Europe, Spain

Barcelona: Part 1

January 6 – 9, 2022

I arrived in Barcelona yesterday and was to my hotel by early afternoon. While I had the best of intentions to hit the ground running, I was exhausted after traveling 3000+ miles from the US. I decided to take an afternoon nap and get up at 7 PM…. well that came and went and I snoozed right on through.

So, I woke up super early this morning and was out the door by 7 AM. Being the day after a holiday (Three Kings Day) plus it not being a culture known for early mornings, the streets were dead! Most things around didn’t open until 10 AM. Thankfully I found a coffee shop and got my decaf coffee to warm up and had a brief language exchange with the barista. One important thing to note is that Barcelona is located in the community of Catalonia, which speaks a regional language Catalan. I saw some of this language in Valencia but quickly saw a lot more here.

My first stop (after coffee) was to see some nearby monuments and parks and then when it hit 9 AM, I’d go to something on the list. I had plotted my points of interest on Google Maps so I could see what’s close together and be efficient with my time. I highly recommend this. I can’t think of how many times I’ve visited sites in a random and inefficient order.

Arc de Triomf

As I began my morning, I saw the sun rising, people beginning their day, and the arc de triomf off in the distance, while sipping my coffee and leisurely walking. It was a moment of bliss, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to see new parts of the world.

Architect Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas built the arc de triomf as an access gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair. It is inscribed in Catalan with the phrase Barcelona rep les nacions (Barcelona welcomes the nations). It arches over the Passeig de Lluís Companys promenade and leads to Parc de la Ciutadella, which was my next stop.

Parc de la Ciutadella

This park is a 70-acre space that includes the city zoo, the Catalunya parliament building, a small lake, monuments, a fountain, and a museum. My main point of interest was the cascada (waterfall) in the northern corner of the park. This was built in the 19th century with two-tiers and a Venus sculpture.

After walking up the monument and seeing the fountain, I spent some time wandering around the park. My original plan was to go to the Barcelona Cathedral first, as it opened at 9 AM. But, in the meantime, I received a recommendation to go to the Palau de la Música Catalana which was also nearby. They had a 10 AM English tour when they opened, so I booked that. After walking around for a little while, I headed towards the bus stop. I was unable to find that for an embarrassing amount of time, and then I got off at the wrong stop. I arrived right on time, so I’m glad I had some extra cushion to allow for getting lost.

Palau de la Música Catalana

Palau de la Música Catalana, built by Domènech i Montaner (professor of the renowned Antoni Gaudi) in the Catalonia modernista style in 1908. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the only of its kind. It’s adorned with ceramics, mosaic, and stained glass with Spanish and Arab influences. I had an hour-long tour with two other individuals, and we were brought to the different halls and the main venue at each level. It was truly remarkable! I’d love to attend an actual performance here someday.

Barcelona Cathedral

After the music palace, I went to the cathedral nearby. This cathedral is dedicated to Eulalia of Barcelona, a young woman who was martyred in Roman times in the city. The official name is Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulalia – (Catalan for “Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia”). Her body is in the crypt of the cathedral.

One interesting addition is that one of the cloisters houses 13 geese (the age that Eulalia was when she died). This is also the only cathedral I’ve been in to-date that has an elevator to access the roof/tower. I’ve had the option to ascend before, but hundreds of winding steps hasn’t felt like my cup of tea. It was exciting to go up to the roof and look out over the city.

As I saw in a church during my Porto trip, churches are really keeping up with the times with donation options. The church in Portugal had a credit card machine for votive candles… the Barcelona Cathedral also offers contactless payments and Bizum (sort of the Spanish version of Venmo) … I seriously can’t keep a straight face looking at these things.

After visiting the Cathedral, I walked in the direction of Carrer de Montcada, a street that features many art museums. I saw the city hall of Barcelona and examples of some of the distinct narrow streets you find in Spain. My original plan was to visit the Picasso Museum, which was included with the Barcelona GoCity pass I got, but the ticket was specifically for a guided tour at 4 PM. As I turned around to figure out my next activity, I spotted the Moco Museum and was intrigued.

Moco Museum

The Modern Contemporary (Moco) Museum has its base location in Amsterdam and spread to Barcelona. They feature a wide variety of modern, contemporary, and street art. They believe in art with a greater purpose: “We use the power of art to challenge the norm, champion the truth, open up minds, and question the world around us.” My two favorite exhibits were Banksy and KAWS, although there were many others that were remarkable.

Next, I was torn between heading towards a few of my must-sees (some of the architectural works of Antoni Gaudi) or a cannabis and hemp museum nearby. I had found this on Atlas Obscura and was interested in it if I had the time. Seeing as it was less than a five minute walk, I decided to pop in.

Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum

This museum opened in 2012 and its sister museum is in Amsterdam, a notoriously cannabis-friendly city. The Barcelona museum is built within a Modernist palace, Palau Mornau. They don’t offer English guided tours (unless you’re in a pre-registered group), so I had an audioguide. This was helpful but a bit confusing. There wasn’t a clear direction for how to move through the different rooms.

I really enjoyed this museum, and it definitely met its mission of showing “all aspects of cannabis history and culture” throughout human history. They have over 9000 artifacts, ranging from 17th century artwork to industrial hemp-making supplies to modern-day legalization media. As a huge proponent of drug decriminalization, I was particularly inspired by the latter, but the museum as a whole was worth visiting. Whether you are a fan of cannabis yourself or not, it is still a unique perspective on cannabis in society over time.

Casa Batlló by Antoni Gaudi

Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) was a highly renowned Catalan architecture who propelled the Catalan Modernism style. He has his own individualized style within this, and his buildings are easily identifiable. Most of his works are in Barcelona, including his most famous work (La Sagrada Familia), and as such, the city is aptly named “The City of Gaudi.”

Casa Batlló is one of the most famous Gaudi sites to visit in the city. This building was originally built by one of Gaudi’s architecture professors (Emilio Sala Cortés) in 1877. Josep Batlló purchased it at the turn of the century and gave full creative freedom to Gaudi. Although they originally planned to demolish it, Gaudi instead remodeled the building. It left the Batlló family in the 1950s and has been in the hands of different companies and individuals since then. The Bernat family, its current owners, opened the house to the public in 1995. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the top cultural sites.

After this, I hopped on the subway and planned on going to Casa Mila (La Pedrera), another famous Gaudi site. Unfortunately, they had closed their normal tours for the day, so I decided I would return tomorrow.

Exhibits

I had learned that the Van Gogh immersive exhibit was in Barcelona! I was thrilled to learn this because I’ve unsuccessfully tried to visit this in other cities. I had to take a bus a few kilometers to the large shopping mall, Arenas de Barcelona. When I got to the fourth floor (the dome level), I noticed a Human Body exhibit which looked pretty interesting. I had some spare time until the next tickets for Van Gogh, so I stopped in for about an hour to see this exhibit.

After I finished here, the time had finally arrived: the Van Gogh exhibit! I have seriously been trying to attend this exhibit since it first launched. The timing never worked out… even when I looked up all the east coast and even when I was out in Vancouver! I was immensely grateful to be able to see this. I resonate a lot with Van Gogh and find comfort in the way he depicted his perspective and experience.

“I have nature and art and poetry, and if that’s not enough, what is enough?” -Vincent Van Gogh

At this point, it was 10:30 PM and I still thought I had energy to hit up a nearby site. I explored the rooftop terrace of the mall and then headed down to the Plaza de España to catch a bus. Well, after being outside for a while, getting quite cold, and then realizing I have an early morning tomorrow, I decided to make the trek back to the hotel.

I got lost finding the hotel, per usual, but I eventually made it back as midnight struck. I think it’s also important to mention that I’m actually writing this in Barcelona, not back-dating it like many of my other blogs. Pretty impressed with that after exploring on my feet for the last 16 hours.

Tomorrow, I’ll be seeing La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell, the two big sites in Barcelona. Until then!

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