Ahhh, I was so excited to hop off the coach in one of my favourite places in Europe! Barcelona is one of those cities that is pulsing with life at all hours of the night and day, and there’s always something new to explore. I came to Barcelona last year with no expectations, and ended up Couchsurfing just off the main street, La Rambla; wandering the winding streets of the old town; spending 3 hours in awe inside of the Sagrada Familia; eating my heart out at a food festival with all of the top restaurants in the city showcasing portions of their signature dish; and watching beautiful sunsets from the beach. I’ve spoken to a lot of locals that arrived as tourists, fell in love with the city and never left, and after these five nights here with the squad, I can totally understand why.
Dancing In The Streets Of Barcelona
Each region of Spain is so rich in its unique culture, practices and language, and Catalonia is one of the most proud and distinct of them all. I got shocked again this time when walking the crowded streets expecting to hear Spanish, but instead hearing the different rhythm of Catalan (the region’s own language) floating through the air from the locals. However, there are a few cultural practices that are stretched all over Spain, which are flamenco dancing and tapas dining. To fully experience the best of these tasty small dishes, we jumped on the Sandeman’s Tapas Tour and ate our way through three different restaurants. We shared the small shared tapas plates of croquettes, prosciutto, Pa amb Tomàquet (bread with olive oil and tomato), goats cheese, grilled asparagus, sausages and many more of the local delicacies. We also tried some pintxos (similar to tapas, but from the north of Spain – you’ll hear plenty more about it when I get to San Sebastian), with everything from meat, seafood and cheese stacked onto them. The others washed it all down with some sangria, before continuing on for the night.
After our tummies were full of tapas, we walked down the main street of La Rambla to Tarantos Club, an intimate theatre with nightly flamenco shows. This was such an interesting performance to witness, as all I really knew about flamenco was that the dresses are frilly and the guitars have nylon strings. Turns out, this show is very much focused on the music and dancing, and the performers intertwine and shift between the two. For me, the singing remind my a bit of the guttural cries of Arabic music, accompanied by the brashly strummed guitar and the intense rhythm of hand claps. The dance moves are like a mix between tap and salsa – stomping their heels into the ground, while passionately swaying their body with attitude and purpose. I was so intrigued that I also went to a Flamenco and Opera show at the Palau de la Música (Music Palace), which was not only a good show, but also a great chance to see the inside of this ornately decorated concert hall. Built in the early 20th Century by Lluís Domènech i Montaner in the Catalan modernista style, this type of architecture paved the way for Barcelona’s creative legend: Gaudi.
Getting Rowdy For Gaudi
If I could invite anyone to dinner, living or dead, it would definitely be the incredible architect Antoni Gaudi. I’d be so intrigued to get a glimpse inside his incredible mind, hear about his creative processes and just genuinely fangirl over him. Once you get to Barcelona you’ll understand, as his work practically defines the city’s aesthetic. He had a knack for gaining his inspiration from religion and nature, then combining the intelligent and practical, with the creative and beautiful. Faith and I began our last day by getting up at sunrise and visiting Park Guell, as it is free entry before 8am and we had the place to ourselves to take pictures. This public park started being built in 1914, funded by Eusebi Guell, an entrepreneur and huge supporter of the arts. This unusual place is decorated with colourful tiled mosaics waving around the balcony, down the walls and on top of the unique swirls of the buildings that face a sweeping view over Barcelona. Underneath are intricate rows of pillars, rocky caves and tiled sculptures of creatures throughout the gardens.
I was so intrigued by this man and his work that I did the Gaudi Walking Tour with Sandemans New Europe, where I got a rundown of three of his most famous works: Casa Mila, Casa Batllo and the Sagrada Familia – all of which I later paid to go in, as the buildings are arguably more amazing inside than out. Casa Batllo was a remodel of the family’s original house, which Gaudi based on the story of Sant Jordi (Saint George), the patron saint of Barcelona. The outside of this civil project depicts the green scaly dragon on the roof, with Saint Jordi’s sword (a cross) sticking out of it after he slayed him and saved the city. The building’s front facade is a colourful mosaic symbolising the blood of the mystical creature, while the balconies look like the skulls and bones of the virgins that were sacrificed to the dragon. Inside, the inspiration comes from the sea, with the tour providing a semi-virtual reality tour of each room and its influences – from turtles and shells, to the blue gradient of the waves.
Coming from this colourful, extravagant building, Casa Mila has an entirely different aesthetic. With its beige, curved exterior inspired by the tidal patterns in the sand, and an interior using symbolism of the four natural elements, the peaks of this building actually inspired a young backpacker by the name of George Lucas to design the stormtrooper helmets. In both of these homes, Gaudi still injected his personal trademark of natural light, ergonomic architecture and furniture, and inspirations drawn from religion and nature, and the results are completely different to each other, but equally incredible. Without any exaggeration, the Sagrada Familia took my breath away when I went inside of it. This unfinished masterpiece is special, even with the cranes and scaffolding that working to finish it by 2026 (marking 100 years since Gaudi’s death and 144 years since it began construction). At the moment, the outside has two main facades: the lifelike Nativity Facade depicting Jesus’ birth and early life, and the blocky Passion Facade that tells the story of Jesus’ crucifixion; though there will be additional facades and towers when it is complete. For me, the inside was the most incredible part, with coloured light shining in from all the different coloured stained glass windows, and its inner pillars inspired by nature. I’d highly recommend going in if you get the chance – it’s a work of art!
Bye Bye Barcelona
This city is one that I left feeling completely unfulfilled by last year, as even though I was busy sightseeing every minute of the day, I still didn’t feel like I got to see a fraction of what Barcelona has to offer. This time, I felt a lot more satisfied, though I know I still barely scratched the surface. In my head, I break Barcelona into four parts: the old town, the beachy side, the grungier side, and the newer business district. Each has its distinct vibe, history and subculture within it and there is always something interesting to stumble upon. The squad were in such high spirits being here, we celebrated at the Barcelona Beach Festival, dancing on the sand until the sun rose up over the ocean as The Chainsmokers played their final hit. After I fell asleep standing up on the train, I knew I’d had an epic time in this city and that I’d definitely be back again to uncover more.