Gaudí and Flamenco
We settled in for a few days of sightseeing around Barcelona. One of our first stops was Arenas de Barcelona, a former bullfighting arena that is now a shopping mall. I know that transition sounds a little tacky, but it has a movie theater and a nice (free access) rooftop with magnificent views of the city.
From there we headed to Park Güell, which contains many works by the famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. The park, originally a failed residential area, was transformed into an expansive green space filled with Gaudí’s naturalist architecture. We walked around appreciating his work when suddenly something else captured our attention: a live Flamenco-style performance in the park.
We didn’t have to understand all the words to be entranced by the rhythm and their enthusiasm for the music. We had to drag ourselves away to make our reservation time for La Sagrada Família, the crown jewel of Gaudí’s work.
The fjords of western Norway are the most amazing natural beauty I’ve ever seen. But La Sagrada Família is the most amazing man-made beauty I’ve ever seen–and it’s not even completed yet!
Gaudí designed it and it has been under construction for the last 140 years, including contributions from many other artists. This massive work of art is breathtaking. There is so much to see from every angle.
Nature inspired Gaudí, so the inside of the basilica felt like being in a sacred forest. The tall spires, the colorful stained glass, and the intricate details of every little piece were a wonder to behold. We climbed the tower and could see more of the outside of the tower up close, as well as much of Barcelona below.
We also visited Gaudí’s tomb, in a crypt below the basilica.
That night, we found a great pinchos (small bites) bar for dinner. I had a pincho made with goat cheese, walnuts, balsamic glaze, and mint on a baguette. It was one of the best flavor combinations I had ever experienced.
We come from a culture of all-you-can-eat buffets and massive food portions. So slowing down to savor small, delicious bites was just the kind of cultural exchange I was looking for.
Since it was such a hot day (and our Airbnb didn’t have AC), we ended our day where we started it: back at the bullfighting arena turned shopping mall. We soaked up some cool air while we watched a movie at the theater.
On our next day in Barcelona, we got out of the city. We went to Tibidabo, a mountain overlooking Barcelona. Besides a great view, there is an amusement park and Sagrat Cor, a church with gorgeous mosaics.
After Tibidabo, we headed to another mountain with a great view and a lot of history, Montjuïc. Montjuïc is considered the birthplace of Barcelona due to its vantage point over the harbor and views of the Mediterranean. Atop Montjuïc is a fortress, the remaining structures from the 1992 Summer Olympics, and the Catalonia National Art Museum (among many other things).
After a full day of exploring, we lucked out in finding a Mexican restaurant that was slinging street tacos and mojitos.
For our last day in Catalonia, we grabbed breakfast at a great cafe and bakery that was in our neighborhood. We ate there every morning that we were in the neighborhood, quickly claiming it as “our spot”. We could tell from the crowd of locals that we weren’t the only ones with a fondness for the place.
After we fueled up on coffee and pastries, we set out to check the remaining sights on our list. We visited the Cathedral of Barcelona, a Gothic cathedral built in the 13th-15th centuries. This cathedral was interesting because it has a cloister that houses 13 live geese.
The geese are in memory of the martyr and Barcelona’s patron saint for whom the church is named, Eulalia. One goose for each year of the saint’s life and the number of tortures inflicted in her martyrdom.
After the cathedral, we decided to take a self-guided walking tour to see some of Gaudí’s other works around Barcelona. Some of them have a very Beetlejuice look to them, which I loved.
For dinner that night, we made a final visit to La Rambla’s market. I took one last slow stroll past the neatly stacked produce, the cases filled with fried meat pies, and the bins filled with spices. I never wanted to forget the colors, smells, textures, and tastes of this place.
We enjoyed our time in Barcelona. And Andy was totally right about me loving the Catalonian spirit.
Welcome to Portugal
From Barcelona, we flew to Lisbon, Portugal. It was hot and the furthest south we had been on this trip up to this point.
We started our sightseeing in Lisbon by going to the top of Miradouro da Senhora do Monte to look out over the city. Next, we stopped to see the Church of Santa Maria Maior from the second half of the 12th century. Then, we headed to the Praça do Comércio, where we stumbled upon the Time Out Market. It’s a food lover’s heaven and here we tried the pastel de nata, a Portuguese custard tart.
At this point, I decided that food markets were my favorite attractions. The language was throwing me for a loop, but the food I could make sense of. And I loved it.
We ended the day taking the historic Tram 28. We packed on and it snaked its way through the streets. And we learned that, sometimes, there is such a thing as a free ride when a local clung to the back of the tram, stealthily avoiding notice by the driver.
The biggest highlight of Lisbon was that we got to spend a few days with Mama Swanny, Andy’s mom. Because of her job as a flight attendant, she could fly over and meet up with us. We had a couple of days to catch up and visit—and enjoy a hotel room with AC. She brought us some comforts from home: Cholula hot sauce, jalapeño M&Ms, some better-fitting clothes for Andy, and a care package coordinated with my mom.
Moms really are the best.
We took a day trip out to Sintra and wandered around Lisbon, where we came upon Bordalo II’s upcycled cat.
Because it was so hot, we spent most of our time relaxing and enjoying time with Mama Swanny. We were so happy to slow down and talk with someone to process all that we had seen and experienced so far.
The next day, we said farewell to Mama Swanny and set out to see any final “must-sees”. We came across another piece of work by Bordalo II, this time a cute, upcycled trash panda (a raccoon).
We visited Jerónimos Monastery and Santa María de Belém where we saw the tomb of Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama. The Belém Tower was on the waterfront where we also saw the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, a monument to maritime explorers.
We enjoyed our time in Lisbon, even though I kept reverting to Spanish at the restaurants and cafes. It was embarrassing, but to be honest, I revert to Spanish with any language besides English.
To quote a wise woman I know, “I speak English, bad English, and some Spanish.”
Sorry, everyone else in the world—I promise to try harder.
Next up, we head even further south, then pop over to another continent.