A Fortnight in Catalonia

A Fortnight in Catalonia

I spent a relaxing trip soaking up the sun and catching up with family and friends in Catalonia after moving back from Canada. We arrived in time for the festival of Sant Joan, a midsummer celebration for the shortest night of the year and the summer solstice. We took the train down to Mataro and were delighted and somewhat bewildered by the crowds and buskers and set ourselves up on the beach. We were treated to a spectacular fireworks display and bonfires from towns all along the coast with music, laughter and revelry carrying on until the early hours.

Our favourite haunts were the older parts of town in the Gothic Quarter and Raval. We looked at some gorgeous architecture, including a momentous amount of Gaudi, and enjoyed Casa Mila, Casa Terrades and of course the Sagrada Familia. Gaudi’s architectural style makes Barcelona’s skyline both striking and surreal. I found the Picasso Museum absolutely fascinating. It houses an expansive collection of Picasso’s early work and general admission is free on Sunday afternoons, and always free for EU students.

I have a penchant for churches. Not only are they usually inexpensive, but I find them tranquil and a great resource for learning about the architecture and history of countries I’m exploring. They also made for a cool respite during the heat of the day! My favourites were the Santa Maria del Mar and we enjoyed being serenaded by guitarists outside Barcelona Cathedral over lunch.

The city was in full bloom when we visited Parc de la Cituadella and we wiled away hours reading and people watching. Another great spot is Montjuic, an elevated sprawl of a park which houses several points of interest and museums.We meandered through the fountains and gardens, and checked out the cracking view of the city from atop the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.

We hunted down some markets and tasted some fresh local produce. Barcelona markets tend to be generous with samples which mean you get a great taster of what’s on offer and even get a a hearty snack! All the food we ate in Barcelona, whether dining out or preparing our own meals with local produce was so flavoursome and we indulged in a lot of seafood and gelato. The cafe culture is vibrant in Catalonia, with bars and restaurants full of people dining al fresco every night. We quickly adapted and starting taking siestas in the unbearable afternoon heat and utilized the cool evenings to putter around town.

I caught up with a couple of friends I hadn’t seen in over a year; one took me around her favourite spots, including Gracia, the student quarter, where we had Spanish-style hot chocolate and delicious flatbread, and we had lunch at a friend’s house up in the mountains a short train ride outside of the city.

We spent quite a lot of time by the sea; apart from the inevitability of sand getting in everything, I adore the beach. We liked the one in a town called Sitges, one of many picturesque places easily accessible by train along the coast. It had windy cobble streets and a lovely little church right on the coast. We went during a Gay Pride festival, and soon discovered the town’s reputation as a hub of the gay community.

My personal highlight was Mount Tibidabo. We took a cute tram up some of the way and then ascended the mountain for some breath-taking views. I found the place surreal, as at the summit there is an amusement park with traditional rides and even further up, a spectacular church. We were privileged to see Barcelona in all its glory on a bright clear day and I found it hypnotic watching the rides. Some of the sections were completely suspended off the edge of the mountain, which looked so fun. It was a great spot, so busy and yet also peaceful and visually stunning.

There was lots more we would have liked to do, but I feel we spent our time wisely and enjoyed it. I had been to Barcelona before briefly, two years ago, so it was lovely to return and feel a sense of familiarity but overwhelmingly a sense of newly discovered wonders.

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