Barcelona: A Gaudí Wonderland

I’m a big planner, so my decision Friday afternoon to snatch up budget airline tickets to Barcelona for Saturday was about as spontaneous as I get. Guillaume and I had originally planned to spend the weekend in Marseilles but the French train strike quashed those dreams and we were looking at more rain after a very wet week if we stayed in Geneva. I started playing around with possible destinations on Kayak and eventually found tickets to Barcelona on Vueling for a pretty good price. “We may go to Barcelona,” I texted Gui around 2:30pm after he confirmed he was interested. “I will inform you after work.” By the time he got home, I had tickets and a hotel booked for our two-night stay, and had picked up a city map from the bookstore and withdrawn Euros for the trip. The next morning, we were off!

I spent a weekend in Barcelona during my junior year of college as part of my study abroad program in Madrid, but we had a pretty set itinerary so it was great to return and explore the city at my own pace. Gui had never been before, despite spending a summer in Spain as a kid, and was totally pumped. We landed at El Prat airport around 10:30am and navigated the newly-completed metro line from the airport to city center, which took a good hour to get us near our hotel. Then we dropped off our stuff and headed to La Rambla to find lunch, but were quickly put off by the super touristy cafes on the main strip. Instead, we ended up in Plaça Reial where we ordered a delicious lunch of tapas and sangria at one of the cafes lining the square (still touristy, but much more affordable and excellent scenery). Over the course of our meal, two Brazilian capoeira groups performed routines directly in front of our table, so clearly we picked choice seats.

Full of patatas bravas, we left the plaça happy campers and headed to the Museu Picasso. It was amazing to see the quality of work Picasso produced when he was just a young teenager and trace the evolution of his style, but my favorite part was playing “Where’s Degas” with the series of explicit engravings that currently fill the museum’s temporary exhibit hall (the French artist is lurking in countless scenes). Next we made our way to the beautiful Casa Battló, one of the many Catalan modernist structures designed by Antoni Gaudí, which was a highlight of the weekend. At 22,50 Euros, it’s one of the more expensive admissions in the city, but they provide a cool audio and video tour via bright turquoise headphones and smartphones for each visitor. I definitely recommend a visit if you’re ever in Barcelona. We finished the night with a feast at the well-reviewed Cuidad Condal where the manchego plate blew our minds. So creamy! The rest of the tapas were also delicious, as was the pitcher of sangria we shared (hey, when in Rome…).

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Sunday we slept in a bit, grabbed brunch and made our way to Park Güell to experience another Gaudí masterpiece. My last-minute trip decision meant I had not done very much research and after we climbed up to the top of the park on a pretty warm day we were disappointed to learn that the next entry time for tickets was two and a half hours away. Luckily, some guys overheard us discussing the ticket situation and offered us their entry time only an hour away because they had decided not to wait it out, which we eagerly accepted. We spent the empty hour exploring the free parts of the park, especially the shady stone arches, before heading into selfie city at our appointed time to see Gaudí’s mosaic-covered balcony, houses and, of course, salamander (which had its very own guard, likely because it was vandalized several years back). Our next stop was the still-under-construction Sagrada Familia Catholic church, also designed by Gaudi, where we avoided the hour-long queue for tickets by purchasing admission on my phone using the church’s free wifi. The exterior is certainly something to behold, but the way the light filters in through the stained glass windows inside was absolutely dazzling. Per Wikipedia, construction began in 1882 and is not expected to be completed for another 10 years. Talk about a long-term project!

We finished up with a tasty meal – and yes, more sangria – at Teresa Carles vegetarian restaurant, where my favorite dish was probably the plate of six different types of veggie croquettes (artichoke, mushroom, pumpkin, curry, cheese and spinach goodness). Afterward, we wandered around the shops near Plaça de Catalunya and La Rambla, and stopped by the Palau de la Música Catalana, before turning in to prepare for our 7am flight back to Geneva. Quite the whirlwind of a weekend, but so much fun. Keep an eye out for a very confident older hombre in one of the photos!

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