By our third day in sunny Spain, Ashley Amanda Barcelona really began to take shape. We’d solidified a morning ritual (chocolate croissants and cappuccino at a nameless cafe), had been propositioned a threesome, and had really found our Catalan rhythm, snatching up jamón cones and downing liter sangrias like it was our jobs. Maybe someday it will be. Day Three is also when I began to feel the debilitating effects of sitting next to the SICKEST GIRL IN EUROPE on my flight to Barcelona.
I spotted her across the busy terminal gate – the living, breathing personification of a cold & flu medicine commercial, though it appeared she had very little living and breathing left in her. She oozed snot like a leaky faucet and obviously hadn’t showered in days. Greasy “blonde” hair plastered to an equally greasy face, she coughed and hacked as if an exorcism was taking place before my very eyes. I could tell something evil was trying to escape her… and I would be directly in the splash zone, without a poncho. It was at that moment I knew. Shit. She’s gonna sit next to me. This was the second time in one day I correctly identified the person who would share my armrest.
A perpetual window seat-er, I clung to the plastic screen with its teeny tiny air hole cringing with every ungodly sound that came out of the mouth-breather mere inches away. She choked and sneezed and produced enough slime to impress even Vigo the Carpathian… all the way from France to Spain. Row 24 had become a hot zone and I was without a proton pack. Somebody call the CDC! SOMEBODY CALL BILL MURRAY!
THANK GOD the flight to Barcelona from Paris is a short one. As we exited the plane smothered in a thick germ haze, so began a wild coughing fit prompting me to finally ask (out of concern for my own health, not hers – she was beyond help), “Umm are you OK?” to which she replied, “Oh, I’m fine. COUGH COUGH COUGH It’s just allergies. I’m ready for the beach; it’s time to party. ACHOOOO.” Man some people can lie to themselves. I, on the other hand, don’t think I’ve ever looked more horrified in my life. And that’s including my night at the no-cameras-allowed Snake Alley night market in Taipei. Oh, the things I can’t unsee!
Finally at baggage claim, Amanda ran in for a hug tackle. The first thing I said to her was, “If I get sick on this trip, it’s THAT GIRL’S FAULT!”
Sorry Amanda… about that… I really was happy to see you too.
4 DAYS IN BARCELONA
- food, crowds, and annoying the old folks at La Boqueria
- Sagrada Família – that big church under the cranes
- lunch and strolling in El Born district
- Santa Maria del Mar – I went to church a lot that day
- Tapas dinner in the Gothic Quarter and a classic quote from yours truly
Do I visit public markets in Europe? All the time. For any practical purpose? No, not really. I never buy anything. I don’t live nearby; I don’t need groceries. I don’t need smoked meats on a rope or bags of spices and I definitely don’t need any fish heads. (WHO DOES?!) But do I need to take pictures of all these things? OH GOD YES.
La Boqueria is an outdoor(ish?) food market located off La Rambla – take a left at the Dunkin’ Donuts, judging everyone inside as you do. That’s actually no different than my daily routine. La Boqueria dates back a really, really long time. We’re talking centuries. It’s got everything you’d expect from a typical European public market only this one actually served a purpose for me.
Inside the market, Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria to some (like the Queen probably), exist hundreds of stalls selling every type of edible and probably not edible good imaginable. Meats, CHEESE, juices, produce, jamón, seafood, spices, nuts, eggs of unusual size, and animal parts not immediately identifiable (and that’s coming from someone who’s spent some serious cash on Taiwanese street meat).
For those of us with all the fish heads we need, the real values in this market are the restaurants and sit-down tapas stalls serving up fresh food on the fly. Judging by the number of times the back of my ankles were run over by the pushcarts of old grannies, this is where the neighborhood comes to get its weekly groceries. But for the casual tourist, this is a FANTASTIC spot for an unforgettable lunch. And also where your well-educated and worldly friend will take one look at an artichoke and say, “Oh my god, look at this weird fruit! What is this?!”*
*Ten minutes after having fried artichoke hearts with our lunch.
Do you need groceries for the week? Fresh produce? Candied nuts? Tripe? This is your place. Also, no, you don’t need tripe. Nobody needs tripe.
Do you need to eat lunch? Of course you do. Do you need a convenient spot that’s equally as quick as Dunkin’ Donuts only vastly more appetizing? Skip past all the garbage on La Rambla and head here. Literally. Skip all the way here. We don’t skip enough anymore.
Unfamiliar with Sagrada Família?
That sounds a lot better if you read it with a Boston accent.
You’re not alone, I’m sure. I knew nothing of Sagrada Família when Amanda first told me about it. And after seeing pictures, I thought it was hideous. It’s a weird shape, it’s basically a construction site, and it’s just so… so beige. I’ll admit it – I hold a grudge against the color beige. It represents everything I don’t want my life to be and probably stems from all the shitty jobs I’ve had that required me to wear khakis. Pleated and disproportionate. Too high in the waist, too big in the ass, and too short in the leg. IS IT SO HARD TO MAKE A PAIR OF KHAKIS THAT FITS LIKE NORMAL PANTS?!
Personal vendettas aside, Sagrada Família is the farthest thing from a pair of ill-fitting khakis. On the apparel spectrum I’d put it closer to Lady Gaga, 1970s Elton John, or this. Obviously, your search for the most kickass church is over. It’s right here in Barcelona. I’m not sure exactly where but your cab driver will know. And as you might have guessed, Sagrada Família has been brought to us by the creative genius of none other than Antoni Gaudí.
Construction of Gaudí’s magnum opus began in 1883 and is obviously still ongoing. Other things that began in 1883 and are still rockin’:
- The Brooklyn Bridge opens.
- Standard time zones are formed in Canada and the United States.
- The electric thermostat is invented.
- The first night baseball came is played under lights. Yes, it’s still going. They’re in the 3 millionth inning.
At the time of Gaudí’s 1926 death by streetcar (is that the most 1926 thing you’ve ever heard or what), the church was about 25% complete. What you see today is roughly 70% with an anticipated completion date some time in 2026, the centennial of Gaudí’s death. 2026 is also the centennial of the first lip-reading tournament, so there’s that too. So much to look forward to!
The church’s construction is paid for by the site’s entrance fee, ergo YOU. Tickets range from 15 to 29 Euros depending on the package you choose. Some say these fees are exorbitant. First of all, no they’re not. Second, you’re going to pay it anyway so just shut up and stop being the friend nobody wants to travel with. You’re in Europe. And since you’ve been here you’ve also paid for: plastic shopping bags, a ketchup packet at McDonalds, to sit down in a restaurant rather than stand, and to use a public toilet. Let that sink in.
Concept & Highlights
Gaudí’s love of nature drove the creativity bus on the journey of designing Sagrada Família. The Nativity facade, seen above and actually completed in his lifetime, is rich in naturalistic elements: trees, vines, insects, the entire animal kingdom, and something about the birth of Jesus. The interior was designed to represent a towering forest of trees, branching out and converging in a dense canopy. Sunlight shines through rainbow-colored stained glass mimicking how sunlight would stream in through treetops. It’s otherworldly and enchanting and the polar opposite of a spooky Mormon hell dream. You could never appreciate the intense creativity, uniqueness, and beauty of this church hidden behind the khaki-colored exterior. DO YOU SEE MY POINT?!
I love to climb things: mountains, monuments, trees, the ranks. This undoubtedly comes from a childhood of climbing fences and the brutal rat race that was elementary school. (Will I get into my first choice middle school? Will they see how well I performed at field day?! If I get second place in the science fair SOMEONE IS GOING TO PAY.) A lot has changed since then but I’d be lying if I said I hated it when the front door to my parents’ house is locked and I’m forced to climb over into the backyard. (However, all nostalgic pleasure is gone once I discover the only way in is through the doggy door.)
When I found out visitors can go up into Sagrada Família’s towers, I jumped at the chance. Figuratively, of course. The #1 rule of climbing shit is Don’t Jump; everybody knows that psshhh.
You are given the choice of ascending a Nativity facade tower or a Passion facade tower as part of a special ticket package (the one that will cost you 29 trips to the toilet in the train station). The two towers offer different views – we chose the Nativity tower. The views are great, the balconies are terrifying. They’re tiny and slanted downward to release rainwater through holes big enough for your leg to get stuck in if you slip. There are steps to get down, a few hundred probably, but an elevator to get up driven by a guide who speaks five languages. Oh, the many ways they shame you at church.
NOTE: The Passion tower is closed temporarily for construction so Nativity tower it is!
Fun Fact #1
- There is a museum in the basement that centers around Sagrada Família’s construction. Here you can see original sketches, models, building plans, and an active workshop. Be warned: the “experts” don’t know jack.
Fun Fact #2
- The Nativity facade is the side visitors are most familiar with – the highly decorated original construction focusing on the birth of Jesus, surrounded by flowers, turtles, and wild turkeys. The Passion facade is newer, with simpler yet more defined designs, and was intended by Gaudí to strike fear into the hearts of onlookers. #nailedit
Fun Fact #3
- Antoni Gaudí is buried here in the crypt of Sagrada Família. This underground area is open for visitors during hours of worship only and is presumably easier to find than that of Filippo Brunelleschi whose unmarked tomb is hidden in the dark corner of the underground gift shop beneath the Florence Cathedral. Way to go, Italy!
Weekdays: 9:00 AM and 8:15 PM
Evenings before holidays: 7:30 PM
Public holidays: 9:00 AM, 10:30 AM, 11:45 AM, 1:00 PM, 6:30 PM, and 8:15 PM
The lines separating La Rambla, the Gothic Quarter, and El Born are very thin. At which point one neighborhood became another, I couldn’t tell. They’re geographically adjacent and all the streets looked the same to my foreign eyes. However, El Born was quieter, more relaxed, peaceful. Fewer people roamed the streets, nobody tried to sell me any useless shit, the air seemed cooler, fresher, and a kid played with bubbles in the sunshine for Christ’s sake. There wasn’t a knockoff handbag in sight.
- the Picasso Museum – 3,500 pieces from all periods of his career
- Santa Maria del Mar
- tapas & beer
- the Barcelona Zoo
- and, how upset am I that I just discovered this, the Mammoth Museum
Drawn in Scammed by the adorable patio seating we glimpsed through a gap in the buildings, we decided food and drinks at Bodega La Puntual would be our next stop. The adorable patio was nothing more than a well orchestrated illusion – a concrete-ed space about one table wide out the back door, blanketed by the sound of the industrial air conditioning unit. Hanging twinkle lights does not a charming patio make, sorry. We opted for indoor seating where we were not disappointed by either the food, the drinks, the service, or the hefty drunken Spaniard at the barrel next to us who couldn’t stop giggling if his life depended on it.
Side note: Will someone from Spain please tell me why the sangria always comes with two neon colored straws? This mystery has consumed me!
SANTA MARIA DEL MAR
Another church, another incredible reason my neck hurt. I don’t recall intentionally visiting Santa Maria del Mar, but Amanda and I are pretty adventurous and possibly slightly inebriated so wandering into an empty church sounded like a great idea. And despite being wildly inappropriately dressed, we didn’t burst into flames! Because churches in Europe tend to be the oldest structures in town, they’re also my favorites. We’re not counting beer gardens, right? Santa Maria del Mar is a truly Gothic structure whose massiveness you can’t grasp from the narrow streets outside. They say Santa Maria del Mar inspired Gaudí during his designing of Sagrada Família. I know “they” say a lot of stuff, but this one may have some truth to it. See the relation?
This was the only church I’ve ever seen that lets you go behind the stage area. That sentence proves just how little I know about church. You can walk behind it on both the floor and balcony levels. This will really come in handy when you want to sneak up behind a priest and give him bunny ears or sneak into the choir (because they are obviously not letting you in). Sneaking around old churches is another thing I perfected early in life.
“I’m not fucking standing up to eat!”
After three days in Barcelona, I just wanted to sit down. Remember, unbeknownst to me the germs are beginning to assume command. I am but a vessel for the impending flu now. This reminds me of that time those guys in suits stopped by my farm to ask me some questions.
We consulted my trusty Barcelona guidebook for tapas dinner suggestions and narrowed it down. Our first choice just didn’t exist. We looked everywhere. The guy at the information booth was no help at all, leading me to believe that once in Barcelona, you are on your own. None of the people who exist to help you can actually do that. We moved on to our second choice, Irati Taverna Basca.
This was a typical Basque-style tapas bar meaning you eat standing up at the bar. This concept is not unfamiliar to me. I’ve stood for many a sandwich and cappuccino at the counter of Italian gas stations. It was the germs talking, not me!
We ate there anyway and guess what? IT WAS THE BEST MEAL OF THE TRIP. Maybe even my life. The germs tried to lead me astray! The food, whatever the hell any of it was, was out of this world delicious! I threw all concern for food allergies aside and took my chances with these little bites of culinary heaven.
2€ a piece gets you all the tiny tooth-picked offerings you can stomach. Nudge your way through the couples at the bar and grab what you can from the servers bringing out fresh offerings from the kitchen. When you’re done, the number of toothpicks on your plate determines your bill.
Day Three in Barcelona came to end with, you guess it, liter beers and sangria in Plaça Reial. There was some big soccer game on… people went nuts… the rioting outlasted us, who lasted until 4:00 AM when the flu train rolled into town. I hated we had to head in so early but Day Four is a big one. Stay tuned!
WHAT IS THE MOST AMAZING CHURCH YOU HAVE VISITED ON YOUR TRAVELS?
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