Well, step aside Amsterdam! After five months of proclaiming you as our favourite European city, we have found a replacement: Barcelona. We knew the moment we rode off our ferry that it was a city that we were going to love… and each minute we fell harder! It is a city by the water, with an incredible bike program, public transit system (11 subway lines!), affordable delicious eating, and brilliant architecture. Best of all, the city has a youthful, artistic and pseudo-revolutionary flair that is truly enchanting. We sadly could only spend three days here, but would love to one day return.
Before continuing on Barcelona, we should mention how happy we were to reunite with our bikes in Genova. Our “vacation from a vacation” in Switzerland was wonderful, but getting back with “the kids” felt a bit like coming home: returning to our routine, yet spontaneous, days. We really enjoyed Genoa, it was probably our favourite city in Italy (besides Rome, of course), and we were lucky to again stay with our Couch Surfing friend Silvia. One of our big highlights was the aquarium which is (although this fact seems to be debated) the biggest in Europe. It was great after cycling along the sea for so long to get a peek into what lives in the Mediterranean waters!
And then we crossed the Mediterranean itself, on another great, virtually empty, overnight ferry (really, travelling by boat is just fantastic). We got off the ferry at 9 am, with the sun shining and Barcelona waiting. Biking along the waterfront to get to the centre, we were immediately impressed by the bike program. Barcelona’s bike sharing program has running since 2006 and there are (literally) hundreds of stations, and therefore thousands of bicycles, throughout the city; people can pay a yearly fee of 18 euros to get a membership to the bikes, and the first half an hour of use is always free. Most of the bikes were always gone from the stations, and we could see many of them being ridden down the good network of bicycle lanes and boulevards. Hurray for biking cities! A bike sharing program like this is certainly not unique to Barcelona, but compared to the other cities we have visited it seems to be the most extensive and well-used program.
We had another bike-based connection in Barcelona as we stayed with another Warm Showers host named Andy. Although he has lived in Barcelona for the past nine months, he is originally from Scotland (and is soon returning) so it was fun to learn about the city and country from his perspective. He had certainly made himself at home in the city, and was able to introduce us to a lot of interesting people and places. He lived in the Garcia neighbourhood, which is known for its lively, slightly bohemian, and politically-aware population. It certainly wasn’t a touristy part of town and we enjoyed exploring the narrow streets and energetic restaurants. It was in Garcia where Andy introduced us to a botega he used to work at; Botegas are traditional wine houses and this one in particular had a very welcoming and authentic feel to it. With Andy we went to another small venue to hear some live Spanish music, which was very good (and also free)! It was in Garcia (for our four year anniversary!) that the two of us also enjoyed tapas, which is a Spanish culinary tradition. Since Spaniards often eat dinner very late in the evening, going out for small “appetizers” is quite popular. There is a huge range of tapas, and many are (intentionally) savoury/salty as to encourage the ordering of more drinks!
Beyond the Garcia neighbourhood, the main highlight of our Barcelona experience was the architect Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi worked around the turn of the 20th century and is one of the figureheads of the modernisme (or Art Nouveau) movement. His work is speckled throughout the city, and is very colourful, often nature-based, and in general awe-inspiring. We made the trip to Park Guell, which was one of his earlier masterpieces that was originally intended to be a housing development but now is simply a public garden. Gaudi’s legacy in the park is left through fairy-tale-like buildings, plazas and steps.
We enjoyed his other unique buildings around town as well, but we were completely astounded by his cathedral, Sagrada Famillia (google image this). Words can simply not describe how impressed and inspired we were by the building; never has something man-made evoked such emotions. Gaudi began construction of the building in 1882, and (despite Gaudi’s death in 1926), the expected complete date of Sagrada Famillia is not until approximately 2026, although it is already being described as the 8th man-made wonder of the world. The church impresses with its size (it will have 18 spires), detail (for example, the facades ornately depict many biblical stories) and spiritual capacity (it will accommodate for 1,000 choir members). This was most definitely in our top five sites on the trip, and we both want to find a way to return after the Sagrada Famillia’s completion!
From Barcelona, we took the train up to the northerly town of Figueres, where Salvador Dali was born. We explored his museum for a few hours and enjoyed the zany talent of Dali. It was especially interesting to visit the museum as Dali set it up himself, so every corner had his influence. We enjoyed the town of Figueres very much, finding it architecturally pleasing and full of friendly people. In Figueres we met a fellow cyclist named Joan who gave us lots of information about the Santiago pilgrimage, which traverses the northern part of Spain. We were inspired by his stories and have decided that we too want to travel this famous pathway for about 500 kilometres at the end of the month.
Now we are exploring the rural parts of the area. We are in the district of Catalonia (which Barcelona is the capital of), a very distinct province of Spain that has been oppressed in the past by the Spanish government and has since increased its sovereignty and is ultimately seeking independence. We will hopefully learn much more by the time we write the next blog.
Well, the sun is shining so it is time to go biking!
Until next time,
Alec and Caitlin