Friday, November 20, 2015

Hola Barcelona! - Part 1

Planning our trip to Spain, we decided early on to focus on just the two main Spanish cities -- Madrid and Barcelona.  This way, we would be able to relax and really take in the atmosphere and enjoy what the cities had to offer.

After spending the first half of our trip in Madrid, we were off to our next destination – Barcelona! For me personally, this was really the official start of my holiday vacation ;)  With no planned work meetings for Chichi Mary attached to this leg of the trip, I couldn’t help but look forward to the next few days in Barcelona. 

After a fast two and a half hour train ride from Madrid right in the heart of Spain, we reached the coast city Barcelona, which is in the Catalonia region of Spain.  In this region, the locals speak a different dialect of Spanish. My husband (who knows a little Spanish) was a bit disappointed as he had a difficult time communicating with our taxi driver from the train station to our hotel. So it was time for him to switch off his Spanish speaking mode.

Barcelona is very different from Madrid. Madrid is pretty and very traditional in terms of architecture and food while Barcelona boasts of a different charm that is a combination of old and new.  It has a cosmopolitan vibe and as soon as you step into this charming city, you’ll have this immediate urge to explore as much as you can.   

Columbus Monument | Barcelona | Chichi Mary Blog
Columbus Monument -- in honor of Christopher Columbus who reported to the monarchs of Spain in Barcelona after his first voyage to America.

We stayed at a hotel alongside La Rambla -- a pedestrian mall in Barcelona. As soon as we stepped out of our hotel, we could walk through various restaurants and souvenir shops.  In hindsight, one thing I realized was that La Rambla may not be the most ideal location when you’re travelling with kids.  Although it is close walking distance to popular attractions like Port Vell, the Gothic Quarter, and Plaza Catalunya, the crowd at night and the cigarette smoke from people walking and hanging around the area might be a little disturbing especially if you’re not used to it. And since the Spanish really know how to party, the bars right across our hotel windows were still alive and hopping way, way after midnight.

Despite this, we had a fantastic time in Barcelona.  As always in Spain, our first lunch and dinner at La Rambla did not disappoint us.

La Rambla | Barcelona | Chichi Mary Blog
The famous La Rambla

Paella & Seafood | Barcelona | Chichi Mary Blog
Paella Negra and grilled seafood platter for lunch.  Seafood is widely available in Barcelona because of its proximity to the Mediterranean.
Tapas | La Rambla | Chichi Mary Blog
Tapas for dinner -- potatoes, calamari, chicken, foie gras and Spanish omelette (not shown in the picture as our little one couldn't wait!) and a glass of sangria.  

As part of our typical routine whenever we go to a new city, we emphasize taking the open top tour bus at the very beginning. For us, this accomplishes three things -- we get to see the important highlights of the city, we get our bearings, and also we get a chance to rest while sightseeing. After the bus tours, we typically would know the city better, know what particular attractions we were interested in, and have more energy for everything.

We toured both the old and new parts of Barcelona.  I love taking these tour buses because it helps us know which parts of the city really interest us.  In Mary’s case, she got really excited when she saw Aquarium Barcelona while I was astounded when I had my first glimpse of the La Sagrada Familia.

Of course, who would miss the architectural works of Antonio Gaudi when in Barcelona?  We’ve seen Catalan Modernism through the works of Domenech and Gaudi from the tour but we spent extra time visiting Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia as well as Park Guell, which are both listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

Barcelona | Chichi Mary Blog
A view from the bus of one of the wide avenues radiating out of Plaza Catalunya

Hop On Hop Off Bus | Barcelona | Chichi Mary Blog
Travelling along Passeig de Colom and seeing Mirador de Colom or the Columbus Monument

La Sagrada Familia is an unfinished church because it has been under construction for more than 100 years.  It was breathtaking for us to see the intricacy of the architecture.  We were in awe seeing La Sagrada. Among other things, the symbolism of the three grand facades (Nativity, Glory, and Passion) of La Sagrada Familia was also really touching for me.  Being a Roman Catholic, it also gave me time to reflect.

Nativity Facade | La Sagrada | Chichi Mary Blog
The Nativity Facade of La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia | Chichi Mary Blog

Passion Facade | La Sagrada Familia | Chichi Mary Blog
Mary in her Djaknamela dress with a background of the Passion Facade of La Sagrada Familia.

Playground | La Sagrada Familia | Chichi Mary Blog
A nearby playground with a view of the Passion Facade. 

Altar | La Sagrada Familia | Chichi Mary Blog
La Sagrada's altar.

Roof | La Sagrada Familia | Chichi Mary Blog
Roof of the center of the church.

Columns & Stained Glass | La Sagrada Familia | Chichi Mary Blog
Columns and stained glass around the church.
I also took pictures of some posters hanged inside the church.  As indicated by the name, La Sagrada Familia was more focused on teaching family values.  As a parent, it was extra touching for me to read these teachings.

Teaching | La Sagrada Familia | Chichi Mary Blog

Family Teaching | La Sagrada Familia | Chichi Mary Blog

Poster | La Sagrada Familia | Chichi Mary Blog

After our La Sagrada Familia visit, we went to visit Gaudi’s next most popular work, Park Guell. Park Guell was an unsuccessful housing development turned into a municipal garden. My husband was keen in showing that he could guide us from our hotel to Park Guell using just the subway. Although we did easily get to the closest subway stop, we didn't anticipate that the last stretch was a steep uphill hike before we got to Park Guell. My tip when you want to go to Park Guell especially if you’re on your own -- just take a taxi ride all the way to the main entrance. Exploring Park Guell itself involves a lot of walking so it’s better to reserve those energy when you’re in the compound already.  You'll enjoy walking along the meandering up and down pathways a whole lot better, and have more enthusiasm exploring the beautiful nooks and crannies. On a more serious note, this site is really amazing.

Steep Walk| Park Guell  | Chichi Mary Blog
A steep walk to Park Guell

Escalator| Park Guell  | Chichi Mary Blog
One of the few escalators :)

Main Entrance | Park Guell  | Chichi Mary Blog
One of the two buildings at the main entrance.  Tour inside the house is also available.
Terrace Walls | Park Guell  | Chichi Mary Blog
View of the terrace walls.
Park Guell  | Chichi Mary Blog

Colonnaded Pathway| Park Guell  | Chichi Mary Blog
Colonnaded pathway under the viaduct

Gaudi's House Museum | Park Guell  | Chichi Mary Blog
Torch of Gaudi's House Museum inside Park Guell overlooking the Meditteranean
Terrace | Park Guell  | Chichi Mary Blog
The terrace.  People needed to line up before entering the terrace.  They're trying to limit the people staying here.
Mosaic Terrace | Park Guell  | Chichi Mary Blog
Simply enjoying the beautiful view from the terrace.
At the mosaic columns, Mary found a playmate!

To finish our Gaudi's day tour, we headed to Passeig de Gracia,  one of the biggest avenues of Barcelona.  It is a shopping district where you can see all the luxury brand shops.  It is also in this area where Gaudi’s other works like Casa Battlo and Casa Mila (La Pedrera) are located. Unfortunately, we were not able to see Casa Mila.  It was also under construction when we came there.  During this trip, we spent several times walking around Passeig de Gracia, which is something my husband loves as he loves getting a good feel of how the locals live.  I would also recommend looking for hotel accommodations in this area especially when you have kids.  It’s less crowded compared to La Rambla.  There is a lot of dinning options here and it is good walking distance to Plaza Catalunya.

Fountain | Passeig de Gracia  | Chichi Mary Blog
Fountain at Passeig de Gracia
Casa Battlo | Passeig de Gracia  | Chichi Mary Blog
Casa Battlo

We had a great time in Barcelona!  And because this vacation was so eventful for us, I will temporarily cut this off  and do a second post of our Barcelona trip. Stay tuned as we travel a little away from Barcelona.  Till then, I will share more dining experiences and more family activities!


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