31
Aug
08

Barcelona weekend

As I mini-blogged last week, we went to Barcelona last weekend, the last holiday weekend of the summer in the UK.

I’d been to Madrid some years back, but had heard that the other major Spanish city – and at 4 million people it’s pretty major – was a very different beast. It’s in Catalonia, which is a semi-autonomous region of the country. They speak Catalan, not Spanish. It’s by the sea, whereas Madrid is landlocked. Okay, sounds different enough to me.

It turned out to be a fabulous city. The highlight was undoubtedly its fantastic architecture, the likes of which I’ve never seen elsewhere. But it was also warm, relaxing, easy to get around in, friendly, and with excellent food. Here are some of the highlights:

Fri 22-Aug
We leave London late afternoon and arrive in Barcelona after 8pm. It’s 10pm before we reach our hotel by train. This is okay, since Spaniards keep much later hours than most folk: in summertime it’s not unusual for families to not sit down for their dinner until 11pm or later. We
go to a tapas bar around the corner and have a few yummy plates of calamari and potatoes and a couple of beers.

Sat 23-Aug
We wander through the Old Town, the central region of tiny streets close to the sea, and see markets, squares, and just soak in the vibe of the town. Later we see the huge Barcelona Cathedral. That night we do some fine dining at a fish place recommended by the front desk at our hotel. The Spanish are mad for salt cod, and do all sorts of things with the fish we usually have only when battered and deep-fried. My tomato-and-cream baked cod is very tasty.

Pepper stall at Mercat St Josep

Pepper stall at Mercat St Josep

Sun 24-Aug
We head up to the part of town called Eixample, where a lot of the cool architecture is (much by Atoni Gaudi). We start with his Sagrada Familia: an immense, incomplete, neo-gothic cathedral. They’re still working on it, nearly a hundred years later. It’s bizarre: it has none of the straight, clean lines of other churches. It’s organic and curved and lumpy and chaotic, with carvings of reptiles and snails and other strange bits. Very compelling.

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

We take a short metro trip to the next Gaudi house, Casa Batllo. It’s even more bizarre, wondrous, and absolutely unique. It’s a block of several flats that Gaudi created right down to the last detail: he designed ventilation, doorknobs, windows, railings, chimneys, even the elevator. There isn’t a straight line in it. Photos can’t capture the level and depth of creativity in this house. It was, perhaps, the most amazing thing I saw on the trip.

Later we went up to Montjuic, the hilly part of town, with great views over the city.

View from Montjuic

View from Montjuic

Mon 25-Aug
In the morning we make the last Gaudi stop up in Eixample to see Le Pedrera, or Casa Mila, a large apartment building that demonstrates all his architectural ideals. The tour takes in the amazing roof, one apartment, and a museum of his work up in the loft.

La Perdrera

La Pedrera

We strolled through town a bit more, sat in a park for a while, and had our last – and, as it turns out, best – meal just before catching a train back to the airport.

If I had to sum up our weekend in Barcelona in two words, they’d be “architecture” and “seafood”. We really liked it all, though. It’s a very easy, comfortable, relaxed, fun, safe, gorgeous city.

Check out more pictures here.

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