Barcelona: The Sights

Well, after living here for almost 4 months, it may seem a little strange that before my friends came over Christmas break…I had seen pretty much nothing of Barcelona. In fact, I would have argued that I had seen more of Madrid in 3 days than I had of Barcelona in 3 months. However, in my defense, I know that I will be having a variety of American visitors over the next year and thus knew that I would be seeing every monument, park, museum etc. at least twice. Following are some of the great sights of my lovely Barcelona (these, of course, are just a handful of the many things to see and do…one major one I haven’t done yet is gone to the Picasso Museum):

Museu de la Xocolata
Bicing is a bike service used in BCN

On display are various detailed sculptures, completely made of chocolate, many of which are Barcelona monuments including the FCB Futbol logo and La Sagrada Familia. I am curious as to how they keep these intact during the 100+ degree days in the summer? The museum also explains the history of chocolate in Europe: including how it changed from the bitter drink (made of pure cocoa beans) that the Spaniards brought back from Latin America, to the sweet, industrialized chocolate that we know today. The museum also describes the making of the Aztec drink “Xocoatl”and the sacredness of chocolate in Latin culture. You can taste the original “Xocoatl” of the Aztecs at the cafe on your way out (well, as ‘original’ as our generation can get to Aztecness). It’s one of Barcelona’s smaller museums but full of sweetness! Entrance fee 5€ plus a free bar of chocolate.

The trusty (free) out-dated guide book
**INSIDE JOKE: “It’s free on the first Monday of the month!” – Ok, sorry people, so the Chocolate Museum is not really free on the first Monday of the month. During my friends’ visit, I had been utilizing a Lonely Planet: Barcelona book that I had found in my room (left by one of the last Au Pairs I assume) and I was very excited when I read that this museum was free on the first Monday of the month. So, you can imagine my dismay when we arrive (on the first Monday of the month) and the guy behind the counter says, “No, it’s not free on the first Monday of the month, hasn’t been for 2 or 3 years now.” Turns out that my trusty guide book was actually written in 2009 (yeah, slightly out of date), and thus this became an ongoing joke between my friends and I every time I pulled out “the book.”

 

Camp Nou Museum & FCB Game

If you are a Barça fan, or any kind of futbol enthusiast, this is the museum for you. The museum has an extensive collection of trophies and memorabilia that are nicely displayed in cases organized by decades. You also have access to go down to the field, as well as in the locker room. However, be ready to fork up a hefty 22€ for the museum and the stadium tour (you have to buy both). While in Barcelona, if you have the time, money, and desire, it is worth while to go to a FCB game (especially to see Lionel Messi play, the 25 year star of the team who just earned the Ballon d’Or award, or the Greatest European Footballer of The Year award, for the 3rd time in a row). Out of chance, I happened to catch one of his two goals from the January 5th game, Barcelona vs Osasuna, on my camera!

 

Montjuïc & Palau Nacional
Palau Nacional

Montjuïc is a low mountain that stands on the the southwestern side of the city center (many people see the mountain as the fly into Barcelona). One of the oldest buildings on the mountain is Castell de Montjuïc which is a 17th century military fortress that you can access by funicular. On the other side of the mountain stands the beautiful Palau Nacional, with grandiose steps and “magic fountains” that lead to the entrance (the fountains light up at night). Originally built for the 1929 Worlds Fair, the Palace now houses the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and has some incredible views of the city. Moreover, directly behind Palace, you can walk by the Olympic Stadium and a variety of the other structures built for the 1992 games in Barcelona. You can also see Poble Espanyol (or Spanish Town) for 7€ which is to the left of the Palace. Built in 1929, the town is a snapshot of classic Spanish architecture, as well as an open air museum. Lastly, if you have an extra moment before you need to catch your metro at Plaça d’Espanya, you can check out the old bullfighting arena that has been turned into a flashy new mall (bullfighting was banned in Catalunya in 2009) – you can go to the top and see a circular view of the city. (Note: The old trusty guide book states, “Built in 1900 and at one point one of the three buildings in the city, it is now being converted into a shopping and leisure center.” Hahaha)

Parc Güell

Is a garden of architectural structures and designs built by famous Barcelona architect Antonio Gaudist centurions!) The park was named after Count Eusebi Güell who funded not only this project, but many of Gaudí’s undertakings. The buildings are wild and flamboyant, vibrant and colorful in a kind of Alice in Wonderland meets Willie Wonka sort of way that only Gaudí could create. I read somewhere that to design the curvature of the bench structure that he constructed on the famous terrace overlooking the park, Gaudí used the shape of buttocks left by a naked workman sitting in wet clay.

Mount Tibidabo & Temple de Sagrat Cor
Mount Tibidabo at almost 1,700 feet tall, is the highest point in Barcelona (makes Monjuïc look more like a hill). From the top, you can see some incredible views of the city and the coastline. What makes this mountain so intriguing is that from almost any part of the city, you can see this gorgeous, glowing, Cinderella-like Catholic church that sits on top of it called Temple de Sagrat Cor. In the summer, they have this wonderful old trolley car that takes you to the top which (as my friends and I found out the hard way), is closed in the winter. We ended up adding an extra hour to our trip going to the other side of the mountain by metro, getting on a cable funicular, and then taking a bus. But, we made it! The inside of the church is lovely and in pristine condition as there are not many visitors who make the journey. The views of the ocean and the city really are breathtaking.

 

Museu d’Història de la Ciutat de Barcelona

This museum is a must see if you come to Barcelona and is conveniently, and amazingly, right in El Barrio Gotico in the center of the city. In 1931, in order to construct a road, the city began to move the famous Palace, Palau Clarina Padellàs, stone by stone from Carrer de Mercaders to the Plaça del Rei. During excavations, they found the remains of the largest Roman settlement, Barcino, ever discovered in Europe. As explained in the museum, unlike the ruins in Rome which are out there in the open, Barcelona is a layered city where the centuries would just build on top of each other, conqueror after conqueror. You take an elevator down to the remains of this totally functional Roman city: complete with washing and dying areas for clothing, public bathing facilities, and even a wine production section. For the 7€ fee (5€ if you’re a student, yes!) you also get a complimentary audio guide.

La Sagrada Familia
Nativity Façade
And the grand-daddy of them all, Gaudí’s magnificent, unfinished Gothic Cathedral, La Sagrada Familia which, with over 2 million turists a year, is currently the most visited monument in Spain. Gaudí (a very religious man) spent almost 40 years of his life devoted to the project until his death in 1926 (the church was barely ¼ of the way finished and lost funding). The project continued with private donations but was severely halted during the Spanish Civil War. In fact, the original workshop that housed Gaudí’s original plans and clay models for the Cathedral were destroyed – only bits and pieces were recovered. The Cathedral will have three grand façades: the Nativity façade to the East (the only side completed by Gaudí himself and in my opinion, the most impressive), the Passion façade to the West (completed by architect Josep Maria Subirachs in 2002 who did his best to honor Gaudí’s ideas but added his own twist), and the Glory façade to the South (yet to be completed). The Cathedral is 60% complete now which most was done in the last 20 years due to the revenue generated from tourism (12€-17€ depending on which tour you get…FYI: the guided English tour wasn’t that great, get the audio guide). I could have used this entire blog to write about La Sagrada, but it is just one of those things you have to see in person. It is planned to be completed in 2026 – the centennial of Gaudí’s death.

 

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