Big city amenities with a relaxed Spanish flare? Architecture that is as endlessly imaginative as it is visually stimulating? Beaches that are lined with pristine pedestrian walkways and an endless array of bars and restaurants that overlook the breathtaking Mediteranean Sea? Yes, yes, and yes. Barcelona has it all… and more! Up until this four-day getaway, all of our shared European adventures have been spent within the Italian borders that, from an international perspective, serve as our secondary comfort zone. Maybe it was because Spain is an even more foreign country that we did not know what to expect. Planned in less than four days, we didn’t even have enough time to do any research beyond booking a flight, finding a hotel, and coordinating Dylan’s vacation to doggie day-care.
When we arrived at the city’s international airport, we were pleasantly surprised by the weather. It had been raining for a week in Torre and the forecast for Barcelona had been only slightly less dismal. But a short bus ride from the airport left us at Plaza Catalunya where old rainshower puddles sparkled in the sunshine. Traveling with two other couples from the team, we made up half-a-dozen delighted tourists soaking in the sun while we walked towards our hotel.
Over the next two and a half days and three nights we spent in Barcelona, we took in as much of the city as possible. And this, as it turns out, is no easy feat because the city is enormous. An evening walk brought us to an old arena that has been re-purposed as an impressive mall. A bus tour guided us past some of Gaudi’s designs on the way to the 1992 Olympic stadium and, later, to the waterfront. A few stops on the beautifully well-maintained metro system and we were at the extraordinary Sagrada Familia cathedral. A hike up the steepest street I’ve ever seen eventually led us to Gaudi’s Park Gueill whose mosaic-tiled bench-lined patio provided panoramic views of the ocean. More walking in the general vicinity of our hotel brought us down Las Ramblas, one of the most well-known shopping streets in Barcelona. It consists of over a mile of shops and restaurants situated on either side of the street and along the center median which serves as a pleasant walking strip. At the end of and perpendicular to Las Ramblas is the ocean, and just off of this heavily trafficked street is the Gothic Quarter where we admired the architecture set against the evening light. In the midst of it all, we still found time to lounge by the beach for a few prime afternoon hours. Kevin, without hesitation, went swimming twice during that period. He and his teammate claimed the water was warm, but it was certainly not warm enough for me. I was perfectly content watching from my sunspot in the sand as they splashed around gleefully in the waves.
Throughout our Barcelona experience, we constantly marveled at all the city has to offer. As much as it is a bustling international metropolis, it maintains a lot of personality. Gothic, modern, and Gaudi architecture exist in perfect harmony from plaza to plaza. Parks, benches, palm trees, and luxurious dog parks can be found in nearly every district we explored offering citizens and their canines places to relax. Though it is a very popular tourist destination, it didn’t feel overwhelming touristy. Of course, there are the typical souvenir shops along Las Ramblas. But they aren’t overwhelmingly prevalent. And, there are Starbucks and Subway franchises that provided us with a taste of home. But there are also countless Tapas bars and restaurants that provide the cultural sentiment one hopes to find when traveling abroad. Add a gorgeous beach to the mix, and Barcelona becomes a very livable city. It’s no wonder it is ranked in the top three happiest cities in the world.
While we could have spent another week or more in Barcelona and still only have gotten a small sampling of the city, the trip was completely fulfilling. We saw many of the famous sights and spent time on a beach in November. We embraced the culture of late-night dining preceded by a stop for Sangria and Tapas. Tapas are the Spanish version of Italian Apperitivi. And they are amazing! Fried asparagus, potato omelette, chorizo, and the fan-favorite Potatoes Bravas (fried potatoes with a spicy mayonnaise sauce). Though we didn’t experience the clubs that are open until 6 in the morning, we did follow up our dinners with a trip to different Irish Bars. All in all, it was a spontaneous vacation worth taking. And it was a great way to kick off our traveling outside of Italian borders.
|One of Gaudi's imaginative creations, a house without 90 degree angles|
|In one of the city's many parks... this one by the Olympic stadium|
|This way to the beach...|
|Inside La Sagrada Familia|
|Stairs to the top|
|Inspired by nature, Gaudi made the columns look like tree trunks that branch off at the top|
|At Park Gueill|
|Another view from the park|
|Notice the beachwalker we spotted on two consecutive days during his evening stroll|
|Moon above the ocean|