Beautiful Barcelona in 3 Days
By Kate Blake
iCruise.com and Admin Aerotravelplus
My sister and I came back from her first trip to Europe and my first to the Mediterranean in November. Our first stop was 3 beautiful days in Barcelona , Spain. We arrived early on Thursday November 12 to a cool but sunny day. I had made arrangements to have a car service pick us up at the airport and our driver was waiting as promised just outside the customs area. He delivered us to our hotel in no time.I had booked this through Travel Bound and was very pleased with the service we received.
We chose the Silken Gran Havanna Hotel- I booked this through the iCruise.com web site- this is the hotel that cruise guests with Celebrity and Royal Caribbean can choose to book through them. It is centrally located in the art nouveau district close to but not right off of Catalunya Square. The hotel has a lovely late 1890s- early 1900s facade and truly modern interior. Our room was in a corner on a high floor and very quiet. So quiet I had trouble sleeping without my usual noises I am used to from an air conditioner and fan running all the time at home.
When we arrived our room was not quite ready yet so we purchased our Hop on Hop Off Bus tickets at the hotel front desk. 2 day passes were 38 Euros per person and had to be paid in cash. They are available to buy ahead of time for about the same price if you want to have passes in hand when you arrive. Catalunya Square where the bus lines start is 3 long blocks- about a mile from our hotel. We walked that first morning, then took cabs afterwards. Cabs to and fro within Barcelona are very reasonable. 4- 15 Euros will get you almost anywhere in the city.
We took the Gray Line hop on hop off bus- there is another company but Gray Line is the more popular option. They have two bus lines that you can take with the one ticket. They run from 9am to 7 pm in the winter, later in the summer.If you have never taken a hop on hop off bus tour- they are great. They give you headphones when you get on and you plug in and dial up your language for a detailed tour that corresponds to your stops.
Barcelona is one of many cities that grew by leaps and bounds at the time of the industrial revolution in the 1800s. The original central walled city was changed forever when city planners laid out the city you see today taking down the original walls. Barcelona residents like to crow about how old their city is but the truth is most of what you see is from post 1880. The 1888 World’s Fair and then the 1929 Barcelona Exposition were responsible for many of the ornate public spaces such as the zoo which you see today. San Francisco, Chicago, New York , Paris and London all also hosted worlds fairs in this time period and all share many of the same styles of architecture you see in Barcelona. I grew up north of San Francisco and the zoo area of Barcelona reminded me of the Palace of Fine Arts which sits at the end of the Marina district in San Francisco one of the few buildings from the San Francisco world’s fair to survive the earthquake that devastated that city in 1906.
We took the western line the first day. Your hop on hop off tour will take you past such places as the zoo which was home to the only albino gorilla in captivity Snowflake. He was at the zoo for 40 years and his children and grand children are still there today. After passing the zoo you go through the old art and theater district to port Vell. There is a nice statue of Christopher Columbus there. You can take a sky tram across the port area if you like the bus takes you to its departure area up the hill. Looking over the city you see the Olympic Stadium which was home to the 1992 Olympic games. Down the hill from there is the national art gallery. Further on the eastern route is the national football stadium which was of keen interest to our fellow riders from the UK.
After leaving the hills you head into the city again and see the first of the major buildings on the tour by renowned artist and architect Gaudi- La Pedrera. It had been an amazing home and today has a museum and shops .
That evening we did dinner at our hotel restaurant having an amazing supper with a cold tomato soup, perfectly cooked sea bass and a light lemon sorbet for desert this meal including a glass of wine was only 18 Euros per person.
Day 2- Eastern Barcelona
We got a late start- jet lag caught up with us and we slept until noon local time. Once up and about we went to a cafe near our hotel for a nice lunch then it was a cab to La Sagrada Familia where we picked up our hop on hop off bus again. Our cab ride dropped us off in the front of the masterpiece cathedral which has an anticipated finish date of 2026- its construction began in 1882 with construction interrupted by the Spanish Civil war and resumed in the 1950s. For anyone thinking this is an awfully long time to build something remember many of the great gothic churches of the middle ages and renaissance took even longer to build. This is a UNESCO world heritage site.
After walking all the way around the outside we came to the rear where you enter the church ( tickets are sold in the front) and caught our bus. The eastern route includes The Hospital of St Paul- another world heritage site along with Gaudi’s Park Guell. You can’t see the park from the bus- you need to get out and walk uphill to the entrance. You really need to buy tickets to the Guadi sites ahead of time- these can be purchased online or through your travel agent.
The eastern bus route also takes you by the port- but this time instead of heading up into the hills you go toward the beach and through the more modern part of the city.
Not on the bus tour but worth seeing and easy to get to- Las Ramblas. This is the heart of the city right off Catalunya Square and is filled with markets and shops and bars, cafes, restaurants and hotels. One of the prettiest buildings in the city is the Palau de Musica- the main concert hall is home to all kinds of musical events and the area around it houses music schools. It is gorgeous with older and new buildings attached to each other. It sits just down the way from Catalunya Square and is worth the walk.
Speaking of walking Barcelona is an easy city to get around in. The streets are clearly marked and there are ample city bus and subway routes as well as easy walking paths throughout the city. Beware if locals tell you something is really close- just a few blocks- expect to walk about a mile. European and American distances are not the same. When Americans tell you it is a couple of blocks away- it really is a couple of blocks and usually a quarter of a mile or so. When Europeans say just a few blocks- ask to see a map. I had one person after another say- oh it is a 10-15 minute walk and that was always a mile or more.This is no big deal if you are physically able but if you have trouble walking distances – it is ok to take a cab.
Day 3- Costa Brava and Dali Tour
We booked a great tour through Shore Excursion Group- The Salvador Dali Tour from Barcelona
This was a full day trip. We met at the tour offices next to the Palau de Musica. We walked from there to Catalunya Square. This is about a mile- so be prepared for it. It is relatively flat and in the cool of a November morning not too difficult. One thing to remember- again- Europeans walk everywhere and have little concept of people with walking difficulties. Every time we asked a European how far something was they would say just a few blocks and inevitably that would end up being at least a mile or more. Very few tours are designed for those who go slow or have any kind of disabilities. This was not too bad as each time you hiked- it was followed by either a car ride or someplace you could then take your time and go at your own pace.
The first part of the tour consisted of a lovely drive from the city of Barcelona up into the countryside and the rolling hills of Girona which feed into the Pyrenees mountains. As you go north- you are getting very close to France. The hillsides of Girona are covered with terraced vineyards that date back close to a thousand years or more. You can see remnants of very old stone structures throughout the countryside. The first stop of the day is the Salvador Dali Museum in Figueres. This is a fun museum with so many forms of his art work on hand. There are strange storybook type pen and ink illustrations, paintings, sculpture, mixed media collages, art installations, jewelry you name it it is here! The central theater is in the heart of the museum and it is filled with light and air. I have to think it would be a marvelous place to hold a play or dance. I would love to hear music played in this space.
From Figueres you head to the coast. The Costa Brava is beautiful when I think of the Mediterranean this is what I think of. White plaster walled buildings, cobbled streets, little shops. out-door cafes with seafood galore and tremendous beauty. Cadaques is a summer town. In November it was almost deserted with only the heartiest of tourists out enjoying the crisp fall air. After a charming break we headed down the road to Port Lligat where Dali had his home. The house is not handicapped accessible but they have a little gift shop anyone can use and there is a flat beach in front of the house that looks across a lovely bay. I was reminded of my home stomping grounds in Sonoma county and the rustic beach areas around Bodega Bay. The mud flats had a very familiar feel.
I found a vintage video with Dali and his wife Galla doing some performance art on the beach and you can see the same spot in photos I took!
If you are not familiar with Dali- he is the father of surrealism. If you wonder what that means it is the fantastical art that Tim Burton’s movies are made of. Things blend and melt and reality blurs into the dreamlike realm that is buried in the deepest levels of most people’s unconscious mind. Dali saw things this way all of the time. He did not do drugs he just worked on a different wave length. Back in the U.S you can find his best work on display at the Dali Museum in St Petersburg Florida. This was home to his most generous of benefactors who purchased much of his original work over many years.
On the ride back we headed back through those vineyards and the best image from my trip was the photo I did not get . The colors at sunset over the water of the Mediterranean and the rolling hillsides were pink, orange and fiery red. We were back in Barcelona by 7 PM . After tipping our lovely guide Laura we took a cab back to our hotel where we had a second night of tapas and wine at the roof top bar and enjoyed the lights over the city. Our time in Barcelona was coming to a close until next year.