Today was our first day in Barcelona and I woke up a bit on the wrong side of the bed initially. I think because we had a very late night the previous evening. It took me a little while but I did shake it off.
First off of course was to try out Hotel Colon’s breakfast. On my way there I snapped a few pictures of the hotel, including our very spacious patio.
The kids must have already come and gone already, so I grabbed some food and sat down for a little bit. The breakfast was okay. Nothing really special but there were lots of staff making sure everything was cleaned and were there if you needed anything.
I finished up and made my way outside and with the light of day I was able to get a good picture of the entrance to our hotel.
Right across the way from our hotel is the famous Barcelona Cathedral.
I went to walk up to the entrance of the Cathedral when an employee stopped me and said I not only needed to cover my shoulders but that I also needed to cover my legs. I knew of these rules while in Italy but this was the first time I was running into this in Spain.
I decided to run back into the hotel to change real quick but before I could walk back down the stairs there was a lady standing there trying to get me to buy one of her scarfs to cover up with. I was pretty annoyed by this and stomped off to go get changed.
Five minutes later I showed back up with a sweater on and capris and shot the lady and man a look as I waltzed into the Cathedral.
The Barcelona Cathedral is one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in Barcelona. Construction began in the 11th Century on the foundations of a basilica destroyed by the Moors in 985. The nave was built between 1298-1448 and the neo-gothic facade was finished in 1890.
The cathedral is dedicated to the city’s co-patron saint – Eulalia of Barcelona, a young virgin who lost her life like a martyr during the Roman periods, after refusing to dismiss Jesus as the son of God.
The cathedral has a striking roof adorned with allegorical gargoyles and majestic bell towers that rise high into the sky.
The inside of the cathedral was stunning. The wide nave was illuminated by large, fifteenth-century stained glass windows and the naves are flanked by aisles with twenty-eight side chapels.
One of the highlights inside the cathedral is the crypt below the Capella Major which contains the sarcophagus of Santa Eulalia.
I wondered outside to the cathedral’s famous fourteenth-century cloister that has a central courtyard surrounded by a marvelous Gothic portico and thirteen geese.
There are always thirteen geese kept in the courtyard. Each goose represents one year in the life of the martyr Santa Eulalia, the young girl that was tortured to death in the fourth century by the Romans.
I left the cathedral and put in my google maps my next stop, which is the Plaça del Rei area where the Grand Royal Palace from the 11th century and the Barcelona City History Museum are to be found.
That darn google maps had me in circles. I walked around and around, not realizing that the Plaça del Rei was pretty much right behind the cathedral.
I must have walked by the same buildings at least four times.
I was getting frustrated and was about to just sit down and give up when I realized I had somehow ended up standing right outside the Barcelona City History Museum. Excited I had finally made it I walked in to find out I was walking into the exit and I had to go back outside and find the entrance door across the way. As I was walking to find the other door I see Mom and Marion waiving at me from one of the windows inside the museum. They had just gotten there and they headed back to the entrance to meet me.
The Barcelona City Museum narrates the history of Barcelona from its early beginnings to its heyday in the Middle Ages. The museum begins in the Casa Padellàs, a fifteenth-century Gothic palace that in 1931 was transported stone by stone from its original location on the Carrer dels Mercaders.
The museum’s exhibitions are displayed in chronological order, starting on the ground floor of the Casa Padellàs where several small rooms show the prehistory of Barcelona.
We stepped inside the elevator that took us to an underground level where the remains of the Roman city of Barcino, founded around 12BC by emperor Augustus, is located. The elevator was really cool, instead of the display reading level 1, 2, or 3 it showed it in years.
Below ground is a remarkable walk through about 4 sq km of excavated Roman and Visigothic Barcelona that stretches as far as the cathedral.
Exiting the elevator we followed the walkways where we saw a display on the typical Roman villa, then the remains of a laundry and dying workshop from the second century, a salted fish and garum factory (garum was a popular fish sauce) and a wine making facility from the third century AD.
Here is some of what we saw while walking around ancient Barcino.
Making our way out of the ancient area of the museum we ended up in the Saló del Tinell, the banqueting hall of the royal palace and a fine example of Catalan Gothic (built 1359–70).
This is where Fernando and Isabel most likely heard Columbus’ first reports of the New World.
The hall held a temporary exhibit while we were there. It was an exhibit of art displayed in Bibles. Pictures were used in Bibles to help explain the scriptures to those that could not read.
As we left the banquet hall we walked into the 14th century Capella Reial de Santa Àgata, the palace chapel. Inside, all is bare except for the 15 century altarpiece and the magnificent techumbre (decorated timber ceiling). The altarpiece is considered to be one of Jaume Huguet’s finest surviving works.
We finished touring the museum and stopped for a picture op in front of the medieval palace.
Right around the corner was our next stop, the Frederic Marés Museum.
It’s hard to explain this museum other than it has the wildest collections of historical curios that are held in a medieval complex that was once part of the royal palace of the counts of Barcelona.
A worn coat of arms on the wall indicates that it was also, for a while, the seat of the Spanish Inquisition in Barcelona. Frederic Marès i Deulovol (1893–1991) was a rich sculptor, traveller and obsessive collector, and displays of religious art and vast varieties of bric-a-brac litter the museum.
This museum isn’t just all odd collections but it is also considered one of the most important sculpture museums in Spain.
Marès had been collecting things since he was a young boy. He had collected little pictures, chocolate papers and Japanese pictures. While in Paris as a young artist he had connections to antiquarian bookshops and art auctions. This is where he started gathering his first collections.
Marès family could not support Frederic’s passion for collection as other families of well-known collectors did. He spent all the money he earned for his designs and works for extending his collection. Apart from his close friends and family, nobody knew of the growing collection in his studio.
After he had presented his collection to the public with the help of an art club, he declared in his testament in 1944 that after his death he would bequeath his collection to the city of Barcelona.
Frederic Marès still lived until 1991.
The top two floors, which is where we started, holds a mind boggling array of knick-knacks, from toy soldiers and cribs to scissors and 19th century playing cards, and from early still cameras to pipes and fine ceramics.
Here is just some of what we saw there:
Located in the basement, ground floor and first floor are Spanish sculptures from the 12th to 19th century.
There was so much to see here but we had to move on. We left the museum and not far away is one of Barcelona’s best kept secrets. Inside a small medieval courtyard, the four columns from the Temple of Augustus have survived despite the passing of the centuries. They are more than 2,000 years old, like Barcelona itself.
The four columns are all that remains of the former Temple of Augustus. The temple once towered over the ancient Roman city of Barcino and was located at the top of Taber Hill.
Over the centuries, almost all of the stones from the Roman Forum were taken down and re-used for other buildings, but a few remained in their original place, whether they were re-used or remained intact, merging with the surroundings of new buildings that were constructed over time. And this is what happened with three of the columns of the Temple of Augustus, which originally formed part of the inside of a building.
I always have a hard time just grasping the sheer size of what the Romans built and that so much of it has withstand the test of time. I’m tiny standing next to it and that is very rare for me.
After seeing the ancient columns we started strolling the many alley ways of the old Gothic center. There are so many little shops and cute cafes around every corner.
One of the cutest stores we came across was The Barcelona Duck Store.
The Duck Store was filled with adorable rubber duckies. There were Darth Vader rubber duckies that lite up, there was smurf duckies, there was Gaudi duckies. This place was filled with more rubber duckies than I’ve ever seen. I of course had to buy the Darth Vader lite up ducky.
Not far from here was Caelum, a sweet and tea shop. We couldn’t resist going in and sitting down and ordering a few goodies.
Caelum is a charming cafe that specializes in baked goods and confections made by nuns from all across the country. They have cookies, fudge, tarts, candies, cakes, and lots of chocolate. Their specialty is rich hot chocolate that is made with purely nun-produced chocolate.
The cafe is built on top of a medieval Jewish bath and there is a seating area in the historic basement, which was part of the baths, but we opted to eat upstairs.
They also have lots of items you can buy and take home. I got a few items to bring home as perfect souvenir for friends back home.
Refreshed we headed back out into the alleys and made our way to one of the old town’s significant churches, the Santa Maria del Pi.
The Santa Maria del Pi is a Gothic church that was built in the early fourteenth century just outside the former Roman city walls and is a fine example of the expertise of the Catalan master builders, who were able to create naves wider than those found in other regions. The church is named after a pine tree (Pi in Catalan) that stood in front of the church. Today there is still a pine tree on the Plaça del Pi (naturally a different one).
The Construction of the church started in 1322 at the site of an older tenth century church of the same name.
The inside of the church has little ornamentation. In 1936 left wing revolutionaries set fire to the Santa Maria del Pi and several other churches in Barcelona. The church was renovated after the Civil War but many valuable works of art, some of which dated back to the fourteenth century, are lost forever.
They also have one of the world’s largest rose windows. It is an enormous twelve-sided rose window that adorns the main facade.
In the church’s crypt is a small museum with a treasury that is home to a collection of religious paintings and eucharistic objects such as chalices, monstrances and ciboria. The museum’s most prized asset is a reliquary that is thought to hold a relic of Christ’s crown of thorns.
The oldest giants in Catalonia, that were used for festivities, are now displayed here.
The largest giants are the oldest, dating from some time prior to 1601. The man is a Saracen, a medieval Muslim and the woman is a medieval lady. They were temporarily retired in 1780 when King Charles III issued a decree declaring them too grotesque for religious celebrations, but they returned in 1799 for the feast of Corpus Christi after a successful petition on their behalf and a formal pardon.
The smaller giants, the petit gegants, joined in the festivities after the 1780 ban was lifted. They’re dressed as a respectable, upper class couple and their clothing has often changed with fashion.
Outside I stopped to glance up at the churches 177ft bell tower.
After visiting the church we made our way back into the alleys and stopped to admire the amazing architecture as well as go into every chocolate shop we came across.
Next on our itinerary was Barcelona’s market. I was curious to see what their market was like after having visited Valencia’s beautiful market.
The Mercat de la Boqueria is about two thirds of the way up La Rambla, Barcelona’s famous street, and is one of Europe’s largest and most famous food markets.
According to some, there has been a market on this spot since 1217 and has always been a place where the locals come to shop. Many of Barcelona’s top restaurateurs buy their produce here.
Compared to Valencia’s market and Madrid’s I really wasn’t that impressed. The market was crowded, dark, and smelly. Pretty much what you expect a food market to be like but it was hard to walk around after seeing how nice a market could look like. This was like the LA Farmer’s Market but on a bigger scale. I do like that the food is fresh and grown in Spain and that restaurateurs purchase their food from here.
When we finished walking around the market and I had gotten a freshly squeezed fruit drink, I parted ways with the kids and headed back to the room to set my bags down and have a moment to relax my feet. I had plans to meet up with Mom and Marion a little later.
The walk from the Market to the hotel took longer than I had expected, so I didn’t have as much time to relax as I had hoped.
I did step outside onto our balcony and realized a hostel was across the street from us. It was actually fun to see all the action going on over there later in the evening.
I headed back out and started making my way to the Monastery of Sant Pau del Camp, where I was going to be meeting back up with the kids and I came across this huge cat statue.
The statue’s name is the Raval Cat and was purchased by the city in 1987. It’s moved around a lot but it looks like it finally made it’s home at the end of the newly created Ramble del Raval.
I continued down this street and hung a right where I eventually ran into the kids and we made our way over to the Monastery.
The Monastery of Sant Pau del Camp (Spanish for Saint Paul of the countryside) is one of the oldest church’s in Barcelona. There isn’t a lot of information on when this Monastery was first built but the tomb of Guifré II, Count of Barcelona, was buried here around 914 A.D. The original complex was destroyed by the Moors during a raid in 985 A.D. and was rebuilt in the 10th century by the Benedictines. Remains of the original structure can be seen on the capitals and bases of the portal.
We walked inside to purchase tickets and there was a really sweet lady there that gave us our tickets and spoke to us a bit. She was a really happy lady and I had to wonder if it had to do with the fact she got to work at a place that was so quiet and serene compared to the hustle and bustle outside.
The Monastery is remarkably intact for being so old. The western portal features well worn carvings and Latin inscriptions of Christ, Saint Peter, and Saint Paul on the tympanum. Around the portal are simple 13th century carvings of fish, birds, and faces.
In the 14th century chapter house is the tomb of Guifre Borrell, the count of Barcelona in the early 10th century.
The inside of the church is rather dark and plain but it helps give you that feeling of antiquity.
Their Romanesque cloister is considered to be one of the best in Catalunya. The cloister is perfectly preserved and while some of the capitals are from the Corinthian era many are the monastery’s original Romanesque capitals.
Reluctantly, we left this very peaceful place and went back outside to the madness of Barcelona.
We had one more thing left to do on our itinerary today and it was going to be our first introduction to the famous architecture, Antoni Gaudí.
We made our way down the old streets to the mansion that was named Palau Güell.
Palau Güell was built for the politician and industrialist Eusebi Güell i Bacigalupi. Güell had chosen Gaudí, who at that time was just becoming recognized for his innovative works, to construct his new home. This was the project that gave Gaudí his first opportunity to make a name for himself, which he absolutely made the most of.
Built between 1885 and 1900 Gaudí used the best materials for his work, thanks to the huge financial resources from Güell. He used Garraf limestone, which was at the time the most expensive of its kind.
Just like all of Gaudi’s works, the magnificent palace reflects the genius and originality of this Catalan Art Nouveau pioneer.
Once we entered we were lead to the basement where we began our visit. The basement is actually where the horses were stabled after the guests carriages dropped them off at the two iron gates designed to allow guests to enter the palace in their horse drawn carriages. A ramp was used then to take the animals into the basement while their affluent owners were attending the events and receptions held in the luxurious central hall.
Making our way up the stairs we found the splendid vestibule and the grand staircase lined with sandstone columns.
The next floor was the main hall. The detail here is just amazing.
There was a courtyard that we could walk out on and look up to the top floor where Gaudí’s work really shines.
The next level is the main floor where the family rooms are. Some of them are labyrinthine and dotted with piercings of light or grand, stained glass windows.
Next was the roof where there are 20 colorful chimneys that are covered with ceramic pieces which are called trencadís. Trencadís is a technique often used by Gaudi to decorate various objects with broken shards of ceramic tiles. This laborious method can be observed in many of the architect’s projects, including Parc Güell, Casa Batllo, and La Pedrera.
From the rooftop you can see the top of the Barcelona Cathedral and the cable cars sailing across the sky to Montjuic castle. Sadly, you can also see some of the rundown and dilapidated buildings that people are living in. It’s quite a contrast in this city, the wealthy and the poor.
Picasso – who, incidentally, hated Gaudí’s work – began his Blue Period in 1902 in a studio across the street at Carrer Nou de la Rambla 10. Begging to differ with Señor Picasso, Unesco declared the Palau, together with Gaudí’s other main works (La Sagrada Família, Casa Batlló, La Pedrera, Park Güell, Casa Vicens and Colònia Güell crypt) a World Heritage site.
Finished with our itinerary for the day we made our way back to some of the shops we passed earlier to get some goodies.
A little later on we met up with Sissy and we were ready to sit down and enjoy a nice dinner in Barcelona. We trusted Marion to use his trusty google and find us a restaurant, which of course he did and he found another good one.
Even the restaurants in Spain have awesome history. The Arcano was built on what were 17 century stables where the Catalan gentiles used to leave their horses when visiting the old coastal settlement.
Once we walked in, it was like traveling back into time. The ancient walls and arches really added to the cozy ambience.
The service here was wonderful. The staff was very attentive and the food selections on the menu all sounded so good.
We ordered a few appetizers and entrees to share.
After scarffing up our appetizers, everyone seemed to get a bit preoccupied.
The food was just amazing. Marion found another winner.
The server happened to over hear us say that this was my Birthday Celebration Dinner and he brought over an amazing tasting truffle with a candle. I was completely stuffed but I couldn’t be rude, so of course I had to find room for the truffle in my belly.
Stuffed and tired we walked back to the hotel for some good shut eye.
Stay tuned for our next day in Barcelona and how we handled the taxi drivers strike.