We landed in Toronto last week and concluded our weeklong trip in Europe. Though a week has past, it feels like we were just touring the streets and absorbing the life around us. Our trip ended with a quick visit to Barcelona.
Our time in Barcelona appropriately started at Sagrada Familia, one of the most well-known and most visited monuments in Barcelona. It is top on the list of the best things to do in Spain for a reason! The basilica, still under construction, is expected to be complete in 2022. The construction, which began in 1882, was primarily designed by Antoni Gaudí. Known as a universal figure in modern architecture, he aimed to break tradition and established order within architecture and the church. Gaudí wanted to modernize the building as well as the religion. He stated,“Glory is light, light gives joy and joy is the happiness of the spirit.” When you enter into the basilica, the light emanates the room and truly does fill you with joy.
Following that spectacular experience, we walked to the Gothic Quarter, the center of the old city in Barcelona. On our way to La Boqueria, we stopped at the Barcelona Cathedral. Outside the cathedral a man held a sign that read “Tourism is invasion.” At first, I laughed off this negative message from the local, who seemed dramatic. But as we continued to wander around the city, it was apparent. Like every city we visited, it was overcrowded with tourists, but something felt different here. As I began to research more, I found out that Barcelona is one of the top 20 most visited cities and it continues to skyrocket each year jumping from 27 million tourists in 2012 to 34 million in 2016. And in 2018, I can imagine that it is even more. The city is actually trying to limit tourism because it is driving up rent prices, pushing out locals, and truly displacing the culture and charm that once attracted new visitors.
Despite feeling bad that we were inevitably contributing to the tourist invasion, we continued to search for the treasures hidden within Barcelona. We visited La Boqueria, one of the oldest markets in Europe, where locals gather to buy goods. However, due to mass tourism, locals are overshadowed by visitors going row by row to see what there is to offer. Nonetheless, the colors and smells were fabulous. Any way you looked there was a stall selling interesting goods and colorful treats. There were numerous foods and meats for sale. Spain is known for the most amazing ham, and while I did not eat it at the market, when I tried it I was hooked. The flavors and succulence of the meat is unbeatable. We roamed the market for as long as we could to take it all in.
We were able to get a breath of fresh air at the Picasso Museum following our trip to the market. When we arrived, just before noon hour, the tickets were sold out. Luckily, we purchased our tickets ahead of time as there was a special exhibit, La Cuina de Picasso, that we were eager to view. This was one of the only museums that we visited that capped visitors at a reasonable number. Instead of peering over heads like we did in the Louvre or being pushed by patrons at The Vatican, we were able to stand in a gallery with a few other people. It gave us the opportunity to move slowly and enjoy each artwork. We learned about Picasso’s fascination and inspiration by his kitchen. We discovered his copies of famous works that we saw at museums in Paris. As Ben peered confusingly into Picasso’s cubist work, I quietly explained that the purpose of Cubism was to show multiple perspectives from a single two dimensional plane with geometric shapes. I watched as his eyes lit up and he excitedly proclaimed that he understood, he could see the multiple viewpoints of the face displayed on the flat canvas. It was an exciting moment for me when it clicked with him and all made sense. I fell in love with Picasso’s artwork and the mind that constructed such inventive works. Picasso, like other creative geniuses, struggled with relationships. While his personal character was lacking because his artwork devoured his life, the work he left behind is astonishing.
As stated by Picasso’s friend John Richardson, Picasso frequented the Quatre Gats café in Barcelona, “where the stimulus fueled the early stages of Picasso’s rocket-like ascent.” Finding out that the cafe was down the street, we headed there after the museum for some coffee. Picasso’s work scattered the wall and the old bartender cleaned glasses as we sipped our drinks. I tried to imagine the location being a point of inspiration for him.
Despite being lost in the atmosphere, we only stopped briefly as we were determined to see much of the city in one day. Walking down La Rambla, the Spanish equivalent of the Champs Élysées, it was evident that the city was overcrowded. Rome and Paris were filled with tourists as well, but they were less condensed, seemingly less overwhelming. We walked through the people until we reached the highly erected statue of Columbus pointing towards the “New World.” Another hailed hero with a devastating persona. We walked past the statue towards Mount Montjuic. After a long climb to the top we reached Castell Montjuic; however, a few hours too late. The castle was closed and our tickets were useless, but we enjoyed the scenery anyway.
To end our first night in Barcelona, we saw the famous Magic Fountain light show. When we arrived there were hundreds of people gathered to watch the fountains light up. The people were as entertaining as the water and lights. After, we headed to Cañete for dinner. Known for its tapas and introduced to me by the show, I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, I was excited to eat there. However, when we arrived, the place was packed with people waiting for hours. So we came, we saw, and we left. We instead opted to find a tapas bar close to home in the Gothic Quarter. We found, what we thought, was a great little tapas bar and we enjoyed our small plates before heading back to rest.
Our final day in Barcelona was the best day. It was the perfect way to end a fast-paced trip and we even had a tour guide. My sister in law, Laura, met Edgar while backpacking in Scotland, and he lives in Barcelona. He kindly offered to take us to Playa Sa Tamardia in Palamós. Edgar and his lovely parents drove us to the beach to go spend the day relaxing in the sun, or for us, in the shade. We went snorkeling and Edgar showed us the best spots to cliff jump. His parents prepared a delicious, traditional Spanish meal. It was by far the best meal we had in Barcelona. The breads, meats, and cheeses appeared simple, but their flavors were rich and complex. Truly delicious. The day was only documented with one photograph. It seemed appropriate. Sometimes things are more valuable when they are undocumented.
On the last evening in Barcelona, we stopped at a few of Laura’s favorite places. We ate gelato at Gelaaati di Marco and shopped for clothing at Flamingos Vintage Kilo. We finished our evening in La Barceloneta, enjoying the tastes of the sea. We walked home that evening, exhausted, but thankful for the opportunity to travel.
As with past travels, I’ve learned to appreciate beauty more, at home and afar. I was reminded yet again to slow down and enjoy the world that surrounds me.