Winter in Europe Part VII- Barcelona,Costa Brava & Montserrat

From Germany we hopped on a quick flight from Munich to Barcelona. The flight was only two hours and we jumped from snow and thick coats to sunshine and mild temperatures. From the land of beer and pretzels to wine and dried meats.. that’s how Tommy put it anyway. We spent our first night near the hotel at an affordable hotel waiting to check into our Airbnb the next day.

El Born, Barcelona. We are staying in the hip, Brooklyn like part of Barcelona. Our little apartment is at the heart of things here in Barcelona. Our place is right above a bar and another bar and another bar and so on. Which makes the ease of doing something fun and exciting right out our front door. That also comes with noise, lots and lots of noise. Alas, I am not sure when Spaniards sleep. This isn’t my first trip to Spain, I remember the first time I came and we went for lunch around siesta time in a small town and couldn’t find anything open. Then when we walked around the streets late at night the streets where bursting open with noise and life. So we were prepared but it is still an interesting adjustment. Life is going at all times here. A vibrant life bursting with noise, laughter, emotion. Such a shift from the stark and serious tones we experienced in the winter in Prague.

We spent our first week doing a lot of walking and exploring. We spent the day at Montjuic walking the steps to the towering hillside area. A great find was going to the top of the Museum of Catalan Art which displays an extensive collection from all periods of history and seeing a great view of the city below.

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Other sights throughout the week included Park Guell, jogging through the Citadel park to the beach, exploring the Picasso museum, putting my feet in the Mediterranean ocean, and sampling the endless tapas and wine Spain has to offer. 

A day trip from Barcelona took me to Costa Brava. In the summer this area is vastly different from the quite little towns I found on my adventure north of Barcelona. I took the 2.5 hour bus from Barcelona north bus station to a little town called, Begur. The Sarfa bus line runs from Barcelona and the Airport to little towns along Costa Brava. I spent hours figuring out a day trip hiking through the towns to the coast. There is information out there but no comprehensive itinerary that fit my needs. Since the buses that run from the little towns in the summer weren’t as active and tourism is at its lowest I had the trail to myself. The Camins de Ronda (which goes by several other names) trail runs the coast of Spain and was named by National Geographic in 2012 as a best trip. From the bus I found the tourist information office in Begur and got a map of area trails. Originally I was going to hike the trail on the coast from Begur and pick up the evening bus back to Barcelona from Palafrugell. However, the buses that run in the summer that connect the trail to the bus stop area weren’t running and the logistics got harder. Instead, I picked part of the trail and headed on foot from town to the coastal trail. The hike was at times difficult, and included steep scrambles up hills. The trail marking were like puzzle pieces and left me feeling like a detective looking for clues as to where the trail would lead to next. The trail ranged from high cliff tops to weaving in and out of tiny town roads and passage ways. I found myself along at a white sand beach with turquoise water and knew that standing alone on this pristine beach was a rare occasion, saved for a mid-January day.

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Back in Barcelona I spent the rest of the week checking out the sights around town. Palau Guell is a beautiful Gaudi mansion built between 1886 and 1888. Today it is a UNESCO World heritage site and open to tour. The front entrance was open for horse drawn carriages to enter and is an architectural marvel. Palau Guell is different from some of the other Gaudi buildings I visited and held a much more masculine, regal feel than his other work I saw.

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One particularly sunny day we rented bikes for a few hours and biked along the Barcelona waterfront and beach. Pure magic.

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We took a day trip over the weekend to Montserret a multi-peaked mountain located an hour train ride from Barcelona. At the mountain is the Benedictine Monk retreat and spectacular mountain views of Catalunya. The area is known for its hiking, climbing and tourist attractions. Halfway up the mountain is the Benedictine Monestir de Montserrat, home to the Black Virgin, one of Spain’s most revered icons. The mountain is easily accessed by train from Barcelona city center. Once you reach the base of the mountain the options for reaching the top include an additional train or cable car to the top where the monastery and majority of hiking trails are located. We choose the cable car and enjoyed the amazing views from the cable car. At the top there are funiculars to take you to two other hiking and sightseeing points. It was a wonderful day trip from Barcelona and was the perfect mix of nature and history.
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Back in Barcelona (again) we (finally) went to La Sagrada Familia, the number one tourist attraction in Barcelona (with good reason). I really can’t find the right words to describe the experience of walking through the doors and looking up and being engulfed in the light of this magical place. The exterior is breathtaking and amazing but when you see the completed inside and stand there and try to take it all in it’s. just. too. much. Seriously, it is so completely amazing that I have spent the last 24 hours since visiting playing it over and over again in my mind. Being on the inside of the church feels like you are in a forest of towering trees at that moment when the light hits just right and you are surrounded by the most perfect light. See for yourself.

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Not far from La Sagrada Familia is Casa Batllo, another masterpiece by Gaudi. Built as a residential house in 1905 this brilliant work of art is out of this world. The house is designed to evoke a connection with nature, particularly water and fluidity. It can be felt in the details, shapes and structural designs. My favorite thing about Gaudi’s work is his connection to nature in his design and delivery. In La Sagrada Familia you are transported to the feeling of standing in a forest, in Casa Batllo a sense of swimming through water, and in all his work you can find the harmony of architecture and design with nature.

“The great book, always open and which we should make an effort to read, is that of Nature.” -Antonio Gaudi

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My last site in Barcelona was the Art Nouveau hospital, Hospital de Sant Pau. Designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner and opened in 1930 as a hospital until in 2009 when the hospital moved to a new building. The Sant Pau reopened in 2014 after renovation as a wonderful preserved Art Nouveau site and is UNESCO World heritage site. The twelve Art Nouveau buildings are connected by a series of tunnels, were state of the art in the 1930s. The design of the hospital incorporated gardens and pleasing visual details to create an atmosphere of healing for patients. What a wonderful concept! Making a hospital a place for healing and peace and finding connection with nature and beauty when you need it the most. Touring a hospital isn’t something you would normal think of as a tourist destination but the beauty in this site is grand and absolutely unique.

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Farewell Barcelona, you were full of beautiful surprises…

 

 

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