Indeed, there is a lot to love about this city that straddles the fence between ancient and modern, from the newly renovated port to the timeworn passages of the Gothic Quarter. Above is the perfect example--the newer (15th century) Casa de l'Ardiaca was built upon and incorporated the oldest existing part of Barcelona, the Roman walls from the fourth century. The houses attached to the walls were torn down in 1962 and replaced with the modern facade you see now. So much for preservation!
There seems to be a comfort with progress in Barcelona, an ease about maintaining a very old city while still moving forward with the rest of the world. For me, the best evidence of this was in the attitude of the city towards tourism. Instead of the scorn and impatience that often greet tourists in popular cities, we were, without exception, welcomed and treated kindly by everyone we interacted with. The tourist attractions were well maintained, staffed, and organized, and tickets could be purchased online. Transportation to and from the airport was a cinch using Aerobus, and the Metro system was incredibly easy to navigate, but mostly unnecessary to use because almost everything was in easy walking distance. The streets were clean, prices were fair and the food was great. I can't think of anything else a tourist could want (except maybe some foot massage kiosks, but I might be asking too much).
So while I can't say that Barcelona is my favorite city in Europe (I haven't seen enough yet), I will say that it was my favorite city to be a tourist. I will even go so far as to say I would highly recommend it for anyone who wants to visit Europe, but is apprehensive about going to a foreign country. As long as you do some research beforehand, you will feel comfortable and have a good time in Barcelona.
We left the rustic simplicity of Mallorca and touched down in a modern apartment in Barcelona. This well-equipped, sparkling-clean, air-conditioned, newly-renovated studio was our home for over a week. We learned the hard way from previous trips that the location of your home base can make all the difference in your enjoyment of your vacation, and we really credit this apartment for much of the good time we had in Barcelona. Our host, Agustin, who manages Rambla 102 Apartments was professional and responsive to every inquiry from us, and we were so lucky to have this haven to return to every day.
We started each day with a coffee from the Nespresso machine (my favorite coffee), and cooked egg sandwiches with our provisions from the Carrefour a couple blocks away. On this trip we didn't end up making dinner at home even once, but every afternoon when jet lag, wine, and the heat made us drowsy we returned to our cool, silent retreat and rested before heading back out into the streets for the evening.
We chose the apartment specifically for it's location in the heart of the Gothic Quarter, and for it's location directly across the street from the famous Mercat de la Boqueria, which we dove into at least once every day.
In addition to stacks upon stacks of fresh produce, you'll find jewel-like candy, fresh meat and fish, gourmet cheese, olives, wine, prepared food, stalls serving tapas...
...and, of course, plenty of jamon.
The server tried to talk us into tiny, spaghetti-like eel for our first course, but we went with impossibly thin eggplant chips drizzled with honey instead.
Without question, we had to try leche frita amb canyella (fried cream with cinnamon)—a traditional Catalan dessert.
The next day was the big one--our lunch at the much-lauded Alkimia. I had read that this was the place to go in Barcelona for food lovers and we weren't disappointed.
A multi-course lunch began with Champagne and an amuse bouche of a liquid pa amb tomaquet, the ubiquitous Catalan side of bread rubbed with fresh tomato and garlic, then drizzled with olive oil. Alkimia’s version was tomato water in a shot glass, with a float of olive oil and sprinkling of breadcrumbs. I was trying to be very low-key in the high-end atmosphere and didn’t take pictures of the first dish. I’ve been kicking myself ever since.
...and finally a dessert of crème and mini strawberries , garnished with mini edible flowers. Alkimia was as indulgent and delicious as we were led to believe; it was truly a first-class meal.
We headed a few blocks down the street to our second destination of the day, La Sagrada Familia, the unfinished masterpiece of Antoni Gaudí, the unofficial patron saint of Barcelona architecture. Construction began in 1882, carries on today, and is expected to take at least another 30 years.
The columns on the inside of the church were reminiscent of palm trees, reflecting Gaudí's interest in the connection between nature and architecture. Various organic motifs repeat throughout the church and in his complete body of work.We signed up for tower tour on the Nativity façade, which brought us to the top in an elevator.
We wound our way down, a different view at every turn. In the far distance is the harbor and Montjuic.
If you only do one "touristy" thing in Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia should be it. Even non church-going people like Anson and I were in awe of the beauty of the structure and the amount of care and devotion that went into it, and will continue to go into it for many years.