A February 2002 trip
to Barcelona by billmoy
Quote: After my second trip here in February 2002 (my first visit was in 1996), Barcelona has become one of my favorite cities. My problem now is that I want to visit Barcelona again!
Barcelona is a treasure trove of unique art, architecture and museums. The year 2002 marked the 150th birthday of Antoni Gaudi, whose flamboyant architectural projects (Temple de la Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, etc.) are scattered about town.
Central Barcelona has two areas with their own rich characteristics. The older area is the Barri Gotic, a congested area with medieval churches and twisting little streets. Las Ramblas, perhaps the most famous "street" of Barcelona, is a bit touristy but is still a great place to take a stroll and observe how the locals live. The newer "enlargement" surrounding the Barri Gotic is called L'Eixample and features an innovative city block layout with chamfered corners and wider streets. This is the area where Gaudi and his contemporaries were able to create Barcelona's golden age of "modernisme" architecture.
If you are going elsewhere in Spain, read my sections on BILBAO, CADIZ, SAN SEBASTIAN/DONOSTIA, SEVILLA, VALENCIA and ANDORRA.
Some of the beautiful images of Barcelona are courtesy of my good friend and frequent travel companion, local Chicago architect Marius Ronnett.
The Mediterranean Sea is the backdrop for the lively Olympic Port area, which now features a variety of shops, restaurants and crowded dance clubs. After a long day of sightseeing, this is a cool place to hang out if you still have the energy to do so. Take a walk about and observe the beautiful young people in action.
I am always impressed when a subway clock indicates the time (in minutes and seconds) when the next train will arrive! Of course, you will want to do lots of walking to see all the artistic splendors that the city has to offer.
Hotel | "Hotel Arts Barcelona"
My standard room would be a junior suite in just about any other hotel. Being a Ritz-Carlton brand, everything is 5-star elegance. The posh bathroom is enormous, with a great seated shower stall (and separate bathtub too) and
loads of toiletries. The room was spacious and had a nice view of the sea and the surrounding cityscape. Of course, you get amenities like minibar, in-room safe, plush bathrobe, etc. The check-in lobby is one floor above the ground floor. There is an outdoor pool with a superb view of the Mediterranean and the Frank Gehry-designed "fish" sculpture. There is also a fitness center and massage service. I was able to leave my suitcase with the bellhop for about 16 hours, something that did not seem to be an inconvenience for the hotel.
Now for the minor quibbles! There is a bit of gadgetry to deal with, such as the Bang and Olufson entertainment ensemble. I had to read the accompanying instructions card to find out that the red dot is the "off" button. The wall has a bunch of buttons, for operating the numerous lights and the window shade. I think I may have inadvertently turned on an alarm button on the phone, so it took me a few minutes to deactivate it.
This is a top-notch hotel, but it is almost a shame to stay in such luxury when there is so much to see and do in Barcelona! I would recommend staying here if you have euros to burn and a light sightseeing schedule.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 14, 2002
Hotel Arts Barcelona (Ritz Carlton)
Carrer de la Marina, 19-21
Hotel | "Hotel Condes de Barcelona"
The hotel features 183 soundproofed rooms and suites, with amenities such as marble baths, bathrobes, and in-room safes. My junior suite felt like a home to me, with wood floors, comfy king bed, minibar, and a balcony to look out upon the Casa Mila day and night. I am sure that the standard rooms are also quite comfortable. Take one of the elevators up to your room, but try to take the stairs down so you can gaze at some of the fine architectural details within the hotel.
The breakfast buffet was very generous (which was included in my special rate), with a variety of local items included (tortilla espanola, jamon serrano) along with fresh fruits, juices, cheeses and pastries. I found the staff to be very gracious throughout my entire stay.
Condes de Barcelona Hotel
PASEO DE GRACIA 73 75
Barcelona, Spain 08008
34 93 4674780
This venerable older hotel, an independent property but a member of the SRS consortium, does not show any signs of age thanks to its recent renovation. The hotel has an older atmosphere to it, even though it is celebrating only its 50th anniversary this year. There are 9 floors with 160 rooms, so this is not a huge hotel despite its grand appearance. The lobby is cozy, with a masculine dark color scheme. There is a fancy central stair that adds to the elegance and "old Europe" charm of the lobby area.
My standard room was average-sized but very comfortable, with two double-sized beds. The decor is classic and traditional, nothing too fancy or unorthodox. Our room faced the busy Gran Via thoroughfare, but the double-glassed rooms kept out any excess noise.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 14, 2002
GRAN VIA CORTS CATALANES 60560
Barcelona, Spain 08007
Attraction | "Sagrada Familia"
I took the elevator up and walked down the winding stairs. The interior lighting around the stairs is dim, so walking down is sore upon the knees and legs around sunset when you cannot really see the steps below you. It is breathtaking when you walk outside amongst the spires and fruity ornamentations of Sagrada Familia. As an architecture buff, wandering around this building under construction is a fascinating experience. The overall design is somewhat controversial, as succeeding architects have not necessarily been "faithful" to the original scheme. Nevertheless, this seems to be a reflection on the organic, ongoing design process that Gaudi may have visualized in the first place. Even if you do not go inside (there is an entrance fee involved), it is essential to walk around and take a few photos of the exterior. You have not officially visited Barcelona until you have made a pilgrimage to see the Sagrada Familia.
The surrounding area has a vaguely Parisian feel to it (I am not sure if there is a "Barcelonian" feel, so I may need a few more trips here). There are souvenir stands, juice and snack wagons, a park with men playing bocce and kids flapping at ducks in a pond. The Sagrada Familia is not quite in the center of town, but is easily accessible by Metro.
La Sagrada Familia
Carrer de Mallorca, 401
Barcelona, Spain 08013
+34 93 2073031
Attraction | "Torre Collserola"
The journey up to Collserola can be almost as exciting as the elevator ride up to the top. After taking a commuter train and a bus, I was expecting to take a funicular up. Unfortunately, the funicular is open only on weekends during February, as it is geared towards visitors to a popular amusement park. I hiked up a series of meandering and lonely paths, drawing comfort from passing joggers and cyclists that I was headed in the right direction. I must have walked for well over an hour before reaching Collserola. On the way down, I took a mini-bus and another funicular (how many funiculars does Barcelona have?) before reaching a Metro stop to wisk me back into town.
Once you pay your entry fee, there is a small waiting room with images of tall towers around the world. Then you take the elevator up to the enclosed observation deck. It is not the fastest elevator, so it did seem like we were about to board a rocketship. The 360-degree observation deck affords spectacular views of Barcelona and beyond. There are pay-view scopes, pop machines, and not much else except glass panels to look outside. I did not see any souvenir shop or cafeteria on the premises, an oddity since this seemingly would be a place that should have them. Once you have been around the city a bit, it is fun to try and locate all the buildings from your elevated vantage point. Some signage provide a bit of information if you need help identifying a landmark or area below.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 14, 2002
Torre de Collserola
Barcelona, Spain 08035
+34 93 4069354
Attraction | "Casa Mila (La Pedrera)"
There is supposed to be one tour in English per day, but I received conflicting times from the employees and missed it. As it was, I thoroughly enjoyed my self-guided tour of the rooftop terrace, the Espai Gaudi, and the main floor lobby area. Casa Mila is one of the most popular attractions in Barcelona, so the crowds can be substantial. I passed on entering one day during the early afternoon because there was a long line in front consisting of school groups. I went back later that day in the late afternoon and waited only 5 minutes in the ticket queue.
The rooftop terrace is definitely the highlight of this tour. Not only do you enjoy fine views of the wonderful Barcelona cityscape, but you can get some amazing close-ups of the unusual collection of "helmeted" chimneys, ornaments and arches. Many surfaces are slathered with glossy jagged white mosaic tiles. One of the arches frames the silhouette of the Sagrada Familia in the distance; take a keepsake picture of this when the crowds are not in your way! Take care while walking about, as there are several short flights of steps on the rooftop. Do not forget to peer down into the amorphous lightwells below.
The brick attic below the rooftop has been established as the Espai Gaudi, a colorful exhibition of the architect's works featuring slides, models and drawings with informative text. The attic is somberly lit as if to pay respect to Gaudi and his cornucopia of creations. There is also a restored apartment that can be inspected for an extra fee. The Casa Mila is also the home base for the Centro Cultural Caixa Catalunya, which sponsors changing art exhibitions as well as the permanent Espai Gaudi. Stop by the shop on the first floor to check out the selection of books and various souvenirs.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 21, 2002
Casa Mila (La Pedrera de Gaudi)
Passeig De Gracia, 92
Barcelona, Spain 08007
34644 291 481
The bold colors of the facade shimmer brilliantly on sunny mornings, while at night it is dramatically illuminated. There are many theories regarding the origins of the design, but perhaps the most interesting is that it represents the legend of Saint George and the Dragon. It is not easy to grasp the entire facade in one glance, so study the details carefully in order to appreciate the vitality of Gaudi's design. The dynamic roofline features a tower marked by a cross along with the sinuous outline of the "dragon". Window embellishments include skull mask balcony railings and bizarre bone-shaped verticals.
Unfortunately, the dynamic interiors are not open to the public, at least not to this person. There is a nearby Pans & Company sandwich shop which has a great view of the front facade.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 29, 2002
Passeig De Gracia 43
Attraction | "Park Guell"
Park Guell was commissioned by Eusebi Guell, the well-known patron of several of Gaudi's notable projects. In 1900, the original concept of the plan was as a residential garden city where the private homeowners would share common facilities like a market, paved streets and public squares. In the beginning, this hilly site atop Muntanya Pelada was rather isolated from the central city (it is at the northern edge of the current Gracia neighborhood, still a bit of a hike from central Barcelona). This perceived isolation was one reason why the park was deemed a failure when it was completed in 1914. Only two houses were ever built in the park, one of which was occupied by Gaudi himself for a number of years and is now the aptly named Casa-Museu Gaudi. Park Guell officially became a public city park in 1923.
There are various ways to approach Park Guell. Perhaps the most appropriate is along the Carrer d'Olot through the main gate, which is flanked by two buildings. The name of the park is spelled out on boldly colorful medallions. From here you can go uphill and follow the natural procession. As you climb the flowing central stairway, meet and greet the lizard beast with colorful scaly mosaics embedded in its surface. At the top of the stairs, there is a classical colonnade with doric-style columns supporting a flowing roof which doubles as a magnificent lookout terrace. Here you will notice the remarkable serpentine park bench, which is said to be the longest bench in the world (who measures these things?). Wander a bit and you will encounter a bizarre cave-like stone colonnade with sloping columns that look like rough palm trees, as if they were outcasts from a certain animated Flintstonian city. You can also enter through other gates and visit the park from top to bottom. However you enter, once you are within the confines of the park and Gaudi's vivid imagination, it did not seem appropriate to restrict myself to any given path because the park is so freely designed. Just meander around and enjoy the gaudy Gaudi show. This urban park is a fantasyland of wild elements, rich in imaginative details and spaces, shiny and rugged, a twisted blend of nature and architecture that will amaze and amuse.
The Casa-Museu Gaudi was the home for Gaudi for many years before he moved permanently into his studio-home at Sagrada Familia. Visiting the museum is more for hardcore fans of Gaudi. There is a garden and a arched pergola outside of the house. I find that your time can be better spent discovering interesting details of the park or surveying the city from its prominent hilltop location.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 26, 2002
Park Guell (Parc Güell)
Montana Pelada, Gracia District
I had read about such a "sliming" scam in a guidebook ahead of time. One unseen person squirts/spills some substance on your back while a second person offers to wipe your stain. In reality, this person is actually body-searching you to see if you have any hidden valuables. When I faced this for the first time, I reacted in a clear and proper manner and thwarted the scam. I would like to inform you about this so that if you do become a TARGET of the scam, you will not be a VICTIM of the scam.
Sliming seems to be a popular worldwide scam, and the perpetrators use a variety of substances to fling upon you in order to distract you. This experienced traveler has been the unsuspecting target in Rio De Janeiro (1995-mystery substance), Barcelona (1996-chocolate milk), London (2000-ketchup), and Buenos Aires (2001-mustard). However, I have never lost anything in any of these occurrences.
PLACE: Barcelona, Spain
TIME: February 1996
I was in one of the Metro stations in Barcelona. My friend and I were at the edge of the platform waiting for the train doors to open. Upon entering the train, someone mentioned to the two of us that we had some substance on the backs of our coats; it was chocolate milk. This would-be good samaritan offered to wipe our chocolate milk stains with some napkins. NOTE : this is a SCAM !! The samaritan decided to be gentlemanly and offered to first wipe the back of my female friend's coat. All this time, I told my friend (in English) that this is a scam and she should be careful not to lose anything. She told me that everything was in her camera case, which she was cradling in her arms while her back was being mopped up. The samaritan then offered to clean my coat, but with a knowing look I showed him my own pack of tissues. The samaritan took this as a sign that I was "in" on this scam, so he departed the train at the next Metro stop with someone who may have been his accomplice (the slimer ?!). We ended up at the Olympic Stadium atop Montjuic, and we cleaned our coat stains in the respective restrooms. We did a more thorough cleansing in our hotel sink that evening. Incidentally, I now try to be more vigilent when boarding any train or bus.
These slimers and scammers are not violent (at least the ones I have encountered), so I was more annoyed than afraid when I was targeted in this manner. Please pass this bit of information amongst your travelling associates. Information is power!