Mike’s and my quest to make up for lost time traveling abroad started four years ago with a trip to Italy. The mission continued the following year with a river cruise up the Danube. This year, part three—a big-ship cruise for our 40th anniversary. We went with two other couples—college friends who have been a part of Mike’s and my relationship from the get go—and we’ve been a part of theirs. One of the other couples was also celebrating their 40th; the third couple celebrated their 40th on the Danube cruise.
Days 1 and 2: Barcelona
Barcelona was our first stop on a 15-day itinerary. In the two-and-a-half days that we spent in this beautiful city, we learned about its strong movement to become independent from Spain, immersed ourselves in its distinctive architecture, and delved into some tapas and seafood dishes.
The Hotel Majestic (https://majestichotelgroup.com/en/barcelona/majestic-hotel) set the stage for a perfect visit. The atmosphere was elegant, yet comfortable and casual, and the hotel staff was helpful, attentive, and gracious. Breakfast at the Majestic catered to its international array of guests, and included a variety of fruits and fresh-squeezed juices, traditional and Mediterranean breakfast foods, various meats, cheeses, and pastries. The hotel’s location on Paseo de Gracia—one of Barcelona’s major boulevards—was another benefit. We were enveloped in some outstanding restaurants, architecture, and shopping.
- Barcelona is rich with culture, and the residents were friendly and independent—they were very proud of being Catalan. Catalonia is an autonomous region in Spain and Barcelona is Catalonia’s capital, as well as its largest city. Known for centuries for its distinctive culture, Catalonia is Spain’s wealthiest area. Barcelona is Spain’s second largest city. The city’s residents speak both Catalan and Spanish, though Catalan is preferred. The language has some similarities to Spanish, but has stronger ties to French and Italian.
- There is a palpable and intensifying movement in Barcelona for Catalonia to become independent of Spain. For centuries, the region has been recognized for its distinctive culture by both Catalans and outsiders; and over the years, Catalonia has experienced various degrees of autonomy. The modern independence movement dates back to around 1920. Supporters believe that Catalonia is distinct from Spain culturally, politically, and economically; that they have a right to self-determination; and that the region contributes much more to Spain than what its residents receive back. While we observed many displays of the Catalan flag, signs for independence (as in written, physical signs in windows), and felt a strong presence of the desire for independence, the city was extremely vibrant and peaceful. At no point did we feel in danger of potential conflict or violence.
- Barcelona’s architecture was a mix of Gothic and modern. It was without a doubt, unique and stunning. We spent a lot of time walking through narrow streets and alleys that hosted cafés and bakeries in the Gothic Quarter, which was built between the 12th and 15th centuries. Much of our time was spent observing Catalan modernism, though. Modernisme, as it is known to the Catalans, was a cultural and political movement—a way of thinking—that took place from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Modernisme art was ornate, incorporating function and aesthetics, a mix of old and new components and materials, geometry and asymmetry, and nature—and the architectural style that unfolded can be seen throughout Barcelona. Much of that architecture was created by Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926). Gaudi was nothing short of an artistic, architectural, and engineering genius. His works are marvels. To say that his buildings are one-of-a-kind is an understatement. Gaudi’s works were inspired by his passion for architecture, nature, and religion, and were embodied in la Sagrada Familia, a cathedral that was begun in 1882 and is expected to be finished in 2026. Gaudi was the chief architect of la Sagrada Familia. There are more than 10 other Gaudi buildings in Barcelona—so many to see but we had time to visit only two of them. In addition to la Sagrada Familia, we visited Casa Milà, aka “La Padrera (stone quarry).” It was the new home of the Milà family when it was built, and in the opinion of many, resembled a quarry.
- We spent less time indulging in Barcelona’s food scene than I had hoped. There were lots of markets, cafés, bakeries, ice cream parlors, and gelaterías. We stopped at a couple of cafés over the course of the two days, and had dinner the first night at El Vivo Tapas (https://vivotapas.com/en/) and dinner the second night at El Congrejo Loco (the Crazy Crab). The El Congrejo Loco website link is not being provided because it is not secure. Vivo Tapas was in a vibrant area that was a quick walk from the hotel, and El Congrejo Loco had a beautiful view of the water. We had been told that restaurants in Barcelona opened after 8:00 pm—a time that sounded very late to those of us who were weary from two long days of travel, but we were eager to try this restaurant, and were happy to learn that El Vivo Tapas could accommodate 7:00 reservations. As the only people in the restaurant for a while (and perhaps the earliest diners in all of Barcelona:), we had the undivided attention of the waitstaff. We shared, among other dishes, mushroom croquettes, tapa manchego cheese, Iberian ham, and Catalan cream, there. At El Congrejo Loco, we loved the gilthead fish and the paella at fisherman style. The food, the service, and the atmosphere at both of these restaurants were top notch. I would recommend them and head back to both of them in a heartbeat.
Until next time,