The fourth most densely populated city in the European Union; Barcelona is the capital city of Catalonia, and is one of Europe's leading tourist, economic, and cultural centers. It is a city known for the art of Picasso and the architecture of Gaudí, and is home to the Blaugrana and their Nou Camp. It sits on the Mediterranean sea between Llobregat and Besós rivers, and is protected by the Serra de Collserola mountains. It was also, the destination we chose for the second-leg of our trip to Spain.
Pamplona & Montserrat
With our time San Sebastián coming to an end on Wednesday, October 11, we checked out of our hotel, got in our rental car, and began the journey to Barcelona.
First stop of the morning led us through Pamplona's ancient city walls, and into its medieval city center. After just missing the opening of the market on Plaza del Castillo, we checked out the exterior of city's famous bull ring, Plaza de Toros de Pamplona, and then made our way back towards our parking garage, and before long were on the road to Montserrat.
The next few hours were spent driving through more mountainous Spanish countryside of Aragon and Huesca, passing though Parque Natural de la Sierra y Cañones de Guara, and ultimately arriving in the early evening at Montserrat.
Since we arrived late in the day, Montserrat's activity for the day was already beginning to slow. We explore the monastery grounds, and made sure to take the funicular up to the top of Saint Joan, where we looked out over Catalonia in the day's fading light, but after a full day of driving, we were beat, so off to the airport we headed to drop off our rental car. Once there, we hopped in a cab, and headed to our hotel in Barcelona's El Born neighborhood. We checked in, cleaned ourselves up a bit, found ourselves some tapas, and called it a night.
Barceloneta Beach, Parc de la Ciutadella & Catalunya Square
The next morning, we got an early start, and after coffee at a neighborhood cafe, we spent the morning learning about the life of Pablo Picasso, at his museum. While many of his most famous works reside in galleries throughout the world, the museum's curators have done an admirable job of telling a story about the career and life journey of one of the 20th century's most famous artists.
Our next stop was a walk to and along the beach in Barceloneta. We dodged the many street vendors, did our fair share of people-watching, grabbed a vacation cocktail at a beachside bar, and ultimately had a delicious lunch of tuna tartare and grilled octopus at Agua on the beach.
Parc de la Ciutadella & Catalunya Square
With bellies full of delicious seafood, we made our way inland to check out Barcelona's downtown area. Our route took us around and through Parc de la Ciutadella, under Barcelona's Arc de Triomf (European's love their arches), eventually leading us to Catalunya Square, and the top of the famed Las Ramblas. Here we encountered the only real bit of political demonstration (outside of the ever-present Catalonia flags hanging from balconies) during out time in Spain: the remnants of a morning pro-Spain unity demonstration, which mostly consisted of a few groups carrying flags and chanting, "Barcelona is Spain; Spain is Barcelona".
By this point, our feet were starting to tire, so we found a tapas bar recommended to us by two different friends, [Tapas 24], where we shared a pitcher of sangria, patatas bravas, croquetas, and more. Our evening ended with a walk back through El Born to our hotel, and an obligatory dinner of Paella at a local restaurant.
Park Güell, La Boqueria & Sagrad Família
Our final full day in Spain started with a metro journey through town to visit Gaudí's Park Güell. The park certainly has its merits, but to me, the story of Gaudí's vision was more fascinating than the park itself. While I appreciated the intricacies of the mosaic work throughout the park, the crowds of people have turned what should be a peaceful escape in the city into something a bit more hectic.
After doing our best to relax in the park for a few, we journeyed back towards our hotel, and walked through the Gothic Quarter to La Boqueria. We'd heard that Bar Pinotxo was not to be missed, and we made sure not to miss it. A bar that has been open for nearly 100 years, and continues to be family-owned and operated to this day; it was not to be missed.
On the day we visited, we counted three generations preparing the food, including the patriarch of the family, Juanito (Pinotxo, himself). After a brief wait, we were able to secure two of the fourteen bar stools, and sat down to wonderful lunch of freshly prepared specialties. The white beans with baby squid, prawns, and chickpeas were all delicious. We washed lunch down with a couple of beers, vacated our stools, and started to make our way back across town to see the final attraction of our trip: Sagrada Família.
Despite the fact that we were, at this point, beginning to run our steam from constantly being on the move. We decided to head to the famous, in-progress basilica on foot, stopping on the way to see a few of Gaudí's famous apartment buildings, Casa Batlló and La Pedrera.
After admiring these two sculpture-like dwellings, we made a pit stop for some local souvenirs, and made it to the basilica just-in-time for our 5:15 entrance time.
A truly grand structure, Sagrada Família's construction commenced in 1882, and is still in-progess to this day. Estimates suggest that the structure might finally be finished in 2026 (the centenary of Gaudí's passing), but despite being unfinished, the basilica truly is an impressive piece of architecture.
Our tickets gave us entry to the basilica, as well as access to the Nativity Tower. After a bit of a wait, it was our turn, and up we went. The details of the cathedral from above, as well as views out over the city were truly stunning. We began our descent, making sure to take in the views that the tower had to offer. Once more on the ground, we came away from our visit feeling like we had found an appropriate finale to our trip. Sagrada Família is a beautiful structure, and deserving of its must-see status.
A tip for future travelers: Make sure to try to book your tower visit for later in the day, as the late afternoon sun makes the city and towers glow.
We ended our trip with a dinner and drinks a few blocks from our hotel, and went to the sleep feeling like we got the most out of our week in Spain.
For more photos from the Barcelona leg of our trip, take a peak at the full album on Flickr: https://flic.kr/s/aHsm7r4L7r.