Courtesy of 3DFlags.comBarcelona, Spain

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona. What a fun city! This place has everything to offer us tourists. From ancient Roman walls to glorious Gothic churches, from the Art Nouveau buildings of Antoni Gaudí to the modern Olympic park, Barcelona shows us just how diversely inviting the city can be. And the Catalan people are equally inviting. They love to live life to its fullest.

Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain, and the capital of Catalonia. It has always been a Mediterranean port of commerce, and was established long before Madrid. Many a conqueror from Carthage, to Rome, to Charlemagne France have left their mark upon the city. The Catalan people cling tightly to their proud heritage and unique language (Catalán), which is the official language of this region. Most people speak Castillian Spanish as well.

The heart of Barcelona lies near the long, wide street called Las Ramblas that runs from Plaça de Catalunya down to the pier. The Barri Gòtic near Las Ramblas offers all the cool gothic architecture, the Picasso Museum, and quaint cobblestone streets. Next to the pier, you have the Christopher Columbus monument and Maremagnum, a large modern shopping mall built on the water. More inland, there are numerous buildings by Gaudí, including the famous unfinished landmark cathedral called Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família. Up on the hill called Montjuïc lies the Olympic village and an amusement park. The city also has large shopping areas, museums, parks, and other attractions too numerous to name.

We stayed in a hostel very close to the Gothic Quarter and Las Ramblas, but we did venture out into the suburbs on occasion. The metro and bus systems moved us around with ease. My personal favorites in Barcelona are all the Gaudí architecture and the art of some of Catalonia's greatest masters such as Picasso and Dalí.


Weary from a night of little sleep on a night train from Sevilla, we found our way to Las Ramblas in the early morning. You can see that even at this hour, the place is buzzing with activity. Lots of people, shops, and little stands selling everything from books, to flowers, to birds. Michelle, June, and Scott pose for a picture at the top of Las Ramblas.

Las Ramblas


At the end of Las Ramblas lies the Colom Monument, a tall spire commemorating Christopher Columbus. You can ride an elevator to the top of the monument for a panorama of the city. This picture of the pier was taken from the top. The boardwalk leads to a multi-level shopping mall called Maremagnum. From the big tower in the distance, you can ride the funiculare to the top of Montjuïc where the Olympic village and the amusement park are.

Pier


Rock climbing santas? I guess Santa climbs the outside of tall apartment buildings here instead of chimneys. It's nice to see that Santa Claus visits Barcelona as well. The big thermometer reads 12 degrees or roughly 54 Fahrenheit. Not too bad compared to the freezing cold of Cardona and Montserrat.

Rock climbing Santas


Here's the gang having some fun just outside the Barcelona Aquarium, which is located near Maremagnum, the big shopping center at the end of the pier.

Aquarium


The next morning, we set off in search of the architectural works of Antoni Gaudí i Cornet. He is the person most credited with the Art Nouveau movement, and created many unique buildings in Barcelona. His style is unmistakably wacky. Once you see it, you'll immediately recognize it anywhere.

Casa Batlló (renovated 1904-1906) was just a few blocks north of Plaça Catalunya and the first one we came across. Its wildly fish-scaly appearance immediately grabs your attention, and yet, it is strangely inviting. This narrow apartment building is sandwiched between two "normal" ones on Passeig de Gràcia. It's an interesting mix of flowing forms, ceramic tile, stained glass and wrought iron.

Casa Batllo


Just up the street at 92 Passeig de Gràcia lies the larger and more accessible Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera (the quarry). I had to resort to scanning a postcard 'cause to take a proper picture of this thing, I would have had to stand in the center of a very busy intersection!

The flowing forms on the exterior of the building creates a sense of calm and serenity in the center of a busy city street. The building is now owned by Caixa Catalunuya, a local bank, which turned it into a cultural exhibit.

Casa Mila (La Pedrera)


The coolest thing about Casa Mila is the roof top. There's a terrace up there with a stepped path and some really unique carvings. These fishy guardians are actually chimneys. From here, you can look out upon the city and see the major landmarks such as La Sagrada Família.

Roof of Casa Mila


Antoni Gaudí's greatest work is the immense church called El Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (Expiatory Temple of the Sacred Family). It was begun in 1883, and Gaudí dedicated the latter years of his life to this project. Poor Gaudí met an untimely death in a street-car accident during its construction in 1926, and the building was never finished. However, construction continues even today in hopes of completing his vision. Supposedly, it is due to finish in the year 2500! This is a picture of what would be the main entrance to the church on the west or Passion façade.

Entrance to La Sagrada Familia


The church currently has eight tall towers, four on the east or Nativity façade, and four in the west. These babies are over 100 meters / yards tall! The original plan calls for a total of eighteen towers symbolizing the 12 apostles, the 4 Evangelists, Mary, and Christ. The Christ tower in the center (if completed) would stand over 170 meters high!!!

The towers are accessible via a torturous flight of stairs, and are linked with each other by bridges high up in the air. To step out on such a bridge or one of many vista balconies is not a task for the weak of knee. Looking down from there would give anyone a fear of heights. The view is incredible though. Here's a picture of the west towers from one such bridge. My poor camera couldn't capture the whole thing.

View from the towers


The nautilus shaped spiral staircase we would come to respect after the climb. You get dizzy from walking in tight circles all the way up and down this thing, not to mention the lack of any hand rails.

Staircase in the towers


Once again, I'm forced to use a postcard to show you what the building looks like. This is a good picture of the east or Nativity façade of the Sagrada Família. Note the mix of Gaudí's flamboyant design with the traditional Gothic architecture of a basilica.

La Sagrada Familia


A view of Barcelona from Muntanya Pelada. Scott and I were trying to find the elusive Park Güell when we were treated with this view. Actually, the park wasn't elusive, it was just hard to get to via the metro. We had to walk a mile uphill to get to it. In this photo you can see the towers of La Sagrada Família (side view) rise above the cityscape. In the distance, the two tall towers are located at the Port Olímpic.

View of Barcelona


Park Güell at last! This park was supposed to be a master planned community for the affluent built in Gaudí's wacky style. Only two gate houses were completed though. The construction of the park occurred during 1900-1914, however, it was never successful as a residencial district. The city turned it into a public park.

Scott and I pose in the viaducts that support the driveway above. The inclined columns and wavy handrails lead us up to the upper deck, a huge open area that sits on top of the market building. From the grass covered deck, you can lounge in many brilliantly tiled alcoves and gaze out toward the city and the sea.

The viaducts


Here is the famous lizard or dragon that symbolizes the "fun" spirit of Park Güell. You wouldn't believe it, but there's a huge line of visitors off to the right waiting to take a photo by the lizard.

Lizard in Park Guell


OK, I can never get enough of Gaudí, but we must go check out another sight or two while we are here. This picture of the main cathedral was taken on my twilight walk through the Barri Gòtic. Inside the church, there's a nice courtyard / garden with white geese lounging in a pond. Very peaceful.

Catedral


Every city in Spain has a bull ring, and Barcelona is no exception. Although I was told the Catalan people aren't as feverish about bull fighting as their Castillian cousins to the west and south.

Bull ring


A gorgeous fountain in the center of Plaça Espanya.

Fountain in Plaza Espanya


This is a picture of the Palau Nacional (national palace). It's now a museum and contains the finest collection of Catalan art in Spain. We unfortunately didn't have time to visit the interior. This was taken on our way up to Montjuïc to see the Olympic village.

National Museum of Catalonia


Scott and I reached the Olympic stadium near dusk, and found the place deserted. I don't blame people for not visiting here, it is FREEZING with the winter wind blowing across the top of the hill and through the stadium.

Stadium of 1992 Olympics


While wandering the Olympic village grounds, I captured this picture of the spectacular winter sunset.

Sunset at Olympic village


On our way back into town from Montjuïc, we ran into the Three Kings' Day parade. This Jan. 6 holiday is more revered in Spain than Christmas, and is an occasion for grand festivities. On the eve of the holiday, hundreds of floats roam the streets, and thousands of parade-goers try to catch a glimpse.

Three Kings' Day parade


Here's one of three special floats carrying a "king". The kings throw candy to the crowd from their floats to the delight and cheers of many children.

Parade float


After the parade, we took our last meal in Barcelona at a restaurant where Picasso spent many an evening. Els Quatre Gats (4 cats) restaurant was established in 1897 and still serves some of the best food in Barcelona. The grilled salmon was the best I ever had. Here's a picture of Scott entering the cozy portal of 4 Gats.

Els Quatre Gats


Inside the restaurant, which is far bigger than it looked, we ran into a huge Kings' Day crowd. They were serving up a packaged meal complete with a delicious main course, wine, and dessert. It was one of the best meals we had while in Spain. The walls are literally littered with replicas of Picasso paintings. Unfortunately we would have to leave this wonderful city after dinner, and head back to Madrid on our way out of Spain.

Picasso paintings decorate the walls of 4 Gats


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