I’ll be honest: Barcelona got off to kind of a rocky start. I had a crisis with my bank and my phone company, and getting those problems fixed before they got any bigger took up a lot of the little bit of time we had in the city. And then, when we did finally venture out for some exploring, I got yelled at by a cranky vendor selling chicken feet at a market and a garbage man who witnessed the exchange laughed at me.
Silver lining: at least I’m not a cranky vendor selling chicken feet at a market, or the garbage vendor collecting the offal.
I was so stressed out by this crummy morning that I started believing maybe Barcelona wasn’t a good place for me. I came really close to phoning it in and telling Leslie I was going to hide in the hostel all day.
Boy am I glad I didn’t.
Despite the humiliation endured at La Boqueria market, it was still a fun place. It wasn’t quite as good as Grainger Market in England or Pike’s Place in Seattle, but it was still entertaining. There seemed to be more of an emphasis on ready-made meals like smoothies, fruit salad, and cheesy bread than on things like produce and meat. It was also super crowded and hard to navigate, so we didn’t stay very long. We grabbed some food for brunch, then sat outside and watched the throngs of people competing for space in the small market square.
Next to La Boqueria is a lovely little music store called Casa Beethoven and a cultural center called Pakay de la Virreina. The exhibit then was props and costumes from a Barcelona’s annual La Mercè, the city’s biggest street party. Enormous effigies of royalty and fantasy creatures called gigantes y cabezudos (“Giants and Big Heads”) are paraded through the streets, people dance around dressed like devils, and dragons breath actual fire down on the revelers.
Sounds like… fun.
From there, we walked over to Sagrada Familia, a Roman Catholic church designed by Antoni Gaudi. Construction on the Basilica started in 1882, and it isn’t done yet. The cranes and construction equipment appear to be such a permanent fixture that they’re even part of the logo used to represent the church on city maps and subway signs. Although Gaudi died a long time ago, the current chief architect estimates that construction should be finished by 2026. I wonder how that will feel for the people of Barcelona?
They’ll have to change the logo, at the very least.
I was all sorts of excited to go inside Sagrada Familia and see the incredible ceiling, but unlike at Alhambra, we didn’t buy our tickets in advance and they were sold out by the time we got there. We could have waited around for an opening at 3pm, but we had other places to see, so we cut our losses and moved on.
Leslie: I wish there wasn’t scaffolding around Sagrada Familia so we could see it unobstructed. I don’t really regret not waiting around to actually go inside. We saw plenty of beautiful things as we walked around the city.
And it was fun to see all the many details on the exterior—the ones not obstructed by cranes and scaffolding, of course. The church is so huge that in order to get a picture of the whole thing, we had to be several miles away, on the top of a hill.
So it’s a good thing that that’s exactly where we were headed. Our next adventure of the day was to visit Park Güell, a colorful and eclectic place also designed by Mr. Gaudi. The park is situated at the top of a very steep hill—so steep, in fact, that parts of the hill actually have escalators.
It was the worst moment of my life when I saw an escalator up ahead and then realized it wasn’t working.
But the trek is totally worth it. The walking trails through the wooded hilltop are open to the public, but we paid a few euros to go inside the Monumental Zone, the most colorful and imaginative part of the park. We saw the Pòrtic de la Bugadera (Portico of the Washerwoman, named for its giant stone laundress), Plaça de la Natura (Nature Square, which is surrounded by curved benches decorated with tile mosaics), Sala Hipòstila (Hypostyle Room, home to tallllllll columns and glass details in the ceiling), and the Escala Monumental (Monumental Flight of Steps, home to a giant mosaic lizard).
Park Güell is a riot of random colors and curves and textures that all converge in the most aesthetically pleasing ways. There’s a sense that it wasn’t so much planned as just thrown together by happy accident, as only the most talent artists are able to do.
And then there were the Warden’s House and Porter’s Lodge, which Leslie lovingly dubbed “The Gingerbread Houses.”
Leslie: The gingerbread houses were my favorite part of all the crazy architecture and sculptures. I want a replica in my back yard as a playhouse for kids!
- Park Güell
- Official Site
- Price: Adults €7.00
- (3.5 / 5)Our Rating
On our way into the park, we passed a sign for the Guelly Sandwich Shop. We were still full from our brunch at La Boqueria, but the sign was so cute and welcoming that we decided to grab dinner there on our way home. And the promise of free smiles was not an exaggeration—the proprietor was the sweetest, funniest guy. He talked to us for a long time, invited us to doodle on the enormous guest list wall, and gave us free Chupa Chups suckers on our way out. Even if the park hadn’t been so fun, he made the trek up that ghastly hill worth it in his own right.
I might even say it would be worth it to climb that hill without any working escalators to buy a sandwich from the Guelly Sandwich Shop guy.
Back at the hostel, we ate our Guelly Sandwiches (which were not jelly sandwiches, in case you were wondering) and watched the sun set over Barcelona from the balcony of our hostel. We had a great view of Torre Agbar, a 34-story office building at the edge of Barcelona’s technology district. I loved seeing it all lit up with fancy colors at night.
In the end, Bad Luck Barcelona turned into “Not Bad, Barcelona.” The next day, we went to church with the granddaughter of an Apostle in a ward that welcomed us with open arms. It’s always fun to feel right at home in an unfamiliar ward.
Leslie: I think the ward was my favorite part! I loved running into so many people who spoke English and were so welcoming. And after Portugal, I was pleased to see that the ward was full size.
Stay tuned for a bus trip back to France and a city where throwing pigs over the wall isn’t just normal, it’s celebrated.
Read more about my adventure with Leslie here.