and sounds of La Rambla.
Barcelona is a great place to take a break from traditional Spanish life, take in incredible modern art, and eat an ethnic meal, but we left with the realization that rural tourism might be more our style. Walking city block after city block made me long for the deserted hiking trails in the Picos or even near Laredo. Everyone has their own travel taste, but the rush of the open road and the suspense as to what is around the corner is irreplaceable.