Barcelona, Gaudí and Friends

Overlooking Barcelona from Park Güell, Gaudí’s design

It has been 45 years since Mike and I were last in Barcelona.  The city is a strange, sometimes vibrant, mix of lovely, weird, interesting and not so nice.  Before we went into town this week we had seen Barcelona referred to as the pickpocket capital of the world.  We had watched a video on various common Barcelona scams.  Almost every article that we read about Barcelona was very positive and yet included a warning about car theft, pickpockets and/or scams galore.  It was more than a little disconcerting to say the least.

Our first day didn’t start very well.  We found an underground parking garage for the car.  The corner we parked in was just awful.  It stank, there were liquor bottles lying around, mouse/rat traps and the appearance was terrible.  After reading about all the thefts etc. we weren’t happy but we left the car there anyway, hoping that the smell didn’t penetrate the interior and went out exploring. 

We had been planning on taking the Hop-on Hop-off bus tour until we found out that there were two separate routes, each two hours or longer.  To see the sights you would need to take both routes.  Neither Mike nor I could see spending two hours on a bus, never mind over 4 hours.  Luckily we found one of our audio tours of the city and decided to explore on our own, using our phones and headsets.  It was lovely.  Barcelona Cathedral is gorgeous and they have an elevator to take you to a outside platform near the top of the Cathedral.  I thought it funny to see some of the graves in the floor of the Cathedral marked with the skull and crossbones.  This isn’t the normal way of honouring the dead.

Mike on the top of the Barcelona Cathedral

On that first hot day we walked over 14,000 steps and then returned to our camper absolutely exhausted.  We had half an hour of rest before we had to get up and go to the campsite restaurant where we had signed up for a free wine tasting.  We tried five different wines.  I drink very little wine so even though these were only a few ounces each, I could tell that I had had something to drink.  We left the wine tasting in a rush to get back to the camper for one of our weekly card games with friends.  All-in-all the day was a little more hectic and exhausting then I might have wished but we wouldn’t have skipped any of it.

We are staying in a proper, large campground with a restaurant, pool and all the amenities that you might expect.  We can see the Mediterranean from our camper but we can’t get there.  There is a road and train line between us and the water.  The campsite has multiple free buses to take campers to the beach, town etc..  We almost didn’t come because they told us that our ACSI discount wouldn’t work as we would require a premium location due to our size.  Luckily there must have been different people in reception when we arrived.  They found us a spot (actually two together but who is counting) that was considered standard and discount eligible.  In addition to the price 22 € /night ($30 Cdn) for everything, we lucked out by getting a spot with 16 amp electricity (equivalent to 32 amps in Canada).  This means that we have been able to run our air conditioner and our blender or microwave all at the same time.  Although these luxuries are nice, I must admit that I am not a fan of campgrounds.  Even when the campers have plenty of space between them, looking at rows and rows of campers doesn’t thrill me.  This campsite is the first place in a few years, where we have seen lots of people from various countries.  There are a lot from the UK and you hear English spoken everywhere.  Even the wine tasting was in English.  Funnily enough, it is easier to be friendly and have people over to visit when there are only a few of you in a camping area.  With this many, you tend to walk by all the campers without stopping to say much more than Hello.

Gaudí: You can’t come to Barcelona and not be overwhelmed with information about the architect Antoni Gaudí.  Gaudí was a Catalan architect in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  He was known for creating the greatest examples of Catalan Modernism.  Mike calls his work weird and that is correct but it is an interesting kind of weird.  His work is nothing like the architecture and designs that I love but, surprisingly I find that I like it and find it very interesting.  I might not want to live in a home that Gaudí designed but I can appreciate the look.  You can take tours of many of the places that Gaudí built, but some of the tours are quite expensive. The photo at the top of this article was taken from a park that Gaudí designed. As you can see he loves working with curves and is said to get his greatest inspiration from nature.

504 steps down

Gaudí’s most well-known work is the ‘Basílica de la Sagrada Familia’ or the ‘Basilica of the Holy Family’.  This basilica is Barcelona’s most visited tourist attraction.  During normal times it will see 4.5 million visitors per year.  This is a little surprising when you find out that the Cathedral is not yet complete.  When Gaudí died in 1926 the work was ¼ complete.  Construction is due to be finished in 2026, 100 years after Gaudí died, with the remaining 9 of the 18 spires then completed.  The tallest spire will be ½ metre shorter than the tallest hilltop nearby as Gaudí did not want to the spire to be taller than the hill that God created.  From the beginning all of the construction costs have been funded by donations which might help explain the slow progress.  Building was almost completely stopped for a while due to Covid-19.

You need an online timed reservation to visit.  The internet talks about people having to wait days for the a ticket to become available.  Thanks to the pandemic Mike and I got our tickets without any wait.  That doesn’t mean that there weren’t quite a few people, just that the building could handle them.  The tour included a 45 minute audio guide of the basilica which was extremely well done.  There was also an optional visit to outside viewing platforms at the top of the church which were supposed to have exceptional views of the city.  There was an elevator up but they wouldn’t let you take it down!  It was 504 steps down from the top.  While I was trying to find out if they had a seniors option to take the elevator down, another woman was asking the same question.  The answer to both of us was NO.  Needless to say, there wasn’t a chance I was going to try and walk down 504 steps with my knees, regardless of how beautiful the view was.  Mike decided to go for it.  He said that platform was covered with construction material and that you really didn’t get a great view.  The stairway down was tight, circular and often quite dark.  He said that he didn’t know that you could experience both vertigo and claustrophobia at the same time.  Hours later his knees where still a little wobbly. I made the right choice.

La Sagrada Familia

The cathedral stands out and can be seen against the skyline from many vantage points around the city.  The exterior is unusual with the various sides being quite different.  One side, shown below, has extremely detailed sculptures while the opposite side has very plain sculptures.  The audio tour really helped put things in perspective and explained what you were seeing.  The real shock comes when you walk inside.  I will say that, like St. Peter’s in Rome, anyplace filled with people touring around doesn’t feel like a very religious church to me.  That said, it certainly was interesting and impressive.  Nature was brought into play everywhere with columns designed like trees, windows in morning blue on side and evening yellow glow on the other and more.  I really liked Gaudí’s work although I must admit, I find that quite surprising.

La Sagrada Familia unusual interior
La Sagrada Familia detailed “Nativity” side

Driving around Barcelona has been interesting.  I guess that it has been quite a while since Mike and I drove in a large, busy city filled with lots of taxis, buses, motorcycles, scooters and bicycles on the roads.  While we might have thought that the traffic was awful, as where some of the roundabouts that we normally love, there were lots of nice places for pedestrians.  The city has also done a very good job of installing bicycle lanes on many of the roads and separating them from the car lanes.  Mike and I took the car into town multiple times, unfolded our e-bikes and cycled around different parts of the city.  One day we cycled around Montjuïc, which is a very large hill right in the city with all sorts of museums and forts in the area.  We toured the fortress and intend to go back and visit the main art museum this coming week.  Below is Mike in front of the cascading fountain down the steps in front of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.  Again we had an audio tour on our phones that we listened to while we biked around the area.

Mike in front of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

When we arrived in Spain we bought fuel for our camper.  The fuel bill was for 427.06 € or almost $600 Cdn.  We were very confused when the credit card invoice showed 374.32 €, more than 50 € or $70 lower.  At first we thought that we might have paid someone else’s fuel bill.  Closer investigation showed that the difference was a government rebate program that was in effect.  You get 10.55 € back plus a reduction of 20 cents / litre.  Mike and I often end up paying a higher price for fuel than we should with the camper because we stop for fuel on or near the highway which is always more expensive.

I must say that trains are much quieter in Europe and so are the horns on the cars which is all good for noise pollution.

One disappointment for Mike and I was that we couldn’t cycle from the campground into the city.  There were lots of places where the only road was a pretty major one without bike lanes.  Two different Dutch couples told us that they wouldn’t do that ride.  If the Dutch thought it was too uncomfortable or dangerous then Mike and I certainly weren’t going to try.  We did get some nice cycling in around town and on one of our trips we cycled around the local beaches on the Mediterranean.  At the time I told Mike that maybe we should actually go to the beach one day, do some swimming and spend some time there.  As you can probably tell, Mike and I aren’t really beach people.  Mike pointed out that although there were a lot of people on the beach, there were very few in the water due to the temperature of the Mediterranean in May.  That ended my plan for the beach.  I might consider going down to jump into the sea for a bit but neither Mike nor I were going to lie on a beach for entertainment.

Jackie cycling in Barcelona

A highlight of this week was getting back together with friends that we made during the first covid lockdown when we were all stuck in Croatia.  Carsten, who is a drummer, was playing at a café on Saturday and we joined him and his family.  The two young ones that you can see in the photo were the only two children in lockdown with us.  I must admit that they probably got spoiled a little by everyone in our small group.  They certainly helped keep us entertained.  It was lovely to see them all again.  We will be meeting up with them for a quieter dinner in a few days.

We will probably spend another week in the Barcelona area before heading back to France.  There are some towns outside the area that we would like to drive to and explore.  More about that in our next article.

Carsten, the drummer, his lovely daughters and Mike