December 1, 2011

A Chance to Travel: Our Favorite Barcelona Experiences

By Thomas C. Warren

In my summer 2010 travel article I explained why you should make Barcelona, Spain, one of the first destinations of any visit to Europe. Now I want to share with you what you should plan to see in this cosmopolitan city.

Of course travel is more than just seeing “things.” As you know from many of my prior articles (I have now written 51 of them, not counting my travel blog), Mary Ann and I often have some unplanned travel luck experiences. Whether it is seeing the president of Ecuador, escaping a stampede of animals in Mexico, or seeing sheep-shearing competitions in New Zealand, we often seem to have some of these “over the top” events.

In Barcelona it was arriving, unbeknownst to us, during the biggest festival of the year. It is called the Festes de la Merce, a weeklong very riotous festival honoring the patron saint of Barcelona. For us this festival resulted in thinking no one worked and everyone spent all their time on the paseo (the stroll), as there were literally thousands of people on the streets. We enjoyed this fun time seeing street parades, such as the parade of the giants, many of the squares filled with human pyramids, and the Plaza blasting out live music and dancing. Our last two days there were after the end of the festival, so we did get a perspective of what normal Barcelona life was like.

Now on to sharing our favorite “things”:

La Rambla. The strolling boulevard is one of a kind. You experience music buskers, local artists, flower and bird stalls, book stalls, human painted statues, and open-air restaurants. And at each cross street you can enter the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) on the narrow alleys and streets into the original city of Barcelona. At the end of the street you are at the Port Olympic and Rambla de Mar. The waterfront has been completely modernized and has shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, trams to Montjuic (the Olympic site), trade centers, and a great pedestrian bridge to the boat harbor.

Mercat de la Boqueria. This has to be one of the best food and flower markets in all of Europe. It is about midway down La Rambla and off to one side. It is a huge covered collection of hundreds of fruit, meat, and poultry stands, and every other kind of stand to satisfy your fresh-food shopping. It is very photo friendly as well.

Antoni Gaudi. You can hardly go anywhere in Barcelona without experiencing the influence of Gaudi, a modernist late-19th-century architect who designed some really crazy stuff. You can see his buildings on the Passeig de Gracia (the shopping boulevard) along La Rambla, and at the Park Guell (don’t miss this). Even apart from the specific Gaudi buildings and designs, he influenced much of the Barcelona architecture. A building not to be missed is the icon of Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia Church. It is the number-one tourist stop. Only partially finished at the time of Gaudi’s death in 1926, it is not expected to be complete until 2030. Good luck!

Barri Gotic and la Riberia. These two neighborhoods are the historic central district of the city. You can spend days wandering the narrow lanes, which are mostly vehicle free other than an occasional motor-bike trying to skewer you. These areas contain not only some interesting tourist sites, but also many quaint craft shops. The world’s greatest shopper spent many hours here while I leaned against walls in the lanes enjoying the people watching. In these neighborhoods you also will find the exceptional Picasso Museum, which concentrates on his early works, and the huge Barcelona Cathedral, which currently is getting a needed cleaning and is covered with scaffolding.

Parc de la Ciutadella. This was an amazing first find for us: a former fortress (ciutadella) converted into a huge public park near La Riberia and not far from the waterfront. This is where the zoo and the Catalan Parliament are located. I am sure there is no connection there! It is a pleasant, quiet park with some outstanding fountains and lakes. A good retreat from the busy city.

Montjuic. This is one of several mountains overlooking the sprawling city. It is the location of several major tourist venues that will require more exploration by us when we return again. Located on the mountain are the Olympic stadium and other Olympic venues, the Catalunya National Art Museum, the Joan Miro Museum, the Spanish village, and much, much more. You always need to leave some things unexplored, giving a great reason for a return visit. 

Thomas C. Warren (t.ma.warren@verizon.net) is a retired judge from Chelan County District Court in Wenatchee, Washington, and is active in the ABA Senior Lawyers Division and Judicial Division.