Here we are in Spain! This is the first time to this country for Harvey & I, as it also is for our travel companions, Debbie and Larry.
Our journey took us by Air Canada from Calgary to Heathrow in London. The new e-kiosks for passport control at Heathrow are wonderful – we were through in about 5 minutes – quite the change from the 45 – 60 minute waits on our last two trips. After a 4 hour layover, we boarded a British Air flight to Barcelona. All was fine – then shortly before landing, the first officer came on the speaker to tell us of a situation at the Barcelona Airport.
A court ruling had been handed down during the day, sentencing nine individuals, who had been instrumental in the Catalunya independence referendum – which was not sanctioned by the Spanish government. The sentences varied, with a maximum of 13 years. Supporters of the independence movement took to the streets in protest – and 10,000 blockaded the airport.
We soon discovered that our well laid out plan to shuttle to another terminal where we would catch a train to within blocks of our hotel was not going to happen. Although information was sketchy, we learned that the buses and trains were not operating, nor was the metro and there was no access in or out of the airport by taxi or private car. We were trapped at the airport, where we sat back at a safe distance and watched squadrons of police and crowds of protesters face off against each other. After about four hours, the metro line started running and we rode with hundreds of others into the city. A short walk and we were at our lovely Grand Derby Hotel.
Barcelona is a sophisticated, vibrant city – rich in history and architecture. At the centre sits Placa de Cataluñya. This 12 acre square links old Barcelona with the new city. The inverted-staircase monument is meant to mimic the shape of Catalunya.
Radiating out from the Placa are four main thoroughfares. The main tourist promenade is La Rambla. Sloping gently down to the waterfront, the street is lined by storefronts, sidewalk restaurants, souvenir shops and flower stalls. But when you look up, you appreciate the typical Barcelona architecture – beautifully adorned with decorative features and narrow balconies.
La Boqueria Market has sat just off La Rambla since 1850. Your senses are overwhelmed with beautiful sights and smells – the display of the goods is a definite art form!
The Barcelona Cathedral has a beautiful gothic exterior, with three tall steeples topping a front adorned with robed saints and winged angels, as well as the bell tower.
We didn’t visit the interior of the cathedral, although it is said to have a lovely cloister and many ornate chapels.
Also in the Barri Gótic is Santa Maria del Mar (St. Mary of the Sea). This church was consecrated in 1384 and has survived fires and an earthquake. The interior gives an impression of light and spaciousness, with its three aisles forming a single space with no transepts and no architectural boundary between nave and presbytery and the spacing of the columns being the widest of any Gothic church in Europe.
Modernism is Barcelona’s very unique style of Art Nouveau. Led by Antoni Gaudí, Catalánarchitects created curvy, playful fantasy buildings. Casa Battlo and Casa Mila are just two of Gaudi’s iconic works.
Gaudi’s masterpiece is the Sagrada Familia. Gaudí worked on this church for 43 years, from 1883 until his death in 1926. It is still unfinished and work continues with a generation of architects and others who have shared his vision. The hope is that the main construction will be completed for the centenary year of Gaudi’s death – 2026. The exterior of the church is a wildly creative mixture of architecture, much of it inspired by nature, as well as the story of Christ’s life.
The interior of Sagrada Familia is absolutely awe-inspiring. Fifty-six columns emulate tree trunks connecting with the arched vaults of the ceiling. The stained glass windows are incredibly beautiful and the reflection of the late afternoon light was amazing!
The main gate to the 1888 Universal Exposition was the Arc del Triomf. Today, this is the gateway to a lovely pedestrian stroll.
We spent a morning wandering about the neighbourhood of Gràcia. This area feels removed from the busy metropolitan life that is just a few blocks away. We enjoyed the streets, the architecture and a couple of delightful refreshment breaks.
We happened upon an interesting area of new development. The skyline is dominated by the Torre Aghar, a domed cylindrical tower of 33 floors – this structure has been much criticized and is often referred to as an upended blue cigar.
In the same area, we stopped by the Mercat Fira de Bellcaire Els Encants – a flea market on steroids. The amount of ‘treasures’ piled in absolute chaos in this mirrored roof building was a sight to see – and to get away from as quickly as possible!!
Overlooking the city to the southwest is a large hill, Montjuic. The hill is home to a number of interesting sights – we focused on the Olympic Stadium, which was originally built for the 1929 World Expo, and was updated and expanded for the 1992 Summer Olympics. We enjoyed wandering about the stadium and surrounding grounds, imaging the excitement that would have filled the area during the games.
Also on Montjuic is the Museo d’Art de Catalunya. Although we didn’t visit the museum, we admired the beautiful structure. Sloping down from the museum are the 1929 World Expo Fairgrounds and the Las Arenas (the grand Neo-Moorish building that served as an arena for bullfights from 1900 to 1977, and is now a mall).
We had some great meals in Barcelona, including fabulous paella!
We thoroughly enjoyed our days in Barcelona and are saddened by the chaos and destruction that has been occurring over the last week due to the civil unrest. We would certainly return in the future to further explore this great city.
Bev & Harvey