On our third morning in Barcelona, we bought tickets online (tickets can be purchased on the websites of most attractions for several less euros than purchasing them at the actual location) to La Sagrada Familia, the famed church designed by Antoni Gaudí that has been under construction since 1882. I’ve mentioned before that we are hesitant to pay for church tours but we’d been told by friends that the hefty entrance fee was well worth it. We actually found out during our tour that the project is entirely publicly funded (seems to me like the Catholic church could kick in a few bucks) so I felt better about the ticket purchase, particularly given that the financial effects of covid have pushed back the anticipated completion date of 2026. They are now unsure when the church will be finished. Phil had read that near sunset was the best time to visit so we booked the final tour of the day, 4:30pm then set out for Parc de la Ciutadella.
It was a bright, sunny day which made the chilly weather feel springlike. We walked by the harbor which was near to the park and saw huge luxury yachts. We also saw the biggest sailboat we have ever seen. It even seems odd to call it a sailboat. It is a huge luxury yacht that happens to also have sails. I went online to find a photo of a sailboat that was similar in size and came upon an article by Boat International: The global authority in superyachting (I’m sure most of you have subscriptions) listing the top 10 largest sailing yachts in the world, one of them being the Black Pearl. I think the boat we saw may well have been the Black Pearl. It was built in the Netherlands in 2018 and is owned by the family of a Russian Billionaire. Further sleuthing revealed that the yacht is currently sailing it’s way to Gibraltar (British territory at the southern tip of Spain) so it certainly could have been the boat we saw. Anyway, here’s a picture of the Black Pearl either way. Big boat, right?
Leaving the harbor, we crossed the street to Parc de la Ciutadella, a large and lovely green space in the city. As we were glancing up into the trees, we saw the largest birds nests we have ever seen. We heard the loud, almost screeching of birds. I didn’t know why but the sound seemed familiar. We walked a few more feet and saw bright green parrots high up in the trees, working on their nests. Next to their tall nesting tree, a tangerine tree was conveniently located. Several of the birds fluttered about, snacking on the citrus fruit. When we lived in Long Beach, a band of rouge, feral parrots famously inhabited the neighborhood of Belmont Shore, near our apartment. The parrots were rumored to have escaped from a pet-shop in Pasadena in the 1980’s. I knew the parrot shrieks sounded familiar!
Next to the parrots was a large, wood slatted building. We wandered in and discovered it full of lovely, lush green Palm trees, ferns, and the biggest elephant ear plants I have ever seen (I guess we had a theme for the day)! We were the only ones in the place so we took our time and enjoyed the sunlight peeping through the slats down on us and the greenery.
We walked all around the large park and saw other folks enjoying the sunny day. We passed the Catalan Parliament building that had the cutest little seating area for two in front of it (I mean not right in front. That’s where the armed guards hang out) built around a tree. We also saw the Arc de Triomf, which was built for the 1888 World’s Fair, and some other cool buildings.
After we left the park, we decided it was time for lunch. We happened by Bracafe which has been around since 1929 and figured there must be a reason for that so sat down at one of their outdoor tables in the sun and ordered the menu del dia. For the first course we had a salad of goat cheese and caramelized onion and a dish with bacon and cabbage that had a delicious spice mix that we couldn’t quite place. Second course was baked chicken and potatoes for me and pork loin and potatoes for Phil. We finished the meal with pistachio gelato and chocolate cake with a nice coffee, of course.
We made our way to La Sagrada Familia after lunch and arrived about a half hour before our scheduled tour which gave us time to explore the church on our own for a bit. We’d seen the outside of the church during our visit in 2008. That alone was quite impressive but the inside is truly something to behold. In my opinion, in terms of beauty and majesty of European churches we have visited, it is only trumped by St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Phil writes in more detail about our tour here.
We were one of the last ones to leave La Sagrada Familia right at closing time and started the long walk back toward our Airbnb. We were discussing dinner plants when I remembered an amazing looking tapas place we’d passed that morning, Bilbao Berria. I committed the name to memory in the two seconds in took to walk by the place because the tapas looked sooo good. I am so glad I did.
The tapas were of the Basque style in Bilbao and called pintxos (pinchos in Asturias). They lined the L shaped bar under a glass covering. They were beautiful. It was a self serve situation and our table had a small vase on it where we placed the large toothpicks piercing each pinxto. This is how the bill was tabulated. Some of the toothpicks had slightly different tops to distinguish between varying prices (€2.00-€2.60 each). The pinxtos were absolutely delicious and I not so jokingly joked with Phil that we should return the following evening. I went to sleep that night with a full belly and a smile on my face.
The next morning we took the metro to Laberint d’Horta (Labyrinth of Horta) a garden that also has a (you guessed it) labyrinth. It was a lovely and peaceful place that felt like we were in a secluded wilderness at times as opposed to a major city.
After walking around the gardens, we walked to the CosmoCaixa Museum. A friend who used to live in Barcelona recommended it to us and we were sure glad he did. It’s a huge, five story science center with all kinds of interactive and informative exhibits from a very cool Tesla exhibit to archaeology, biology, aquarium, and a “tree forest” area that housed a man-made pond/aquarium with all sorts of fish, turtles, and waterfowl. They even had a capybara which is a giant rodent that looks like a gerbil but weighs about 50lb. It was equal parts cute and terrifying. It reminded us of a cuddly version of the ROUS’s (rodents of unusual size) from The Princess Bride.
We enjoyed a coffee in the museum’s cafe before walking to catch the bus back toward our Airbnb near the Las Ramblas area of the city. Phil had read about a hidden gem of a tapas bar called El Jardi located in the courtyard of an old library. We found the bar but had a bit of time to kill before they opened. Across the street we popped into another little bar to kill some time. To my delight, they had Mexican food on the menu! To my chagrin, they kitchen was not yet opened. It was an odd time to be eating, passed the customary lunch time of around 2-4pm and well before the usual dinner hour of 9pm.
We hadn’t eaten lunch so were especially hungry. We each ordered a beer and finished them rather quickly, remembering an empanada place we’d passed earlier and deciding we were even hungrier than we thought. As I was paying for the beer, the bartender advised me that we should come back when the kitchen opens because the food is really good. I took it under advisement as we rushed out the door to find sustenance.
The two empanadas were delicious and we resisted the urge to buy two more, trying to save room for tapas at El Jardi. We arrived at El Jardi just as they were opening and were the first customers of the night. We picked a seat in a small, tented area with heaters and pillows that was quite cozy, and ordered a couple of Moscow Mules and enjoyed patatas bravas with a particularly spicy sauce and beef carpaccio.
The food was tasty but Phil and I wished we had ordered another dish as we still weren’t quite satiated. I suggested we go back across the street for a nightcap of nachos and he agreed. Another delicious night and wonderful day exploring the many parts of Barcelona.