In early May when my work contracts finished up I made my departure from the heat of the Middle Eastern summer bound for some new adventures in Europe. This would mark my third trip to Spain but my first time to Barcelona. I arrived not really knowing what to expect but I had certainly heard good things about the city and was familiar with a few of the landmarks.
The approach path flying into BCN provided a vibrant overview of the city cradled by the beautiful aquatic shades of the Balearic Sea.
It’s interesting how the sight of any foreign city’s train map will look like a tangled web of rainbow spaghetti and strange names, then after a few days, some missed stops and repeat locations, it all starts to become familiar.
I did a lot of walking in Barcelona. There are so many small streets and alleyways to discover. It was refreshing to see such life in the streets, to feel the free expression of the people, and stride through what feels like a giant park.
I was surprised by the number of scooters in the city. It’s one of the main methods of transport for the locals.
One afternoon I did hop on a tourist bus. It’s an okay activity if you’re tired of thinking for yourself and need to give some rest, but otherwise I don’t think it’s worth it. It’s better to get up-close and personal with any of the sites, otherwise it’s just like seeing it in a brochure.
I stayed in an AirBnb located in the Vila de Gràcia neighbourhood. It was a single room in the home of Lili & Ermengol, a cool couple I wish I had more time to get to know. The door to their building is just to the left of the bicycle in this photo here. I would go up a few flights of a windy, old staircase. Everything has so much character! I love that about Europe. If you want to see more of their place, check out the AirBnB listing here. Why not book yourself a stay there too?
After I found my way to the AirBnB I dropped off my bag and headed to meet my friend Dani. He was going to his workshop further east in the city. Walking there I could start to get familiar with the main streets and see a few of the landmarks. His group’s workshop is in a place called The Hangar. It’s a centre for supporting art research and production—basically a haven for all kinds of cool stuff! Check it out here.
I arrived to The Hangar before Dani, so while I was waiting poked around and saw what some of the artists were doing. I met Dan Snazelle from New York. He runs his own company called Snazzy FX that makes effects pedals and modular synths was in town for some workshops and performances. We had an interesting chat but I didn’t keep him too long as he was busy debugging a technical issue on one of his rigs.
Dani & his wife Rocío arrived and gave me a tour of the BeAnotherLab workshop and I tried a VR demo of the dance project I’ve been collaborating with him on this summer. (If you’d like to check it out, you can find details here.)
Afterwards, Rocío had to head home but Dani and I continued on to the Arc de Triomf and met up with Andrea, his business partner at Omnipresenz and whom I also got to make friends with at the last Dubai Film Festival!
We found a local pub/café to catch up and have something to eat & drink. Some other friends of Andrea’s also visiting town joined us too.
I woke up to the sound of distant church bells out my window. That first night was a good & solid sleep and I woke ready to take on the day. During the first afternoon when I was wandering around Barcelona I had seen what looked like a castle on top of the mountain overlooking the city. I decided I’d go for a run and see if I could find my way to it.
As I got a little closer I could see the “castle” was actually a cathedral—the Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor. What I found peculiar though was that as I got closer to the summit I could see an amusement park with a big roller coaster. It just so happens that in 1905 they opened the Tibidabo Amusement Park. It looked as if the cathedral is part of the park but they’re actually just situated next to each other. Hey, nuns need to have some fun too!
The Sagrat Cor Church. The temperature was quite a bit cooler up at 512 metres (1,680 ft) so I had to keep moving or I’d get cold. I took a peek inside the church too…
I found my way back down to the bottom of the hill, had a shower and found something to eat then spent the rest of the day exploring the city.
For the evening after I returned to the city from my cycling trip in Costa Brava I had planned to eat on of Spain’s most famous dishes, paella. Andrea recommended some places for me to find some of the best and I found one spot down near the marina.
If you’re not familiar with it, paella is is originally a Valencian dish and the name refers to the pan it is cooked in. With traditional Valencian paella, it will typically have short-grain white rice, chicken, rabbit, maybe some snails and duck, along with beans, tomatoes, olive oil, seasoning and sometimes artichokes. Seafood paella, on the other hand uses seafood instead of meat and beans and the seafood is served in the shell. To quote Wikipedia directly, “After cooking paella, there is usually a layer of toasted rice at the bottom of the pan, called socarrat in Catalan. This is considered a delicacy among connoisseurs and is essential to a good paella. The toasted rice develops on its own if the paella is cooked over a burner or open fire. If cooked in an oven, however, it will not. To correct this, place the paella over a high flame while listening to the rice toast at the bottom of the pan. Once the aroma of toasted rice wafts upwards, it is removed from the heat. The paella must then sit for about five minutes (most recipes recommend the paella be covered with a tea-towel at this point) to absorb the remaining broth.” Sound good? It is! Especially after a day of cycling along the coast.
On the 17th of May, I thought I might see some proud Norwegians out and about celebrating their national day. Before leaving Dubai my friends Lena & Christopher had given me a sløyfe ribbon to wear abroad as I wouldn’t be there to join the Sjømannskirke community’s celebration as I have the last few years. Sure enough, I found the Association for Norwegian Students Abroad had a local chapter, ANSA Barcelona, and they were having a party in the private garden of a rented villa. I was invited to find a seat at one of the tables and join for the remainder of the lunch!
Lucky me! The next available chair happened to be with this lovely group of ladies, all students completing a semester abroad at the University of Barcelona. We shared lunch together and I got to answer all kinds of questions about what I do and how I managed to end up at their table.
La Sagrada Família
There were plenty more celebration activities planned for the rest of the day but I had to thank my hosts and leave to make it to my scheduled entry at the Sagrada Família.
The cathedral, officially titled Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família has been under construction since 1882 and is slated to be complete in 2026. Gaudí took the place of the original chief architect in 1883 and worked on it until his death in 1926. Since then the construction has been impeded by all sorts of issues…
The Sagrada Familia is an impressive site from the outside but from the inside it is absolutely marvellous. My photos below don’t quite do it justice! There’s always a mob of tourists about and queues to get in, but for €15 you can buy the basic entry ticket online and it is without a doubt worth every cent. What I appreciate most about Antoni Gaudí’s design is his deliberate effort to fill the place with bright light and colour, highlighting the architectural forms and creating a space of inherent positive feeling.
“The Temple of the Sagrada Familia will be bright. Religious emotion will not come from the fear of shadows only just penetrated by a ray of light, but will be born from the bright mystery of the harmony of light, from the sense of wellbeing that comes from sunlight filtering through a tree with the thousands of nuances of its leaves. It will, thus, be the Temple of harmonious light. Everything must be designed to highlight the architectural forms, to give a perfect vision of the symbolic decoration throughout the inside of the Basilica and, therefore, reach the greatest spiritual efficiency.” - Antoni Gaudí
Now, as long as all the architects and engineers currently working on the project can come to agreements and convey Gaudi’s original intentions, they might actually finish by the target date of 2026! What’s interesting about the construction of the Sagrada Familia is that at the time of Gaudi’s death in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete. Work on the project continued but was interrupted in 1936 by the Spanish Civil War. During the war, Catalan anarchists destroyed Gaudi’s workshop and models of the plans. So, when the blueprints have been tossed in the fire it’s pretty much just guesswork and interpretation for the people carrying on the job. Add some political divide to the mix and it’s bound to take a long time to finish—if ever!
Gaudí is quoted as having said “Colour is the expression of life.” and one can easily see his intention for that expression to be present in the Sagrada Família. The stained-glass windows are incredibly beautiful. In the museum section of the church they had samples of all the colours of glass used and bits of information about Joan Vila i Grau, the artist who has been in charge of the glass production since 1999.
I kept a hand on my wallet at all times while traversing La Rambla. It’s overcrowded with tourists and known for plenty of pickpockets. The souvenir stalls weren’t of much interest, but if you turn a corner you’ll find the markets that make Granville Island seem elementary.
I had read some online reviews of places to eat and this one called “Quim de la Boqueria” stood out. The reviews raved about everything on the menu here, making special note of the fried artichoke hearts. They have limited bar seating around the perimeter of the restaurant and I had to wait about 20 minutes just to get a spot for myself.
I decided to try the wild forest mushrooms & eggs, along with the fried artichoke hearts—they were awesome!
One afternoon walked around the Gothic Quarter, discovering narrow alleyways and old buildings including the Cathedral of Barcelona. It was interesting to see the area at night too, with less tourists, and the street lights up.
Another interesting place I got to explore was the Mercat del Born, a former market place and home of some of the most important buildings in Barcelona. Back in 2002, construction teams started working to install the Provincial Library of Barcelona (Biblioteca Provincial de Barcelona), but during excavations, extensive ruins of the medieval city were discovered. So they moved the library to a different site and have showcased the archaeological ruins. The ruins were part of the la Ribera district that was demolished in the early eighteenth century after the defeat of Catalonia in the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714.
While reading the information placards at this site, one I found particularly interesting was about a building that was known as an ice house, where a vendor would sell ice that had been hauled off a mountain by mule. What a luxury it is that we have technology readily available to create and preserve our own ice and we don’t have to climb mountains to collect it! Just think about the next time you make yourself a cold drink.
One evening I joined Andrea and her partner Blanca for some authentic Italian pizza. It was so delicious! We had a great night out together.
For my final night in the city I met up with Andrea & Blanca again and this time we joined Tim & Isabella for a chilled evening on Tim’s apartment rooftop in the centre of Barcelona. What a treat to be a guest of such fine company on a beautiful night with a 360° view of the city. I could pick out the landmarks of all the places I’d visited during the last few days. As night fell we could hear the evening hush of the city and the low hum of good times being had in gatherings throughout the narrow streets and plazas below.
To top off our night we were left in awe at the sight of a group of UFOs. Really! Now, I’m not saying they were necessarily spaceships with little green men aboard, only that we could not figure out what the hell we were looking at—Unidentified Flying Objects! They weren’t much bigger than stars but large enough to resemble shapes other than a speck of light. It was so weird! We watched in the sky for several minutes. They way they moved was so strange, as if jellyfish or stingrays were swimming in the air, spinning and floating as they traversed the sky over the city then disappearing in the formation of a square, high up out over the ocean. Puzzled by what we witnessed, it certainly added to the fun of our night. Around midnight I walked back to my place to get to bed and catch a few winks before having to be up early to make my way to the airport. Thank you my friends for a memorable week in Barca!