Barcelona

After saying goodbye to Mac and MaMac as they headed off to Paris, we spent the day packing and getting ready for Spain.

We had hoped to take a quick trip somewhere for a few days before the boys headed back to school that next week and wanted to go south in search of a little Vitamin D, so we were heading to Barcelona. We woke up early the next morning and drove 4 hours to Montpellier, France (directly south), where we caught a train to Spain. A 3-hour ride on the fast train, it was so great.

There happened to be a severe wind storm “Eleanor” that swept across France that day with winds gusts to 147 km/h and we were lucky that our train hadn’t been cancelled; much of the travel across France that day was disrupted as a result. As we crossed into Spain, views of the Pyrenees off in the distance were just beautiful, my shots from the train just couldn’t do them justice.

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The minute we got off the train and walked out of the train station, the Mediterranean sun hit us and it was heaven. Somehow, the sun felt stronger and it was so much more mild than we had felt in awhile, it was like we were thawing out!

We got to our apartment which was in a really cool area of Barcelona known as Eixample. One really interesting feature of this area are the many long, straight, wide streets with grid-like, octagonal blocks and “chamfered” corners, creating octagonal intersections. We had seen this aerial view of Eixample when we were reading about Barcelona…

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Evidently, this concept (pioneered by the original engineer/architect Ildefons Cerdá) was intended to allow travelers (horse and buggy at that time, cars today) increased visibility when entering the intersection, as well as increased ventilation and sunlight.

Since our apartment was situated on one of these corners, we had a great view down a few different streets at one time.

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sunset the first evening in Barcelona

So it’s customary for the Spanish to have long, late meals and interestingly, the majority of restaurants don’t even open their doors until 8:30pm. We had made a reservation at a restaurant nearby- La Polpa at 8:30 that first night and were literally the first ones in the door. They unlocked the door and welcomed us in as their first guests for the evening! While we do eat dinner later here in France than back home (usually 7:45 or 8:00), we are still early-birds by European standards!

After we were able to translate the Catalan menu just enough to pick out a few options, we had a nice meal that included sharing various tapas that were so delicious and unique! The kids had a basket of wonderfully crusty, battered chicken and the local Spanish beer Chuck ordered and cava for me were both yummy too!

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Calamari… so good!

Our waitress spoke no English and we, no Catalan, so this stretched dinner out a bit but we were happy to take our time and not be rushed. It wasn’t until the boys were literally falling asleep at the table towards the end that it was time to go (but not before ice cream of course) and after a long day of travel and full bellies, we all slept like quite well that night.

The next morning, Chuck had bought tickets to the Sagrada Familia Basilica so we were up and out…. but first, coffee. Being the coffee lovers that we are, this is often something Chuck and I research the most when we travel to a new city.

Not surprisingly, Barcelona had no shortage of well-reviewed, super-unique artisan coffee shops and so we chose Onna Coffee, in the Gràcia  district, which was on our way.

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It was a warm, beautiful sunny morning and again, the sun felt so good.  The boys stopped several times in hopes of shaking an orange or two free from the numerous orange trees… Even with the help of intermittent extreme wind-gusts (remnants of the windstorm the day before), they had no luck….

As we walked along, we could not get over the unique architecture of this city… Antoni Gaudì was a largely influential Catalan architect (the most notable of the mid 19th-early 20th century modernist movement) who had a very interesting and unusual gothic, naturalistic style still largely evident today.

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Gaudì’s most famous signature work (by far) is the Sagrada Familia Church. Having broken ground in 1882, it is the largest (and still unfinished!) Catholic church in the world and truly the most interesting and unique structure I have ever seen in my entire life. Though surrounded by cranes, scaffolding and evidence of a building still under construction, these could not possibly detract from the uniqueness of this church.

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The Passion Facade

We spent some time admiring the outside of the church- there are 3 different facades, each with a different theme and style. The Nativity facade (facing east) is dedicated to the birth of Jesus; the Passion facade (facing west) is dedicated to the Passion of Christ, and most recently (started in 2002)- the Glory facade (facing south) represents the Glory of Jesus. While we could have spent much more time admiring each of the facades, each with their own intricacies, the wind was quite intense, so we ended up going inside.

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The Nativity Facade

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As the most-visited site in Spain, security is tight and we were required to walk through a security check identical to those you’d see in an airport- conveyor belts, x-rays, etc. It was incredible!

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As we entered the inside, we were blown away…

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We took the Audio tour which was great, because it provided so much interesting information about each of the unique features inside that we wouldn’t have otherwise acquired just by walking around inside the church itself. As we learned, every single detail was purposefully structural and symbolic and we enjoyed learning about what the different features represented.

Each of the large marble and stone columns had a tree-like appearance; branching out as they rose to support their own load. As a result, you can’t help but feel like you are in a forest of sorts, and kinda reminded me of the wizard of Oz…

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The day that we visited, the sun was strong and bright, and the intensity of the colors shining through the stained glass windows were just extraordinary.  Gaudì purposefully chose cooler colors (blues/greens) on the east side of the church, the direction the sun rises;

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and warmer colors (oranges/reds/yellows) on the west, where the sun sets.

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I remember a quote from Gaudì mentioned in the guide about how color is the expression of life… that though he could choose the glass colors with location and purpose, only with God’s creation of sun, could these colors actually be expressed…..

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view of the ceiling where all the “trees” meet

Below was the altar, with the crucifix freely suspended underneath an “umbrella like” structure adorned with grapes and bread to signify the body and blood of Christ.

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Behind the altar was a large gold triangle facing upwards (towards heaven) and an abstract representation of God…

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Our tickets included entrance to the Passion Tower, a long staircase from which you could climb to the top and look down over the interior. Unfortunately, due to the severe wind, the towers were closed that day.

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After walking throughout, we finally just sat down to soak it all in. Even the kids were amazed.

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one of the doors to the outside

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The church is estimated to be completed in 2026-2028 with the goal being 2026, as this marks 100 years since Gaudì’s death.

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The Passion Facade

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It wasn’t until the next day, when we climbed up to Park Güell which offers a magnificent view of Barcelona and the beautiful Mediterranean Sea sitting just beyond, that one could see just what a unique hallmark this church is to the city of Barcelona….

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I could literally write an entire post about the Sagrada Familia church alone, it was so mind-blowing to me. I didn’t expect to be so intrigued and amazed but, as I mentioned, it truly was so unique. I hope we can return one day to see it fully completed….

After we left the church, we decided to walk down one of the biggest main streets in Barcelona, La Rambla. We loved this street because it is so big and wide with a pedestrian walkway down the middle lined with trees, cafes, and tons of people watching! The boys could run free without us having to nag them about nearby passing cars, too. Of course, as in all big cities, there were all the big designer and chain stores, but obviously lots of unique Spanish boutiques and restaurants too.

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and Charlie got his Apple fix 🙂

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another massive, beautiful Apple Store

We walked all the way down La Rambla to the big open air market, Mercat de Sant Josep, better known as La Boqueria, full of food stalls selling hot prepared food-tacos, empanadas, sandwiches, etc. along with produce, meats, cheeses, spices, and every kind of sweet imaginable…

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Charlie had fun capturing images of all the sweets… and enjoying all the free samples 🙂

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Despite our offer to the boys to pick out a treat from among the millions of options, Wells and Owen opted for gelato and Charlie had his heart set on churros and chocolate, so he held out…..

Speaking of treats, the afternoon sun was one of the best. It was in the low 70s and we found a warm place to sit outside in a graffiti-covered park/courtyard nearby and soak up every last ray of sun…

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Later that afternoon, we finally came upon a cute little cafe serving churros and chocolate and so Charlie was in….and a certain little someone suddenly had a severe case of food envy…

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The next day, we had hoped to head up to visit Park Guell up but first we needed breakfast. I had read about a place not too far from our apartment, Brunch and Cake that was family owned and had all kinds of delicious looking smoothies, coffees and brunch.

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Ok, if I’m being completely honest, I really just insisted we choose this place because there’s just something about “cake” in the name that makes me curious…. and of course when I told the boys where we were going, they were sold!

When we went inside and sat down, we couldn’t get over all the fresh fruit juices and smoothies everywhere and it all just looked fake! The colors!

Ever since we left Greenville, one thing on my “Foods I miss” list is the Almond Brothers smoothie from Happy & Hale in downtown Greenville. It really is all of my favorite things in one cup- bananas, chocolate almond milk, almond butter, coffee and coffee nibs (WHAT?). The last 2 weeks we were living in Greenville at the Embassy Suites, I may or may not have gone around the corner to Happy & Hale every single day.

Since then, I haven’t been able to find anything that has really even matched my beloved Almond Brothers, so when I saw something similar on the menu at Brunch and Cake, I was sold!

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It was so good and probably the closest thing I have found to my old favorite.  I had also found a black peanut butter latte on the menu that I was too curious to resist. It was really interesting, kinda like a sweet and salty coffee concoction. I never did figure out what the “black” specks were in it, but it was delicious nonetheless and between these 2 things, I was happy.

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At least I thought I was happy. They brought my drinks out first along with freshly squeezed OJ for the guys but it wasn’t until much later that their food arrived, like 30 minutes later.

Chuck ordered a acaì fruit bowl that filled an entire hollowed-out pineapple along with fruit spilling over the top. It was too beautiful to look edible….

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But the boys. Even 2 months later, I can’t sit here and type this post without my mouth watering when I think about the “healthy” homemade Nutella pancakes they each ordered. Never in my life have I had such a severe case of food envy…….Luckily they were huge and the boys weren’t able to finish so….

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After breakfast, we wanted to visit Park Güell, a huge park up on Carmel Hill, in the Gràcia district that was designed by Gaudì and opened in 1926.

We hopped on the metro to take us up closer to the park, but didn’t expect to walk another 20 minutes uphill before we even got to the park entrance!

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Seriously the biggest and swankiest metro station we have ever been in! It felt like an airport!

When we got to the park entrance, we were disappointed to find out that the next available time slot for entrance into the main park (featuring all of Gaudì’s works!) was not for another 4 hours… nooooo! This was unfortunate, because it was in this park that Gaudì let his limitless imagination go wild, filling it with of all kinds of strangely shaped structures, wild colors, etc; many seem to describe it as a fun house dropped into a park…

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photo: wikipedia
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photo: parkguell.cat
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photo: parkguell.cat
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photo: Lonely planet

Having been designated a UNESCO world heritage site, there is also a Gaudì museum in the park, which is actually a former residence of Gaudì and tons of other interesting sites….

Luckily for us, however, there was still limited access to some hiking trails and gardens up above the Gaudì sites that offered some amazing views of Barcelona down below.

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photo cred to Charlie

And just when we thought we were as high as we could get, there were lots of paths to climb even higher!

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Owen had the best time hiking off the beaten path, climbing up through brush and rocks and into trees….looking for any excuse to climb up anything other than steps…

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Charlie had the best time capturing all kinds of pics with his new camera… His interest in photography is serving him well….

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And of course, Wells enjoyed doing what he does best- stopping at nothing to get attention and collecting rocks of all sizes for us to carry back down the hill-big, small, etc. We all had rocks in our pockets. I was finding them in the laundry for a week once we got back home.

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We loved visiting this park, there was such a great energy there with various musicians performing throughout… this group of guys was the happiest bunch I’ve ever seen!

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After a couple hours of exploring, it was time for lunch. As we walked back down the long hill, I thought this painted stucco wall was the perfect backdrop for a great mugshot.

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We hopped back on the metro to head back down to the market area again to pick up a few things to bring back to France. There was no way we could leave without some chorizo and manchego (thank goodness for vacuum packs)!

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The boys took advantage of our return to the big open courtyard for a mean game of hide and seek.

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someone couldn’t wait for our food to come…

There was so much going on in this courtyard…so much to look at (and listen to!).  First we noticed that every few minutes, a loud, deep baritone voice would burst into song, but it took us awhile to figure out that this voice was coming from a drunk homeless man on a nearby bench. Truly, he had a gift.

While the boys were playing, we noticed the most unique, beautiful green birds hopping around searching for crumbs… I had read about these green birds and hadn’t seen any all weekend… I definitely didn’t expect to find them here in this cement space!

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When we were finishing up, we heard the most bizarre whistling sound and again, were looking all over trying to figure out where it was coming from… over and over and over again. We finally noticed there was a woman painted completely in white who was walking around with a cup asking for money. She would literally stand next to people and blow her whistle until she got paid to go away… As we expected, she made her way towards our table and Chuck was ready to pay. But first we had to get a pic…

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The whole thing was so bizarre. Charlie’s face sums it up. And just when we thought things couldn’t get any stranger, as we headed away from the market, the boys happened to notice Marilyn Monroe up on a balcony overlooking the crowds of people walking down La Rambla…

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We found ourselves holding our breath, Chuck and I, as we walked past in hopes that no boy would ask us what “Erotic” meant… Fortunately, no one did this time. But we haven’t been so lucky on the streets of Paris- it’s not so easy to explain what a “Peep” show is…

The few days that we were in Barcelona happened to fall during the big Epiphany celebration, and was one of the biggest treats (and surprises!) of our entire visit. The Epiphany (January 6) is the 12th night of Christmas and a very special celebration in Spanish culture which commemorates the 3 Kings/ Wise Men bringing gifts to baby Jesus. While the Spanish do celebrate Christmas with a big meal and gifts, most of their gifts are opened on the Epiphany, when the children are brought gifts from the 3 Kings the night prior.

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Walking through Barcelona, we would see references to 3 Kings here and there, but initially we did not appreciate how special this holiday truly is to the Spanish (and Catalan!) culture. I’m not sure how we missed that our visit here to this city would fall during the biggest holiday of the year!

One afternoon as we were walking around exploring, we came across a children’s festival where there were all kinds of crafts for the children, and photo ops with the Kings.

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There was a very unique style of music playing and signs everywhere in Catalan that we couldn’t make out, but we got the general idea. The one thing we could not figure out were these large bubbles, almost like snow globes, which were filled with various wintry scenes…

Back in France, we had seen Epiphany cakes (Galette des Rois) in various bakeries and in the grocery store, but honestly didn’t take much notice of them or hear much about the Epiphany. What a fun tradition this ended up being for us to learn about when we returned to France! (more on this later 🙂 )

Similarly, we had seen lots of King cakes in bakeries throughout Barcelona also, but it wasn’t until a nice woman on the metro came up to us on our way back down to the market that afternoon and told us about the big annual parade that night in the center of town. She mentioned that there would be floats and small gifts and candy thrown out to the children lining the streets.

At the market, we happened to be near the parade route and decided to head that way, sure that we would not be able to get close. It was such a beautiful evening, the sun was setting and lights were everywhere… You could literally feel the anticipation in the air! Like on Christmas Eve, I suppose, streets were filled with those grabbing last minute gifts and food for big family meals….

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As we got to the parade route, we found a spot a few rows back; it was so sweet to see all the children playing soccer in the streets and then to grab seats on the street anxiously awaiting the Kings!

P1000378The parade was filled with the most beautiful, colorful, creative floats and the performances along the way were just stunning…

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Wells noticed that some of the children were reaching out their hands to get a “stamp” and was determined to get his hand out there… The first time, he couldn’t get close enough (thanks to a grumpy old lady that insisted on having a front row seat all to herself and wasn’t about to move to let a 6 yr old reach his hand out- rude!), but with some help from Owen and a very nice woman standing on the other side of them, he was able to get his hand stamped and was one happy guy.

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Just as each King’s float was approaching, different woman in beautiful costumes would walk along and collect letters from the children that each had written to each King, listing what they would most hope to see next to or in their shoes the next morning…. it was so cute!

The first King- Caspar…

2nd King- Melchior…

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and Balthazar…

As amazing as the parade was, in typical Spanish fashion, it ran long and late into the evening and when it appeared it would last awhile longer, the boys were ready to go (without said candy! and toys! what?)

We grabbed a late dinner at a cool spot serving burgers called Nice People and once again, as is typically the case when we grab burgers, it was a home run- the boys thoroughly enjoyed their meal and still are talking about it even still.

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Walking back we were sad that our short visit was almost over and we’d head back to France the next day. Such an incredible city…

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Sunday morning it was time to pack up and go, and since it was a big national holiday, almost every café/breakfast spot we passed was closed. But, there was one shop the boys had seen near the market earlier on that had the most incredible looking “Cronuts” (yes, that’s a croissant/donut combo)…and chocolate bars! At one point we had promised to come back, but ran out of mornings and here we were on a national holiday with almost every restaurant we passed closed for the day…

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But, by some Christmas, or should I say- Epiphany Miracle… the Chok Shop was open.

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A place this good can’t ever close. Even for a major holiday.

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so many choices… too many choices!

And just in case the Cronuts weren’t enough, there were a million other things chocolate, including an entire wall of just chocolate bars!

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Wells may look bored in this pic, but he immediately made quick and dirty work of his Oreo cronut….

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You can’t tell from these pics, but he even had frosting on his eyelashes!

What a great way to end our trip to Barcelona. A vastly different culture from the French one we are becoming accustomed to; this visit to the Mediterranean did not disappoint and we hope we will be lucky enough to visit again…

2 thoughts on “Barcelona

  1. Bar”the”lona is on my personal bucket list. WONDERFUL written description of a city that is the heart of Catalonia, currently part of Spain but struggling to be a separate country

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