Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Weekend Adventures {Barcelona, Spain}

For Thanksgiving this year, we took a longer weekend away to Barcelona with two other families -- and we had a blast!  We did some stuff on our own and some with our friends, it was a perfect to see what we all wanted to see while also enjoying some time with the other families.
We stayed here and while the location and room were amazing, we had some unpleasant neighbors which really was not fun to deal with.  We used public transportation (the metro) a lot and it was so easy to navigate, one of the better systems we have used.  If you plan on using the metro, then I recommend getting a day pass (or multi day pass) -- very easy to buy at the automated machines in the metro stations, but we did take a taxi to/from the airport as it was easiest and not that expensive.  Also, Barcelona is a big tourist destination, I highly recommend getting tickets in advance for the popular sights.  While we went in a more off season time, we were still happy to have tickets in advance, especially for Sagrada Familia and Park Güell.

Barcelona has a lot to do and because we wanted to see as much as we could in three full days, we packed it.  So here is all we did and my tips/tricks as well -- 

Casa Batlló
Casa Batlló is a Gaudí designed house on the Block of Discord (known for the three houses with colorful facades) and was actually very fun and kid friendly.  We did buy tickets in advance, but probably didn't need to.  We checked the stroller, got our amazing audio-guides and explored the insanely weird but cool house.  The audio-guide was interactive which entertained Serafina (who also loved all the the crazy colors and tile).  The roof was very impressive and we all really liked the house.  Serafina is still talking about it -- this might have been one of her more favorite museum type things we have done.

Museu Picasso (Picasso Museum)
Pablo Picasso spent quite a few years in Barcelona and mastered his realistic painting style in the city.  The museum doesn't have the famous Cubist works but you will see many of Picasso's work from his earlier life/career and we really liked the museum.  And so did Serafina.  I can't remember if backpacks were allowed but we did check ours -- we did bring the stroller throughout the museum as Serafina was pretty tired and wanted to rest (there was an elevator that required someone to take you up and down).
Park Güell 
Another Gaudí designed part of the city -- this time it was supposed to be an upscale housing development, but now a gorgeous park overlooking the city.  Serafina seriously loved the park, she could run, explore and there was always something fun to see.  Part of the park requires a timed entry ticket and I highly recommend going into the Monumental Zone -- while crowded, it really was cool to see.  You can spend as long as you want within the Monumental Zone but once you leave, you can't return.  And while it is a park, there are no playgrounds but plenty of spaces for kids to run (and sort of stroller friendly -- lots of stairs).

Sagrada Familia
Antoni Gaudi's masterpiece and probably one of the most well known churches in the world (and with good reason, it was amazing).  The church is unfinished so it will constantly have scaffolding and work being done -- but also means you can go each year and see something new.  Advance tickets are a must (buy here -- and note that children under 6 aren't allowed to go up the towers, so we could not do that this trip).  The church also has a long (and strict) check in process, so be prepared to go through bag checks and x-ray machines.  And speaking from experience, don't bring large bottles of liquids (like beer you plan on sharing with your friends later) into the church).  The church was gorgeous and dramatic and unreal -- just spend time walking around and taking it all in.  We stayed right by the church and got to see it from the outside quite often and Serafina just loved it, our true church loving gal was so sad we only got to in once!

Las Ramblas
The gorgeous and famous boulevard running from Plaça de Catalunya down to the water.  The boulevard has a gorgeous and wide pedestrian strip in the middle making it a very easy (and worthwhile) place to walk.  And of course you must stop into La Boqueria Market -- the most famous market hall in Barcelona (and most central).  It has so many stalls with different types of food.  We grabbed a wide range of treats and more to have as a picnic up at....
Montjuïc is a large hill that overlooks the port with a large castle/fortress as well as the area that has hosted the world's fair in 1929 and more recently, the 1992 Summer Olympics.  To get to Montjuïc, we took the metro from the end of Las Ramblas (near the Columbus Monument) to the closest metro station to the Teleferic de Montjuic (the cable car) and road that up the mountain -- which was quite fun and the kids loved it.  We went straight to castle and while not a lot to see, the views were gorgeous (but do remember that this castle/hill was used as the place of many political executions during the Franco area).  We also had a lovely picnic up near the castle.

We then chose to walk down the hill so we could go see the various sights of the 1992 Summer Olympics.  We didn't go to the museum, but walked into the Olympic Stadium which was so cool to see (this was the sight of the amazing lighting of the Olympic flame by an archer + arrow).  We then made our way to...

Plaça d'Espanya
While mostly just a large roundabout -- go to the bullring mall, called Las Arenas, to the top floor and look back at the esplanade with the Magic Fountain -- this was the sight of the World's Fair in 1929.  The fountain puts on a huge lights/music show in the evenings, just be aware of the times and such (because we went in the off seasons, we didn't get a chance to see the performance).

We also took a day trip into the mountains to Montserrat which is famous for its monastery sitting on the mountain top.  Getting to Monserrat from Barcelona is quite easy -- the trains leave hourly from Plaça d'Espanya and it takes about an hour.  We opted to get off at the first stop for Monserrat and take the cable car up to the top (which was quite high and scared the crap out of me!).  I recommend getting the train/cable car combo ticket when you buy your train tickets in Barcelona -- will save you a little time because you don't have to wait in line for the cable car ticket.  We took the rack railway back down the mountain which was also very easy (again get the combo ticket and you'll switch trains to head back to Barcelona at the second rack railway stop).  And Monserrat is a huge tourist destination so be prepared for crowds so matter when you go.
Once at the top, everything is fairly close together -- we didn't bring a stroller but we saw people who did.  While on a hill, it was easy to get around. There is a large cafeteria and a restaurant buffet place, but we opted to bring our own snacks to have a picnic.  We went into the monastery and joined the line to touch La Moreneta -- the famous tanned Virgin Mary (that has darkened over time).  She is behind a glass, but you can touch the royal orb (or as Serafina calls it "the ball").  We also took the Sant Joan Funicular to the actual top and hiked down.  We hiked the steep but easier path back down (very wide and concrete -- hard to miss or get lost).  The views at the top and the walk back down were amazing, especially since the clouds cleared!

So -- eating in Barcelona.  We did not eat any Spanish food, not once.  We can get Spanish food anytime we want and since we were in a bigger city, we went with food we knew we couldn't find easily in our part of Spain.  Breakfast was typically in our apartment, lunch was on the go (picnics or take away food).  We had Thanksgiving dinner at La Taqueria (Mexican food) and it was amazing.  It had actual spice -- like make you cry and sweat spice.  We were all in heaven!  We ate (and drank) at Barcelona Beer Company, the food wasn't great (typical pub food) but the beer was amazing.  And finally we loved Via Napoli (Italian), such good food and a great kids menu.

I can't believe it has taken us this long to get to Barcelona but we loved it and now need to figure out how to get back before our time here in Spain is up!

Quick note about safety -- Barcelona (and Catalonia) have been in the news lately (2017 Las Ramblas attack, the vote for independence and then the arrest of those leading the pro-independence movement (just this past October)).  There have been many protests and marches -- it hasn't always been the safest place to visit recently.  However, we never felt unsafe, never saw any protests and thoroughly enjoyed our time in Barcelona.  Like any trip/travel we do, we follow the State Department travel warnings which are usually very helpful and accurate.  

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