I turned into the Mercat Boqueria on my first morning, torturing myself at the chocolate stalls as I tried to swindle free samples for myself. Fish, tapas, dried fruit and nuts, and colourful fruit and veggies are on display, and they sell tubs of fresh fruit salad for €1 or €2, while the Carrefour down the road sells them for €3.50. The produce all smelt remarkably fresh and watching the locals haggle made for a popcorn-worthy
performance. But get in early – by midday the market is crawling with tourists.
Parc de la Ciutadella
Surrounding the Catalan Parliament, on the weekend this park was bustling with joggers, dog walkers, roller-bladers and chatter. On a Monday afternoon, however, the predominant sound is birdsong and people stroll in the sun or doze on the grass.
One of Gaudi’s creations, knobbly pillars, colonnades and steps look like they’ve been excavated from a goblin realm and preserved here in some sort of museum. On a hill to the north of the city, when I reached the top all of Barcelona was laid at my feet. I felt a heady rush of power, and understood for the umpteenth time why some people never stop travelling.
When I left I turned out a different entrance (the main one, as it turns out). There was a large, wavy terrace under a roof supported by white columns, all decorated in mosaics where a cellist and violinist played. The sighs of their instruments echoed through the space, seeming to bounce off the mosaic tiles. At the foot of the double staircase are two buildings that looked like they came from a Dr Seuss book – brown with long windows, white and mosaic patchwork roofs, and little towers at their peaks. Down here, two people were playing steel drums in the cave-like area under the terrace which gave the area a summer, island-holiday feel.
After visiting the castle of Montjuïc, on the top of a hill to the south-west of Barcelona, I descended through the gardens on the hill. My favourite was the Jardines de Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer – wide central steps are framed by water terraces covered with waterlilies, surrounded by 2800m2 of flowerbeds, which have all just bloomed in an explosion of colour.
The Gothic Quarter
I’m not even sure if the area I liked was the Gothic Quarter, but it was between the Gothic Cathedral (its walls fence an internal garden of green plants, water and geese, for some reason) and the Arc de Triompf.
This area used to be a Roman village, and is still filled with old buildings and tiny streets, some of them so narrow that I think they must always be in shadow. Every time I stumbled onto one of the main roads, my heart sank with disappointment and I quickly turned back into the maze.
People are often standing on the street in front of their restaurants and shops, and the men readily called out “hola guapa!” when I walked past. And all of the bakeries now have chocolate displays in their windows in preparation for Easter – I kept finding myself stopping to admire the intricate castles and cartoon scenes.
La Sagrada Familia
I visited this church on my first day in Barcelona and, upon discovering that the entrance was €12.50 (€10.50 with a student or youth card) and that the line stretched around the block, I turned away. It was impressive enough on the outside – one facade is dedicated to the nativity and another to the Passion of the Christ, including all the stations of the cross. I loved the Passion facade – the statues are more modern, simpler and slightly abstract, and feel more in tune with Gaudi’s designs than the more classical nativity sculptures.
So was it worth going inside? I went back to the hostel and started asking people. The conversation usually went like this:
Me: “Have you been to the Sagrada Familia?”
Them: “No, not yet.”
Me: “Oh, okay. I just wanted to find out if the entrance was worth it.”
Them: “How much is it?”
Them: “For a church!?”
And one that isn’t going to be finished for another thirty years.
On the last day I gave in – how could I come to Barcelona and not see the inside?
Nearly all of my travels have been in Europe, so I’ve seen a lot of churches. And, after a while, the big cathedrals start to look very similar to each other.
Not this one – it was the most amazing church I’ve ever seen. Pillars stretch into the sky, breaking off into smaller branches as they reach the ceiling, so it feels like you’re walking through a fantastical white forest. The stain-glass windows are coloured in bright reds, yellows, blues and greens and don’t seem to depict one design, but are more like a celebration of colour and are so much more vivid than their gothic counterparts.
Afterwards you can learn about the architecture and construction in the museum below the church.
Gaudi’s creations are like nothing I’ve ever seen. I knew nothing about him before I came to Barcelona (I still don’t, for that matter), but his buildings are instantly recognisable. Either earthy and organic, mimicking the structures of plants and looking like fairy kingdoms from fantasy stories; or wavy and colourful with different shapes all over the place, like a Dr Seuss creation. No one else thinks like that.
Hmm . . . I seem to have more than one favourite place. But that’s what it was like walking around Barcelona – almost every time I saw something new, I thought about how it must be the most enchanting part of the city, only to think the exact same thing about the next place I visited. Maybe it’s just the perfect place to have a ramble.