The Sagrada Familia is arguably the heart of Barcelona. Located in the center of the seaside city, the basilica’s towers stretch toward the sun during the day and glow with demanding attention at night. The structure is a masterpiece of both art and architecture, stunning tourists and locals alike.
Barcelona was the first stop on Heather and my trip to Spain and France. We spent four days exploring the city’s history, Catalan culture and, of course, delicious cuisine. While Barcelona is considered Spain to the outside world, within the country the region is known as Catalonia and is heavily influenced by the Catalan history. I was surprised to learn they even speak Catalan (a dialect of Spanish) and proudly fly the Catalan flag. I didn’t even see the Spanish flag until we reached Madrid!
We stayed across the street from the iconic Sagrada Familia in one of the not-too-touristy areas between the breathtaking basilica and the quaint neighborhoods that trickle outward from it. Our hotel, the Ayre Hotel Rosellon, has a rooftop terrace with a perfect view of the building so, naturally, the first thing we did when we arrived in the city was share a bottle of Cava, Spain’s version of Champagne, while taking in the view.
The basilica is a work-in-progress, with construction cranes protruding from its core and the sounds of jackhammers echoing throughout the area. The scene is nothing new, nor will it end anytime soon. The Sagrada Familia has been under construction for 132 years (since 1882) and isn’t expected to be completed until 2026, a century after its famous architect Antoni Gaudi’s death.
Inside though, the masterpiece appears to be anything but incomplete. Gaudi was highly influenced by nature, designing his columns, staircases and windows to mimic trees, seashells and patterns familiar to the outdoors. To the unknowing eye they are simply stunning. To the knowing gaze, they are also strikingly clever.
Our days in Barcelona were consumed by sightseeing its famous structures like Park Güell, Casa Batlló and the Barcelona Cathedral, exploring the Gothic Quarter’s narrow streets and consuming tapas. Most of our meals consisted of the Spanish small plates, especially Jamón ibérico, delicately sliced pieces of cured ham that’s juicy, salty and slightly nutty. We paired the ham with cheese, tomato bread (a Catalan staple), anchovies and Spanish rosé or Sangria.
Mealtimes in Spain are notoriously late. Lunch takes places around 2 p.m. while dinner is served around 9 p.m. We adapted to this timeframe quickly and stuck with it the remainder of our trip (which proved unfortunate once we got to Paris!). My favorite lunch was at Bosque Palermo, where I ate my first taste of paella, a traditional Spanish dish of rice and seafood flavored with garlic and saffron. Shared between two people, the dish is served in the pan it’s cooked in, with a heaping amount of mussels, shrimp and vegetables.
As soon as we felt settled in Barcelona, it was our last night in town. But for me, it was what I’d been looking forward to for months :: the Barcelona Opera at the impressive Gran Teatre del Liceu, one of the largest opera houses in Europe. We saw the Russian opera, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh, which fell short of my expectations but being in the theater managed to surpass everything I imaged.
For me, the highlights of Barcelona were being in the Liceu opera house and the city’s cuisine. Along with the jamón and paella, I’ll never forget our 17-course meal of Spanish-Asian fusion food, where we ate everything from dim sum dumplings packed with Spanish ham and mackerel sashimi to snails and gooseneck barnacles. But you’ll just have to wait for all the juicy, tasty details of that dinner because they deserve their own post. :)