Barcelona is competing with Paris for the title of “the city I know really well despite never having lived there”. But the lion’s share of my exploration of the city occurred on a trip where I wanted to be as non-touristy as I could, so most of our photo archive consists of shots of famous locations.
Some of those shots are really impressive, such as this perspective across Plaça d’Espanya towards Palau Nacional (on the right), which takes in the elaborate fountain at the center of the grand square, one of the two Venetian towers that guard the entrance to Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina, and the palace itself on the slope of Montjuïc hill. What you cannot really see in this shot is the Font Màgica, directly on this line of sight but turned off during daylight hours, whose lighted musical performances at night are a real treat.
A more subdued shot on the left is of the towers of the Basilica of Sagrada Família, one of the defining masterpieces of the Modernist giant Antoní Gaudí, which is finally nearing completion after over 130 years of construction. A church like no other in the world, its brightly-lit interior finally stopped being a perpetual construction site just a couple of years ago, but there is still remaining work on the spires, which should number 18 when finished, according to Gaudi’s designs.
If you are in Barcelona for the first time and your schedule allows only one visit to a famous landmark, it would be hard to choose anything over Sagrada Família.
Whenever I am in Barcelona, I always budget time for a stroll along the entire length of Las Ramblas. Yes, it gets incredibly crowded by tourist throngs; yes, you would be ill-advised to sit down at one of the sidewalk cafés (the food is mediocre and the prices are outlandish); yes, you have to constantly keep an eye on your belongings (pickpockets abound). But the circus-like atmosphere and the unparalleled people-watching opportunities are worth it.
The biggest traffic obstructions on Las Ramblas are the crowds near the live statues, of which you can find around two dozen at any given time along the boulevard. Here are a couple of examples.
Off Ramblas is located the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, commonly known by the last word of its long name. It is a large public market smack in the centre of the city which offers not only a variety of local products, but also several interesting foodie experiences at some of its stalls. We recall with fondness our lunch at Pinotxo, a tapas bar positioned near the market entrance that appears in the shot on the left, which happened almost a decade ago. The proprietor, Juan, looked each patron in the eye and offered his choice of dish. Nobody argued – we didn’t either – as it was well-known that everything Juan prepared was delicious. Our “choices” did not disappoint. It should be noted that while I abhor standing in line (the tiny bar had a dozen seats, and there were at least two dozen people desiring a meal) I would gladly suffer that for another meal at Pinotxo. Unfortunately, on my last visit to La Boqueria, the stall was shuttered, but possibly that was due to August vacation time; internet search suggests that the bar – and Juan, who must be in his seventies by now – is still going strong.
One of the things I especially like about Barcelona is its wide boulevards in the Eixample district. The shot on the right is really nothing special, but it does convey the feeling of open space that I catch on these streets. It is the view along Passeig de Gràcia, the emblematic Eixample thoroughfare that houses several important Modernist buildings.
The buildings themselves are one of the biggest attractions in the city. And not just the famous ones such as Casa Milà or Palau Música Catalana (although, if you were in Barcelona for the first time and your schedule allowed for only two visits to the famous landmarks, the second after Sagrada Família, for me, would be the Palace of Music), but other less celebrated edifices as well. I’ll conclude this essay with a shot of one of such buildings on the Gràcia.
A brilliant city, Barcelona!