Before heading to Barcelona, I casually decided to visit the resort town of Tossa de Mar – where the car I had rented in Paris had mysteriously disappeared. It’s following this unfortunate incident that I discovered a different kind of Spanish.
I already knew Spaniards pronounced certain words differently (ex: policia with the “c” having an “s” sound is pronounced polithia in Spain) but I didn’t know this part of Spain, known as Catalonia (or Catalunya), actually had its own language namely Catalan. One might be tempted to think that Catalan is derived from Spanish but, in reality, it’s a language in its own right. Derived directly from proper Latin, Catalan has similarities with French, Italian and, of course, Spanish but it’s nonetheless quite different. As someone who studied Spanish and can speak/read at a moderate level, I was bewildered at the flagrant differences both in spoken and written form.
I managed to explain to a random store owner that my car had somehow disappeared. Luckily, Catalans also speak Spanish (locally referred to as Castellano); the mildly amused proprietor was kind and patient enough to decipher my broken Spanish which eventually lead him to directing me to the police station. Upon arriving at the police station, I was told my Renault garnished with a licence plate from France, had been towed because I had parked in a restricted zone.
I didn’t remember seeing any signs (although I do remember thinking how lucky I was to find such an amazing spot during high-season in a resort town….!) but I didn’t have any other choice but to pay the ticket if I wanted to have my car back. Having packed all my stuff including souvenirs and gifts bought in France, I was relieved my car wasn’t stolen but also equally pissed-off that I had to dish out a few hundred pesetas (the Euro still hadn’t been introduced) which I could’ve used for something far more worthwhile (like shoes or a gift for my mom *wink*).
Despite my mild rude awakening to Spain, I was still looking forward to visiting and discovering Barcelona – the city of the modernist architect Antoni Gaudí . Some of his most famous architectural works of art could be seen just by simply taking a leisurely stroll along an otherwise unassuming street. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Barcelona was the utmost definition of an open-air museum.
The first of Gaudí’s works I visited was Park Güell. I was in total awe at the magnificence of Park Güell; thousands upon thousands of ceramic pieces thoughtfully and meticulously arranged in endless mosaic designs. Covering curvacious benches, cartoon-like colossades and even entire ceilings made to look like finely-decorated cakes. Seeing all this unbelievable creativity and originality made it obvious why Gaudí was considered an architectural genius, and Park Güell is, without a doubt, most definitely worthy of its ranking as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After seeing so much inspirational innovation, I was left with an insatiable desire to discover more of Gaudí’s masterpieces. With its imposing pyres (six in total) acting as a new-age beacon, I headed to La Sagrada Familia – another masterful accomplishment by the native artist. La Sagrada Familia, with its wonderful mix of both gothic and art nouveau architectural styles, is Gaudí’s surreal version of a Roman Catholic church rendering it concomitantly intriguing, haunting and strangely beautiful. Construction started in 1882 and should tentatively be completed by 2026 – coinciding with the centenary of Gaudí’s death.
Aside from all the Gaudí greatness scattered around Barcelona, it’s also a shopping haven namely on La Rambla – composed of a series of pedestrian streets all wonderfully lined with store after store beckoning you to spend your cash. I have a penchant for pedestrian streets and to make it even more irresistible, I was there in August when end-of-season sales were plastered on every window of nearly every shop. Needless to say, I indulged in a few purchases!
After doing but a few of the mandatory tourist sites in Barcelona (and some shopping….ahem), I hopped in my Renault once again to make a day trip to Sitges – a coastal resort town just a short drive away. The narrow streets were overflowing with restaurants and bars (many of which were destined to a gay clientele for which Sitges is known to attract).
It quickly dawned on me that Sitges was a party town but I was mostly interested in its historical old town center located on the picturesque Costa Brava. Away from the thumping music blasting from bars and drunken foreigners, this area was much more appealing and pleasant to walk around in. And being right on the Costa Brava, there was also a beach for those who love to sunbathe.
Amazing architecture, amazing shopping, amazing history – Barcelona had all the elements to make it a perfect vacation destination and I loved the short time I spent there! With all that Barcelona has to offer it’s no wonder it’s still one of the most visited, and coveted, cities in Europe.
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Have you been to Barcelona? Were you also in awe of Gaudi’s creations?