We had no idea we'd be in Barcelona during La Mercè, a many-day festival that honors the patron saint of Barcelona (or something). I flew in from Lisbon, AW flew in from DC, and RT flew in from Germany. After a couple hours of catching up and an additional hour of napping, we thought we'd head out and find some dinner, and maybe see if we could find the source of the merriment we could dimly hear from our apartment. Two blocks from our apartment, we came to this:
Starting Procession of La Merce from dceditors on Vimeo.
The giant puppets make multiple appearances throughout La Mercè, and move by a single person stepping inside it and lifting the entire structure up on their shoulders. We stayed and watched fire dancers and more puppets dancing, and it all ended with fireworks being shot off the top of city hall. Fun!
Throughout the following four days we encountered several parades, and stumbled onto plazas with huge stages with music and dancing, and we came across the occasional arts and crafts festival. It was incredible! I later talked to an acquaintance who used to live there, and he says we definitely got to see Barcelona at it's most vibrant. I am in general opposed to crowds, but Barcelona can handle it.
If you're not there during such merriment, you will still have plenty to do. Perhaps the most striking thing about Barcelona is the architecture of Antoni Gaudí. Well, actually it's the architecture in general -- Barcelona put some serious effort into making its city streets ooze with Catalan culture. Gaudí designed buildings that stand out, like Casa Batlló, for example. His buildings were built around the turn of the century during the Modernisme movement, an Art Nouveau variant. We toured this house, and it was incredible! Lots more pictures in my photo album.
Gaudí's most famous building is surely Sagrada Familia. It's tough to know where to start to explain Sagrada Familia. Here's a good, still brief, description of the history and construction of Sagrada Familia. Even more briefly, though, Gaudi took over construction in 1883 on the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia -- the sacred family. It ultimately became his life's work and indeed his obsession for the last years of his life. There are some parts of it that are truly phenomenal and others that make you wonder if he was a little off his rocker. Construction continues today, and the architects say that it will be completed in 25 years. I think that's optimistic. Gaudi also didn't have blueprints and was making it up as he went along, so there are some parts of it that are extrapolated or inferred by contemporary artists and architects. The Passion Facade was completed in the late 1980s -- its angular figures often seen as controversial. It was an incredible site. Pay the extra money for a guided tour, and allow plenty of time to study the building's intricacies.
Besides Sagrada Familia, there is Barcelona's actual Cathedral, the one that's been there for, oh, 700 or so (and it's been the site of a church since 343 A.D.), and it's breathtaking in its own right. Literally. Right when we walked in, I had to step aside and catch my breath. Perhaps the presence of Catholic saints or something, but it was also for its beauty. Worth a visit, for sure.
Since we were going to be there for so long, we rented an apartment. No, it wasn't perfect, and when you furnish an entire apartment from Ikea, there's bound to be some (or many) broken things. But it was overall fantastic, I'm sure saved us money in the long run over a hotel, and the location couldn't have been more perfect. Also, my south Europe counterpart for work lives in Barcelona, and a friend of A's lived there for 4 years, so we came armed with insane amounts of advice. That was a big help, too. At the same time, there is so much to do and see in Barcelona that you really can't go wrong. I will suggest, though, that you walk Las Ramblas once to say you did, use it to get to La Boqueria, but don't bother hanging around there anymore than that. Off the beaten path -- even one block off Las Ramblas -- and you get a far better experience than the crowds and tourist traps.
Wondering why there's no food mentioned here? That, my friends, is a post of its own. Stay tuned.