This last weekend we enjoyed a long weekend in observance of the Spanish Saint’s Day of the Immaculate conception. I took this opportunity to explore the Catalonian capital of Barcelona.
I left Thursday evening to fly to Madrid before my flight the next morning to Barcelona. Sleeping in airports is not my favorite way to spend a night, but when flying on a budget, beggars can’t be choosers right? Flying into the city is an awesome experience. Barcelona, like much of the Costa Blanca, is a city sandwiched between mountains and the Mediterranean. So I flew over the misty peaks of the mountains at the western edge of the city and over the sea to land at Barcelona/El Prat.
From there I took the first metropolitan bus to the city center, which is named “Plaça D’Espanya” (Plaza of Spain) in Catalan. Barcelona was yet another example of the local language being more important than the official language; all of the signs and people spoke Catalan, which is like a French and Spanish hybrid, so reading it wasn’t too difficult. The Plaça D’Espanya is HUGE. It’s probably about a quarter mile across, with a large fountain in the middle of a small park at the center of a giant rotary that has access to the highway, as well a La Para-lel, the Catalonian equivalent of Broadway, and La Avenida Diágonal, which is the longest street in the city, running from the northwest end to the beaches at the southeast. All along the Diágonal are the designer clothing stores and a multitude of other shops.
But what most drew my eye at the Plaza is a long street that lead up to the Mont Jucio, which perched atop rested the Museo Naciónal de Arte de Catalunia, or the MNAC for short. The MNAC is a large building that I can only describe as being a red-brick version of the US Capitol building. Climbing the steps to the MNAC is an experience, they have fountains and waterfalls between the landings of the marble stairs, which are more than 30 feet high; all lushly surrounded by leafy green ferns. Atop the steps, you can see nearly all of Barcelona from the Plaça to the Sagrada Familia in the distance. I sat there for a while, mostly because of the view, but also because it felt good to stop after spending the last 15 hours travelling.
From there, I hopped a bus along the Gran Vía, to head towards my accommodations. I got off about halfway there to see the Sagrada Familia, which I can safely say is the symbol of the city. It is to Barcelona what the Opera House is to Sydney, and the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco. This basilica has been under construction for more than 120 years, and it’s still incredible to behold. It has many high peaks, and masterfully carved sculptures of stone decorating both sides. Each side of the basilica is a masterpiece all its own, one entrance represents the nativity, and the opposite entrance the passion of the Christ. These faces of the basilica are likely a couple hundred feet tall, with faces and detail covering every single inch. The peaks of the basilica that you can see from the top of the MNAC are spiraling and encrusted with what I assume to be glass that is reminiscent of flowers made of precious stones. It was dizzying to see it all from the front steps. I can only imagine how magnificent it will be when it is completed, hopefully during my lifetime.
I walked from there to my hotel. I also grossly underestimated the size of that city, because that was probably about a 5 mile walk; admittedly not the best idea on around 3 hours of sleep. But boy did I sleep well that night.
The next day was Saturday, and I had all day to see the sights, well rested and eager, I got out of the hotel by 9 (which for Spaniards who don’t have any obligations that day is ungodly), and hopped on a bus down the Gran Vía to about halfway between the Plaza de España and my hotel. There, I visited Paris France. Yes, Paris France. Barcelona features a lovely monument that is in many ways a clone of L’arc d’Triumph in Paris. “L’arc Triumfe” in Barcelona is a towering mirror of its French counterpart, so I walked through it on my way to L’parc Citadel, the central park of Barcelona, built on the remains of an old Roman citadel. This park even has a Zoo inside it, which I went to.
After the Zoo, I hopped on the local tour bus, which has a second floor without a roof, great for taking pictures. Did I mention it was December? it was probably about 50 degrees all day, so only the diehards were riding on the top of the bus with me. The bus has a hop on, hop off system that goes to all of the main sights in the city. I did every route. The route goes from the park through the Gothic quarter, what many consider to be the nicest district in the city. Then to the Plaça Catalunya, another city hub before going to the north end. The north end is very pretty. It reminds me of a more congested Bellevue Avenue back in Newport, but less mansions, and more ornate apartment flats.
One of the best stops was at the Stadium for the Fútbol Club de Barcelona, and the surrounding complex. This stadium is the largest soccer stadium in Europe. At capacity, it can fit up to 100,000 people inside, Spaniards really love their fútbol. I went in the complex, and had to stop at the pro-shop to get myself a team scarf. You can’t have a team if you don’t fly their colors, and besides, it was cold on top of that bus.
The bus went from there down the Diágonal back to the plaza de España and up the mont Jucio, and back down to the port. At the top of that mountain you can see everything. By the time I went up on the bus, the sun was setting. Which cast some pretty epic shadows over the whole city. Coming down the mountain we went by the 1992 Olympic stadium and complex. There was a lot of cool monuments in this area, as well as a chairlift-style tram that goes from the complex over the ports down to the beaches. As the bus rode alongside the sea, I could see cruise liners docked at port, lit up like Christmas trees. Speaking of, Barcelona is the metropolitan capital of the country, and befitting that title, the whole city was lit up for Christmas. Hanging lights over the main streets, and Christmas trees all aglow in every store and plaza, it really got me in the spirit. When I finished my bus tour it was dark, and a perfect time to eat.
I decided that the most appropriate dinner venue would be the Hard Rock Barcelona. It’s loud, bombastic and screams Rock n’ Roll. Just like it should. And of course, you don’t visit international places like that without a souvenir saying you did so. This was a pretty big thing for me because I have visited several Hard Rocks in my travels, so it was one of my “to-dos” for the weekend. It was a slice of America, on the other side of the Meridian.
That was a long day. I even had the blisters to prove it. But I still had the next morning to explore.
Sunday morning, I had my breakfast and checked out of the hotel and walked to the beach. It was brisk and beautifully clear. And the sea seemed to stretch to infinity. My goal for the day was to visit the seaport, because when I visited it on the bus tour, it was too dark to take good pictures. So I had to take better ones. As I walked along the coastline, I was taken back by how many beaches this city has. Alicante is a one beach kind of city, Barcelona has 6. And these are full sized, hour long walk beaches, this city was huge, and I cannot emphasize that enough. I came from a small town and lived in a small city for the last 3 months, so a big city was a big change.
I got to the port and took my photos of the antique shipyards and the Christopher Columbus monument, and went down the port. I wanted to go to the Aquarium in my 3 hours left. So I did. It was a one ring circus to say the least. But it did have a really interesting shark tunnel with a rotating platform. After that, I went through the port mall. It was literally an entire indoor/outdoor shopping mall suspended over the harbor, something I can confidently say I’ve never seen before. Inside it there was a Dunkin’ Donuts, the first one I’ve seen in months. It was locally called “Dunkin’ Coffee” as indicated by the sign. But make no mistake, it was indeed a Dunkin’ Donuts, complete with specially decorated donuts and flavored coffees.
I went directly from there to the airport, a few hours early. I’m glad I did, because I got sent to the wrong terminal on the opposite side of the runways, which was a good hour long detour. My flight left Barcelona for a quick stop in Palma Mallorca, the Martha’s Vineyard/Atlantic City of the Mediterranean. And lastly from there to little ol’ Alicante, my home away from home.
It was a good weekend. And even better that Monday the 8th there was no class, so I had a day to relax and unwind from a long 3 days of traveling and playing tourist. It was a welcome change of pace from being the exchange student scrambling to finish his papers before his exams the next week. It’s only a mere 14 days now left on my Grand Adventure, and I’m getting a bit teary-eyed knowing that its almost over. But all things must come to an end, even this adventure of mine.
I’ll give out one last blog about my whole adventure next week, after I close all the books and crank out all of my finals. Because I’ve sure got a lot to tell.