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Barcelona, Costa Brava and Montserrat  —   Barcelona leaves no one indifferent, euphoriously speaking. The second largest city in Spain, Barcelona entices curiosity and is worth visiting for many political, urban, touristic and architectural reasons.

Looking for independence

For many years, Barcelona has been nurturing a growing and omnipresent independence political movement. In fact, Catalans are claiming nothing less than the separation from Spain and their entrance in the European Union. Catalonia was recognized as an autonomous territory in 2006 and is getting ready to hold a referendum on its independence this coming November.

The campaign for independence is very visible in the streets with the juxtaposition of two flags: the Catalonian one (La Senyera) with its 4 red horizontal lines on a yellow backdrop and the Free Catalonia (L’Estelada) one, showing a blue triangle and a white star on the same yellow backdrop.

Celebrated and envied by many 

Barcelona is also famous for its urbanism and many mayors of other cities in the world consider it as an example to be followed, particularly for the revitalization of its sea front as well as for the dynamism of its commercial district.

The city’s most famous commercial street is La Rambla, which spreads over a kilometer and a half, between Christopher Columbus Column, near the harbor, and the Plaça de Catalunyia, the true touristic heart of Barcelona.

Thousands of tourists walk La Rambla, with a centre that is a pedestrian precinct filled with boutiques, terraces and other attractions. One of those famous attractions is the permanent presence of many living statues competing in originality and quality to personify monsters and all other types of famous or mythical personages. They compete in trying to seduce passersby and get them to take a few photos, not without an invitation to leave a few Euros at their feet. A good way to earn a living, after all!

From shops to terraces 

But La Rambla is an attraction in itself where it is easy to spend many hours just rambling. Of course a few stops in cafes and terraces are in order. In particular the Escriba coffee terrace with its offer of decadent pastries. It is the kind of place one can discover only through a friend’s reference, someone who hopes to share their favorite spot. But such a friend’s networks must be efficient, since Escriba has been serving unforgettable pastries and coffee for 100 years!

La Boqueria, a covered market, is another attraction worth of mention on La Rambla. Officially inaugurated in 1853 and covered since 1914, it is one of the largest markets in Europe. It’s a place for pleasures of the eyes, smells and tastes!

The world masterpiece 

Of course, we have to mention the Sagrada Familia; this incredible gem, a still-unfinished work by the famed architect Gaudi. It is the landmark of Barcelona and the most visited site in the city. Photos of this grandiose monument, as good as they may be, do not do justice to that monumental masterpiece.

In fact, dozens of photos would be necessary to illustrate everything this building offers. We do not visit the Sagrada Familia only because of our religious beliefs. We can learn so much during a visit to the cathedral, as well as its annexes, such as the school, the museum and La Pedrera, another architectural work by Gaudi in which we can follow the various steps of the creation of a masterpiece.

La Sagrada Familia has been a work in progress for more than one hundred years, and will be for many years to come. In fact, the addition of its main tower has just started and will be followed by a forth façade. Plans are to demolish a whole neighboring district to ensure the cathedral really shines to its best advantage in an open urban perspective.

One can easily see how Gaudi’s work is inspired by nature in every architectural detail. Columns are trees with branches; knots in the wood hide the sound system and the artificial lighting system complements the natural light that is provided by a roof pierced by many well-placed rose windows. It is imperative to have seen the model exposed at La Pedrera and in the adjoining museum to better appreciate all the specificity of the innumerable unique details we can see during the visit.

La Pedrera is of course another prestigious work by Gaudi, first conceived for a hotel. We can see how the famous architect mixed straight lines and curves and used diverse physical principles to conceive new architectural applications, and how he evoked nature through organic forms: flowers, shells, animal skeletons, etc. Even the roof is unique!

Curiosities for the eyes and the palate 

One can discover with great pleasure the old fishing district of Barcelona: la Barcelonetta. Between the fine sandy beach, the harbor and the last metro station, fifteen or so small parallel streets are very densely populated and an animated welcome to the walkers. As a matter of fact, walking is the only way to discover the area. A walk that has all the chances to leave you hungry!

No problem! Just as you leave la Barcelonetta, “Can Païxano” restaurant (La Xampanyeria) awaits you at 7 Reina Cristina Street. This establishment, without any signs, is located in an anonymous garage entrance and can only be detected thanks to its crowds. No room for chairs here, everyone eats standing and good words rain down on the delicious hot chorizo sandwiches accompanied with cava. Offered at unbeatable prices – unchanged for the last 6 years we heard - two huge sandwiches on Kaiser bread with two glass of cava would cost us less than 6 Euros.

So much more could be said on Barcelona and its points of interest. One needs time and energy since there are attractions at every street corner. One good way to satisfy one’s appetite for this city that is so full of history and curiosities without having to walk the whole city is to board the red two-decker “Hop-on-Hop-off” bus.

Monuments that are still inspiring  

Remember that Barcelona was the host city of the 1992 Olympic games and of two Universal Exhibitions in 1888 and 1929; events that left behind remarkable monuments and attractions.

Among others: the Poble Espanyol or Pueblo Espanyol built for the Universal Exhibition of 1929. On a land of more than half a million square feet, on the Montjuic, dozens of houses, squares, churches and other monuments were built as a replica (on a smaller scale) of all the regions in Spain. This immense open-air museum shows the diversity and richness of the architecture of the country and was planned to last 8 months but still is to this day, 90 years later, a very popular attraction.

Farniente on the Costa Brava 

Four different regions of Spain spread along the Mediterranean Sea coast, from North to South: the Costa Costa Brava, Costa Dorada, Costa Blanca and Costal del Sol.

Thousands of visitors from all over Europe converge on those coasts that swarm with holiday resorts, where beaches and bays can be found along a mountainous and jagged coast. Many of those resorts border the Costa Brava, which is approximately between Barcelona and the French border.

The village of Lloret de Mar, whose seafront unwinds over one kilometer between two rocky cliffs, is a beautiful example of the villages that can be found on that coast.

Catamarans with flat and transparent bottoms ensure the liaison between the villages and resorts and allow sailors to lazily explore the seabeds.

The resorts are the main attractions of those destinations very popular in season. Most of them offer the modified American plan: 2 meals (breakfast and lunch or dinner) included with the room. When we visited in May, the season had not even begun and few people dared to go on the beach where the water was still cold.

But, behind those resorts by the sea, many small streets unwinds with hundreds of souvenir boutiques, restaurants and terraces on which to enjoy the Mediterranean farniente.

It is also a paradise for shoppers and bargain hunters. Superb souvenirs can be found in those shops. Leather pieces are notably offered at prices lower than those we usually find in the Americas.

A serene end of stay in Montserrat 

Santa Maria de Montserrat is a Benedictine abbey founded in 1025. This religious retreat and pilgrimage site opened in 880, after the Black Virgin visited a nearby local cavern.

This prestigious complex built 1,236 meters (4,055 ft) above the valley hooked on a rocky mountain of wild beauty is accessible by road, train and cable car.

A one-day excursion to Montserrat is a must in Catalonia, for the breathtaking views discovered along the road at the numerous lookouts, for the communion with nature, for contemplation, or simply to rest your tired feet and legs.

A stop at the Santa Maria de Montserrat is in order. Its famous Black Virgin “La Moreneta”, represented by a statue sculpted at the 12th Century, located in the sanctuary of the Mare de Déu de Montserrat, next to the Benedictine monastery contributes to the popularity of the basilica that is on a short list of 18 cult sites famous through the Christian world, such as the Monte Cassino in Italy, the Basilica Sainte-Thérèse-de-Lisieux in France and Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré in Québec. The Basilica also houses a museum showcasing works of art by prominent painters and sculptors such as Dali, Picasso and El Greco and is part of the six routes of the Way of St. James, l’Iter Hispanicum.

Our stay in Catalonia ends on this very image, a stay during which we lived much euphoria and acquired marvelous souvenirs. Once again thanks to our travel companions for many photos.

À la pròxima! See you next time!

Marcel LeSieur  

La Rambla

Living statue on La Rambla

La Boqueria

La Sagrada Familia

Sagrada's roof

La Pedrera

La Pedrera's roof

Can Païxano restaurant

Pueblo Espanyol 

Cliffs on the Costa Brava

Lloret de Mar 

Santa Maria de Monserrat

The Black Virgin






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