Barcelona – Travel Review
By Grace Barnott and Robert Palin
The snow clouds thicken in a minus-6 degrees West Yorkshire as we crunch our way through the rapidly rising snow. We are heading to the airport, soon to be above these clouds on our way to a warmer than cool Barcelona in Catalonia.
Not only are we enticed by the comparatively superior fourteen degrees Celsius, but also by the edgy modern shops mixed with the historical Gothic quarter. On arrival, hungry and eager to see the city’s main attraction – La Ramblas – we wander the short distance from where we are staying to the city’s hot spot.
Strong wooden balconies hang over traditional white-wash walls decorated with hints of blue and yellow. Paintings of vines and flowers creep up the sides. It is obvious that we are in ones of Spain’s most popular and beautiful cities. We quickly come across a number of well known high street shops among a flurry of bustling restaurants and busy bars. As it is quite late the smaller shops are starting to close. But, unable to resist the allure of European chic, we manage to squeeze in a few.
After seeing a sign pointing to La Rambla we realise that we are not even on the famous thoroughfare yet. This emphasises the vast size of the city centre and gives us a glimpse of the many treats in store for our first full day in Barcelona.
“In awe of the carefully preserved medieval style structures”
The next day we awake to a sunnier setting and are eager to complete the route we had started the night before. Retracing our steps we quickly arrive back at La Rambla. We are fully charged and full of optimism. Along the way we observe how the locals all seem to be ready for a harsh winter. We, however, having come from a British winter ourselves, find the soft, subtle sun pleasant enough to unzip our coats for the first time in months. We leave the scarf in our suitcases.
Deciding to start at the top of the street and work our way down we find the best place to start is Plaza Catalunya. Its elaborate fountain and wide open space is illuminated by the early afternoon sun. It shines in just the right places for us to sit and bask whilst we eat our lunch. One noticeable thing is the huge amount of pigeons that surround peoples’ feet as they scatter breadcrumbs and seeds for them to enjoy.
Heading down La Rambla we stop in every other shop. We experience January sales the Spanish way and manage to find a bargain or two in the process. The streets narrow as imposing architecture begins to tower above us. It is no surprise to find that we have now stumbled into the Gothic quarter of Barcelona. We are in awe of the carefully preserved medieval style structures and impressive cathedrals.
“The sun beams through the vivid green leaves”
Our first photo stop is the Cathedral de Barcelona. Its size is so great that we can not even fit it all onto our camera screen. It costs a small fee to enter the cathedral building but, seeing as we have so much city to see, we decide just to marvel at the outer walls and carvings that grace the historic landmark. The faces of the stone disciples stare out onto the adjacent square. The loyal look on their faces reflecting the respect the Spanish still have for their religious past.
Whilst exploring this enchanting area we come across some of Barcelona’s greatest museums. Although there is a fee to go in, we recommend them if you have the time. They tell the story of Spain’s culture and past as well as some of the country’s most influential people. One easy to find museum that stands out in the centre of the Gothic Quarter allows the public to roam around its modest grounds. It contains a delightful quaint pond that sits elegantly next to an orange tree. As the sun beams through the vivid green leaves, we sit underneath and for a moment believe that we could be anywhere in Spain.
“Windows of old houses spill over with flowers”
One great thing about Barcelona is that it has many places to rest a weary traveller’s legs. Each one in surroundings seemingly better than the last. The Gothic Quarter is decked out with all manner of religious iconography, with images of the Virgin Mary in many spaces on walls. We even spot a Hand of Fatima on a door – this really does show the diversity of Spain’s rich and event-filled history. The windows of the old houses along the edge of the Gothic Quarter spill over with flowers that wrap themselves around the Catalonian flags that stand proudly on the edge of balconies of the locals’ residences.
Before heading back to our accommodation for the evening we look down the rest of La Rambla. We end up finding ourselves outside St. Josep Market. We are drawn in by the vibrant colours and the tantalising free samples. If you go at just the right time, you may just be as lucky as we are. After much deliberation on which stall to go to get a drink, we settle on a raspberry and coconut smoothie from the most colourful competitor. After paying a very reasonable price we are delighted to be given an extra one for free by the friendly stall worker. How lucky was that? Looks like we chose the right one. This refreshing treat keeps us going for the short walk back home.
“Tranquil waters and swaying trees”
The next morning is our last in Barcelona – for now at least. Our first stop is to see La Sagrada Familia, a defining image of Barcelona. Following the signs and the numerous tour groups we soon find ourselves on its huge doorstep. The outside of this cathedral is positively breathtaking.
The building is famed for the fact that it is still having parts added to it after many, many years. We sit far back from it so that we can take it all in. Taking time to examine each of its well crafted features, we spot something new and unusual in each section we admire. The part that stands out the most is the centre piece of a mosaic tree from where fly a crowd of doves. A sign of the peace that we ourselves certainly feel. We sit opposite it, separated by tranquil waters and swaying trees. A very unique experience and feeling for such a busy city.
“A long stretch of golden sand”
On the flight in, hearing the captain announcing that we were about to land we looked down and were surprised to see a long stretch of golden sand laying perfectly next to the ocean – we should have done more research.
Remembering this, we are intrigued and decide to make our way down there from La Sagarada Familia. We spend our final few hours before our flight by the sea with long calming views. Strolling casually along the coast is a perfect way to end our short trip. Barcelona, being the friendly city that it is, provides stone deck chairs looking out to sea. Locals take advantage of the outdoor gym whilst others sit and read.
Barcelona is a city with such diversity in culture and landscape. It is a great European city for many reasons. Our trip there was short but most definitely sweet. We would recommend anyone to see it for themselves. Viva Barça!
All pictures © Grace Barnott and Robert Palin