Visit Barcelona – legendary city of giants and magic fountains
On our first morning in Barcelona we glanced out the 5th storey window of our inner city Airbnb apartment at the torrential downpour and considered staying in bed. Although not ideal weather for a walking tour, we decided to brave the storm and venture outside. After all we have survived many Wellington winters. Luckily by the time we met the tour in Barcelona's Gothic Quarter the rain had ceased to a mild drizzle as our Australian guide from Runner bean Tours. (who has called Barcelona home for around 15 years) proceeded to tell us tales of the city's past. The Romans founded Barcelona during the Middle Ages, and today it is the largest city in the Catalonia region, where you are more likely to hear Catalan spoken than Spanish. During the two hour tour we strolled through narrow alleyways, gazed up at renowned buildings and crossed through neighbourhood squares.
Despite the overcast weather, we went to check out the port and usually stunning Barceloneta beach. With his love of boats Richie got very excited when he spotted the super yacht belonging to now deceased Apple founder Steve Jobs. He asked me to take a photo while a nearby port worker shouted in Spanish, presumably telling us not to. Just as a cold wind made our beach visit unpleasant my friend Bertha arrived. She is local Catalonian and pen pal of mine from the late 90s, before the internet took over, and an awesome tour guide. We felt privileged to have a local show us the city, and share knowledge and places difficult to find on our own. After a lunch stop we ran for the bus as the rain once again pelted down. We took this as a sign to stop for coffee until the weather improved, and Bertha recommended a fantastic Alice in Wonderland themed cafe.
Once the sun started to shine again, we wandered through the city admiring the handiwork of Barcelona's most famous resident Antoni Gaudi. His unique architectural style is evident throughout the city in many residential and commercial buildings such as the two below.
Our tour continued through Las Ramblas, the main shopping street, stopping at a number of landmarks, including a market with huge varieties of fresh annd baked goods, and a temporary display for the La Mercè Festival, which we unfortunately missed by just a few days. Each neighbourhood in Barcelona parades huge giant effigies of kings, queens and nobles through the streets as part of a annual party to celebrate the city's patron saint. We then enjoyed a very filling Spanish tapas meal before returning to our lodgings for the night.
The next morning we arrived at perhaps Barcelona's most famous attraction Sagrada Familia and gazed up at its impressive construction. This still unfinished church was Gaudi's masterpiece, which he devoted 43 years of his life to before suddenly dying in a tragic tram accident in 1926. In the decades since, other architects continued his vision, with the expected completion date now 2026 to mark 100 years after Gaudi's death. Unlike most churches which are dark and dreary, Sagrada Familia is bright and breezy, with stunning stain glass windows positioned to make the most of the sun and time of day. The design reflects Gaudi's ability to think outside the square and his refusal to conform to expected norms. We saw many churches during our three months in Europe and Sagrada Familia was by far our favourite.
After sharing a paella we decided to take advantage of the change in weather and walked 20 minutes to Guell Park, where Gaudi also lent his talents to the park's design. Originally built as a retreat for local wealthy families, it is now open to the public to enjoy. We listened to a group of talented buskers sing traditional sounding Spanish songs before climbing the hill to the highest point in the park for a magnificent city view.
Bertha finished work, tracked us down in the park, and informed us she wanted to show us a Magic Fountain. The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc is a colourful display of water, music and light with beautiful museum buildings as a backdrop. The show lasted an hour, and as we discovered it pays to arrive early to secure the best vantage point.
Although Barcelona is gorgeous, the 34 million tourists who visit each year each year contribute to overcrowding and are a source of contention. Therefore, visitors need to be sensitive to respecting the locals when sightseeing and using public transport.
Special thanks to Bertha for being our tour guide and showing us around her home town.