April in Barcelona sounded wonderful. Not too hot, not too cold. Hopefully, just right!
45 years ago I spent the day in Barcelona as a stopover while waiting for a train to France. With pages on what to do from “Europe on 5 Dollars a Day” by Arthur Frommer, I walked up and down Las Ramblas. That was my fuzzy recollection of time spent in one of Spain’s great cities. What can I say? I was 20, going around Europe by train on a grand adventure.
This visit I would focus my entire eight day trip on Barcelona and three of Spain’s famous artists – Gaudi, Picasso and Miro. Of these artists, I was most familiar with Picasso and Miro, having owned a couple of lithographs. Gaudi and his works were to be an exploration for me.
So much delighted me about Barcelona this trip. It was easy to navigate from the airport to Hotel Catalonia Diagonal Centro, which was a relief since I was used to traveling on escorted tours that included pick up at the airport. I used an airport transfer service for half the cost of a taxi. Also available from the airport to the city center is Aerobús; it’s a short taxi to the hotel, for half the cost of the airport transfer service.
Staying in the Diagonal Centro area was convenient to bus and metro lines, and had fabulous boulevards with large center pedestrian walks dotted with outdoor cafes. I loved walking all over the area, admiring the buildings, and discovering how close we were to the grand houses designed by Gaudi. I found out that the streets around my hotel were designed by a French city planner – very Paris-like with broad boulevards and Baroque-style apartments with iron grill work.
A visit and lecture at the Museum of History of Catalunya helped put together the history of Barcelona as the centerpiece of Catalonia, a region that wants autonomy from Spain. While I was there, the legislature in Madrid vetoed a request for autonomy, and I walked through a protest staged by firefighters against their wages. The region is thriving on tourism, yet unemployment for young professionals is very high – above 20%.
While we visited highlights including Old Town with its Cathedral, Roman ruins and the Museu Picasso, my favorites were the magnificent Gaudi structures around town: La Sagrada Família, Parc Güell, and La Pedrera. La Sagrada was so overwhelming that we spent the morning and most of the afternoon sitting in the interior, moving from section to section and seat to seat, discovering detail after detail on the ceilings, the columns, the walls, the trim, the floor, the altar; and, how the light streamed in brilliant colors through the stained glass windows and onto the floor.
We watched craftsmen working on new exterior decoration, and marveled at the endless frenzy of construction. Parc Güell showed up as a whimsy of fantastical plants and creatures with a mouth-dropping vista across the city to the Mediterranean – magical. Walking from the hotel to La Pedrera, we lucked out with timing, arriving at opening before the endless tour buses with students flooded the building. The surprise near the top of the structure was a huge museum about the building’s construction that was located under the roof and wound its way around interior rooms.
I can’t wait to return in a few years to see the progress towards the completion of La Sagrada, and discover more layers of the fabulous architecture and art in Barcelona, a gem of Spain.