Viva España! (2) But this STILL is not España?

‘Once through the Picos, we headed east to Zaragosa as a sleepover before hitting the sights, sounds, sun, siestas and soccer of Barcelona. But that’s another story.’

And this now is that other story.

If you’re visiting Barcelona for the first time, and you’re worried because you don’t speak Spanish, relax, neither does Barcelona. Barça is the main city of Cataluña and as is the case with the Basque country, conflict between Catalan independence seekers and Spain has been going on for many years. Of the 5.7 million Catalans, some 80% are Catalan speakers.

The Arena once was for bull fighting, now its for shopping

So not Spanish are the people of Cataluña that they abolished steer fighting and changed the Barcelona bullring to a Mall, causing a political stir due to the ‘un-Spanish’ sentiment this signified.

Barcelona, with ‘such a beautiful horizon,’ was our destination for the second week where we had a small (read small) apartment booked in the most ideal location in La Barcelonetta. La Barcelonetta is that triangular piece of Barcelona bordered by the harbor, the city and the Mediterranean. The apartment was a mere 50m walk from the ‘playa’ La Barcelonetta, the beach which gained prestige as ‘the best urban beach in the world’ and overall ‘third best beach in the world’ according to the 2005 Travel Channel show World’s Best Beaches. Thus, Heleen secured a prime location, which in a sense proved disadvantageous as well. So good was the ‘beach holiday’ that we did miss out on some other ‘must do’ sights in this magnificent city. Blasé-ly I suppose, I can say that since we have been to Barça previously, it was OK to afford ourselves a more relaxed pace in coping with the humid and high in the 30° days.

Nowadays in our home, FC Barcelona is probably the biggest attraction when you talk anything Spanish, and thus we were fortunate enough to be able to fit in two Camp Nou matches into our relaxed schedule, one of which was a sell-out ‘el Clasico’ versus Real Madrid. Utilizing the well-known reference books such as Eyewitness, Lonely Planet and others, I realized how hugely underestimated attending games in a venue such as Camp Nou is in terms of tourism value. A visit to the Estadio Camp Nou, including attending a ‘big match’ such as a la liga encounter must rate as one of the highlights available to any tourist visiting Barcelona. My advice is to add this to your bucket list immediately.

Camp Nou fever

Antonio Gaudi is the name, when visiting Barcelona that simply pop’s up time and time again and for good reason too. Gaudi was the genius architect of so many landmark architectural creations in Barcelona, of which the ‘Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia’ is probably the most well known of them all. I visited the Sagrada de la Familia for the first time in 2007 and was slightly disappointed then. At that time, the entire inside was still scattered with scaffolding and I could not appreciate the architecture and grandiose of this church in full.

This is truly stunning architecture

Thus, with the five years’ earlier experience as reference, it was with slight hesitation that we took the trouble to actually take the kids to the most famous of Barcelona’s sights. And am I glad that we went? The interior is now finished, with no scaffolding and workman around, and wow!, it is magnificent. Some areas on the outside are, although stunning, grotesque in design and in traditional cathedral frame of mind not what you would expect. But sit down, stare, scan and take it in, and then it makes sense and it awes you. The finished inside is just simply beautiful and my limited writing ability and words can never do justice to it. Of course it’s not traditional. Its Gaudi, for Pete’s sake!  Nothing Gaudi is traditional and he did spend about 16 years as a semi recluse in the cathedral while working on it. But it is incredible, huge, beautiful and awe inspiring. Marietha, you should visit it again.

The first stone was laid as far back as 19 March 1882. And the current project plan states that it will only be completed in 2026. It is always unfortunate though, that these monumental places of worship are such tourist attractions with the common tourist behavior and masses spoiling the dedicated atmosphere, which should reign.

Among Gaudi’s many architectural relics is also the Parc Güell. Industrialist and friend of Gaudi, Eusebi Güell had the idea of building an estate (let’s say Midstream like) with 60 stands amongst a natural park environment. He entrusted the design of the park to Gaudi and though the estate never realized and only three plots sold, the park and the Gaudi relics are something from out of this world. Due to the topography of the land, he designed a system of viaducts, all supported by interesting incline columns as to preserve the natural land, but still provide roads, to service the entire park. The location of the park in the mountain overlooking Barcelona makes it a favorite late afternoon destination where people flock to enjoy the views and lazily sit around while people watching.

People watching, needless to say, goes down very well with sipping something, soaking the sun, sometimes even staring and a bit of swimming or splashing, but in this sea never surfing and then siesta. Since we arrived in Europe in October 2011 we never sat still (refer this blog upwards) as we were so keen on simply utilizing the availability of travel in the Europe. This summer week in Barcelona turned out to provide a few good hours of actually relaxing at a slight slower pace, sort of to catch our breath and as the Kalahari Bushmen says ‘to allow your soul to catch-up with you’. It was necessary and hugely rewarding as the Barcelonetta ‘playa’ is scattered with cafès with a good view across the beach.

Sipping something while enjoying the sights and sounds of the beach

Man’s nature when traveling is to squeeze as much as possible into the time available and I often think of how much enjoyment you sacrifice this way. There is a huge trade-off between photos taken in front of things/places and then being ticked as visited versus experiencing things and places by spending time and absorbing sights and sounds. We used the Barcelona leg of the Spain trip successfully to slow down the pace and experience and enjoy more rather then rush and pursue more. So often less is more.

And this, I believe contributed hugely to this Spanish holiday to be one of the highlights of our past 12 months in Europe. And maybe, it will set the (lack of) pace for many more trips like this to come.