Barcelona 2018

Food, Gaudí, Hiking and museums.

5 days ― June 2018

Part 1: To Barcelona

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 photo of the base of an escalator in a metro train station.
Photo looking up an escalator in to a bright sunny day. There's someone on the escalator ahead.
A photo looking down a long corridor with two moving walkways on either side.
A photo looking up a steep street / alley in Barcelona. There's an open-air escalator in the middle and steps either side.
A photo from inside the atrium of the 
Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona.
The atrium of the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona
A photo of three very large gold-rimmed mirrors leaning against a wall, with a white building reflected in the background. The photographer's reflection is centered in the middle.
Several people with paper socks are sat in a gloss white room with white light overhead.
Quite conemplation inside Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona.
A self portrait of Ed Horsford. There's a very bright red spotlight next to his head on the wall behind.
A photo of a dark room with three wooden display cabinets filled with white objects on one side.
A wide-angle photo of a living room. It's very bright, with wooden furniture and floral patterns.
Looking down the centre of a covered food market.
A photo of a meat counter in a market.
Several plates of tapas being eaten in El Xampanyet.
Tapas at El Xampanyet

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 photo of an octopus dish served at El Xampanyet.
Octopus tapas and cerveza at El Xampanyet
A photo of wide pavement / walkway that rises slightly.


Part 2: A day trip to Montserrat

A mountain range an hour outside of Barcelona that requires a train, cable-car and funicular to get to? Sign me up.

A photo of the Montserrat mountain range taken from an airplane. A plane engine is visible in the foreground.

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.

A photo of the side of a metro platform, taken from the opposite side.
Looking straight down a train platform, with tracks on either side. There's a train on the left hand side.
The front of the lower Montserrat cable car station. It has bright yellow letters on the side, reading "Funicular aeri de Montserrat".
The view from the upper cable car station in Montserrat. There's a yellow cable car on the right, and mountains in the distance.

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.

A view of the town of Montserrat. The cathedral is in the foreground, with mountains looming behind.

The town and monastery look like a set out of Game of Thrones.

Looking up the tracks of a funicular railway from inside the train car.

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!

A view of Ermita de Sant Joan on the Montserrat hills.
Ermita de Sant Joan on the Montserrat hills.
A panorama half looking over the Montserrat countryside and half looking at a path along the side of a mountain that is covered by steep rock.

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.

A view down a cut v in two rock faces. Both faces are very steep.
Do you see a path? I don't see one.

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.

Looking up at the peaks of some mountains in Montserrat. The rocks are bulbous and separated like molten lumps.

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.

A photo of some mountains in Montserrat as seen from the peak of Sant Jeroni
View from the top of Sant Jeroni.

In Catalan, Montserrat literally means “saw mountain”.

A panorama taken a the top of Sant Jeroni in Montserrat. The sky is gloomy but clear skies can be seen in the distance.
View from the top of Sant Jeroni.

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.

A self portrait of Ed Horsford, silhouetted by strong sunlight behind him.

Sunny at the base though.

The view from the Montserrat train station, looking up at the hills overhead.


Part 3: Gaudí and some more museums

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 #

A close photo of a mosaic at Casa Milà. The tiles are roughly broken and all white - they're arranged in a spiral pattern.

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).

A hand rests on a large mosaic of broken white tiles.
A photo of some hexagonal floor tiles in Casa Milà. There's a rich floral texture on them.
A photo of a 3-part folding mirror in a bathroom. Reflected in the mirrors are a sink, a bath, and a doorway.
A photo of Ed Horsford on a beach. The camera is positioned low down, pointing directly at the water. Ed is in the centre, facing the camera with arms folded.

Transbordador Aeri del Port #

A photo taken from a cable car overlooking a 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.

A photo of several streets and pavements taken from above. It looks closer to a model than a real street scene.

Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys #

A photo of the olympic stadium in Barcelona. The photo is taken from one end, looking in to the main arena. There are seats all around and the playing field in the centre.

The main entrance to the Olympic stadium is open to visitors - you get a good view of the arena and medal podiums.

A photo of the winners podium at the Barcelona olympic stadium. The podium is made of three red cylinders of different heights.

Joan Miró Foundation #

A photo taken on the roof of the Joan Miró Foundation. There are white walls on the side, some with rounded corners. There's an abstract coloured sculpture in the centre of the terrace.

The Joan Miró Foundation has a great collection of Miró’s as well as a great roof terrace.

Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya #

A wide photo of the main ceiling dome in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. There's intricate murals in the centre, and arches of windows on all four sides.
An artist painting a replica of a large oil painting hung on the wall.
An artist recreates a historic painting live in the gallery. 

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.

A photo taken from the roof of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, looking out over Barcelona.

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.

A photo of the roof of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
An open air photo of two tiled walls. They're perpendicular to each other and each end is slanted like the roof of a building.


Part 4: La Sagrada Família

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.

Looking towards the ceiling of the main atrium of la Sagrada Família. The very top of the ceiling is especially bright from many small lights.

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.

A photo looking directly up at the large hall of la Sagrada Família. There are 8 main support columns that radiate outwards.
Looking up at some stained glass windows in la Sagrada Família. The near ceiling is faceted and coloured green and blue from the window light.
A patterned glass window in la Sagrada Família. It looks similar to an abstract stained glass window, but with frosty white glass.
A close up of some tiled mosaic on the exterior of la Sagrada Família. The tiles are arranged in five segments like a pie chart. The top three segments are pink, and the bottom two are gold.

The interior is rather reserved in colour pallete (unlike other Gaudí buildings), but the exterior has brief flashes of strange / bizarre / interesting mosaic.

A detail of the exterior tiling at the top of one of the towers in la Sagrada Família.
A wide angle photo looking down void of the interior of one of a la Sagrada Família tower.

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.

Looking directly down a tight stone spiral staircase
Two model makers pour plaster in to a mould.

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.

A photo of many small white models of roof spires of la Sagrada Família.
A photo of an original construction prototype made for la Sagrada Família. The model has hundreds of small weights hung from loops of string forming catenary curves. The shape of the curves helped determine the arch shapes and position of supports.
Original catenary model for calculating arch curves in la Sagrada Família.