We were very excited to visit Barcelona because our Spanish flatmates in Christchurch had moved back home. Irene and Diego had lived with us for almost a year and its been almost 3 years since we last said goodbye. This was going to be another great reunion on our trip. We decided to stay in Barcelona for 3 days to look around and explore the richest city in Spain. Our first impression getting into the city was very positive. The city center had grid block roading style and the buildings are all the same height.
First Day: Tour on Foot
The day was bright and sunny so we headed out to the center by foot. It was still early November so the wind was fresh, but not too cold to require a coat. We didn't plan anything ourselves, and let our friend Diego show us around. Luckily he didn't live to far from the center, so the first thing we saw was the Plaça d'Espanya (Spain Plaza). The roundabout is incredibly huge. It looks like a nightmare to drive around it but actually the night before we did cycle around it for a small part. It's a shame you couldn't walk to the center to have a closer look at the fountains. Some places would allow pedestrians to cross over and loiter around and snap some photos. But unfortunately not here.
Next on our list was the Cathedral of Barcelona (Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia). Beautiful on the outside, but not free on the inside. It was a bustling square with lots of tourists coming to take photos of the front of the church. The downside with tourists boom these days is the busyness of it all, its hard to appreciate a place with so many people around. A day in the city is a very different experience to a day spent hiking. From the front we walked around to the alleyway around the cathedral to the back. Above the alley is an iconic Bishop Bridge. It is the most photographed piece in the entire "Barcelona Gothic Quarter". It was only after some research we learned there were skulls (not real?) underneath the bridge. Nonetheless, we got our tourist photo and carried on.
Stumbled on a piece of history
Very close to the cathedral, still in the Gothic Quarter is the Plaça Sant Felip Neri. There is a sad story for this place. A plaque describes the tragic bombing raids by the fascists during the civil war which killed 42 people, most of whom were children. The damage from that blast is kept as a reminder. Not very pleasant after we read the sign. If you're interested in what happened in Europe before WW2 broke out, the Spanish civil war is very fascinating.
We got a bit hungry so headed for lunch. Diego knew the best place for our travel budget and took us to a five euro pasta restaurant (Macchina Pasta Bar). It was like subway sandwiches but for pasta! First we chose the sauce then the pasta. It was all freshly cooked, you can watch the chef busying away in the kitchen, managing all the orders at the different cooking stations. It was so interesting seeing "fast food pasta". The place was very packed and lively. We had a nice meal and went a little overboard with the parmesan shaker (woops!). Definitely recommend this place for a quick lunch/dinner.
After a filling meal, we walked back home and walked into the Arena on the way back. The Arenas de Barcelona used to be a bull fighting arena. It is a circular building, multiple level high and beautifully decorated with arch windows running every level. Good news for animal rights - Catalonia banned this tradition since the first of January 2012. The arena has been converted into a shopping center and the top floor is open for everyone to get a good glimpse of the plaza and the national art museum of Catalonia. Here's a free tip: to get to the top it is free by the escalator inside. There is an elevator outside which takes you up directly but that isn't free.
Second Day: Tour on Bikes
We wanted to take advantage of the amazing cycling infrastructure of Barcelona so planned a route for just us two. There's many businesses providing city tours on bikes so we copied their itinerary and customised it.
Today we wanted to see some beautiful buildings designed by Catalan's very own architect Antoni Gaudi. There are several buildings scattered in Barcelona that are designed by him and the first one we visited was called Casa Batlló. Locally known as the "House of Bones" due to its skeletal design. It must have been magnificent inside. Probably difficult to live in due to the upkeep of the design - especially when tourists are visiting daily!
Next up on our Gaudi's list was the Casa Milá. This building is locally referred to as the Stony Quarry. It does look like it's been carved up in a quarry. The facade is in fact made of large blocks of limestone. To be honest, we were less impressed with this one after just seeing the elaborately decorated House of Bones.
Last but not least, the big cathedral of Barcelona. It does have a name and we should be calling it by its proper name, instead of "that big cathedral in Barcelona". The La Sagrada Familia is Gaudi's most famous work. This cathedral is not yet complete. The work started in 1892 and hopefully will be finished around 2026 — to commemorate the centenary of Gaudi’s death. This iconic cathedral is very big. If you look at the map of Barcelona, the center is divided into grids of residential blocks. The cathedral is on it's own block!
We spent the rest of the day cycling around various cycle routes. It was very pleasant cycling around the chaotic, bustling cycle ways. Barcelona is definitely one of the friendliest cycling cities we have visited.