Many of our friends have been to Barcelona in order to embark on or disembark from a Mediterranean cruise. They fly in, grab a taxi to the port and only pass through this amazing city! If they are smart, they at least spend a day here. We took our time, staying there for a full week, exploring the main tourist sites/sights and looking “just around the corner”, finding a delightful part of Spain called “Catalunya.”
This article was started aboard our American Airlines non-stop flight from Miami to Barcelona. With limited time available for this trip, Space A was not a practical option. Carole had done an internet search for the lowest price round trip ticket between Florida and Barcelona; not cheap, but far less than our friends had paid for their Mediterranean cruise!
We have been to Spain, flying in to both Rota and Moron via military air (Space A), countless times, but Marv had never been to Barcelona (Carole was last in Catalunya 47 years ago!). Our plan was to spend the first week in Barcelona and the second week in Tarragona to visit Marv’s son who is currently living there. Tarragona is about an hour south by train down the Mediterranean coast from Barcelona and well worth a side trip!
Our overnight flight across the Atlantic robbed us of a night of sleep so we arrived in a fog. Nevertheless, after a little rest, we pulled ourselves together and headed to the heart of Barcelona–the beautiful sculpture-ringed Placa Catalunya to get into “the mood.” And although it had been almost a year since we were last in Spain, our dormant Spanish “woke up” and we had no difficulties communicating in Barcelona (despite the fact that the local language is officially Catalan, quite similar to Castilian Spanish). Dinner (around 8 PM) at a tiny restaurant near our hotel was lovely and, at that hour, we were the only diners (Spaniards normally eat around 11 PM) so we received exceptional personal service.
Next day, we were well-rested, and it was mostly a “Gaudi Day.” We visited the number one attraction–the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) designed by the famous architect and which has been under construction for well over 100 years. Carole could see great progress from when she last visited it nearly 50 years ago! Following this, we went high into the hills to Park Guell where Gaudi’s home was located and where we had a spectacular view over the city and Mediterranean coastline, and finally to Gaudi’s La Pedrera–the unusual apartments in the elegant city center. Our first full day concluded at the Columbus Monument at the port and marina of Barcelona, followed by a nostalgic (for Carole) stroll on La Rambla.
We avoided the hassle of rental cars (parking, traffic, navigation, etc.) and purchased passes for unlimited public transportation tickets (metro, bus, light rail) so we could visit all the places of interest to us in a somewhat relaxed manner, doing our own inexpensive version of the “Hop On, Hop Off” tour.
In Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter (a rabbit warren of narrow streets now filled with unusual boutiques) are several magnificent buildings, perhaps the greatest being the awe-inspiring Cathedral, nearly 1,000 years old. Marv thought it to be the most magnificent in all of Europe! After spending some time here, we moved on to the nearby 19th Century (and recently refurbished) Santa Caterina Market with its colorful (and delicious!) food offerings–we tasted many! We returned to a small area of the Gothic Quarter, which was once the Jewish area named “The Call.” Today, all that remains of The Call is the medieval Main Synagogue (claimed by the guide there to be the oldest in Europe). Now, essentially a museum, from time to time special Jewish events are held here.
Nearby, we had the good fortune of a private tour (it was actually a public tour, but since this was off-season, we were the only ones who took this tour) of Barcelona’s splendid, elegant opera house – the lovely Gran Teatre del Liceu (Jose Carreras and Maria Callas have performed here). Then, up to the dizzying heights of Montjuich Park where we saw the 1992 Olympic Stadium and the massive dominating National Museum of Catalan Art, before descending past the gorgeous fountains, to busy Placa de Espanya with its enormous modern Trade Fair grounds and other fascinating buildings which were part of the 1929 Barcelona World Exposition. These old buildings reminded us of those constructed in Seville (and which we have seen many times in our bus travels to and from Rota) for the Exposition held there at the same time. We continued to explore Barcelona, sometimes finding ourselves with hordes of tourists in popular areas as well as getting off the beaten track, being the only tourists around.
A visit to the magnificent and expansive Picasso Museum (supposedly the most visited museum in the city) in the Old Town was a must. In fact, we enjoyed this one more than the one in his birthplace (Malaga), because it had thousands of his works of art, from his teenage years to his final days, showcasing his various styles.
An unstructured day took us to unexpected places. We hopped on the public bus to Barceloneta Beach for a walk down the promenade where we were amazed to see young (shirtless) men playing beach volleyball on a very chilly February day! (Perhaps this was no different than locals drinking cold beer for breakfast.) Barceloneta is also the home to a thriving shipyard and marina–here we saw the world’s biggest “yacht”, owned by the Emir of Abu Dhabi, as well as many other privately-owned luxury vessels.
Rounding out our morning with another wonderful bus ride, we saw so many stunning parks, gardens and monuments (including the ornate Arch of Triumph) from a comfortable bus seat, stopping for lunch at a marvelous restaurant (randomly chosen) where we had our best meal in Barcelona. Barcelona’s newest landmark, the multicolored high-rise office building, Torre Agbar, sometimes called “The Cucumber” but which Carole called “The Bullet”, now shares Barcelona’s skyline with Sagrada Familia. As we often enjoy seeing where the people live, we concluded our visit on the excellent light rail, to the outer suburbs.
Barcelona – a most impressive city and a fantastic visit.
We are often asked, “Where next?” Short answer: We do not know. In May, we will attempt to take a random Space A flight/trip to somewhere wonderful. More GREAT ADVENTURES to follow!
Col Marv Feldman, USAF (Ret.)
and Carole Feldman
Reprint from May–June 2015 • Volume 45, No. 3