August 8 - 10, 2010
In addition to seeing Madrid and Toldeo, we wanted to see more parts of Spain. On Saturday night, we took a midnight bus to Barçelona. After the eight hour ride, we made it to Barçelona. Our hostal, Hostal Mont-Thabor, was located on Calle de las Ramblas, a main street running through the city. The hostal was small, but nice and affordable – we were easily able to rent a private room with our own bathroom. After dropping our belongings off at the hostal, we hiked up to the 1992 Barçelona Olympic Stadium. We were able to get into the stadium for free because one of the side entrances happened to be open. After walking around the stadium and the surrounding park, we took the Teleférico (cable cars) towards what we thought was the waterfront, but instead were taken to a different part of the mountain to Castle Montjuïc. We were able to climb around the walls of the castle and get an amazing view of the city from the walls. The castle gardens were also very pretty.
We returned to the hostal in order to check in and ate lunch at a pita restaurant on Las Ramblas. We then took the Barçelona metro to Antonio Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. The church is still under construction and is set to be finished in 2027. The cathedral is completely unlike any other cathedral that I had seen yet in Spain. Gaudi likes to incorporate nature and mosaics in his work, and these themes are reflected in Sagrada Familia as well. Some of the spires have tomatoes or other fruits on the tops, and the columns inside the cathedral look like trees in a forest. Gaudi also maximizes natural light, and inside the cathedral, the light appears as though it is filtered through the treetops. Although the cathedral is still under construction, there is an elevator that takes visitors all the way up one of the towers and then there are balconies along the spiral staircase back down.
Gaudi also designed a park in Barçelona named Park Guell. Gaudi’s house is located within the park and has been converted into a museum that also includes some of the furniture he designed as well. The park has a lot of interesting structures and is located in an elevated part of the city, so there were also very nice viewpoints. One of the most famous statues in the park is a fountain shaped like a lizard and made from colorful mosaic tiles. After walking through the park, we visited the Arc de Triomf and another park across the street. This park has a really nice fountain with incredible statues, as well as a nearby statue of a wooly mammoth. On our way back through the city at night, we found a very good Tex-Mex restaurant that had amazing buñelos.
On Monday, August 9, we visited another Gaudi house, Casa Batlló. Casa Batlló was definitely another highlight of this weekend trip and its architecture was incredible. Like Gaudi’s other works, the house incorporates as much natural light as possible and draws on natural themes, in this case water, fish, and reptiles. There was also impressive stainglass and tile work throughout the unique house. Some examples include the lightening of the blue tile and expansion of the windows as one moves down the lightwell in order to best filter the natural light coming through the main skylight and the lightly painted wall patterns made to look like scales.
We took a break from visiting landmarks and walked from our hostal to the beach for the afternoon. The beach was very nice, and like every other beach I had visited, had its own share of people walking around with coolers yelling, “Agua! Coca-Cola! Fanta! Cerveca!” After relaxing at the beach, we visited the Barçelona aquarium. The aquarium was smaller than expected, but had some pretty neat shark tanks as well as several stingrays. For dinner, we decided to try going to an area different than Las Ramblas and wandered into an Indian district. We had a delicious, cheap dinner at Bombay Spicy Indian Restaurant.
The next morning, we hopped back onto the bus to Madrid. It was nice to see a different part of Spain and to visit one of the major cities in the Cataluyna region. While the names of places and streets were in Catalan, communicating with people in Castillian Spanish was not a problem. Barçelona and its Gaudi architecture was a fun and beautiful city, but it was nice to return to Madrid.