Though I had already visited it in my teens, I had no clear memories of Barcelona, except long visits with my parents, heat, and a city I had not much interest in. When I come to think of it, I was not that open-minded at that time, maybe too unsecure to be anything else than self-absorbed. I guess that’s normal at such an age.
Anyway, last week, I’ve had the opportunity to catch up, and pay a visit to my family in the capital city of Catalonia. It came at the perfect time after quite a rough month professionally and personally. I needed some time to clear my mind, to think out of the box and to take a deep breath before starting all over again. Spending some time in my family and visiting a new city that’s famous for its quality of life was all I could wish to do this.
After seven long hours on the road down from Lyon last Thursday, I finally arrived in Barcelona with my aunt and cousin. I immediately fell in love with the city. The weather was quite clement, neither too hot nor too cold. The streets were all bordered with tall plane trees, which reminded me of my childhood in southern France. Unlike France, though, the streets were very clean. The buildings were colorful, all adorned with balconies big enough to shelter small trees and flowers. And above all, at 10 p.m., the city was far from falling asleep. We found a nice sushi restaurant near the house and ate there: the fish tasted delicious and fresh, and I loved edamame beans with olive oil and truffle. An exquisite first experience of fusion cuisine in the very cosmopolite city of Barcelona.
The next day, I went with my aunt and visited the old district of Barcelona, the famous Barrio Gotico. Most of the buildings there date back from the end of Middle Age and the Renaissance era, while the most central part of the district still harbors the remnants of the ancient roman walls of the city which were erected at its foundation. Though they are dark and a bit dirtier than the rest of the city, it is a pleasure for the eyes to wander in these old colorful streets, filled with rumor, smells of foods and bordered with all sorts of shops. We first visited the cathedral of the city, which is quite sumptuous though very dark, and its surroundings, before having a tea in a local tea shop which also served Arabic pastries. A nice introduction to Barcelona’s sweetness of life.
The next days, I decided to visit most of the architect Antoni Gaudí’s works in the city. Though I couldn’t visit Parc Guell which was under restoration work, I could at least visit Casa Mila, Casa Batllo and of course the Sagrada Familia.
Casa Mila was my first encounter with Gaudí’s work. Although it’s not his most famous building, it is still very interesting to visit. When you enter the house, you first have to cross a large oval-shaped inner courtyard which is crossed by a rounded-edged stairway that immediately strikes your attention. Though the walls are not as vivid as they used to be, you can guess they were originally colored, giving the house a joyful aspect. At the bottom of the courtyard, there’s an elevator that brings you directly to the rooftop, where the view on Barcelona is sumptuous, which of course is a blessing for those who love taking selfies. I personally preferred to focus on the rounded-shaped roofs over the inner courtyards, that looked like reversed mushroom heads. They make an interesting subject for photography, with their very organic look, which is characteristic of Gaudí. Then, when you have toured the rooftop, you can go down the stairs leading to the second inner courtyard of the building, and visit some of the apartments that are not inhabited on your way. I personally found this part the least interesting, but others might disagree. However, it gives a nice idea of how life used to be in the beginning of the century for the local bourgeoisie. The visit ends when you reach the second inner courtyard of the Casa Mila, which is round-shaped and offers nice perspectives to photograph. All in all, this was a nice visit. Well worth the 22€ that were demanded if you like architecture.
The second encounter I had with Gaudí’s work happened the next day. In the morning, I decided to visit Casa Batllo, one of Gaudí’s most famous buildings, which is not far from Casa Mila on Paseo de Gracia. Most of the time, when you read about Gaudí, you’ll see pictures of this house, and this is not surprising, since it is the most gorgeous house he has ever designed in my opinion. Due to its fame, there’s a long queue all day long before the house, and you will have to make do with the many tourists who visit the house at the same time. In my opinion, this hinders the whole experience, since you can’t really appreciate the use of space by Gaudí in his design because of the many tourists always packing in every room. However, despite this inconvenience, I must confess that it is well worth the high price that is demanded to visit it (around 28€). The first stairway, all carved in wood, perfectly fits with your hand, which is another characteristic of Gaudí’s work: all must perfectly adapt to how it will be used by the human body. On the first floor, the living room is stunning with its columned facade and its colored window panes. Had there not been so many people taking selfies there, I’d have loved to share a picture of it with you. Fortunately, the second part of the visit, the climb to the rooftop, was at least as impressive, and much easier to photograph. The blue-walled courtyard at the center of the building is very impressive, and a joy for the eyes. At the top of the stairs, you can also visit the attic, with its white walls and arches which make it look like the inside of a skeleton. The rooftop, however, was not that interesting in my opinion, especially compared to that of Casa Mila. The view had nothing really enticing, and I was no fan of the sculptures. However, despite this, I consider Casa Batllo my best visit. Very recommended!
In the afternoon, I went and visited the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s most famous piece of work, which is to Barcelona what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. Though the construction of the basilica is not over yet, it is already quite an impressive building to see from afar and to visit. I’m not a huge fan of the external architecture of the building, though. I find it looks too much like a pastry, to be fair, and even though I love pastries, I wouldn’t like my church to look this way. However, the inner part of the basilica glows with magic and shows how masterful Gaudí was when it came to design harmonious environment that take full advantage of the light. The rounded shapes inside and the colored window panes make it look like the inside of a magic creature body, inhabited with angels and saints. It’s hard not to want to believe in God in such a place. And despite the crowd and the amazing architecture, I’ve found the Sagrada Familia remained a place where one could easily find inner quietness and peace. It just shows what a genius Gaudí was. All in all, even though I guess you already knew it, this is a visit you can’t miss.
The following days, I decided to focus on the old part of the city, wander in the streets, feel the city. I went in the early morning in the Barrio Gotico to take pictures of the streets and passages while there was almost none in the streets. This is something I like doing when I visit a place. I find you can only discover a city when you wake up with it in the morning. I took several pictures of the streets, passages and monuments I could visit. I climbed up Santa María del Pi to have a look on the cathedral and the old city from above. The view was gorgeous, and the visit interesting. I recommend it if you have some time. I also had the chance to visit Santa Anna, which is an old monastery hidden inside the old city. Unfortunately, I could only have a glimpse at the cloister. Next time I go to Barcelona, I must spare some time to visit it at last.
In the old district of the city, there’s also one place I loved near the Rambla: la Boqueria. In Barcelona, every district has its covered market, and the Boqueria is the most famous of them, and of course the most touristic. While it can be hard sometimes to forge your way through the crowd, it is so lively that it feels like the beating heart of the city, and its stomach at the same time. You can find almost anything you might want to eat there: fish, meat, fruits, spices, delicacies… I took some Spanish ham with chips and toured the dark and narrow alleys of the place, trying to capture the life of it into pictures. I also couldn’t help but drink tens of natural fruit juices you can find there, with my favorite one being avocado and coconut juice: a strange mix that worked perfectly. Overall, the Boqueria is another place to visit for sure, though of course, if you want to have a more authentic idea of the local gastronomy, you might be better served in less touristic places.
While I was wandering in the city, I also visited Vila de Gracia, which is kind of a village inside Barcelona, a bit like Croix-Rousse in Lyon or Montmartre in Paris. The many small squares, the colorful and small buildings, the many shops, bakeries and ice cream shops make it an enjoyable place to visit on a sunny afternoon. I especially loved the mural art there, often used to liven up the rolling shutters of the local shops. While Vila de Gracia is not a must-see in my opinion, it is well worth the beginning of an afternoon if you happen to spend a week in Barcelona.
On my last day, my aunt and I went to visit the monastery of Pedralbes, which is located in the richest district of the city. The monastery is one of the best-conserved gothic monasteries in Europe, and it is a fabulous place to visit. The main cloister, which has two floors, frames a beautifully preserved garden with old stone fountains, exotic trees and medicinal plants. Quite fortunately, all the different rooms of the monastery have been well preserved also, and you can easily fathom how people used to live there in the past century. In my opinion, this is one of the off-track visits you should favor if you have some time before you while visiting Barcelona.
All in all, visiting Barcelona was the best decision I’ve made in a long time. I had had the opportunity to travel before: to Toulouse, Rennes, Edinburg… But I never seized it, for what I thought was good reasons (lack of money, too much work). Now I’m back from Barcelona with loads of memories and a smile on my face, I realize I wish I hadn’t missed so many opportunities to have great memories, especially when I had someone to share them with. But the past is the past, and all I can do is fare better in the future, and this I will.
In the next two years, I would love to visit London, Bruges and Granada. And if I have more time, I’ll add Stockholm and Florence. I also want to obtain my driving license at last to be able to go wherever I want whenever I want while on vacations. I would have loved to visit the surroundings of Barcelona, but couldn’t because there was no bus or train. I need to be able to drive if I want to fully enjoy my trips, especially if I want to go to more remote places someday.
On a more personal level, I also know what I want to do with my life. Though it won’t be easy, I’ve decided I wanted to grow up at last, and build my own life. I want to be free, and I want to live, not just to survive as I’ve done too much in the past. I know what I want to have done in the next 2 years, and where I want to be in 5 years. And I hope this article will be there to remind me of it if ever I forget it.