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Surprisingly quite a few of my friends had been to Barcelona. I don’t think it is one of their top European destinations (like Paris or Italy), but it seems to be a good place to start their Mediterranean cruises. And I heard only good things about Barcelona from them, except to watch out for pickpockets (not that any of my friends got picked.) With that in mind, I actually started to worry if I had too high of an expectation for Barcelona.

Day Zero – Click from Amsterdam to Barcelona
I amazed myself when I look at how I planned my weekend trip to Barcelona (and also Madrid one week before.) I booked the flights a week before I flew from Toronto to Amsterdam, that is less than two weeks before going to Madrid, less than three weeks before going to Barcelona. My flight to Madrid was with KLM, which is quite reliable, but the one to Barcelona was with Clickair, a Spanish low-cost airline I had not heard of until I started shopping for air tickets. But price was quite attractive, 100 Euro, so I booked it and hoped the airline can stay in business.

1:00am Hilton Barcelona
Hilton Barcelona
So the flight was fine, there was no delay, but by the time I got out of the airport, it was well past midnight already. This time, I didn’t even think twice, just grabbed the first taxi I saw. The ride was expensive, but it got me to the hotel quickly. The hotel this time is Hilton Barcelona, the one near the west end of the city. Everything from the front door, the lobby, to the lounge look nice, except for my room. Not that there was anything wrong, it just felt a little more like dormitory; I wonder if this was part of the university campus nearby, before turning into a hotel. Well, the room was nice enough, just in a different way.

Day One – Works of Antoni Gaudí and Montjuic:
Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, Parc Guell, Fundacio Joan Miro, Catalan Art Museum, and Magic Fountain

Best thing about travelling solo is that I can change my schedule in any way at any time. And I had to be flexible for this trip; I simply didn’t have time to go to all the places that seem interesting in travel guidebooks. And according to reports, weather was better at the beginning of the weekend, so I thought I should go to the must-see attractions first.

9:30am Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia - View from Passion Side Tower
This is probably not everybody’s top attraction in Barcelona, but I’m sure many like me think that it is. Rick Steves had it right in his guidebook, that there is something powerful to witness a community of people building a church that will not be finished in their lifetime. While I was inside, lining up for the elevator to the top of a tower, I read that it won’t be finished for at least another 50 years, and it dawned on me that I might not even be alive to see it completed (yet another reminder of me not getting any younger.) Also while waiting for the elevator (it was a long line), the two ladies in front of me were talking about how one of them was afraid of height, that she almost fainted in CN Tower. Eager to meet fellow Canadians in foreign land, I cut into their endless conversations, and asked them if they were from Toronto. One lady replied, “are you kidding me? Can’t you tell from our New York accent?” I suppose… I mean everyone has some kind of accent anyway, I just never know which one is which. Now that I think about it, they do sound like TV sitcom characters with exaggerated accent… or so I thought it was exaggerated.

After spending more than two hours there, I was glad that I saw Sagrada Familia first; it was definitely the highlight of my trip, and I felt a bit relax for the rest of the trip, because even at that moment, I know I can leave Barcelona feeling satisfied already.

12:00pm Casa Mila
Casa Mila - Gaudi's works on the Rooftop
After seeing Gaudi’s unfinished project, I went to see Gaudi’s finished work at Casa Mila. The building looks amazing; you don’t need to be architecture buff to appreciate it. The artwork at the rooftop is just as amazing, if not bizarre. I just spend so much time taking pictures there, and at the same time, I wondered how he got all this creative energy.

2:30pm Parc Guell
Parc Guell - The Terrace and Below
After having a quick lunch at a place not far from Casa Mila (good tourist friendly place that is not tourisy), I followed travel guidebook’s advice, taking a bus to the side entrance of a park called Parc Guell. One of the most well-known feature there is the curvy mosaic benches surrounding the raised square. I saw its pictures in magazine years ago, and it was an elated feeling to be there in person.

4:30pm Montjuic: Fundacio Joan Miro and Catalan Art Museum
Catalan Art Museum
All the places I had been so far are not quite in city center of Barcelona; I guess it was more like midtown area. Since it was almost late afternoon, I decided to go to another area just outside of city center, Montjuic, a hill on the west side of Barcelona overlooking the rest of the city. It was not high on my list of places to visit, but there are two highly rated art museums in the area. There wasn’t a lot of time before they close for the day, so I had a rather quick visit for both museums. To my surprise, I recognized some of the work in this modern art museum of Joan Miro; I had actually seen something similar in… Dallas! My favorite piece from Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas was Joan Miro’s Lunar Bird. I just had no idea who Joan Miro was when I saw it in Dallas. The other museum in Montjuic is the National Art Museum of Catalonia. The place is huge, but their art collection is not as big, and I actually like the building more.

7:00pm Montjuic: Catalan Art Museum and Magic Fountain
Catalan Art Museum and Magic Fountains
Around the time museum closing for the day, more people were starting to gather in front of the museum; they were all there to see the Magic Fountain that is located near the bottom of the hill. I noticed the fountain when I was entering the museum earlier, but I didn’t realize about the Magic Fountain show. So I joined people there, sitting on the steps, and had my camera ready. I was wondering how this fountain compares to Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas; well, it was no comparison, but the Magic Fountain was still quite impressive. They played mostly classical music in loudspeakers, with some nice color lighting and water splashing effects. After the first show of the night was completed, I started walking down toward the fountain, then I realized there are more fountains, waterfalls style, just below the art museum. By the time I got to the Magic Fountain, it was jam-packed with people, and the second show was about to begin.

Before going back to the hotel, I thought I would like some night scene pictures of Sagrada Familia. It was pretty late by the time I got there, and there was hardly anyone around (except for a bus load of Japanese tourists dropping by for a brief moment) I had all the time I needed setting up shots with my tripod, although there were a few people walking by looking at me funny.

Day Two – Ramblas around:
Casa Batllo, Casa Lleo Morera, Placa de Catalunya, Ramblas, Barri Gotic, Cathedral of Barcelona, Barcelona City Hall, City History Museum, Textil-Cafe, Citadel Park, Arc de Triomf, Catalan Concert Hall, Harborfront, Barcelona Beaches, Church of Santa Maria del Mar, and Picasso Museum

I spent my second day mostly in city center area. I didn’t have much of a plan, but I knew I want to go to the Ramblas in the morning. Everything else was up in the air.

9:00am Casa Batllo, Casa Lleo Morera, and Placa de Catalunya
Placa de Catalunya
But before getting to Ramblas, I thought I could squeeze in a couple of quick visits; Casa Batllo and Casa Lleo Morera. They are similar to the Casa Mila I saw the day before, having that same funky exterior. After that, I went to Placa de Catalunya, a square that is at the north end of Ramblas. This is where airport shuttle buses would go, but it’s not the safest area at night, so I took the taxi directly to my hotel instead.

9:30am Ramblas
Ramblas of Flowers
So what’s the big deal with La Rambla? It is one popular street where all tourists go, and also where all the pickpockets happen. That’s why I wanted to go there early in the morning, when it is not busy yet. Maybe that is also the reason why I didn’t find anything special there.

11:00am Barri Gotic and Cathedral of Barcelona
Cathedral of Barcelona - Sardana Dances
Cathedral of Barcelona, another popular tourist attraction, although it was under some kind of restoration project while I was there. What’s more memorable there is the Sardana Dance that the local people perform at noon time. (Yes, I actually planned to be there at the right time to catch it.) I often wonder if tradition is kept simply because people feel the obligation to do so. But there is definitely value in keeping this kind of traditional dance.

1:00pm Barcelona City Hall and City History Museum
Barcelona City Hall
The City Hall is not even in my list of places to visit, but I saw a sign saying there is a tour for the day, so I thought why not. I can’t say it is must-see, but I certainly enjoy wandering around there.

3:00pm Textil-Cafe
Textil-Cafe
My second day in Barcelona was so unorganized that I had to find a place to sit down and figure out where I want to go. Actually I was on my way to visit the Picasso Museum, but after seeing the line at the entrance, I figure I can come back later, closer to closing time when there should be less people. So I ended up in this Textil-Cafe, a cafe in the textile museum just across the street (more like an alley). It’s a good recommendation by the travel guide, the cafe has some decent food at a reasonable price. It was also a good break from all the running around. I felt refreshed and ready for more sightseeing.

4:00pm Citadel Park and Arc de Triomf
Arc de Triomf
Citadel Park is probably not as impressive or as popular as Parc Guell, but it has some nice gardens, lakes, and promenades. If I had more time, I would’ve spent more time wandering around, doing some more people-watching (more local people than tourists)

4:30pm Catalan Concert Hall
Catalan Concert Hall
If there is one thing I should’ve skipped on this trip, it’s the Catalan Concert Hall. It looks very nice from the outside, and I read that the inside is worth a visit as well. I was actually planning buy a ticket for whatever performance they have, just to get inside. But on the day I was there, they have some children show later in the evening. I figure I can do better visiting other places, rather than spending more time there.

5:00pm Harborfront, Port Olympic, and Barcelona Beaches
Port Olympic
With about an hour of daylight left for the day, I went to the Harborfront/Beaches area to do some more wandering. It is actually one of top places I want to visit, but I also know I want to be there closer to evening (I don’t think it’s as pretty at noon time) There weren’t that many people around, maybe it’s the time of the day, or the time of the year, but I do like it quiet.

6:00pm Rest of Barri Gotic: Church of Santa Maria del Mar and Picasso Museum
Barri Gotic
One final must-see attraction I had to visit is the Picasso Museum. (I actually managed to take a quick look at another popular attraction, Church of Santa Maria del Mar.) But really I don’t think I had to visit the Picasso Museum; I was actually more interested in seeing the museum gift shop, but for whatever great logic, the gift shop was closed for the day before the museum closes. Bummer.

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