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Monday, November 6, 2017

Must See In Barcelona, Spain - Preparing For Our Mediterranean Cruise

Our dream of taking a Mediterranean cruise is coming true next year.   I'm not sure how long we've had this vacation on our bucket list but we actually have reservations on Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Seas and I can't believe it!  Now we need to figure out what we want to do and see.  I am armed with my Rick Steves' book Mediterranean Cruise Ports, recommendations from friends and, of course the web, and ready to start the planning, researching and preparing for the trip.  Our cruise ship is leaving from Barcelona, Spain in the late afternoon on a Sunday in September next year.  We will plan to leave from Miami on the Thursday before so that we will be in Barcelona no later than late afternoon on Friday.  It will not only get us to Spain in plenty of time to get to the cruise port but will also give us time to tour Barcelona.  We heard it is a beautiful part of Spain and we can't wait to see it.

Our plan is to research every port we will be stopping in and make a list of things we would like to see, do or eat there.  Then we'll figure out how much we can squeeze into each day.

Port 1 - Barcelona, Spain 

1.  Watch locals as they join hands and dance the sardana in front of the cathedral on weekends.  It's a dance that is a symbol of national pride and unity for the Catalans who have been campaigning for 150 years for Catalunya to be independent from Spain.  We would love to experience this important cultural tradition.   This event happens every Sunday at noon and it lasts about 2 hours.  We will be boarding our cruise ship then but we might have a chance of seeing the dancing on Saturday evening.  It is occasionally danced on Saturdays especially if there is a celebration.  There is a festival, La Merce, that happens every year in late September.  This year the festival was held the 3rd weekend which is when we will be there in 2018.  The festival dates are not set for next year yet but I think we have a good chance of being there for it.  I'm hoping the sardana will be danced in addition to the other festivities.  If we are lucky enough to be in Barcelona when this festival is being celebrated, we will also have a chance to see another Catalan tradition, the castell.  This is a tower made by people standing on top of one another and is 10 humans high!  That would be a site to see for sure.  We are crossing our fingers.

2.  Sagrada Familia is a temple that was designed by the truly unique architect Antoni Gaudi.  He worked for 43 years on it until he died.  The temple is currently 70% finished.  It is estimated to be done in 2026 which would be 100 years after Gaudi's death.  Gaudi's buildings can be seen all over Barcelona but the Sagrada Familia is called his masterpiece.  Go here to see photos of this magnificent building and I think you will put it on your list of sites to see in Barcelona.  If you are trying to fit a visit to this amazing site into your itinerary, figure that you will be there about 2 hours.  To save time and money, consider ordering entry tickets before you leave home.  You can place your order here and print your tickets.  Make sure you put a note on your packing list to bring your tickets so you don't forget them.

3.  The Picasso Museum is located in Barcelona because this is where Pablo Picasso lived between the ages of 14 - 23.  This is where his career started before he went to France where he joined the Cubism movement.  The Cubisim art style is what I think of when I think of Picasso, the portraits that are broken up and reassembled in an abstract way.  The true Cubist 3-D paintings are not at the Barcelona museum although you can see a later variation of this style.   Instead, this museum focuses on Picasso's early works right before he moved to France and  became one of the best known artists in the world.  I think that it would be very interesting to see what his style of painting was before Cubism.   If you are thinking about adding the Picasso Museum to your itinerary, allow yourself 1.5 hours of time to check it out.  Also, note that the museum is closed on Mondays.  There is free admission to the museum on Thursdays from 6:00 pm until 9:30 pm and on the first Sunday of each month from 9:00 am - 7:00 pm.  It won't be possible for us to go when the admission is free so I might consider buying our tickets ahead of time here.

4.  The Ramblas Ramble is one of two self-guided walks that Rick Steves recommends.  This walk takes you down Barcelona's main boulevard.  This walking tour starts at the top of the Ramblas and takes you all the way to the opposite end.
    A.  Placa de Catalunya - This is a very lively 12-acre square plaza where you can find fountains and statues and Art Deco buildings.  This is also where you find transportation if you need it.  The Metro, bus, airport shuttle and Tourist Bus stops are in this area.  The locals congregate here to watch soccer games on big screens and also to enjoy outdoor concerts and festivals.
     B.  Fountain of Canaletes - This black and gold fountain has been around for more than a century.  It is said that you are ensured that you will return to Barcelona one day if you have drink from this fountain.
     C.  Rambla of the Little Birds - At one time this was where you would see kiosks that sold many different types of animals that you could buy and keep as pets.  The animals have been replaced with shops selling ice cream and souvenirs.
     D.  Betlem Church - This church, constructed between 1680 - 1732, is dedicated to Bethlehem and locals enjoy the nativity scenes that are displayed at Christmastime.
     E.  Rambla of Flowers - A colorful block where locals go to not only admire the beautiful flowers but also to buy seeds to grow their own vegetables.  I will be stepping into Gimeno's which is a cigar shop to look at the cigar boxes they sell there.  Sounds like a perfect souvenir for our cigar-loving family members!
     F.  La Boqueria Market - You can find all kinds of fresh foods.  I will definitely be getting some kind of fruit here.  I know when I have eaten fruit in Japan it has always been better than what I eat at home.  The peaches, especially, are the most delicious I have ever tasted.  I am very curious about what kind of fruit is popular in Spain.  I also will be checking out Pinotxo Bar to have something to eat and to find Juan.  I heard that he loves having his picture taken if he's not busy serving food to hungry shoppers.
     G. Heart of the Ramblas is a small, lively square where I will be looking for a mosaic on the ground that was created by abstract artist Joan Miro.  Her art can be found all over the city.  It will be fun to spot her work here and there.  I know to look for the La Caixa bank logo she designed.  This is where the best stretch of the Ramblas ends.  We will decide at this point if we want to continue or take the Metro back to Placa de Catalunya.  We're hoping to have a day and a half to spend in Barcelona but if we have less time, we will head back to do the second walk, Barri Gotic (see below), so we won't miss out on seeing that part of town.
     H. Placa Reial is a town square that has both old-fashioned bars and modern taverns with patio seating.  I will be looking for Gaudi's first public works, two colorful helmeted lampposts.  As we head back out to the Ramblas, I will be looking across the boulevard to find an apartment building, Palau Guell, another Gaudi project.
     I.  Raval Neighborhood - This is where you can find creative and elaborately costumed human statues.  They have to audition and register with the city government before they are allowed to perform here.  If you throw them some change they may entertain you.  The Drassanes Metro stop is here (or you can look for Bus #59) which will take you back to Placa de Catalunya.
     J.  Columbus Monument is a 200-foot column dedicated to Christopher Columbus.  He came to Barcelona after his trip to America in 1493.  There is a tiny elevator inside the monument that will take you to the top where there is an observation area.  You can buy a ticket for the ride up inside the base.  I would love to enjoy the view of the city but the words itself ,"tiny elevator", is making me feel claustrophobic already!
     K. Waterfront is where you can board a harbor cruise or shop or just watch the busy maritime zone in action.  You can see a historic schooner, the Santa Eulalia or take a walk down the promenade to see the iconic sculpture, Barcelona Head.

5.  Barri Gotic is the second walk.  It starts at Placa de Catalunya and weaves around the town.    You can go here to look at maps of the Barri Gotic area.  I am using the map in my Rick Steves book and his suggested walking tour.
     A.  Avinguda del Portal de l'Angel is a boulevard where you will find the most expensive shops in Barcelona.  There are high-end Spanish and International chains.  I will be doing a lot of window shopping only here!
     B.  Church of Santa Anna is a Romanesque style church.  This architectural term is given to buildings that were erected in the 10th - 12th centuries.   Some of the characteristics of Romanesque construction, and things I will be looking for when I walk through the church, are thick walls, round arches and sturdy pillars.
     C.  Els Quatre Gats is a restaurant that Picasso frequented and he also designed their menu cover.  Although you can enjoy a snack, meal or drink here, people are welcome to come into the restaurant just to admire the menu cover.
     D.  Fountain - Barcelonans got their water from this fountain, and fountains like this one, as recently as the 1940's.   I will be looking for the ladies carrying jugs of water, in blue and yellow tilework, that is somewhere on this fountain.
     E.  Placa Nova - There are two huge towers here that were once a part of an entrance gate.  On the opposite side of these towers is the Catalan College of Architects.  Picasso's art depicting Catalan traditions including the sardana dance, music and bullfighting can be seen on this building.
     F.   Cathedral of Barcelona is where I will find Catalans dancing the sardana if I am lucky enough to be here at the right time.  The style of this cathedral is Gothic which is a style of architecture that got popular after the Romanesque period.  I will be looking for pointed arches, robed statues, decorative molding on the windows, gargoyles and bell towers with winged angels.
     G.  Casa de l'Ardiaca is a mansion that now houses historic documents but once was the residence of the archdeacons.  It is free to enter so we will definitely be checking it out!
     H.  Monument to the Martyrs of Independence was erected to honor five patriots who were strangled for resisting Napoleon in 1809.
     I.   Placa Sant Felip Neri is a plaza which Catalan school children use as their playground.  In this square is the Church of Sant Felip Neri.  You can see where the building was damaged by bombs during the Spanish Civil War.  There is a plaque on a wall that is to the left of the church door that has a list of 42 victims of a 1938 aerial bombing.  Most of the victims were children.  So sad.
     J.  Jewish Quarter is called El Call which comes from the Hebrew word kahal which means congregation.  This is where you will see narrow alleys where 4,000 Jews were forced to lived.  There is a small synagogue, Antiqua Sinagoga Mayor, that you can tour.   Their synagogues were only allowed to be as big as the smallest Christian church.
     K. Carrer del Bisbe Bridge is a bridge that connects government buildings to what used to be the Catalan's president's residence.  Although the bridge looks medieval it was constructed in the 1920's.
     L.  Placa de Sant Jaume is the central square of Barri Gotic and is where two of the top government buildings are - Palau de la Generalitat is where the govenment offices are and Barcelona City Hall.  Above the doorway of the Palau de la Generalitat building is Catalunya's patron saint, St. George (Jordi) slaying a dragon.  I will be looking all over Barcelona for the very important Catalan symbol, the dragon.  And I heard that there is excellent gelato around here somewhere so I will also be keeping an eye out for Gelaaati di Marco.
     M. Roman Temple of Augustus - I will definitely be going into this temple as it is free, except on Mondays.  There is not much left there to see but the huge colums that are there date back to the first century B.C. which is as old as Barcelona is.
     N. Placa del Rei is where the Royal Palace is.  This is where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel welcomed Christopher Columbus home from his discovery of the New World and gave him the title "Admiral of the Oceans."
     O. Barcelona History Museum is where Rick Steves walking tour ends.  The name of the museum describes itself and is mostly a collection of objects discovered during archaeological digs.  The highlight of the museum is something that I will not be able to do because it is underground.  I hope Soko will go to enjoy the underground maze of Roman ruins.  If he ever finds his way out of there, we will head back to Placa de Sant Jaume to find the Jaume I metro stop to get back to where we started, Placa de Catalunya.

Are you planning a vacation to Barcelona?  Are you dreaming about taking a trip here one day?  I hope you found some information here that will help you when you start to make your plans.

Have you been to Barcelona?  Did you see, do or eat anything that makes you hope to get back there one day soon?  We would really love to hear from you!


  1. Hi Cathy,
    Thanks for leaving a comment on my post on Rome. We also spent 3 days in Barcelona, but haven't gotten to write about it yet.

    Barcelona is a fun city. We loved it, and feel like we can live there. It is cheaper than Rome and people are very friendly.

    Like Rome, it was full of tourists, but we also see locals in places like the Boquieria market and along Las Ramblas, the El Born area and the Parc de la Cituadella.

  2. Thanks so much for your info on Barcelona. I am looking forward to reading your post about 3 days there!

  3. Ohhh, Barcelona. I've been so sad about it lately, with all its troubles, but I have wonderful memories of everything from the Ramblas, which I love; Sagradia Familia, of which I'm in awe; the waterfront: always a favourite place for a stroll. We have also cruised with Royal Caribbean. We enjoyed it very much, and I hope you do, as well. Meanwhile, your excitement will, I'm sure, be building as the date draws nearer!
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

    1. Yes. I heard about the unrest there recently. Hopefully things will work out. Thank you for sharing a bit about your time in Barcelona. I will make sure I have enough time stroll along the waterfront!

  4. You are going to absolutely adore Barcelona! I worked on cruise ships for three years and it was one of my fav ports;) Enjoy! Thanks for sharing your experience on #MondayEscapes

    1. As someone who worked on cruise ships you must have spent a lot of time at different ports so it was great to hear that Barcelona was one of your favs!

  5. Barcelona is such a beautiful city, so much art, culture and of course food and architecture.

    Worth a Thousand Words

    1. I can't wait to see it. I would love a recommendation about what I should not miss eating while I am there.

  6. Barcelona is such a great city! It was the first place we took our daughter when she was 3 months old so it will always be a special place for us! #MondayEscapes

    1. Hope you get back there one day when your daughter is old enough to enjoy it with you!

  7. Lots to see and do in Barcelona!

  8. I hope you have a wonderful trip!!

  9. Lots of details on what you pack, the cruise ship, and everything else that goes with it please. Barcelona is on my Bucket List. I hope you have a great trip and thanks for sharing on Sunday's Best.

    1. Yes! I will be sharing plenty of details on everything as I get ready for our amazing adventure! I hope that you will be able to make your trip to Barcelona one day!