Barcelona – La Riera
One of my biggest regrets from my teenage years is hating language lessons. It’s not that I wasn’t capable, or that I wasn’t interested – I just got bored easily and couldn’t really be bothered. I dropped French after GCSE. I got a B. I could have got an A*, but I blew it. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realised how much I would love to speak another tongue, so I picked up my phone, downloaded DuoLingo, and began to teach myself Spanish. I love it, but I’d be lying if I said it came naturally.
Arriving in Barcelona on Friday evening, I was faced with a familiar task: figuring out how to navigate the local public transport system. Growing up in a city myself, this is not something I’ve struggled to do thus far, but the metro system here totally flummoxed me. Maybe I was tired, or hungry, or both – I can’t think clearly in either of those states, much less a combination – but it took me far, far longer than expected to finally get to my hostel. And after the thirteen hour journey I’d had to get there from Switzerland, bed was a welcome relief.
I began my first full day here by taking a walk down La Rambla to the Columbus monument at the end of this bustling shopping street. It’s a very famous road, packed with tourists, street performers, and souvenir stands, all existing under the cool shade of the trees that line the curbs on either side. Reaching the end, I turned and walked along the harbour for a while, before heading back in to the city’s Gothic Quarter.
I tried to go to the basilica here, but was not dressed appropriately, so instead continued on to the Parc de la Ciutadella with the intention of returning later in proper attire. In the park here, I found the Cascada Monumental fountain, a truely beautiful water feature starring the goddess Venus atop a stone building that bursts with greenery. The emerald hues of the water and the surrounding foliage contrasted beautifully with the crystal clear sky in the background, displaying a lushness reminiscent of the Garden of Eden.
Following lunch, I began an afternoon of Gaudí sight-seeing, starting with the Casa Batlló and Casa Milà, which are conveniently located just a few minutes’ walk apart. These buildings, though both clearly reflective of Gaudí’s distinctive style, are worlds apart in their design. The former is a tall townhouse, decorated with bright green and blue tiles, with rather morbid skull-like balconies cradling the art nouveau windows. The latter is carved of cool grey stone, sweeping around the corner it sits on and dotted with dark, twisted iron railings. Both are beautiful, intriguing buildings – it’s easy to see from these just how Gaudí made his name.
I next moved on to the Sagrada Familia, the infamous jewel in Gaudí’s architectural crown; his as yet unfinished masterpiece. It’s been under construction for well over a century now, and predictions claim it has just as long still to go. It’s easy to see why. The complexity and detail exhibited on what currently exists of the exterior is mesmerising, and I’m told the interior is just as captivating, if not more so. I do regret not going in – I think it would have been money well spent – but once again it’s the kind of thing that has to be booked in advance. Besides, I was keen to move on to my next stop – Park Güell.
Arriving at the gates of the park, it became evident to me that everything in Barcelona, particularly everything Gaudí-related, is best experienced with a pre-booked, time-allotted ticket. They vary in price, but seem to average around fifteen euros per attraction, money I just don’t have. I was able to visit the main bit of the park, and did manage to attend the museum housed in his previous home (a relative steal at 4.50 euros), but regrettably did not get to go to the main building here, famous for the rows of white stone columns that prop up the colourful tiled rooftop terrace. If I ever get the chance to re-visit Barcelona, this will be a must.
With regards to day two here in Barça, I don’t really have much to say as I didn’t really get up to much. Having been non-stop travelling for nearly four weeks now, alternating days on trains with days exploring and two nights in each destination, I gave myself an extra night here and spent most of Sunday relaxing on the beach. Normally I would feel bad about this, but I seriously needed a bit of a break, and a few hours laying in the sunshine with my book was just what the doctor ordered. I am now suffering with horrendous sunburn despite four re-applications of suncream (thank you, pasty Scottish skin), but I still think this day was worth it.
As for day three, I only had a few hours before my train on to my next stop. Needing to make train reservations for the remainder of my time in Spain, I headed to the station for what I thought would be at most a 20-minute sidetrack. Two and a half hours later, I was running back to my hostel, scared I would miss the train to Madrid and cursing myself for assuming the queue for the ticket office would be less than 150 people long. At least I got the reservations, which are mandatory in this country. I was gutted by this development, as my plan had been to return to the cathedral following the station and see the inside, which is meant to be stunning. Alas, now all I have is yet another reason to come back.
On the whole, I have to say I loved Barcelona. It may be my favourite city on this trip so far – it’s beautiful, it’s got a lot going on, and it exudes such a chilled-out vibe that I felt I could happpily while away weeks here. Definitely one to tick off again. I’m hoping that the rest of Spain can deliver to a similar level, as I’ve somehow never actually been to this country before, so I’ve given myself a week to get to know it. Not that I think that will be enough; I know Spain has a lot to offer.
Following my stints in Slovenia and Switzerland, I’ve found myself still desperately craving the outdoors, and the bustling streets of Barcelona have only intensified that feeling, wonderful though they are. So I’ve decided to tack on another few days’ hiking here, and I’m heading north to one of the National Parks in this country. It’s a long and complicated journey that will take me many hours, but from what I’ve heard it’s definitely worth the effort – although, as you can imagine, I didn’t need much convincing.