|The alien pods of Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia|
Barcelona was truly beautiful and quite magical. With the palm trees, warm weather, Spanish speakers (or Catalan which is very similar to untrained ears), and tourists or expats from the U.S. speaking English, we felt like we were back in California. I didn't know that'd be comforting, but it was. Berliners are friendly (especially this time of year), but there's no pressure to be, which is one awesome aspect of Berlin. In much of California (I've never lived in another state so I can't attest to the personalities outside it), people can be nauseatingly outgoing, and if you don't feel like smiling, well then you're not seen as a very nice person and should be avoided. Here in Berlin, the older generations are a little bit judgmental of all the youth and newcomers, and the younger generations are doing their own thing and aren't subjected to the social expectations of cordialness. It can feel freeing and relaxing. However, when in Barcelona, not only are the expats and tourists VERY sociable but the locals will smile at you for no reason at all! It surprisingly felt... familiar.
|Mar Bella Beach|
In most parts of the city that we visited, an emphasis on family life was evident. Local families were out enjoying the weather with their kids, playing in the parks and at the beach. The other predominant groups were the tourists - twentysomethings from all over the world, several dozen hen and stag parties, and American families and tour groups. Hordes of people move to and from the beach all day long, not only the tourists, but also a good number of locals who obviously go there often (we could tell by their deep tans). People were, in general, having a blast. Many men walk the 10 minutes between the Metro and the beach without a shirt on. Most women wore their bikinis under a simple dress that you could tell spent most of its time on the sand. Some beach-goers were even walking the streets without shoes.
|Swing dancing at Barceloneta Beach|
We heard Catalan and Spanish, of course, and a smattering of other languages, like a group of Germans at the beach and a Chinese family at the museum. But we were surprised at how much English we heard everywhere, mostly from Americans. Apparently this was the time for American tourists to be in Barcelona.
We're not sure if we had bad luck but overall we were a little disappointed in the food we ate. We were expecting to be blown away because we heard so much praise about the cuisine in general and had several specific restaurant recommendations to follow. The thing is, the food generally fell short, especially compared to Paris, where even the nutella crepes sold in the tourist areas are mind-melting, and Berlin, where you can find an assortment of international food including yummy shawarma and doner. One important note: the wine is really cheap even at nicer places and very, very good! Especially if you're not a fan of their type of beer, their cheapest white wine is a great option. We didn't try the sangria, which seemed to be very popular. Here are our breakdowns of the restaurants:
Fermin Bodega on Placa del Poeta Bosca in Barceloneta was a random choice - we were passing though looking for a quick snack and chose this place because they had an open table outside on the Placa. It was a good place for people watching with a cheap glass of wine, some olives and house-made sausages.
|Tapas at Marcos Boqueria|
Later, we sat outside the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar and ate gelato from a place called El Born Minyo on the edge of the placa. We tried this Catalan caramel flavor that was very creamy and delicious, and a nicely balanced rum-raisin concoction (at least we thought it was rum, there were definitely raisins in it!).
|1 Euro juices at La Boqueria|
That evening, we followed another recommendation to a sushi restaurant not far from where we were staying. Ikkiu, on Calle Princesa, was small and informal, with a couple of nice waitresses who spoke pretty good English. All of the tables were full, but we were able to sit at the bar. Since seafood in Barcelona is supposed to be great, we had high expectations for the sushi. Perhaps the fact that we didn't see any Japanese people working here should have been a sign that it wouldn't be up to the standard of fantastic sushi in California, but we were hoping to be surprised, especially since our friend had said the maguro don was incredible. And indeed, the maguro itself was delicious and melted in your mouth, apparently marinated for extra flavor. But the bed of rice underneath it was definitely nothing like Japanese rice and had been overdressed with soy sauce. A flying fish roe sushi was good, but again taken down by the rice inside. It would only be worth going back for the maguro, as sashimi perhaps!
|Outside Can Mano|
For our last dinner on Sunday, we decided to go to Mercat Princesa, because it looked interesting and we'd been walking past it every day since it was directly across from our building. It's a big modern place, set up like a market with counters serving different specialty tapas, both Spanish and international. Some of the counters were closing, since it was late, and we weren't in the mood for Italian or for more ham products, so we sampled some more sushi and another variation of patatas. It was a great looking place but the food was just ok, so we'd probably only go back for the dessert counter, which looked tantalizing.
|Exterior of La Sagrada Familia|
|Toward the skylight above the altar|
|The grand entrance at Parc Guell|
|The line for the Picasso Museum (free day)|
|At Parc de la Ciutadella|
While walking to a restaurant, we stumbled on one of the apartment buildings that Gaudi designed. It was late, but the entire building was brightly illuminated to show off the curving balconies and towers, and thus it stood out sharply next to all of the darkened buildings around it. Gaudi's shapes are playful and fantastical, and clearly must have inspired the designers of Disneyland.
|The facade of a Gaudi apartment building|
|One boyfriend spent an hour burying the other, before putting sunglasses on him and laying down beside him|
We were pleasantly surprised to find that our Airbnb place was in the historic El Born district. All of the streets are very narrow and most were carless, and the buildings were very old. The closest experience we've had to being here was walking the tight streets of Venice, although without the canals, of course. We were right next to the imposing Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar and a nice open placa lined with restaurants and bars. The rest of the city varies between old buildings and newer construction, medieval streets and broad modern boulevards. Lots of benches and outdoor tables encourage people to sit outside, so there's always the sound of conversation and people having a good time. The laid back cultural vibe is infectious, and the good weather is relaxing. It seemed like everyone was just trying to enjoy life.
|We arrived at the perfect time to catch this light,|
and then it was gone
|A view from our balcony|
Epilogue: The Trains
We found that nothing in Barcelona really runs on time. The Metro is relatively reliable, and the buses are pretty frequent, but the posted times or those on the web seem more like suggestions than hard timetables. But it's fine, we got around in the city without too much trouble. The regional commuter trains, on the other hand, were pretty awful. They are what you use to get to and from the airport, so it made that part of our trip difficult. On Friday afternoon when we arrived, the C2 train from the airport to the city center stopped about halfway and we sat there for over 40 minutes. There were a few brief announcements (in multiple languages, thankfully) just saying that there was a problem on the track ahead and that they were working on it. But we never knew what happened. The local commuters on the train with us seemed really frustrated, and when we arrived downtown there were hundreds of people in that station who had clearly been waiting for this train that whole time.
Early Sunday morning we went to catch the C2 in the other direction. We'd studied the timetables and planned carefully to make sure we'd have enough time to make the single connection and still make it to the airport on time for our flight, even if there was another train delay. We boarded the train at the station, but after about 10 minutes it still hadn't left. There were no announcements and no change to the departure signs on the platform. It was before 6 am, so the station was almost empty, and it took a while before we saw anyone to ask. The guy just kind of shrugged and told us that no, this train wasn't
going to leave and that our train was actually on another platform. We ran over there, but that train's departure time was too late to make the connection. So we ran outside and grabbed a taxi to take us to the connecting station which was just a couple kilometers away. It was a good decision - the taxi got us there on time and we were able to get on an airport train. But, it was the last train we could have taken and still made our flight!
And one final tip... in Berlin, Google Maps will give you very precise and reliable transit information in the Directions section, with accurate timetables and good suggestions for which U-Bahn, S-Bahn, and bus lines to take. It's great for when you're out and can just check your phone for directions without a worry. In Paris, Google basically has given up trying to figure out the Metro and bus system and pretty much chokes on any of your search requests. In Barcelona, by contrast to both of those cities, Google confidently returns search results with lines, times, and everything. The only problem is that once you actually get out on the street they are completely wrong. Lines and buses that Google suggests turn out not to be running, there is somehow no information on the regional commuter trains at all, and every departure time is wrong, often by a lot. So, just a warning - don't rely on your Google Maps app alone to get around. But relax - you're in Barcelona, after all!
|At Parc de la Ciutadella|
|Outside of La Sagrada Familia|
|Dr. Seuss staircase|
|Inside La Sagrada Familia|
|The stained glass is remarkable|
|Every inch of this place makes a statement|
|Rahsan looking like a bad ass|
|"En el nom del Pare I del Fill I de l'Esperit Sant"|
|Light fills the basilica from the floor to the vaulted ceilings|
|Awaiting the addition of stained glass|
|The ceiling was in itself captivating|
|God watches over you like a gargoyle. Or Batman.|
|Again, it's difficult to describe how alien it is there, beautiful but dangerous|
|The view from one door to another|
|Forest and canopy|
|The unfinished clear windows with their pure white light wait to be devoured by the vibrant stained glass|
|At Barceloneta Beach|
|Translating the Catalan menu at Ikkiu|
|Courtyard of the Picasso Museum|
|A young lady of Avignon|
|At La Boqueria|
|Mar Bella Beach|
|Built-in throne, one of several|
|A flyer at one of the back entrances to Parc Guell, protesting the privatization and poor management of this formerly free public space|
|Barcelona laid out behind us|
|One of the staff members told us that this Gaudi house was not worth the hour wait in line|
|A Gaudi apartment building|
|Another view from our balcony|