Food, Gaudí, Hiking and museums.
5 days ― June 2018
With some free time and cheap flights available, I decided to visit Bacelona for a long weekend to practice my Spanish. I don’t visit Europe nearly as often as I should - it’s increadibly easy both to get to and stay in.
A visit to Spain wouldn’t be complete without many helpings of Tapas. Foursquare directed me to the historic El Xampanyet - one of the most intimidating restaurants I’ve been in. Daily it’s filled to overflowing with patrons laughing, eating, and jostling for space.
After looking around hopelessly for a place to stand, I was beckened to a stool at the bar. The barman spoke little English (and I Spanish) but we communicated well enough for several plates of delicious tapas to be delviered to me.
A mountain range an hour outside of Barcelona that requires a train, cable-car and funicular to get to? Sign me up.
My overriding impression and memory of Montserrat is of it being a utterly bonkers landscape. Completely improbable in appearance. It dominates the horizon as you fly in to Barcelona - an otherwise flat landscape is suddenly punctured by this weird and steep serrated mountain range.
From the train station you can choose to take a cable car or a rack railway to the Montserrat monastery. Because of stupidity I can only put down to short-sightedness by the operators, you can’t choose one for your outbound and the other for your return.
The town and monastery look like a set out of Game of Thrones.
Several short funiculars are available from the town to further up the mountainside. You can also hike up, but these cut out some less interesting parts of the ascent. Plus, it’s a funicular!
Not wanting to double back on myself, I found a path on OpenStreetMap that would lead me to the summit of Sant Jeroni. It wasn’t marked on the public maps, but how badly can OpenStreetMap lead me? The answer is very.
The ‘path’ was 100% not a thing, and meant an hour of hair-raising descent down the side of the mountain (wearing trainers), clutching at branches as I went down. I was very glad when I eventually joined a real path heading up to the summit.
The peaks of the mountains look like something from a cartoon book - or perhaps formed in a giant lava lamp. Bulbous and absurd. I think they look so ‘off’ because they don’t ‘taper’ away like most mountains - and they don’t look eroded in the same way.
In Catalan, Montserrat literally means “saw mountain”.
Within 30 seconds of my arrival on the summit it started to rain, followed by fog, followed by fog and rain. Somewhat of an anticlimax. Queue a proper drenching.
Sunny at the base though.
And so back to Barcelona for another day of museum hopping. I’d bought a Barcelona Art Passport which gets you in to a number of attractions. I don’t recall the saving being massive, but find they’re really good at encouraging you to go to more places and places you wouldn’t otherwise consider.
Casa Milà #
Barcelona is the city of Gaudí - you can spot his unmistakable buildings all over. I’m not a fan of the free-flowing architecture, but they do have some nice details. Gaudí’s buildings are pricey to enter, so I only visited Casa Milà (as well as La Sagrida Familia and the free Park Güell).
Transbordador Aeri del Port #
You can take a cable car from the marina to half way up Montjuic. There was quite a queue (that the operator does a good job of hiding) so the actual journey was far longer than walking would have been.
Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys #
The main entrance to the Olympic stadium is open to visitors - you get a good view of the arena and medal podiums.
Joan Miró Foundation #
The Joan Miró Foundation has a great collection of Miró’s as well as a great roof terrace.
Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya #
The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya had an artist recreating an oil painting live in front of the other patrons. I’ve not seen this done before but found it captivating.
Tucked away at the side of the museum is a small sign for ‘roof terrace’ - which leads to a great panoramic views of the city.
Construction began on La Sagrada Família in 1882, with Antoni Gaudí taking over as lead architect a year later. When he died in 1926 it was only 25% complete. Work is still ongoing, with the church finally set to be finished by 2026.
Where I found most of Gaudí’s other works rather gaudy, la Sagrada Família was excellent. The interior architecture is especially stunning. They’ve done a great job of lighting the atriums and columns, making the space far less gloomy than other churches.
The interior is rather reserved in colour pallete (unlike other Gaudí buildings), but the exterior has brief flashes of strange / bizarre / interesting mosaic.
You can pay extra to ascend one of the towers. You get an ok view of the nearby neighbourhood, as well as a closer look at the towers and some of the higher bits of the exterior.
Most of the plans and models for la Sagrada Família were destroyed during the Spanish civil war of 1936. Some have been reconstructed but much has had to be recreated or worked out from scratch. Beneath the main church a team of model makers and architects plan and make models for the parts of the building still to be finished.