We knew for a little while that Randolph would have some extra days off in late May (to compensate for weekend days he’s had to work), but we were holding off on making travel plans until we felt confident that there wouldn’t be any more changes in his schedule (it’s been a bit crazy lately). I wound up booking our flights to Barcelona only a couple weeks out, and we chose that as our destination because we found a good deal on flights. So far, “where can we go for cheap?” has been our determining factor in travel, since the choices are just so overwhelming and that’s the best way to narrow them down. But, of course, we will eventually get to the point where we’ll be going to some more obscure locations once we’ve done all the “greatest hits.”
These couple of weeks have been kind of insane for Randolph. Most of the previous week, he was in Georgia (the country) with the band, playing for their Independence Day celebrations. They immediately flew from Tbilisi to Paris, and played at a memorial ceremony near Versailles. They got home Saturday night and we flew to Barcelona Sunday night (some other people actually had to leave for a third consecutive work trip immediately after getting home!). We got home from Spain Wednesday night and Randolph had regular work Thursday/Friday, Saturday off, played somewhere locally Sunday, then left first thing Monday for another work trip! Plus several more work trips to unusual places in the next month. We’ve definitely hit the busy season for the band traveling to perform! But he’s getting to visit and perform in some cool places I’ll probably never get to go. He’s been collecting up pictures and stories from all his work trips, so we’ll write a post about them once all his traveling slows down.
We flew to Spain Sunday night. Ryanair flies from Frankfurt Hahn airport (not the main airport) to Girona airport, which is about an hour and a half away from Barcelona. This was our first time taking Ryanair and while the time we spent on the plane was perfectly fine, I was quite shocked by Hahn airport. It felt like the Albany bus station of air travel (ie super seedy). The airport was even tinier than I expected and it felt like an ugly, dirty warehouse. Plus the other passengers seemed about like the type of people you encounter on a Greyhound bus, not in an airport. It was very odd and unsettling.
Once we arrived at Girona airport (which was quite new and nice), we spent the night at a nearby hotel before taking the bus into Barcelona in the morning, since it was pretty late.
The bus ride to Barcelona was pretty uneventful, but we got to see a bit of Spanish countryside. The most interesting thing was that all the patches of forest were planted in perfect diagonal rows!
We checked into our Airbnb in the Gothic Quarter and then we were ready to head out and see the sights!
Our first stops were a couple places in the Gothic Quarter, since they were close to where we were staying. I knew we would be hungry by this point, so I had planned for a churro stop first! We went to Xurreria Banys Nous, which is consistently on “best churros in Barcelona” lists. It didn’t disappoint! We got the chocolate-covered churros, and the texture was just amazing! So nice and chocolatey on the outside and so chewy on the inside.
Next, we went to La Manual Alpargatera, which is a shop that makes and sells traditional espadrilles. You can get espadrilles at any number of stores in the city, but I wanted the “real”, handmade ones. They have shelves and shelves of various styles, colors, and sizes of shoes.
Along the way to our lunch destination we passed by Casa Bruno Quadros. It’s not a building on any list of top architectural sites. I had only seen mention of it on someone’s blog about some of the cool but non-famous sites. It was very different than any of the famous buildings, and not what you would expect to randomly see in the middle of Barcelona! I’m glad that we knew to look for it, or we probably would’ve walked right by.
The place I chose for our lunch was Quimet & Quimet, which is very highly rated and was high on our list of restaurants to try. It is a tiny bar that serves tapas and also sells some liquor and food items. It was pretty much the best first meal in Spain I ever could have asked for – I really can’t say enough good things about their food and drinks. My favorite dish was smoked salmon and yogurt on bread, topped with truffle honey. That honey was amazing! We really wanted to buy a jar of it, but the jar was slightly too big for the airplane carry-on bag requirements, and European airport security are really sticklers (we learned the hard way – oops). We also had a smoked fish platter and a couple other small cold tapas, accompanied by glasses of cava. While we were eating I noticed that they had the saffron gin I have been wanting to try ever since I first saw a bottle in Ghent. I ordered a gin & tonic, but I should have just tried it on its own – they used too much tonic, which mostly overpowered the saffron taste. But I could still taste it just enough to know that I want to find a bottle of it to have at home. The quest for saffron gin continues…
Now that we’d eaten, we were ready to do some walking to see cool architecture!
Along the way to some of the famous houses, we passed through La Boqueria, a big market with lots of food stands. There was lots of cured meats, salted fish, cheeses, candy, juice, fruit, and more. We got some coconut banana juice (it sounds weird, but it was very creamy and delicious and not too sweet).
As we walked out of the market, Randolph’s eagle eye spotted… a ham museum! Yes, that’s a thing! We didn’t go in the museum, but we walked through their little shop on the first floor (selling all things ham) and Randolph got a ham cone.
The first famous house we went to was Gaudí’s Casa Batlló. It’s very cool looking – it has that “melted candle” look that Gaudí is known for, plus some beautiful mosaics. Despite the brightly colored mosaics, the shape of the windows and balconies almost makes it a bit spooky looking. As Randolph mentioned, as cool as it looks to us, it must have looked downright crazy to people when it was first built.
The more I look at Casa Batlló the more it reminds me of the Paris metro signs like this one. A little research has told me that France’s Art Nouveau and Barcelona’s Modernisme were part of the same movement, so I guess it makes sense that my mind linked the two!
Next, we went a couple blocks up the street to another Gaudí building – Casa Milà. This one doesn’t look quite as exciting from the outside. It looks like a plain-colored stone building, just with wavy, squiggly lines. What you can’t really see from the outside (and we didn’t want to spend the time/money on a tour) is that the building has no right angles. It’s kind of oval shaped, which you can see in this picture.
Gaudí house #3 was supposed to be Casa Vicens, but when we got there we discovered it’s under renovation and was completely covered. Bummer. This is what the beautiful tilework on it looks like, though. I could see just a little peek of those floral tiles through the scaffolding and they were really beautiful.
The final house on my list for the day wasn’t a famous one. It’s not on any tours or any lists of “things you must see in Barcelona.” I had just happened to see a picture of it online and it gave the address. It’s newly renovated and brightly colored, so we swung by it for a look. I couldn’t quite get a picture of the full building because the street is very narrow, but the colors and designs were very nice and the renovation was impeccable (even utility cables were painted over correctly with the designs).
That was the end of our scheduled sightseeing for the day, so then we slowly made our way back down one of the main avenues toward the more touristy area. Because we had a fairly small lunch, we had dinner on the “early” side (by Spanish standards). I think we got to La Flauta around 7:30 and it was pretty empty, but by the time we left it was packed and there was a huge line out the door. While our lunch was an assortment of cold tapas plates, our dinner was an assortment of hot tapas plates and some great Spanish red wine. We left very full!
This was our day to see all of the “big” things in Barcelona: the Palau de la Música, La Sagrada Família, and Park Güell.
We started out with breakfast at what is arguably the best-rated coffee place in Barcelona (according to many lists): Satan’s Coffee Corner. It didn’t disappoint – both the coffee and the food were great! The only thing that ruined it for me was that clearly a lot of other tourists had gotten the same memo (despite reviews gushing about how it’s a hidden, locals-only spot). It was nearly empty when we arrived, but as we were eating it filled up with super-touristy Americans (including a guy wearing a Lakers jersey…in Barcelona). Ugh. We always try to be subtle, respectful tourists; these people were definitely the opposite.
Randolph had a cortado and black rice pudding topped with oranges, hazelnuts, and sesame brittle. I had a cold brew coffee and yogurt topped with honey, roasted plums, and some amazing homemade granola. Plus we shared a delicious donut with a fruity glaze.
The next stop was a quick one – the Barcelona Cathedral. Obviously Sagrada Família is the big, famous cathedral in the city, but this is the “original”, built in the 13th and 14th centuries. It was a fairly standard-looking Gothic cathedral, but we made a quick pass through it.
I think the most interesting part was that we entered through a side door and there was a little courtyard with geese! Randolph was, of course, fascinated by them. And this little guy was fascinated right back:
The cathedral was just a brief stop along the way to once of the things I was most excited to do on the trip: a tour of the Palau de la Música Catalana. I had seen some pictures of it online and although it’s one of the more obscure attractions, I knew we had to see it! I didn’t really know too much about the building before our visit, except that it’s a concert hall. Our tour began with a very well-made video about the building and its history. The hall was commissioned in the early 1900s by the Orféo Català, a choral society. The choir had become a very popular part of the cultural movement in not only Barcelona, but the entirety of Catalonia. This widespread popularity had allowed them to raise an enormous amount of money to build their own hall and they were able to hire a very talented Catalan architect. As you can see in our pictures, the building is a gorgeous combination of mosaics, stained glass and stone sculptures. Randolph and I are obviously no strangers to gorgeous concert halls, but this one was unlike any I’ve ever seen. These days, there is a wide variety of concerts held there – classical and otherwise. The tour is a little pricey, but well worth it! I’d love to go back sometime for a concert.
After the tour we grabbed some churros around the corner at Churrería Layetana. They were also very delicious.
We gradually walked our way over to a little restaurant called Milk. They were recommended for their brunch, so that’s what we had. Randolph had a fairly standard Eggs Florentine, and I had a delicious salad with roasted beets and grilled goat cheese, plus a Kir Royale (which is a French drink, but was basically sangria made with cava).
We had some time to kill before our 3pm visit to La Sagrada Família, so we wandered into some shops along the way to kill some time and scope out souvenirs. At La Sagrada Família, we met up with Randolph’s friend/coworker Dave, who was also visiting Barcelona.
I had seen pictures of the outside of the building, but I didn’t know what the inside would be like. Walking up to the outside, it was already more beautiful than pictures could do justice. There are just so many little details in the carvings on the outside that you can’t really appreciate in pictures. Of the multiple musician figures carved into it, there was even a (girl) bassoonist! Good job, Gaudí!
If I thought the outside was cool…the inside was completely stunning. I mean, it is not even on the same level as any other cathedral in the world. I cannot imagine anything ever being built that would come anywhere close to comparison. Having seen the other Gaudí buildings in Barcelona first I was thinking “yeah, Gaudí buildings are pretty awesome and creative.” But walking through Sagrada Família was literally like being on another planet. It is the most grand and enormously tall building I’ve been in and you really can’t get a sense of how tall the inside of it is unless you’re standing there. All the white stone on the inside combined with the enormous columns made it feel otherworldly. It wasn’t just “oh, this is pretty.” It was “woah…this guy was a genius!” It wasn’t “oh, those are pretty and colorful stained glass windows.” It was “wow, look how he designed the building so the light comes through the stained glass just right and the building magnifies and reflects the colorful rays and makes giant rainbows.” I seriously didn’t know it was possible to make a building do that! I can’t even wrap my head around how Gaudí designed the cathedral to do that. And it’s still got another 10 years of construction before it’s finished!
On one side, the windows are blues and greens. There was some light coming through, so some nice reflections of the color, and I’m sure that in the morning the bright light would be coming through those windows. But because it was later in the day, the light was coming through the windows on the other side – the yellow, orange, and red. I don’t quite know how to describe the light and the colors. The best I can say is that it was like standing in a big glowing cloud of warm colors with all the rays of color shining down on you. It was just all-encompassing; the light was on the floors, and the columns, and the arches in the ceiling. I know that I got some beautiful photos that will give you an idea of what it looks like, but they truly don’t come close to doing it justice. The best part about the photos, though, is that they will always remind me of the feeling of standing there surrounded by the glow of color.
While we were there we bought one of our two souvenirs at the Sagrada Família gift shop: a small”Gaudí tile” like this one. Most of the souvenirs in Barcelona were very colorful, tacky figurines, but we wanted something understated, not something that screamed “tacky souvenir.”
Our last stop of the day was Gaudí’s Park Güell. This was the farthest north we ever went in Barcelona, and it was a bit of a hike. This was our first trip on the public transportation and we still had to walk about 15 minutes, even after the train ride. While we were walking from the station to the park we walked through a little neighborhood and we discovered that there are wild parrots that live there! As we were standing in line at the park waiting for our 5:30 entrance time we were standing under some palm trees and one of the parrots pooped on Randolph’s arm.
It was a little tricky getting a good look at the amazing benches in the park (and also getting decent photos) because there were so many people there. But we managed to squeak out a few photos. The colors of the mosaics on the bench were so beautiful! There were so many different color and pattern combinations – every time I thought I’d found my favorite I saw another I liked. You could also look out over the two Gaudí houses in the lower part of the park, which (to me) look like gingerbread houses with melting icing.
The walkway pictured below is as you’re going to the lower part of the park. Dave informed us that it was used as a runway in America’s Next Top Model. Of course, I had to look the video up when we got home and it’s so awful and hilariously cheesy. We couldn’t even stand to watch the whole thing. The ridiculousness of it seems like a bit of a disservice to the park, to be honest.
Shortly after we reached the lower part of the park it started raining, so I didn’t really get great pictures of the houses from down there.
Since the rain was preventing us from exploring any more or getting any more pictures, we called it quits on Park Güell. Fortunately, we’d gotten see see all the cool things before the rain.
The three of us took the train allllllll the way back down to the southern park of the city (the stop right next to the harbor) so we could get dinner at the restaurant Randolph had picked (he’s really good at that). As we were walking we saw one of the many sculptures around Barcelona, the Smiling Shrimp:
Dinner was more good Spanish food: sangria, jamón croquettes, paella (not native to Barcelona, but we couldn’t help ourselves), and monkfish.
After dinner, we all had some tasty gelato and went out in search of one of the other sculptures, the Fat Cat:
After a little more souvenir shopping with Dave we parted ways and called it a night.
The last day was pretty uneventful, since it was just a travel day. We still had one last souvenir to get that we had seen the day before. Randolph really wanted to get a traditional Catalan wine Porron. One of our wine-loving friends in Boston has one, so we are familiar with them and Randolph really wanted to buy one in Barcelona, since they are a local thing. The little store we’d found one in was on the way to the bus station, so we had decided to wait and get it our last morning so we didn’t have to carry around a delicate item while we were sightseeing.
Our last (quick) stop was at the other Satan’s Coffee. The first one we went to is definitely the original, but this one was still nice. We ate our scones and coffee pretty quickly, and then headed to the bus.
Randolph has a three-day weekend coming up soon, so we’re working on planning a little trip to France to celebrate my birthday… should be lots of fun!