Spain was never been top of my list for visiting. There isn’t any reason why not – it might just be that I don’t know a lot about the country. Spanish history is a topic that has evaded me over the years, and I wasn’t familiar with any famous landmarks in Spain. I knew there was a pretty church I had to visit in Barcelona, and that was about it.
After visiting Rome and Vienna in December, we decided – at the last-minute – that we would visit Spain in the winter. Given how incredibly hot it gets in the summer, this turned out to be a fantastic choice. The crowds were largely absent in Barcelona and Madrid, and the weather was gorgeous. We enjoyed ourselves immensely, relaxing and wandering these two cities.
Arriving in Barcelona about midday, we were picked up from the airport by SunTransfers. We arrived at our hotel – Hotel Midmost – around 2PM. I’ll write a separate review on the hotel, because it is a fantastic choice for anyone wanting to stay in the city.
After checking in and relaxing for a while, we wandered from our hotel down La Rambla, past the Christopher Columbus Monument. The monument is placed at the site where Christopher Columbus arrived in 1493 after his discovery of America the year before. I didn’t actually realise that Columbus was an Italian – apparently, he was born in Genoa, Italy, moved to Portugal and later settled in Spain. Nevertheless in the nineteenth century Columbus was considered a Catalan – some historians still claimed he was born in Catalonia, hence the monument for the famous explorer in Barcelona. We then visited the waterfront, the Rambla de Mar, and it was there we noticed how beautiful the weather was. After admiring the views from Plaça de l’Ictineo, we visited the Gothic Quarter.
The Gothic Quarter is one of the most visited areas in the city. The neighborhood features a fusion of buildings dating from Roman times to the 20th century, full of tiny alleyways where it is very easy to get lost. Anyway, we weren’t in a great hurry and were quite happy getting lost, so ducked into many back alleys and passages to explore. We found Barcelona Cathedral, and visited an amazing market that I cannot remember the name of. Walking back towards our hotel, we visited Carrer d’en Xuclà on the recommendation of our hotel. We enjoyed dinner and drinks at Bar Mirinda – a well priced little eatery complete with a painted cat on the window (and swizzle sticks). My kind of place!
On the way back to the hotel, I wanted to enjoy a local tradition… churros con chocolat! We ducked into a little corner store and through Matt’s expert gesticulating with the owners who spoke no English, ended up with two giant cups of hot chocolates, and a small bag of churros each. Oh man, the chocolate was so thick. It was basically like drinking a melted dairy milk block. While delicious, the churro to chocolate ratio was a wee bit off. I polished off about a quarter of my chocolate drink and decided to pass on the rest.
The next morning, we had breakfast at a local café, Flax and Kale. This café reminded me so much of Loretta back home – it was delicious. We both had pancakes, Matt savory and mine sweet, and two smoothies. Everything was really good, if a little pricey – but totally worth it. The restaurant is massive with a huge terrace upstairs, and I’d recommend visiting if you are in the city.
We spent a bit of time the next day on La Ramba. It is very, very busy and touristy, but still one of the must-see sights of the city. Randomly enough, we came across a huge number of horses on the street. To be fair, we smelt them before we saw them! Along with oxen, they were wandering down the main drag in succession with their guides. We later found out it was the Tres Tombs Parade, where animals take to the streets to celebrate the feast of St Anthony Abbot. Saint Anthony was a Roman Catholic monk born in Egypt in the 3rd century and is the patron saint of domestic animals. Several towns in Catalonia hold a parade which dates back to the 15th century when farmers bring their animals into town to be blessed. In Barcelona there is an added twist whereby local people bring their pets, but we didn’t see anyone holding their dogs up!
After this, we walked through the neat (but busy) La Boqueria Market, first opened in 1826, and caught the cheap and efficient metro to the Funicular de Montjuïc, which led us up to the Castell de Montjuïc. We weren’t too interested in the castle – more the views – which were actually the best from the funicular itself. Stopping again half way down to take more photos, we then caught the metro across town to the showstopper of the city – the Sagrada Familia.
I knew there was a beautiful church in Barcelona designed by Gaudí, but that was about the extent of my knowledge. Judging by the line stretching around the building, it’s a popular attraction. We went online and bought tickets instantly, and went around to the prepurchased ticket line. The thing that struck me about the church was just how incredibly huge it is. There is no way to comprehend just how high it stands until you are right next to it. When you realise it’s not even finished, and how tall it WILL be, it’s even more amazing.
Gaudí didn’t have much of the building finished when he died in 1926. Most of it has been built in the last 40 years, which means that architects have had to figure out, and still are figuring out, how to build it. To make matters more difficult, Gaudí’s official blueprints and sculptures were largely destroyed during the Spanish Civil War.
In the 1960s a group of intellectuals and architects publicly opposed the continuation of the building. Gaudí wasn’t only an architect, they argued, but an artist whose work should be left as it was. They thought the Nativity Facade should be left up as an homage to Gaudí, but that all other work should end. But the supporters of the building argued it was a monument to God, not to Gaudí. Once I visited the interior of the building, I was very glad they continued with the building work. The light inside the building is amazing. Stained glass facades reflect colors throughout the interior of the church, and we were there at a perfect time – late afternoon – to see the lights dancing. Even if you are not religious, you will be able to appreciate just how incredible the architecture is. And, if you are interested, watch this animation that shows what the building will look like when finished in 2026. Crazy!
As a final note on the Sagrada Familia, its executive architect and researcher is actually a New Zealander – Mark Burry. He visited the building for the first time as a 20 year old. After this, he analyzed what was left of the smashed models Gaudí left behind when he died. He was crucial in the development of the interiors of the building. He worked with Frank Gehry’s team (as well as aerospace engineers) to develop computing software that could handle the unique interior of the building. This allowed the architects to move faster on the interior design needs of the church. Without this technology, it’s possible there would still be no “inside” to see. It was only seven years ago that architects were able to put the finishing touches on the interior.
That evening, we wandered back to the hotel via a delicious little Ramen Shop called the Wok and Bao. Here, you could order custom noodle bowls and yummy pork bao. It was the best Asian food I’ve had in a long time. After getting back to the hotel, the staff were kind enough to open up the rooftop terrace for us, so we could enjoy the views over the city. I froze half to death while Matt enjoyed his wine, before retiring to the room for the night.
Stay: Hotel Midmost, Pelai, 14, 08001, Barcelona . From 500AED per night.
See: Sagrada Familia, Carrer de Mallorca, 401, 08013, Barcelona. 15 euros per person. La Boqueria Market, La Rambla, 91, 08001, Barcelona. Free. Funicular de Montjuïc, Paral·lel station. 12 euros return trip per person.
Tips: Make sure you book online for the Sagrada Familia – much easier!