A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.Moslih Eddin Saadi
Jan 27-29 2015
On our way to Morocco we spent a 36 hour stop over in Barcelona, Spain.
Some of the highlights included walking around El Raval & the Gothic Quarter, visiting the Catalonia History Museum, strolling through the Gracia neighborhood, and of course a tour of the Sagrada Familia.
We had planned to stay at an AirBnb in El Raval, but ran into our only issue using the service to-date when the host was a no-show. Luckily AirBnb was quick to refund us and we were able to find a nice hotel for the same price nearby. (Update 4/6/17) I’m happy to report that out of 34 AirBnb reservations thus far, this still remains the only problem we have encountered.
After a good nights rest we headed out the next morning to explore the historic El Raval and Gothic Quarters. Both neighborhoods are part of the original city limits of Barcelona, separated by the main avenue, La Rambla. As the center of medieval Barcelona, the Gothic Quarter is full of tiny, winding streets that lead to hidden plazas and endearingly cramped apartment buildings whose awnings often conceal historic shops. While the Gothic Quarter is the cities tourist star, El Raval is the slightly shadowy figure on the sidelines. The neighborhood’s edgy mix of art, attitude, and street life attracts cosmopolitan crowds. Once famous for its debauched nightlife scene, the area is gradually being converted into a cultural hub as its cabaret houses transform into forward-thinking museums.
Later in the day we headed to the nearby Barceloneta neighborhood, located along the Mediterranean it’s port and shipping past has been replaced by parks and museums on re-purposed shipping piers and docks. While there we checked out the Museum of Catalan History. Housed in a large former warehouse, the exhibits impressively show the history of Catalonia from the Stone Age to the present day. My favorite part was learning about Revolutionary Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War. Catalonian’s to this day still take great pride in their struggle for autonomy, with the familiar horizontal yellow and red striped flag found hanging and flying all over the city, much more so than the Spanish or any other flag.
Leaving Barceloneta we headed to the main highlight of the city, La Sagrada Familia Cathedral. Of course it was packed with hour plus lines of people waiting just to get tickets, but I had read about a tip to using the free wi-fi at the McDonald’s across the street to purchase tickets online and skip the line, providing a designated entry time less than a half hour later.
The Cathedral was designed by Catalan Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí starting in 1883. Gaudí applied his architectural and engineering style, combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms. At the time of his death in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was completed. Sagrada Familia’s construction progressed slowly, as it relied on private donations and was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, only to resume intermittent progress in the 1950s. Construction passed the midpoint in 2010 with some of the project’s greatest challenges remaining and an anticipated completion date of 2026.
This makes repeat visits to the Cathedral more than worthwhile, as it is constantly being built and edging closer and closer to Gaudí’s final design. It truly is a site to behold, our favorite religious structure we have seen. The way the light shines through the stained glass and reflects of the interior surfaces if beautiful and always changing throughout the day.
Following La Sagrada Familia, we took the long way back to our hotel to walk through the lower part of the Gracia neighborhood. Fashionable attitudes permeate the areas plazas, and a life lived among outdoor cafes by the locals is obvious. With much less tourist then the other parts of the city we visited it felt much more like a real place. We look forward to coming back and digging deeper into the neighborhood, especially the portions up the hillsides, which must provide outstanding views out across Barcelona.
As quickly as it started our breif time in Barcelona came to an end. We look forward to visiting Barcelona for a much longer period during our future trip around the world, as it easily earned a place in our top 5 places and there is still so much more to see and experience.