The second-largest city in España, Barcelona (population 1.6 million) is on the short list for best tourist city in the world (population 7.2 Billion). Almost everyone is arriving from a first-world situation, whether it be New Zealand, upper-crust China, the United States, or Western Europe. I would have found Barcelona enchanting regardless, but it was made even more so because I had arrived directly from an eight-night trip in Morocco. To be in a city that was easily navigable was quite appreciated.
Having visited both cities this month, Barcelona is much more like Paris (France) than Sevilla (España). I am a fan of architecture, and I did not anticipate the wide avenues, low building heights, and classical facades that were characteristic of Paris.
In Barcelona, you will be reminded that it is the capital of Catalunya (population 7.6 million), the second-largest of 17 comunitats autònomes. Less than two weeks ago, I had visited Sevilla, the capital of the comunidad autónoma of Andalucía. Catalàs are highly sensitive to their culture. Only recently has it become apparent that a concerted movement for independence will fail, for the time being.
Català is the primary and official language in Barcelona. There is even a català version of the sign language. Many signs are written first in català, then in castellano (regional name for español), and finally in English. It is important to note that català is not a dialect of castellano, but an entirely different language. Català is only slight more mutually intelligible with castellano than with português. That being said, everyone here will speak and understand castellano. As with all Romance languages, Català is lexically similar to castellano and le français, so if you can read either, you can definitely figure out how to comprehend the printed form of català.
From the moment my Vueling flight hit the tarmac, it took less than 75 minutes to get off the airplane, whisk through passport control, retrieve my 21-kilogram bag, take the €6 bus ride into the city, and walk the final 1.2 kilometers to my hotel in the neighborhood of L’Antiga Esquerra de l’Eixample. I travel-hacked a total price of $153 for three nights that would ordinarily have cost a sum of $471. The Hotel Granados 83 tries to be one of those cozy, swanky establishments. It feels like the Mandarin Oriental, compared to Marrakech! The bathroom fixtures are quite nice, although I think they could have removed the bathtub and bidet to create space. As it was dark and the tourist attractions were closed, I took a random walk toward the water. Barcelona sits right on the water with marinas and 7 beaches totaling 4.5 kilometers. It is quite rainy and cool, so there is 0 chance I will swim.
There are 10 Districts of Barcelona, but I have visited only three of them: L’Eixample (where I slept four of my five nights), Ciutat Vella (català for “Old City”), and Sant Martí (where I slept one night).
Thus far, I have visited five tourist attractions requiring admission fees.
The first was Casa Batlló (€21.5). The “Works of Antoni Gaudí” constitutes a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The listing comprises seven designated works, of which Casa Batlló is one. The architecture is loosely considered Art Nouveau, but Gaudí has an inimitable style. The former family home is located on Passeig de Gracia, which is one of the swankiest streets in Europe. The style of the street is similar to Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris.
The second place I visited was Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia, otherwise known as Barcelona Cathedral (€6).
Then, I walked 500 meters east to Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar (€5), which displays Catalan gothic style.
The next day, I visited Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The guided-tour admission was ordinarily €15, but I looked young enough to receive the discounted rate of €9.8. The architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner designed the complex in the Catalan modernista style also seen in Casa Batlló and Sagrada Familia.
Most recently, I went to the biggest and most popular attraction, Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, which cost a whopping €23.8. I noticed many of the architectural attractions were expensive in Barcelona. There was a massive queue to buy a ticket, but my former manager had visited Barcelona in August and advised that I purchase a ticket online. I don’t understand why people were queuing because the online system is so slick that you can purchase a ticket on the spot from your mobile phone. Generally speaking, if an attraction has 15-minute times slots for entrance, then the queue is going to be long!
The construction of La Sagrada Familia started 132 years ago. There is so much hype about this structure with the postcards, UNESCO World Heritage site designation, and hordes of tourists. It feels premature. When Notre-Dame de Paris started construction more than 800 years ago, I doubt that people viewed it then as a legendary recognizable building. It took centuries and a bunch of crazy events like Joan of Arc being canonized or the Wolves of Paris being killed.
Even with the benefit of AutoCAD and construction cranes, the Sagrada Familia may not be complete until 2028! This basilica is Gaudí’s most famous work, but it was only one-quarter complete when he died.
The scale and size of the structure are Sagrada Familia are impressive. I do not mean to be so critical of my experience, but this was my third religious building in Barcelona alone and my 9th in Europe on this trip. I visited four cathedrals in Paris, two in Sevilla, and now three in Barcelona. They are all spectacular but after having seen the largest cathedral in the world in Sevilla and Notre Dame in Paris, my senses were more muted than for the average visitor. The church is also incredibly clean, arguably sterile. Whereas the other cathedrals have survived fires, wars, and assorted human and natural atrocities, this building reminds me of those super-churches in Southern California where the sermon is projected via state-of-the-art equipment.