It was after 9:30pm when I arrived in Barcelona and about 10:00pm when I got to my hostel, which was nearby Placa Catalunya, the main square of Barcelona. There were a few rookie travelers in my room. I could see bits of myself from 2012 in them. The only thing I did for the rest of the night was to take a walk down Las Ramblas (a famous series of streets, about a mile long total) to the harbor. Barcelona was not the last city I would be in before returning home, but it some ways it felt like the finale of the trip. The next, and last, city in line was Paris, which I had already visited back in August at the start of the trip. Barcelona was also the final city I would be exploring in Spain, making it the climax of the country I had spent the most time in. I had five nights in Barcelona, giving me plenty of time to look around without being hurried. I would also try out lots of churros con chocolate.
The next morning I left the hostel around 10:45am. Originally I thought I would get some photos on the Ramblas, but the sun was in a bad position for that so I instead went into the Bari Gotic (Gothic) district. In Bari Gotic I tried out a churros place I had seen online. The churros con chocolate were okay, but I had tasted better ones elsewhere in Spain. After that I visited the Barcelona Cathedral. The exterior of the cathedral looks like other Gothic cathedrals in Europe, but the inside has an interesting golden/yellow glow. In the cathedral’s cloister the small flock of geese were still keeping watch. Over the centuries, geese have been kept in the cathedral, originally as an alarm system. Geese are easily startled, so anyone trying to break into the cathedral would cause them to flip out, and wake up the priests. Today the geese are just for show and to maintain the tradition. Barcelona’s cathedral also has a rooftop terrace, though I skipped it since I had done it the last time I was in Barcelona and didn’t feel the need to go up again. When I left the cathedral I followed a self guided walk through the narrow lanes of Bari Gotic. Along the way I saw the old columns of the Roman temple of Augustus and at the end of the walk I was over by the old royal palace. I then went over to the nearby Santa Caterina Market, which is a covered market much like others I had seen in Europe. After looking around the market I went back to Placa Catalunya. The sun was in a better spot for photographing the Ramblas at that point, and I started my walk down them. Las Ramblas is normally Barcelona’s busiest pedestrian street, but since it was November it was a little less crowded than normal. While going down the Ramblas I detoured into the Boqueria Market. The market is probably the most touristy covered market in Barcelona, but I did see a few people who looked like locals doing some serious shopping. I didn’t buy anything but spent some time looking around before returning to the Ramblas. At the bottom (southern) end of the Ramblas you reach the harbor and a monument to Columbus. It’s somewhat ironic that Barcelona would honor Columbus, one of the people whose voyages would actually shift European trade to the Atlantic and away from Mediterranean ports like Barcelona. At the waterfront I got a small bit of bird poop in my hair. I got some poop on me back in 2012, so I guess I have now set a precedent. Thankfully I was able to clean it out without much trouble, and I walked onto the Ramblas Del Mar, a modern extension of Las Ramblas that goes into the harbor. I then continued on to the beaches at Barceloneta. The sun was going down as I walked by the beach and I stopped by the big metal fish. I took the metro back to Placa Catalunya and bought some groceries to make dinner. That night I did a walk through the Eixample district, past various houses designed by Antoni Gaudi, and on up to the Sagrada Familia church. Not too many buildings had floodlights on them, so it was actually a little disappointing. Back at the hostel I uploaded more photos to social media.
Whereas on the previous day I had seen a lot of things, on the next day I saw only a few, but in more detail. In the morning I largely retraced my steps from the night before in the Eixample. I passed by the Block of Discord, with it’s audacious house facades and came over to the La Pedrera house, also called Casa Mila. It’s the most famous house designed by local architect Antoni Gaudi, though I’ve never gone it because I refuse to believe that the seventeen euro entry fee accurately reflects how good it is. On my way to Sagrada Familia I stopped by a churros place, which was better than the one from the day before, but I thought the churros were a little small. It took a few more minutes of walking after that to reach Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s famous under construction church. Circling the outside, I could see some of the progress that had been made since my last visit, though there is still a lot of work to do before the church is done. Like Casa Mila, the Sagrada Familia church was designed by Antoni Gaudi, however most of his design plans were lost during the Spanish Civil War. The work that’s being done on the church now is trying to line up with the plans that survived, though some artistic liberties have been given to the architects that have worked on the church since Gaudi’s death back in 1926. Entry fees for the church go towards funding the construction. Officially the goal is to finish Sagrada Familia by 2026, but I don’t think anyone will be surprised if that goal isn’t realized. Whereas the Barcelona cathedral looks a lot like other churches you see in Europe, Sagrada Familia might be the most distinctive church you’ll ever see, especially inside. The interior columns branch out like the branches of a tree and the smooth curves on the walls have a very organic look to them. While I was inside the sun was also hitting the stained glass windows at just the right angle to bathe the interior in reds, blues, greens, and yellows. A lot of churches have stained glass windows that add a bit of colored light to the inside, but Sagrada Familia’s windows absolutely paint the interior. I spent a bit over an hour at Sagrada Familia before leaving and then took the metro to Placa d’ Espanya. There’s a bull arena there that is now a mall. I walked from the traffic circle up to the area where the Magic Fountains are located and then caught a bus to the top of Montjuic, which literally translates to “mountain of the Jews.” At the top of Montjuic is a fort that is now open to the public. During the days of the Franco dictatorship, the forts guns were more for keeping the locals in line than defending the city from invaders. The views that day were decent, but the sun was going down and fog was starting to move in. As I stared out at the city, I was struck by how much it reminds me of Los Angeles, but with fewer skyscrapers. I hiked down Montjuic, passing the Sardana Dance sculpture and the old Olympic diving pools. There was also a park with a short zip-line that I made use of. When I got to the bottom I wasn’t totally sure where I was, but I was on a street that led directed to Las Ramblas, so I just followed it there and got reoriented. By then it was getting dark and I got some dinner. At night I walked around Bari Gotic.
I ended up talking to two other people at the breakfast table the following morning – a guy from Ireland and a girl from Turkey. The guy was on a similar trip to mine, and the girl was the manager of her town’s Burger King and had come to Spain for some management training and was visiting Barcelona before she was to return to Turkey. Later in the morning I tried out a new churros place further down and a few blocks off the Ramblas. The churros were good, but the bakery had no place to sit so I had to walk around and find a bench. True, I could have eaten them while walking, but I personally think churros con chocolate is strictly a sit-down sort of food. Afterwards I took the metro up near the side entrance of Parc Guell and rode the escalators up the hill to the entrance itself. Parc Guell is another product of Antoni Gaudi, though it was originally intended as a gated community for rich people. No one wanted to move in, so it got converted to a park. I started out at the Calvary viewpoint and then hiked around the upper part of the park for an hour or so. Up there I found the vista that I sat at back in 2012. As I was hiking I could see that the fog over the city was clearing and the sun was in a better position, so I went back to the Calvary viewpoint and got some photos. I then slowly made my way down towards the Monumental Zone, walking along the viaducts. The Monumental Zone contains the park’s most popular sights but is my least favorite part, so I didn’t pay to get in. Also, back in 2012 it was free. Officially the reason for the entry fee to the Monumental Zone is to limit crowds, and I don’t doubt that that’s part of the reason, but I also think it’s clear that it gives the city another way to make money from tourism. Bypassing the Monumental Zone, I exited the park and did the long walk back to the metro. I then went over to Barcelona’s triumphal arch and the park that is near it. The dragon fountain at the park was running and I walked around awhile before making my way through the El Born and Bari Gotic districts back to the Ramblas. Along the way I tried out chocolate covered churros, which were good but I decided I liked traditional churros con chocolate more. Eventually I wound up back at the hostel and ate dinner. While at the hostel I went online and looked to see if there were any ice cream or gelato shops that caught my eye. I saw one that was near the town hall in Bari Gotic and later in the night I paid it a visit. The gelato was good, which surprised me since I had been having mixed experiences with gelato in Spain. At this point I had mostly exhausted my sightseeing list for Barcelona, and still had a day and a half left, but Barcelona is one of the few cities where that’s not a problem for me.
With little left to do, the next day felt somewhat like a filler day, but that also meant I relaxed more than the previous days. I tried out yet another churros place in the morning. The churros themselves were fine, but overpriced. Later I paid another visit to the La Boqueria market before moving on to the El Born district. I was heading towards the Sta Maria del Mar church when I realized another churro place that I had looked up was just a short detour away, so I went over there but found the place was closed and a note on the door stated the owner had a family emergency. With the detour over, I walked to the church and took note of the memorial outside of it, which is dedicated to the (crushed) 1714 Catalan revolt that tried to break Barcelona and the rest of Catalunya away from Spain. Inside Sta Maria del Mar you can see dark marks on the ceiling. During the Franco regime, the church decided to align itself with Franco, and angry locals set it on fire. Being made of stone, the church survived, but smoke from the fire has stained the ceiling. Near Sta Maria del mar is the El Born cultural center, which I visited next. I went in just out of curiosity, and found that in addition to exhibition rooms, it also holds an active archaeological site. Much of the El Born district was leveled after the 1714 revolt and a fort was built in the area. Today the remains of the old city street plan are being unearthed. When I left the cultural center I walked to a metro station and then took the metro to Sagrada Familia. I gave the exterior one more look, but the main reason I was back there was to try another churros place. These were fairly priced and I also tried out a caramel filled churro. Caramel is probably not the best thing to pair with a churro, but it was okay. When I finished I took the metro to Barceloneta to take in the beach one last time. I took a seat on a large outdoor cement chair near the outdoor gym. As with most outdoor gyms, some of the people were seriously working out, and some appeared to just be there to show off. After sitting for awhile, I got up and walked out to the end of one of the piers and looked out over the sea. It was about 4:30pm when I left the beach and then I walked all the way back to the bottom of the Ramblas. There I committed a great act of patriotism by eating at the McDonalds on Las Ramblas. I sat in the outdoor seating area, making it one of the few times on the trip that I intentionally did people-watching. Having shown my support for Team America, I returned to the hostel to use the internet. When the sun went down I walked over to the Magic Fountains for the sound and light show that goes on there most Fridays. The fountains “perform” according to a programmed routine that is accompanied by lights and music. I think I stayed an hour before leaving. On the way back to the hostel I detoured to get more gelato from the place by the town hall. As I was preparing for bed I uploaded photos to social media and was about to go to bed when I decided to refresh my news feed. It was then that I learned about the terrorist attacks that had just happened in Paris. Not all the details had come out, but it was clear that it was bloody and a number of people had died. I had mentally prepared for many possible travel interruptions, but a terrorist attack was not one of them and I wasn’t sure how it was going to affect my flight the next day. After awhile I realized that I was just going to have to wait, so I went to bed.
Most of the next morning was spent reading news articles and verifying my travel schedule. I found that all flights were still on schedule, so nothing had changed on that front. I left the hostel at 11:00am and after that still had a little time before I needed to leave for the airport. With that time I walked around for awhile, got one last serving of churros, and sat on a bench at Placa Catalunya. When the time came, I got on a bus to the airport. I had anticipated heightened security at the airport but it didn’t seem any tighter than normal and I got to my gate with a lot of time to spare. As I was sitting at the gate I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I got to Paris. In a few hours I would be there, but it wouldn’t be the same as when I was there in August.