Ah, Barcelona. A city after my own heart, having grown up an Aquarius by the ocean. While I absolutely adored Madrid for so many reasons, Barcelona stole the other part of my heart simply because it’s on the sea. By the time I arrived in Barca via Vueling airlines, I was officially in the second half of my trip and was much more relaxed. Barcelona was full of bottles of cava, beer bought off homeless men on the beach (not as sketchy as it sounds), and as much sun and sand as I could soak up. The one iconic monument I absolutely had to see in the city was the Sagrada Familia, and the cathedral did not disappoint.
Barcelona was my first international experience with renting an Air B&B internationally, and it set the bar high for the rest of the trip. (I’d used Air B&B in New York City before so I wasn’t completely new to it.) We chose to stay in the Poblenou neighborhood of Barcelona, which is quiet but still central to the city and walking distance from the beach. In a random coincidence of life, an acquaintance I had gone to college with was in Barcelona staying a mile away from us on business with another young coworker, so it was nice to be able to meet up with them, too.
Air B&B experiences depend a lot on your research and your price. It’s definitely a situation in which you get what you pay for. This doesn’t mean that you have to go for the most expensive option in the target area, but be sure to read reviews, contact the host prior to clarify any house rules or conditions, and use good judgement based off of the general costs of the area.
In Barca, we stayed with a couple who had lived in the city for 8+ years but were originally from the Netherlands and Morocco. Drinking Moroccan-spiced cafe con leche upon arriving with the hosts in a breezy Barcelona apartment was truly a unique experience, and to this day I still make my espresso with ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger mixed into the grounds.
The first evening in Barcelona was relaxing, spent at a rooftop pool with some American friends who happened to be in Spain for work (how do I get that job, seriously?) and traditional paella dinner out. It was the perfect way to kick off my stay in the beachside city.
The following morning, we visited the Sagrada Familia.
I absolutely recommend buying tickets online prior to visiting. Buying online allows you to purchase tickets for a specific time slot, and you’ll avoid the hours-long wait outside the cathedral. There are two ticket types: base tickets for the cathedral, and an additional ticket for the towers. I highly recommend the additional tower ticket, where you also select a specific time slot. It’s about €15 for a basic ticket to the cathedral (without a guide) and tower tickets are an additional €5. Make sure you have a sweater or sleeves when you visit the cathedral. You’ll be required to cover your shoulders in order to say a prayer in certain pews of the church.
We originally hadn’t bought the tower tickets, since we were attempting to be frugal and, after climbing towers in Salamanca, I didn’t think it would be very different. Oh, was I wrong. A young couple with a child had tower tickets and a restless baby (reason #657 why I do not want children until after I’ve seen the whole world), and graciously gave us theirs before they had to leave. I don’t even think I can put into words how breathtaking this cathedral and its towers are. A little background info to captivate your interest:
The Sagrada Familia is a cathedral originally designed by architect Antoni Gaudi, deemed “God’s Architect.” This church was his representation of the bible in stone, and even if you’re clueless about the biblical stories like I am, the symbolism still stands out. (I’m, like, the worst Catholic ever and I still “got” it.) The cathedral has been under construction for over a century, is scheduled to be in progress until 2030, and each subsequent architect has included their own style into the ornate building. The columns of the church inside look like tree trunks, spreading into branches to make the ceiling, with porthole windows representing the lights of heaven shining down. Gemstone colored fruits adorning the pillars outside symbolize thankfulness for God’s bounty. My photos don’t do this place the slightest bit of justice. Climbing the tower, we were able to peek out of windows and see the construction going on around us, the ocean to the left, and the mountains to the right. The city of Barcelona spread out beneath our view. (The header of my blog was taken from one of the lookout windows.)
After seeing the cathedral, I realized the term “gaudy” for something tacky and overly adorned probably came from Gaudi’s style… as you can tell just from the extravagant stone pillars in the first photo and the intricately carved entrance doors, God’s architect was not a minimalist. Of all the churches you’ll have the opportunity to see in Europe, the Sagrada Familia tops them all. Even Italy, known for breathtaking basilicas, couldn’t rival this masterpiece. If you see one thing in Barcelona in between cava on the beach,it needs to be this.