In December 2022, we took a 4-day trip to Barcelona. There's a lot to see and do in the city, so we tried to cram as much activities as we could. It was quite exhausting, but I don't regret a thing!
This page will be a little memoir of the trip. My goal is to read this in a few years and be able to jog my memory of each place, so I'll try to hit on as many details as I can, without losing focus of the general vibe of each place.
If you also want to go to Barcelona, I invite you to take a read!!! Will you join us? :)
The original plans made by Silvia...
2nd december, 09:49
Our trip begins at the Atocha station in Madrid. The high-velocity train was scheduled to leave at 10 AM, so we had to arrive at least thirty minutes earlier. However, this became quite tricky, since we left our house much later than originally intended -- I never learn. Strong emotions abound in our trip to the Atocha station, since we didn't know if we would arrive early enough to get on board...
Thankfully, everything worked out alright, and we boarded the train; quite early in fact (I wonder why I never learn). We sat on the top floor ("cielo"), in front of a couple who I could only guess were coworkers. On the other side of the aisle, three young girls conversed in french, and a fourth one fiddled around in her MacBook. Next to the door there was a family with a baby that jumped up and down. The first time he looked at me, I made a funny face and he laughed; the second time, he didn't find it very funny. Tough crowd.
Two hours, fifty minutes and three bananas later, we arrived at our destination.
Did you know? The Renfe high-velocity train is the 7th fastest train in the world, according to the first link I could find on the subject!
2nd december, 13:34
We take a train to the hostel so we can check-in and leave our baggages. The fellow at the counter, Dave, is super amicable -- he asks us where we're from, accompanies us to our room on the 7th floor, all the while making tons of small talk. I tell him that my poor brazilian body is badly prepared for the european winter, and he laughs: "Y yo, hombre, ¿¡que soy de Nigeria!?". I laugh as well.
Our apartment is actually shared with two other people, although none of them made their presence felt during our 4-day stay; for all intents and purposes, we were all by ourselves. The greatest feature of the apartment was the kitchen, which came in handy as I used it to cook gastritis-safe food for me (bland rice and chicken). There was a computer monitor in the living room which played the role of a poor man's television -- two days later it would regrettably display Brazil losing to Cameroon. (It's so good when you lose a game and can continue in the tournament! Good times, good times.)
The most memorable thing of the hostel, however, is the mascot: a green dragon which I instantly recognized as a "spyro bootleg". My love for the purple dragon knows no bounds, so I bought at least one t-shirt of this little brother of his.
2nd december, 14:01
Hungry, we went to eat at a brazilian restaurant close to the hostel. Normally I'd be more adventurous when picking a place to eat, but unfortunately I was in the middle of a gastritis crisis: if I ate something that my stomach didn't agree on, I would most certainly spend the rest of the trip regretting it and doubling down in pain. Since this restaurant offered a meal that I was pretty confident about (pechuga a la plancha, or "rice with grilled chicken"), we decided to eat lunch there for the first two days.
The place itself was not as big as I'd expected it to be, and basically ran out of the backroom of a family's house. Everything gave off a "grandma's house" feel, which I loved: the flowery towel decorations, the christmas playlist on loop, the moisture on the walls... Indeed, the owner herself was a middle-aged brazilian woman who looked straight up like the wikipedia definition of the "cooking mom from Bahia" stereotype. When we arrived, she said to us: "¿Hablas brasileño?". Powerful vibes.
The food tasted great, had a low price, and most importantly, didn't provoke any gastric wrath. As we say in Brazil: "if it gets any better, it's bound to get worse."
¡Excelente restaurante! Lo visitamos dos veces y los platos fueron siempre muy ricos y las personas muy amables, todo a un buen precio. Altamente recomendable.
Response from the owner:
2th december, 15:12
Next up, we took a metro to the Cathedral of Barcelona, an imponent church at the center of the Gothic Quarter. This was one of the places that we most wanted to visit in the city, since both me and my girlfriend have had longtime crushes on Gothic architecture (thanks, From Software!). Our expectations paid off: the outside was impressive on its own, but upon entering, we became straight-up paralyzed -- the space, the colors, the ambiance... There's so much stuff going on, you don't even know where to look.
It's clearly a place with a whole lot of history; not surprising for a cathedral from the 12th century whose construction took longer than 150 years (longer even than the Sagrada Familia!). It practically begs you to lose yourself on its details: there are gargoyles, floating coffins, depictions of torture, fish-baby carvings, specific-numbered geese, a chapel adorned with a surprising amount of shoes... There's enough material to spend a whole afternoon here. My favorite part was when we discovered that all throughout our visit, we were walking on people's tombs. As the youth use to say: Very Metal
Our ticket included an audioguide, but although it provided key insight into many of these details, we quickly realized that its mechanical delivery was totally at odds with the calm, majestical vibe of the cathedral itself. We ended up speedrunning the guide's contents and then restarting the visit from scratch, investigating at our own pace. This worked well but in hindsight I'd recommend others to do the opposite: ignore the audioguide at first, and only play it after exploring the church on your own.
It's safe to say that this is the closest I've come to being inside a Fromsoft game.
Did you know? The difference between a "church" and a "cathedral" is that while both are places of worship, a cathedral has a bishop presiding over it. "Cathedra" is the name given to the raised throne in which the bishop sits!
2th december, 16:54
We exited the Cathedral onto the Gothic Quarter, a neighborhood in which every building looks like a Bloodborne 3D asset. We were welcomed by a street performer playing not a guitar nor an accordeon, but a bloody scottish bagpipe -- not exactly the kind of music that I associate with gothic stuff, but hey, you do you bagpipe man. My attention was quickly grabbed by a nearby street vendor selling castañuelas, but the inevitable transaction had to be postponed because we were late to the next step in our trip: a guided visit through the gothic streets.
We managed to rendezvous with our guide just as she was about to give up and leave (supposedly). Violant was a vigorous 50-year-old lady with grey hair, blue eyes, and a distinct orange scarf which progressively constricted her neck as night fell. As we walked through the cavernous streets, she told us about the beginnings of the neighborhood -- which she called by its other name, the Jewish Quarter --, and how it was strongly tied to the ancient roman city of Barcino, to the martyrdom of Santa Eulalia, to the expulsion of the jews from Spain, and to many other events from the chronicles of Catalunya. She also connected these events to many architectural details that we were completely unaware of: how some doors were rectangular, instead of the more common arched format; how some parts of the walls were clearly windows that people closed off with bricks; how some buildings had completely different brickwork in the first and second floors, denouncing later expansions; how some streets had scratched lines on the wall from the frequent passing of merchant carts; and many more.
As we gathered around to hear her stories, it felt less like a guided tour and more like a nice chat with one of your favorite school teachers -- which is how all the best tours feel.
After 2 hours, the tour ended and we said goodbye to Violant. She told us that she wanted to keep talking to us, but she had another tour at 19:00 focused on the "mysteries and legends of Barcelona". Upon receiving that information, I must confess that my mood suddenly changed -- mysteries and legends? Wow-wee, sign me the fuck up! Like a child who was denied a Christmas gift because their birthday had already been celebrated on December 23rd, I looked pleadingly to my girlfriend: "yeah this gift is cool and all, but Dear Mother, can't I have that other one as well?". Sadly our evening was already planned out, so the mysteries of Barcelona had to wait for another day.
2th december, 19:03
After the guided tour, we walked around a bit more around the Gothic Quarter to take in its unique airs. Suddenly, we found ourselves in a plaza with a giant, beautiful cathedral! I said to my girlfriend: "Boy, Spain is indeed something! You're just walking around and BAM, another impressive building whose name you don't even know!" Without looking at me, she responded: "Are you joking? This is the Cathedral of Barcelona. We just went there."
Traveling: even more fun when you don't have a sense of direction! (Although I would've died already were it not for her. God Bless)
Of special interest to us was the Christmas-themed street market right in front of the church. Most of the shops were selling things for belenes, or Nativity scenes: basically a spanish Christmas tradition where people construct and display miniature models of the Nativity scene (the moment when Jesus was born). The shops sell things like little houses, little farm animals, little babies Jesuses -- you buy the ones you like the most and construct your own Nativity scene at home, to display for the whole family. I find it very curious: in Brazil there is also the tradition of displaying a Nativity scene during Christmas, but most people buy pre-made sets -- here in Spain it appears that people take it very seriously, they like to build their own customized models and even compete for the prettiest one. As I understand it, it's Warhammer figurines for people who go to church.
Another very interesting thing on the street market were the many shops dedicated to... action figures of people taking a shit. I'm not joking, check the photos down below! For only 15 euros, you could have your own sculpture of Donald Trump shitting, Luffy shitting, Sonic shitting, the Dalai Lama shitting... You name them, they have them. What's up with that? Basically, it also has to do with the Nativity scene: as the story goes, the Nativity scenes in Catalunya have traditionally displayed not only the usual suspects (baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the farm animals etc) but also a villager defecating in the middle of the woods, whom they call the "Caganer" (literally, "the shitting one"). It is said that the poop represents the "fertility brought by the birth of Jesus" or some such, but I ain't buying it: they just don't want to admit that it is simply Very Funny to put a shitting guy in the middle of a scene that's supposed to be not only Holy, but one of the MOST Holy. It's not just funny, it's poetic too; don't you think there's something powerful in the fact that, 2000 years ago, when God Himself was being Borne Upon This Worlde, a guy was like 10 meters away taking a shit in the middle of the woods? It humanizes the whole thing. It brings this fundamental moment of Christian Lore to our terrestrial plane without diminishing it, on the contrary, somehow making it even Holier... It's like we could have been there, for we shit as well, you know? I have to say that I've become a Caganer fan.
After debating with my girlfriend for like 20 minutes about which Caganer I should buy, my bag welcomed the more traditional one (Sorry Luffy caganer, you'll have to wait a little bit longer). Afterwards we walked more around the market, took a picture with a giant reindeer, and became puzzled as to the prevalence of another strange Catalan mascot: a smiling log. Two days later, we would discover not only the true name of this curious fellow, but also its faecal connections.
2th december, 21:19
We went back to the hotel to have dinner: gastritis-safe food for me, and lunch leftovers for my gf. We were quiet at first, but after a while it became clear that we were all alone, since the apartment was completely silent apart from our hushed steps. We decided to turn on the television (a repurposed PC monitor) to watch Brazil play Cameroon for the World Cup; it wouldn't be very brazilian of us if we skipped this game just because we were traveling, right?
Sadly the game was pretty bad. Since Brazil was already classified for the next stage, the coach decided to play only with the reserve team; a wise decision, but with annoying consequences... After 90 minutes of frustrated grunts and increasingly louder insults in portuguese, we watched as Brazil lost 1x0. Displeased, we returned to our rooms and prepared to have a good night's rest.
Just as I was closing the door of our room, I saw the door open in the room next to ours. A guy came out. We weren't alone.
3rd december, 09:23
We had breakfast at the hostel and walked to the main event in our trip: the Sagrada Família.
Facts first. The Sagrada Família is a church located in Barcelona which has been in construction since 1882. It was designed by Antoni Gaudí, an architect who spearheaded the Catalan Art Nouveau movement in the transition from 19th to 20th century. He had a very unique style of architecture which aimed to unite the three things most important to him: nature, christianity, and catalan ideals. Although not exactly well-received during his time, he was at least well-funded, and over his lifetime he had a very prolific career in which he designed many buildings in Barcelona which today are an important historical heritage of the city. Among his works, the Sagrada Família is the grandest one, to which he dedicated himself with exclusivity for the last 20 years of his life.
Upon arriving at the Sagrada Família, the first thing you realize is: it's big. It's not only big, it's Colossally Big. The highest tower already-built reaches 136 meters, and when it's finished, the main tower will reach 170. But it's not only the height -- I've seen higher buildings which left me less impressed -- it's not only the height, no, it's the width as well. The church extends over 60 meters depending from where you look, and every point of this area is HIGH. It's not like looking up at a Giant, it's like being cornered by an enormous lion made of concrete and marble and which does not look anything like any lion you've ever seen.
Because although the church grabs your attention by being enormous, it maintains that attention by being Extremely Weird. Look at the pictures below. Does it look like a church to you? It does not look like any building that I've ever been into, much less any church. The outside reminds me of an anthill, and the inside looks like an alien temple of some kind. It is mind boggling to me that people not only allowed this thing to be built, but funded it, with millions, for MORE THAN A CENTURY. I am not joking: this building does not belong to This World, it strongly feels like a glimpse into another reality. It's like speculative evolution for architecture.
We did a guided tour, and it was excellent; it initiated us unto the basilica's mysteries, and elevated our appreciation to an even higher plane. There are two Turtles, Equal but not the Same. Sacred Numbers arranged in a perfect disposition. Faces have been etched where names long-forgotten. Snails, more than once.
Travel to Barcelona, go to the Sagrada Família, do the guided tour, stay there for 4 more hours and absorb Everything. You will not regret it.
3rd december, 17:26
We didn't have anything planned for the next few hours, so we decided to pay a visit to a museum that Violant called a "must-see". We were ambivalent about it at first ("we already went to the gothic quarter yesterday, are we sure we want to go again?"), but after seeing some photos in Google Maps, our curiosity was piqued. Indeed, it was less like a traditional museum, and more like the underground ruins of a lost city.
Museo de Historia de Barcelona (MUHBA)
The museum consists of an underground path through the roman ruins of Barcelona, and contains several columns and artifacts from that era. I was particularly impressed by how large the site is, as it extends under more than a few streets of the Gothic quarter; it also unnerved me that had it not been for the guide's suggestion, we would never have known that all this time we were walking over so many ruins.
The plaques provide clear information about the site, and I did not feel the need for a guided visit. Also worth saying is that we arrived at a saturday evening and the museum was basically empty, so it seems that you don't need to buy tickets beforehand. I don't quite agree that it is a "must see" (there are more special places to visit in Barcelona), but if you like history and have some more time in the city, then I would strongly recommend taking a look.
3rd december, 19:04
Our next planned appointment was still a few hours away, so we decided to take a stroll around the Gothic Quarter while on our way to the subway. We ended up discovering many interesting things, like a beautiful plaza with Gaudí-designed lamplights, a church that was having mass with Portuguese subtitles (?), a street shop which sold Spyro plushies (??), and a small square where 30 people (most of them children) died during a Civil War bombing (???). You can't get bored in Barcelona!
Perhaps the most random encounter of all was that this last square had a graffiti saying "Plaça de Nuria Monfort". In 99.9% of all possible universes this would mean absolutely nothing to me, but in this one it did: before coming to Spain I prepared my language skills by reading a single book in spanish, called "La Sombra del Viento" (The Shadow of the Wind). In this book there's a character named Nuria Monfort who lives in a plaza; obviously, it was this plaza. Only then did I remember that the book indeed takes place in Barcelona -- this Barcelona, this city, the ground where now I walked. The thought perforated me and splattered my soul everywhere, disarranged, like that precise moment in a dream when you realize that you're dreaming. I dissociated. For some strange seconds, I was not in that square, but inside that precious book which I now only vaguely recalled; it was here, I was there, I was nowhere.
My girlfriend urged me to continue onwards, for we did not have enough time to stand idly around. The feeling faded as suddenly as it began. Thankfully I took a photo of the sign, and some of that fleeting moment still lingers in it, however faintly...
3rd december, 22:25
We took a subway to the next stop in our journey: the "El Llums de Sant Pau", a light spectacle that occurs every December at the Hospital de Sant Pau. Since we arrived a bit early, we ate on the Burger King just in front of the place while we waited for the event to begin - my girlfriend had a Whopper and I ate some cookies I brought. On the table next to us, there was a 30-something guy in shaggy clothes completely fixated on his phone, fronting a nightmarish posture that damaged my own lumbar just from watching. He was apparently alone and did not order anything for the 10 minutes that I watched him. My mind took to the worst conclusion imaginable and I started to think... how long could I live in a fast-food restaurant without anyone noticing? I mean, here in Spain they already function as basically public toilets: you can enter one of them and use the WC without ordering anything... If I were truly desperate, shouldn't hiding myself in a Burger King be one of my go-to options? Would I be truly invisible? Should these establishments receive government funding for providing such an important service for the community?
As I lost myself in these faraway thoughts, a 30-something shaggy-looking couple brought a tray to join my focused compadre. As the three began to talk, I could catch a glimpse at his cellphone... and wouldn't you know it, it was a World Cup game, Argentina x Australia. But of course.
After eating our fill, we walked to the main event. The "El Llums de Sant Pau" is basically an open-air museum, where you walk around the ex-hospital grounds and view artistic installations that use light in various ways. Sometimes, interesting pictures are projected onto the buildings; other times, trees blink in different colors while following a song; and so on and so on.
Unfortunately, I found the entire show to be very disappointing. Despite the high price of admission, the most interesting thing at the event was the main building's façade, which you can see for free from the main street. During our two-hour visit, I kept thinking that it would have been better to visit the hospital during the day, as the architecture was the most striking feature for me, not the lights. I know the photos look good, but there's not much more to the event than a place to take nice pictures for Instagram. It was the first place in Barcelona that I actively disliked; absolutely no recommend.
(As I saw the lights projected onto the main building, I couldn't stop thinking of the original Space Jam website, this one).
3rd december, 23:34
We went to the hotel and slept. Nothing happened. I think.
4th december, 10:01
We woke up early to take a bus to our next destination: Park Güell.
As customary, we miscalculated and ended up arriving right on the clock, but for the first time in our trip, such lateness had consequences. The guided visit in Park Güell started at 10:00 and after an embarrassing amount of running we arrived at exactly 10:01 (I checked on two different clocks). When we said to the lady at the booth that we were booked for the visit at 10:00, she told us to wait, since the visit had already begun without us and that the guide would only come back around to the park's entry in about ten minutes. She then accompanied us to the spot in the road where the rendezvous would happen. Me and my girlfriend were annoyed: come on, we were late exactly 1 minute!! If punctuality were a popular Spanish trait or something then fine, but this didn't happen anywhere else, you know? I mean, If you're late one minute, I don't even think it legally qualifies as late!! What is this, Japan?!?
Be as it may, we stood around waiting for the guide to come back around. It was raining lightly, and another young male employee joined us. He held and umbrella for his coworker, and they spoke in Catalan about something I didn't understand. Both of them were around ~25 years old. In retrospect, it is not clear to me why the arduous task of waiting around needed two employees, but based on how they talked to each other, I got the strong feeling that they were a couple. One of them, I can't remember whom, asked us where we hailed from. I said Brasil. Then the male one said that I must be happy since Brazil had such a strong team for the World Cup; I answered that Brazil was good, but Spain was pretty good as well (they had won against Costa Rica with 7x0). He answered affirmatively, but didn't engage anymore. Meanwhile, my girlfriend was quietly fuming, as if to say "who cares about the world cup, where is the fucking guide??" Eventually the guide did arrive, and we joined a large group of 13 other people to learn some hard facts about this so-called Park.
Park Güell is a park that started being built in 1900 after the Catalan aristocrat Eusebi Güell commissioned the architect Antoni Gaudí (the same one who'd later build the Sagrada Familia). The idea was to basically build a condominium far from the city where rich people could live, and which would represent the modernity of the 20th century not only in its architecture, but also in its engineering. I like the idea because it's basically BioShock's Rapture, but in real life -- it's like seeing the Mona Lisa crossing the street or something. Although the park was never finished, Gaudí did build many things here, resulting in a wonderful place to visit and absorb more fragments of this madman's mind.
There are many things worth commenting. For example, the place is huge, and I did get lost more than once (see my Google Review down below). Another thing is that the place is very vertical: the upper terrace holds a plaza where you can sight the whole of Barcelona, and where people were intended to meet and have their leisure; immediately below, there's a series of columns where the commerce should happen in an open-air market; even further down, there's the famous water fountains and a series of houses that were possibly/probably/certainly inspired by Hansel and Gretel's fairy tale. Such verticality does not possess only aesthetic reasons: in the upper plaza, rain falls and gets filtered by the sand grains in the soil; this water gets stored in a reservoir beneath the market after running down inside the columns; finally, it is effortlessly distributed to the fountains and houses in the ground level. Isn't it cool?? The positioning appears arbitrary, but it's actually a cautiously-crafted engine!! Furthermore, a majority of the park's buildings are coated with trencadís, an ornamental technique invented by Gaudí in which broken ceramic is glued together in something akin to a mosaic. Back then these decisions were not exactly well-received by common people, because after all you're reutilizing stuff from nature and building houses using trash, but today they seem awfully trendy: Gaudí was indeed thinking in terms of sustainability in an time and place where this was very much not part of the discourse. Such a cool guy.
Finally, there's the lizard: perched upon one of the fountains and made of trencadís, he spills out water and supposedly protects the park. The guide told us that there are many interpretations for his true nature: some say it's a salamander and that the monument is a reference to Alchemy; others say it's a dragon like the one slain by Saint George (the patron saint of Catalunya). For me, it's a big ol' lizard called Güell. We bought a small plushie of him that's very fun to press.
When we were leaving the park, again I encountered the employee couple from the beginning, now guarding a gate with crossed arms. Like the nice brazilian that I am, I greeted them on my way out: "¡Buenas tardes! ¡Adiós!". The guy waited a few seconds and replied "adiós" with the excitement of someone who had just lost a friend. I mean, you can't win them all.
4th december, 12:20
At some point during our visit to Park Güell, we realized that we were late to the next stop in our Barcelona trip (as is customary). Common sense dictated that we should hurry up a little and go straight to the bus stop, however my ability to "hurry up a little" was fairly compromised because my back hurted like hell -- I have a protrusion in my lumbar (as it is written) and although this usually doesn't affect me in the slightest, apparently the line is drawn at "3 days of traveling and full-time walking". All this to say: as I exited the park and walked very slowly towards the bus stop with a hand on my back and another in my phone updating google maps to know if we could arrive on time, I suddenly absorbed the tour guide's remarks that "because Güell wanted the park to be its own secret place, he built it as far from civilization as possible, near no public transportation".
Eventually we arrived at Casa Milà -- or "La Pedrera", as it is more commonly known. Basically, it is just a house constructed in early 20th century but because it was designed by Gaudí, it (1) looks less like a normal house and more like a CrAzY HOuSe O_O, and (2) it is an official Historical Site or something which means it costs like 30 euros to enter. As you can see, Gaudí is like the Catalan version of King Midas -- everything he touched turned out to be gold (sadly it took like 50 years for his fame to catch on, so like a nerfed version of King Midas maybe).
The building is indeed very cool. First, the guide took us through the public rooms, and told us about the history of the building. For example, I was surprised to discover that although La Pedrera is a Historical Site, most of its apartments are rented out! Not only that, but they are all rented by businesses - with the exception of two apartments that are rented out by two old ladies who live here since like 1970. It's easy to see which ones are their apartments because they're the only ones with plants on the balcony -- more trivia: their contract determines that they pay the same rent they did in 1970, and also that they cannot pass the ownership of the apartment to any heir; when they die, the apartment must go to the building owner. Kinda cruel but it's a good deal, don't you think?
After seeing the public rooms (including a basement which originally functioned as a station wagon garage, and now is a concert hall), the guide took us to an apartment that was open for visiting. It looked like a Funhouse apartment, with curves everywhere and tons of products from that era such as posters, cans and general furniture. One particular detail stood out to me: in a child's bedroom, I could see through the zoomed camera lens a cross-stitch depicting all alphanumerical characters (a literacy exercise, I wager) and the message "Francisca Bonnemaison edad 6 años año 1878". I asked the guide if that was a reproduction or the real thing, she said it was the real thing but didn't know what it was about. I quickly Googled the name and, lo and behold, there really existed a girl by that name! She apparently grew up to have some fame, since she even has her own small Wikipedia page now. I suddenly felt a deep bond with this child, which is kinda strange, because we're used to seeing antique artifacts in museums all the time, are we not? But somehow, this time it was special, since I myself made that connection and found out who this girl was when nobody had a clue or cared -- indeed, as I googled it, I fell behind most other visitors who didn't even bat an eye. I don't know how that cross-stitch ended up in that room, but for that brief moment I did touch something larger than life, a little secret between me and Francisca Bonnemaison.
Then we went to the attic, and I audibly said "woooaahhhh", much to the tour guide's expectations. Nothing really prepares you for the attic. It doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the building, it's like a different dimension altogether. It's really great. The terrace has a good vibe but nothing special -- I particularly like the design of the chimney soldiers. I want to steal it and use their design elsewhere. The terrace has such a Spyro feeling to it, like Desert Ruins or Seashell Shore or something. Three people in the world will understand this last sentence and that's okay.
4th december, 15:08
Since the next stop was another place right by La Pedrera, we planned to eat a brazilian restaurant in between both places. Everything was perfect: we had already checked the menu online, we saw that it offered some nice gastritis-safe food, it was close, it was cheap... However, no plan survives contact with the enemy, and the place ended up being closed for some godawful reason. So we decided to take a subway to the closest restaurant which appeared to offer gastritis-safe food: La Carioca.
tl;dr: it was Not Good!
We ordered two "saudade" plates and had caipirinhas. The food and drinks were good, although we ordered the steak medium (ao ponto) and they came very rare (mal passado). Service was ok, not particularly attentive, but not unhelpful either. The music inside was extremely loud to our taste. Overall the place is fine, but there are better brazilian restaurants in Barcelona, specially if you prefer a quieter ambiance.
4th december, 16:15
Next up, we went to our 2nd Gaudí house: Casa Battló. While in theory the experience should have been quite similar to Casa Milà (since they were, at their core, the same thing), it couldn't have been more different; what happened was that the vibes were way off.
Upon arriving, we were greeted by an attendant who asked us which language we spoke. When we said "castellano", he replied "perfecto!", and gave us two old-wireless-landline-phone-things that were to serve as our audio-guide. Yep, this time we couldn't do a guided tour: they were only available at specific days of the week or something, and we couldn't fit them into our schedule, so we had to make do with audio-guides. My girlfriend asked him something about one of the buttons in the phone-thing, and he immediately replied: "pero... VOCÊS SÃO DE PORTUGAL?!". I looked at the table and noted that there was a list of like 15 different languages with their respective country flags, which left me to conclude:: this guy speaks every one of them. He's like one of those addicted polyglot people who can't stop learning new languages; before our turn, he was speaking with the previous guests in something that sounded vaguely German - I couldn't understand a bit, but from the looks of it he was cracking jokes and the visitors were laughing. He doesn't just speaks gagagugu, he's a professional, you know? And he caught me red-handed indeed. I apologized: sorry sir, I'm not a hispanophile, I'm a dirty brazilian. We are learning spanish so normally, in these language choice things, we choose spanish. He laughed at the misunderstanding and told us (in spanish) that it was a very important language to learn, and wished us a nice visit. For many days, the existence of this 40-year-old man consumed my thoughts -- which circumstances in his life led him to become this philological monster? Love of learning? Work? Necessity? I desperately wanted to know more. As we got up the initial staircase, he told us: "llámenme si teneis algún problema con los teléfonos!". And he added: "con los CELULARES :)". Was this man even spanish?
That was probably the highest point in our visit. After going up the stairs, we were shocked to see how the place as packed with people. Most of them either had phone guide things like us, or tablet guides which displayed more in-depth information (I don't have the slightest clue where they got these tablets, since the audio guide we bought seemed to be the only one available). Because everyone wanted to listen to the guide, there was absolutely no flow of movement: when people arrived in a new room, they just kind of stood around for 10 minutes while looking around. It felt clogged, claustrophobic. The quality of the narrations wasn't particularly interesting either; they were well-produced but some of them overstayed their welcome or simply didn't focus on the things that I was interested in. The house was pretty, but the overall experience was terrible. I deeply longed for a normal guided visit.
In the terrace, I spent like 5 minutes trying to take a good picture of the sky. It was in a blue-pink gradient that reminded me of citypop photos.
As we were exiting the building (in a hurry, because we were late - AGAIN - to the next thing in our trip), we were surprised by an area which was simply called "The Mind of Gaudí". As we came to understand, this was an artistic 3D experience which aimed to show how Gaudí saw the world, by putting visitors inside a closed-off room in which every surface is a screen. In practice, it was a weapon to kill epyleptics: lights and colors flashed around from all sides, and I entered not Gaudí's mind, but the mind of someone who took shrooms and played REZ Infinite. Either way, it was cool, but we were late and my back (still) hurt like shit and I was tired of this claustrophobic place so I just wanted to get the hell out of there asap.
The house is indeed very beautiful, and it is always a pleasure to see more of Gaudí's work. However, the audioguide was underwhelming at best -- although it was well-synced with the rooms and had a good production value, the contents seemed unimpressive and some of the audio files were just too long. This meant that a lot of people just stood around crowding the (narrow) corridors while hearing the audioguide; the house was full enough for me to have difficulties walking around (we went on a Sunday). There was a screen/light show at the end about "The Mind of Gaudí" which took me by surprise and was very cool. As a whole, I don't think that the steep price for entry (35€ per person) justified itself, perhaps if we had done a guided tour of some sort with an emptier place, the experience would have been different. The guy at the entry who distributed the audioguides was also very charming, and the fact that he spoke a thousand languages is also ""hella cool"" and deserves to be noted.
4th december, 17:59
We walked to Plaza de Catalunya, where we were scheduled for a Christmas-themed Bus Tour. Again, my back was hurting and we were in a hurry, but that's just how it is sometimes, and that's okay.
One of the street market shops was selling plushies, and they had a plushie of Spyro. Sadly I don't have any pictures so you'll just have to take my word for it. This is the third time I've mentioned Spyro the Dragon in this page, and I'm perfectly aware of that. Let me make it clear that I really like Spyro and playing the original trilogy was one of my childhood-defining moments, but certainly Spyro does *not* come THAT often in my irl conversations. For some reason Spyro just was on my mind in this trip. AND THAT'S OKAY, DO YOU HEAR?? THAT'S OKAY
The bus tour was perfect, and my Google Review summarizes it well.
Barcelona Christmas Tour
We did the "Barcelona Christmas Tour" and would strongly recommend it! It's a bus tour that passes right by the city's most important Christmas decorations, so you can see not only the lights on the streets, but also on the buildings and monuments. The bus has two floors and we'd recommend arriving a bit early to grab a spot on the top floor, as it has the best view. (Although be warned that it is quite cold!)
The tour staff also provides some earbuds through which you can listen to a guide on the ground floor talking about Christmas: its relationship with Catalan culture, the history of Barcelona's christmas lights, etc. I have to say we were positively surprised by the quality of the narration -- we expected the guide to be only a support to the main attraction (the Christmas lights), but listening to it was in fact deeply enlightening, as it explained many of the strange things we had seen so far (like the "tío de Nadal" and the "caganer"). I do not remember the name of the young lad who was our guide, but he truly deserves a shout-out. We also discovered the wonderful Christma song by Albert Pla titled "El Caganer", which will definitely be looping during our Christmas here in Madrid.
In summary, a definite recommendation if you're visiting Barcelona during Christmas. Be advised: this tour is quite sought-after, so get your tickets while you can!
4th december, 21:43
We had dinner at our hotel apartment and belatedly realized that this would be the last night we'd spend in Barcelona. After debating for a while, we decided to pay a final visit to the Sagrada Familia, which would also be an opportunity to see its nightly illuminations: apparently they were lighting up the Maria Tower after 21:00 because of Christmas (or something like that). I also wanted to record a video in front of the place, repeating some of the stuff that we learned in the tour -- I was doing this for every place we visited, as this was a way to both preserve our memories and also to provide a nice experience to our friends and loved ones who weren't there, traveling with us. Since the church was close to our hotel, we really didn't have any reason not to go.
Surprisingly, the Sagrada Familia at night was even more beautiful than we imagined! It has an eerie yellow glow that brings me back to my childhood, to being laid down in the backseat of a car and watching the lampposts go by. It's the same yellow of that memory. The star atop the Maria Tower was indeed turned on, making it look like a big Christmas tree. We circled the building and saw an interesting tidbit of environmental storytelling: on an adjacent building, various apartments held signs with stuff like "MY LIFE IS HERE / AND THEY WANT TO THROW IT TO THE GROUND" and "ARCHBISHOP OMELLA, THE TENTH COMMANDMENT: / YOU SHALL NOT COVET YOUR NEIGHBOR'S HOUSE". At first I was confused, but suddenly it clicked: this is what the tour guide was talking about! What happens is that the Sagrada Familia's blueprints account for three façades: Nativity, Passion and Glory. The first two ones are completed, however the third one -- the main one -- cannot be currently built because... there are apartments in front of it. So to complete the Sagrada Familia, this apartment complex needs to be utterly demolished, and its denizens must be reallocated elsewhere. It's tragic, but I indeed felt very rewarded upon seeing those signs: if I didn't take the guided tour, I wouldn't have understood shit, and would've probably ignored it! This is why I love learning new facts about the world: it gives you the context necessary to see more, and rewards you when you pay attention and see that knowledge spread around the world.
Anyway, I couldn't philosophize too much because it was FREEZING! And by freezing, I mean like 8°C -- it might not seem like much, but please understand that our brazilian bodies were built for temperatures ranging from summer's 40°C to winter's 25°C -- we were severely out of our element here. I remember thinking exactly that and then seeing a woman jogging with shorts and a top tank. How impressive of her, to both jog and slap others in the face!
At some point, my girlfriend's parents called her on WhatsApp, and she used the opportunity to show the Sagrada Familia to them. I just waited around, mostly; I remember
My girlfriend entered a nearby Taco Bell and ordered some tacos. I remember that the restaurant was closing, and that they allowed us to stay but didn't allow anyone to order anymore. When we exited, the Sagrada Familia was completely dark, and I remember being extremely shocked -- I didn't know they could do that! For some reason, I thought that the yellow glow was something it did by itself, I never thought about the existence of spotlights. It was very unsettling seeing it without the lights on. I mean, imagine you're playing Super Mario 64 (see? no Spyro this time!!! thankyou thankyou) and after you exit a painting, the corridor's are all changed in some way. Wouldn't it creep you out?! It was unnatural. The Dark Sagrada Familia was unnatural.
4th december, 23:13
We went home and I slept until the Sagrada Familia was lit up again.
5th december, 08:26
We woke up, had breakfast, and started packing up our luggage. I threw away the leftover rice and chicken that for three days were my dinner, and photographed every room in the apartment for my personal archive of memories. At the reception, we checked out and left our luggage in a special room to get it later. I also bought a mug bearing the hotel's logo (because it reminded me of Spyro).
We took a subway to the last Gaudí point we'd visit: the Casa Vicens.
Sant Jordi Hostels
We stayed at one of the three bedroom apartments, and found no problems -- everything was pretty clean and clear, the other guests were quiet enough to be almost non-existent, and the staff was very pleasant and always tried to help. The apartment kitchen was a very welcome addition that came in handy, it was also well-equipped and clean. We did not attend any of the community events organized by the staff (tours etc), but it was kind of nice to see that they existed. The place is a 5-minute walk from the metro and was pretty easy to find and reach. As a whole the hostel was a great fit for our 4-day vacation in Barcelona, and it's a great cost-benefit place that I wholeheartedly recommend :)
Response from the owner:
Thank you for taking the time to leave us a review! We are glad to hear that you felt comfortable with the facilities and the level of cleanliness during your break. It is also nice to hear that the staff was very pleasant and helpful at all times. We look forward to welcoming you back soon, we will be waiting for you! Regards, the SJH team
5th december, 09:52
We arrived quite early (didn't even know that was possible!) and went to speak with the tour guide, who was already there. Since the tour was in english and we were speaking spanish, she said: "pero sabeis que la visita es en inglés, ¿verdad?", to which we replied, "sí sí, no pasa nada, hablamos los dos -- es que la hora de la visita en inglés era mejor para nosotros". We waited around, and little by little, the other visitors came trickling in: an asian guy with a baseball cap and a large professional camera, and a (very tall!) couple from the Netherlands who spoke in a funny british accent. When everyone arrived, we coalesced around our tour guide, a lovely lady called Soraya who looked *exactly* like Clarice Falcão.
She told us many interesting things about the place's history. The Casa Vicens was the first house designed by Gaudí, and it is also considered to be his first major project way back in 1883 (when Brazil was still a monarchic empire that allowed slavery!). It was commissioned as a vacation home by a stockbroker called Manuel Vicens, and the original plans included both a giant artificial waterfall and an enormous garden as well. Curiosuly, we learned that only half the house we see today was built by Gaudí (!): decades after the original construction, Vicens sold the estate to a pediatrician and his family, who wanted to live in it all year-round instead of just on vacations; however, they found the house too small for that purpose, so they commissioned an expansion from the original architect. Because Gaudí was too busy with the Sagrada Familia (or at least that's the excuse he gave), he recommended his disciple Joan Baptista Serra, who then was hired to extend his master's design and build basically half the house we see today: bedrooms for the children, new living rooms, etc, along with some other stuff in the garden. The owners loved the result and happily lived there for many years.
Sadly, this was all early 20th century, and time consumes everything. Eventually the house changed ownership, fell into disrepair, and most of its estate was sold off with all the garden stuff being torn down (including the giant waterfall!). In the 1990s someone bought the house with the goal of preserving the legacy of Gaudí, but since Joan Baptista Serra was not Gaudí, they demolished everything in the half of the house that was expanded (!?!!?!!). And if you think this is depressing, listen to this: not only we don't have any idea how the rooms in this second half looked like, but furthermore, none of the buildings that Joan Baptista Serra built throughout Barcelona (of which there were many!) survived to this day. They were all torn down at some moment! "He gets no credit at all", Soraya told us, "It's very sad". Thankfully Casa Vicens had a happier ending -- in 2014 a bank bought the estate and invested the money needed to restore it to its former glory. After 2 years of restoration (!!!), the place was opened to the public in 2017; the restoration won many awards. They deserve it!!! Here's a video of the restoration, if you are interested. I love how there are several things in the house that could only be restored because they had photos of how it originally looked like -- as a person interested in digital preservation and archiving, this resonates deeply with me. I can easily imagine the guy who owned 200 architecture magazines and painstakingly scanned them all, unable to explain to his friends and family why he was doing it. And thanks to him, now we know how this house looked like, and there are people who poured millions of moneys into making it true to his photos. Paraphrasing Jason Scott: we simply don't know what people from the future will find interesting! You gotta save it all.
There were many other tidbits that we learned over our guided tour, it was very enlightening and the vibes were all Great. I don't know if it's because of the language (my english is better than my spanish), or if it's because the group was small (only five people), or perhaps the guide's personality (she was extremely affable!)... what I know is that I felt extremely at ease in that monday morning, much more than at any moment in our trip. I think the tour lasted for almost 2 hours, which is a sign that things weren't rushed at all and that every question was properly answered (remember that in Park Güell, the tour barely lasted 50 minutes!). I felt comfortable to say everything that crossed my mind -- I remember asking about minor things that piqued my curiosity, such as which species were the flowers painted on the ceilings, why some of the tiles in the façade looked older, why there were swastikas everywhere (still wondering about that one!), etc. I fondly remember walking in the upper floor and talking with the group about visiting the Sagrada Familia at night, and how we saw all the signs made by people who refused to move. I vividly remember Soraya answering while sitting down in a bench- this is not what a guide should do! The vibes were so friendly she just sat down, you know. It was a special day.
5th december, 09:52
After Casa Vicens, we had no more appointed visits in that last day -- we were free to explore. Since our train only departed at 17:45, we figured we had enough time to visit another famous postcard of Barcelona: the Montjuïc Hill, home to the even more famous "Magic Fountain of Montjuïc". Sadly the fountain was closed-off for maintenance during our stay, but we wagered it'd be worth it to at least pay a visit to the place.
After debating whether we should climb up the hill on foot (a conversation which lasted approximately 5 seconds), it was decided that we would take the funicular + cable car route. The funicular was just a glorified elevator, but the cable car had quite a great vista!
5th december, 12:25
Sadly, Montjuïc Castle was underwhelming at best. I'll let my Google Review speak for itself.
The Castell de Montjuïc is a castle at the top of the Montjuïc hill, a strategic position that allows it to oversee the ports of Barcelona. The main way to arrive at the castle is to take both a funicular and a cable car -- for the funicular you can use your metro card, and for the cable car you need to buy a ticket. We took this approach and would recommend it to others, as the view from the cable car is quite unique and allows you to see the whole city. The view from the terrace of the castle is also quite beautiful and complements the view from the cable car.
Sadly, we were not impressed by the castle itself. Although it is obviously full of history, this history was not made clear to us during our visit; we paid the extra 3€ for the audioguide but found it to be mediocre at best, as the audios were unnecessarily long and it was not easy to find the actual places they referred to. I expect the experience would have been of a much higher quality had we bought tickets beforehand to take the full guided tour.
When planning to visit the castle, it's worth knowing that there is a diner at the premises, with food that is not particularly good but enough to satiate hunger. You can also spend some time at the exhibits -- when we went there were two, one about the legacy of the Olympics 1992 at Barcelona, and another about the fauna at Montjuïc hill. Both appeared to be very interesting, although we didn't have enough time to give them a due inspection.
5th december, 15:25
After visiting the castle, we took a walk around the Mirante -- a nice leisure area where people had picnics, biked, and overall had fun outdoors. The area's design reminded me of that little circular plaza close to the sea in Disco Elysium, where you first collect empty glass bottles. Writing this page made me realize how much my day-to-day thinking is determined by videogames. I do not know what to make of this.
In this little corner of the world, we saw many strange things. Chief among them was a group of 5 young 20-something Americans throwing a basketball up into a tree. A middle-aged spaniard was looking at them, and I joined him. "Es un [UNINTELLIGIBLE]", he said. I turned to look at him, and he slowly walked away, entered a van, and left. I kept replaying his phonemes in my mind to try to decipher them, and slowly I realized: IT'S A DRONE! They got a drone stuck atop the tree, and they're trying to knock it down. "Holy shit", I thought. Everybody around had their eyes glued on the scene, and we did as well. We walked to a little street market and bought two postcards of Montjuïc. When we left, they were still at it, even more desperate.
We took a cable car and descended towards civilization.
5th december, 16:03
Now we were officially closing shop.
We went to the hostel to pick up our bags. After much debating (both internally and externally), I decided to ask if I could change the hotel mug I bought for a t-shirt. They allowed me, although there was a mix-up because they were changing the price of the mug from 4€ to 5€ and I couldn't remember how much I paid. Nevertheless, I acquired a t-shirt -- I actually prefer it because I have too many mugs. For the past 2 years, I have been conflicted about either starting a mug collection or a sock collection. I have committed to neither, and I feel the painful ramifications of my indecision every day.
We took a metro to the train station. We desperately needed to pee. We peed, and then boarded the train. In front of us, there was a 30-something woman sitting at the window seat, and the seat next to her was empty. A 30-something man arrived.
MAN: "Excuse me, you're in my seat :)"
WOMAN: "No, I'm not, I reserved the 29."
MAN: "Indeed, but you're sitting on the 28, and I'm the 28"
WOMAN: "No I'm not, look here *points at picture drawn above the seats which clearly shows that the 28 is the window seat* see, the 28 is the corridor seat!"
MAN: "No it's not, the picture clearly shows that the 28 is the window seat"
WOMAN: "Well, if you think so and the seat is so important to you, then I'll get up, no problem"
MAN: "No, you can stay there, no problem. I just wanted to sort it out"
I said to my girlfriend in portuguese: "the woman's brazilian, for sure". Despite the rough start (or because of it), the two strangers started chatting, and the conversation became quite involved. I was too far and could not grasp the intricacies of what they were talking, but they seemed to be having fun. I slept and woke up two hours later; we were still on the train, and they were still chatting. Some real Before Sunrise shit. I tried to imagine what kind of person took a train from Barcelona to Madrid at 18h on a december monday. Brazilians, I suppose.
I slept again, and when I woke up, we were in Madrid, and our trip was over.
If you've read through all of that, thank you very very much, I hope it was an enjoyable time!! :) Now you can also safely say that you traveled to Barcelona!!!! Yupee!!