It’s getting harder to write posts. A week after Italy, two after London… It’s like those poor best friends who start out writing five-page long emails to each other, but then slowly dwindle down to an occasional monthly email making sure they’re still alive. Eek! Don’t worry! I won’t let it get to that point! (I hope.) And I’m very much alive and kicking, thank you~ Although I’m getting over this nasty fever/cold that had me bedridden for a couple days. I blame it on Barcelona. Among other things.
So let’s start with Barcelona.
The weather was ABSOLUTELY amazing. We landed after a short hourlong flight and thought, “holy crap. Are you sure it’s the end of November here?? They don’t seem to have gotten the message”. I walked along the soft-sanded beach in a tank top, with a light breeze going through my hair. Seattle would absolutely kill for some of this weather any time of the year!
But despite the greatness of the beach, our first stop was still (of course) the market.
Barcelona’s main market, La Boqueria. They sell it all: vegetables of every kind, fish with all their heads, fruit from even the tropical climates, candy and chocolate like you would never imagine at a market. What caught our eyes, though, were the stalls selling freshly-squeezed juices (coconut and passionfruit? Mango and strawberry? A shot of fruity vitamin foodness for a euro!) and the stalls selling rabbits. Hanging upside down, completely intact. I guess that’s how you know it’s fresh…
Anyhow, with some fresh fruit juice to distract us from the poor bunnies, and the sand in our toes, we went for the next big Spanish thing: tapas! In case you aren’t familiar with it, tapas is essentially Spanish dimsum (some say it the other way around. Details, shmetails.). You order whatever you’d like on a menu, and small-ish portions come to you. We, being the food-lovers we are, ordered the tapas set menu for lunch. A couple plates came, then a few more. We thought that was it, until even MORE came!!
This is what the table looked like HALFWAY through (for two people, mind you!).
The most noteworthy from this lunch were the potatoes you see you in the right-hand corner, called patates bravas. Essentially they’re just roasted potatoes with a spiced and lighty-spicy mayo sauce. Sounds simple, but pretty addicting! The red-smeared bread is also a fairly traditional tapas item. It’s simply tomatoes smeared on bread. To accompany other things. (I ate my slice just like that for a little while before our friend studying in Barcelona gave me a funny look and corrected me.) Of course, being in Europe, we also got the jambon/ham. Don’t ask me about the shrimp and hard-boiled egg. I have no idea what was going on there.
As long as we’re covering Spanish food, I may as well tell you about the other Spanish-associated thing we ate that day.
Thaaaaat’s right! Seafood paella. Are you jealous of all the seafood and delicious paella-ness? Can I tell you a secret? (it was a ton of rice, even for all that seafood. it was also a little… I don’t wanna say it, but, bland?) I never realized how LONG paella takes to make! Longer even than risotto, it seems. Of our group of 6, 2 ordered reular menu items, and 4 ordered paella. The two had pretty much finished their food already when our paella came!
Good thing we had a lovely liter of sangria to tide us over! Sweet, fruity, citrusy, red sangria ❤
This was my first glass. But most certainly not the last of the trip! More on that later.
So, obviously, we ate well. But not to worry, we also did manage to wrench ourselves away from all the food to see the many beautiful sights of the city.
Barcelona is actually a really clean city. I saw at least 5 different shifts of people cleaning up the public areas. No dog poop on the sidewalk here, and no overflowing trash cans. People also seem to smoke [a little] less than in Lyon and Paris. For how large of an European city Barcelona is, it was refreshing. That all said, Barcelona IS a big city. And very prone to pickpocketers. They’re really skillful here. Come in pairs and have one distract you and the other open up a folded-over bag and take your wallet. How do I know? Because it happened to me. We were on the subway, when a women and what appeared to be her daughter scurried on. They stood awkwardly close to me, the girl on my left, the woman on my right, and my bag at my right side. We rode one stop, and I was just going to tough it out, since we only had one more stop left, and maybe even though there was space elsewhere in the car they just have smaller personal bubbles? The girl asked for the time, and, not speaking Spanish, I showed her my watch. She grabbed my hand to take a closer look. Then the train rocked a little, and she caught herself on me (as in, both hands on my chest. It was a little weird, ya). As we got off at the next stop, I thought her behavior a bit odd so I stole a glance at her mother’s hands. Didn’t see anything. I got off and started walking before noticing that my bag was slightly zipped open. Did I not zip it closed when we bought metro tickets? Then I checked my bag for my wallet. Too late, because the subway had already left, and the woman had already taken my wallet.
“If only I’d moved.” “If only I’d had my bag behind me or right in front of me.” “If only…” UGH I was so mad at myself for getting tricked like that. My new wallet, only a year old, that my parents had bought for me in Paris when they’d heard I’d lost my other one. Yeah, apparently I’m not good at holding on to my money. You guys want some cash?
Anyway, as demoralizing as that was for me, the trip had to continue, and we went to see La Sagrada Familia.
Even from my depressed, down-cast, i-feel-so-dumb eyes, La Sagrada was beautiful. It was definitely different from all the other churches I’ve seen in Europe, and you can tell just how much thought has gone and is still going into the construction. Oh yeah. La Sagrada Familia isn’t finished yet. They’re sort of aiming for 2026, but who knows? But the details of this place…!! There are going to be 18 pillars: one for Jesus and one for the Virgin Mary, 4 for the saints, and 12 for the apostles. The columns leading up to the main pillar consist of different natural materials each getting progressively denser and more durable. The columns themselves are modeled after trees, with “branches” supporting the ceiling, removing the need for buttresses. The entire interior is made of lighter-colored materials, and there are many windows, to allow for more natural light and to create a less oppressive atmosphere, so that everyone who visits may feel welcome.
Welcome to Gaudi’s world.
The thing that makes La Sagrada Familia so special is that, even though it is mostly designed by Gaudi, the famous (and slightly eccentric) Spanish architect, it is also intended to be a communal church. That means no funding from powerful families. The church is funded entirely by public donations, which are essentially the entry ticket prices. (I’m glad that my 16euros are going to good use!) That’s why it’s taken so long to construct. That, and also that the church is meant as a cross-generational structure, so many different architects can put their own touch on the church. Gaudi created the mainframe and the structural blueprints, but different architects are able to customize the facades. The photo above was the first façade completed, by Gaudi, and was heralded as the most beautiful entrance, one that would make people want to donate to building the church.
Gaudi works are scattered all over Barcelona. Beside La Sagrada Familia, there’s also Park Guell, a park he designed, as well as Casa Batllo, a home he designed for a wealthy family.
I don’t know about you, but it looks like bones. It should, too, because that’s what Gaudi had intended for the outer structures to resemble. The aquamarine color? Inspired by the sea. Go figure. But don’t think he held [too big] a grudge against the rich family. It’s still amazingly intricate and detailed. See the windows? Gaudi designed the building so that each room would get the same amount of natural light. This guy is seriously on-top-of-things. Weird, then, that at the end of his life, he dressed like a hobo and when he was hit and killed by a bus, nobody recognized him as the great Gaudi. Artists, right? Just kidding.
We did go to Park Guell (and what a hillclimb THAT was!). But I was totally in a funk and didn’t take any photos. It’s a beautiful park, though, lots of mosaics. There was this great stone and mosaic-lined bench that wound around a beautiful hill view of the city. It was also extremely comfortable..! It curved to my lower back surprisingly well, although it felt a little different for my friend, who’s on the short side of life. Gaudi’s house is also in Park Guell, open for tourists.
With all this sightseeing, we turned to our second round of tapas and sangria! This time we went to a nearby, well-ranked tapas restaurant and ordered things that sounded good. That meant more patates bravas, a Spanish omelet, and a chicken croquette. Ordering ourselves off the menu gave us the chance to try a lamb round and a brie and foie gras baguette. We started with one liter of sangria, and then ordered another half liter of a champagne sangria with dessert (a pumpkin cake with red wine sauce and a hot chocolate cake aka molten lava cake). We got a little happy, with all the sangria, for sure! We merrily made our way through the streets for a while, and indulged some more on some awesome gelato (that they shape to look like a flower!).
The thing I loved about Barcelona, and London too, was how modern they both felt. Sure, they’re just as old as any other European city. But it felt so much newer! I don’t know, maybe it’s something about seeing clean streets that makes me so happy. London had this lovely classy feel, while Barcelona had a funky, hip feel. Maybe it’s just the buildings. I mean, look at Gaudi. And then compare that to London buildings:
Now I’d say that’s a pretty sharp-lookin’ place, don’t you think?
London, even more so than Barcelona, was almost a race. So many things to do and see and eat! We nearly didn’t have enough time and mealtimes for it all! I guess that’s how we ended up eating fish and chips and steak pie while watching Phantom of the Opera! I don’t know what could be more efficiently London-esque than that, I do say. We were quite English on our visit. We visited the Borough Market, toured and saw all the main sights (Hi Big Ben!), and even had a fancy, pampering afternoon tea.
Oh, so English. ❤
Just a few notes on London this time, and I promise to you, I’ll write about the city properly after I get home (home!! It’s coming up soon… too soon, sadly).
London has several absolutely beautiful, clean, clear parks. And on a cool morning like this one, with the sun just coming up, I always feel like I’m in Pride and Prejudice. The new version, in the last scene-ish scene, when they meet in the field? So cute, so dramatic. I wish I could have a long jacket or long flowy dress that billows in the wind like Mr. Darcy or Elizabeth.
Just a couple of nice photos before I show you the good stuff: the foodstuff!
If you don’t feel special after a fancy afternoon tea, then I’m sorry, but you must be a rock. And then food hasn’t even come yet!
Just looking at this photo makes me twirl my hair and want to put my pinky up~ Don’t think we got too classy and delicate on you during the 3-ish hours we were there. They may have stuffed us on delicious scones and clotted cream, finger sandwiches and petit fours, but they didn’t change our insides! We went for English breakfast during our trip too!
Some nice ham n’ eggs, and mushrooms and tomatoes. Delicious!
Also related to food: I had my first McDonald’s sandwich—a rather smaller-than-expected Indian-inspired chutney chicken burger. Whoopee… now I see what all the non-fuss is about. I had my first Starbucks latte as well—a sweet holiday praline mocha. It wasn’t bad, actually. Definitely too sweet, though.
Obviously, all the English-specialty foods are also new. But these ones are big international chains. My friends are kind of astounded I haven’t had McDonald’s burgers or Starbucks lattes before. But honestly, I was a REALLY picky eater when I was little. I’ll talk about that another time though.
In any case, these big cities were a ton of fun, and I’m so glad I’m going back to London soon! It seems like there’s still so much to do! I mean, nearly all the stores and monuments are closed by 6pm. It’s no wonder we didn’t get to a lot of places, but ended up burning time at night.
I’m off now, to study for finals and dream about my last few travels and HOME! See you soon, I promise!