Days 8 & 9 – Barcelona

I’m a bit behind in posting, due to general exhaustion but also shitty hotel internet. I’m combining our second and third day in Barcelona mostly because we weren’t huge fans of the city.  

The thing is, neither Chris nor I is a fan of huge crowded touristy cities. Or rather, I should say that it takes us more than two and a half days to start to enjoy a really touristy city. We love Rome, though of course there are very obvious reasons why we would love it despite the huge number of tourists, and we’ve been there so many times that we are now comfortable navigating our way around the city. While walking the streets of Barcelona, I was constantly on guard – even our hotel person told us to be aware of pick-pockets. So walking around became a stressful event where every person was a potential thief. 

Anyway, Barcelona was ok. We went to the city history museum at the Plaça del Rei, which had a nice tour of Roman remains found under a count’s palace, as well as the city’s archaeological museum, which had some really nicely displayed exhibits of the city’s prehistoric inhabitants as well as the Iberian (the culture native to the Iberian peninsula that was prominent before the Romans). Interestingly enough, there was a larger emphasis on the Iberian material than on the Roman, though there is probably a whole warehouse somewhere chock full of Roman stuff. Perhaps a statement about the desire for Catalonian independence?  

We also visited the cathedral, which was lovely – I have a particular soft spot for Gothic cathedrals, and I wasn’t really aware that Spain had any (France gets all the glory on that score). It was also nice to just get out of the sun for a moment as well.  

The most disappointing aspect of our visit was our search for visible Roman remains. Chris knew that there were a few things around that were still visible, so we walked around the city center to each one. All of them turned out to be rather lackluster – nothing too special or in great condition. At least we got our steps in…?!
Without doubt, the best part of Barcelona was the food. We ate many wonderful things but I won’t list them all here cuz that would be boring for you, I suppose. I will, however, list the places we tried:

La Boqueria – a large market similar to Findlay market but with ready made food vendors as well. 

La Cholita – near our hotel and absolutely excellent

Viana – a trendier place right off La Rambla 

After lunch at Viana, we walked to pick up our rental car, drove back to our hotel to pick up our stuff (a five mile drive that took an hour and a half, thanks to rush hour), then headed out to Tarragona. We got in pretty late, so our dinner consisted of kebabs from a local Indian/Middle Eastern place. Never underestimate the power of a good kebab! Cheap, quick, and delicious, they are the perfect ending to a long and somewhat frustrating day.  

Day 7 – Barcelona

Day 7 seemed to be more about walking than anything else.  According to my Health app, we walked 11 miles and climbed the equivalent of 25 flights of stairs.  No wonder I was so exhausted in the afternoon!  It was totally our choice, though – we could have taken public transportation, but for what we were doing, it was always most complicated than just walking AND would probably take as long.  So walk we did!

And since we did do so much walking, we really only visited two spots – La Sagrada Familia, and Park Güell.  It was a Gaudi day, and frankly, I’m glad we got it out of the way earliy.  Controversial statement – I don’t really like Gaudi all that much!  His style is too much, and honestly, it just looks kitschy and almost cheap to me. I was impressed by the interior of La Sagrada Familia, but I could leave everything else.  I will say that the museum in the basement of La Sagrada Familia and the Gaudi House Museum in Park Guell were both well done and very informative.  It was neat to learn about the artistic process and to see some sketches and models that Gaudi used.  The other thing that I found fascinating about Las Sagrada Familia was how closely it’s construction paralleled that of a Gothic cathedral.  Both took forever to complete – Norte Dame, in Paris, took 183 years to compete.  La Sagrada Familia was started in  1882 and the projected completion year is 2026 – 144 years total.  It is insane to me that the cathedral is still being worked on (in fact, I’m not entirely sure why it is taking so long).  Regardless, the monumental size and scope reminded me very much of how Gothic cathedrals were built – taking a long time, requiring massive monetary support from the community (most of the ticket sales for La Sagrada Familia go into the funding of construction), and also a devoutly pious architect (apparently Gaudi prayed like four times a day and lived a very ascetic lifestyle – how easy for rich people to live like the poor).  

So, after 11 miles of trekking around the city, we checked Gaudi off our to-do list and returned to the hotel to rest.  Don’t judge us too harshly – Day 7 was the third day in a row where we had walked over 9 miles.  So a little R&R was sorely needed.  

Our meals for Day 7 were actually the highlight. Breakfast was pretty basic – pastries from a local chain while walking to La Sagrada Familia, but for lunch we found a tiny little cafe, Cafe CASI, near Park Güell. It has a fixed menu, so we each had a starter, main, a drink, and also dessert for €11.  Not a bad deal!  And the food was pretty delicious as well – it was definitely more like home cooking than the tapas we’ve mostly been eating.  Chris had gazpacho and sausages in a wine sauce and I had a seafood salad (octopus, mussels, tuna, and crab dressed with oil) and roasted pork rib.  We both had ice cream for dessert.  For dinner, we found a spot near our hotel, which is about three miles from the main city center.  Because of this, everything around us is more “authentic” – as in, there aren’t any other tourists around. On our walk this morning we passed schools and shops and lots of old women walking dogs in various parks.  It has actually been a bit refreshing!  Anyway, for dinner we went to La Esquinica, a local spot I found on TripAdvisor.  It was great!  Full of people only speaking Spanish – our waiter included!  We had a fun time miming a conversation, though when it comes down to it, pointing is always the best strategy.  We had a lovely bottle of slightly sparkling white wine from Catalonia, grilled asparagus, patatas bravas (quickly becoming a favorite), cheese marinated in oil (strange, but good!), spicy Catalan sausages called longaniza, and a plate of grilled tiny octopi that only I ate because it made Chris very uncomfortable (they were also delicious, in case you were wondering. 😊).  

So, not the best first day in Barcelona, but Day 8 will include Roman ruins and actual Gothic cathedrals, so I’m pretty excited.  

Day 6 – Seville to Barcelona

Since our flight to Barcelona was that evening, Day 6 was our last chance to explore Seville, so naturally we went to the archaeological museum and then to Italica.  First we stopped into Pan y Piu for breakfast – we had discovered it on Day 5 and we’re happy to go back again.  I had the most delicious almond croissant, and Chris had one with ham, cheese, and bechamel.  Pretty damn delicious!

Anyway, after breakfast we walked back through the Maria Luisa park to the archaeological museum.  It was nice to see the Plaza de España one more time – were both convinced it’s the most beautiful Plaza in all of Spain.  The museum itself is housed in a pretty gorgeous building, constructed, like the Plaza de España, for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929.  The collection includes a lot of pieces from Italica, so it was useful to see them before we went to the site later in the day.  These included some nice statues, and a really cool collection of Latin inscriptions on bronze tablets.  The museum itself, however, is in dire need of an update, especially compared to the Malaga Museum, which we had so recently visited. The paint on the walls was peeling, the labels were faded, and all the descriptions were written in Spanish.  The exhibits themselves clearly hadn’t been changed since the 80’s.  While I’m glad we went, it would be nice to see a little renovation. 

After the museum, we packed up the car and headed to Italica (about a half hour drive outside Seville). Lunch consisted of sandwiches purchased earlier at Pan y Piu, and we had a sort of picnic in front of the site’s entrance.  

Italica, like Conimbriga in Portugal or Baelo Claudia elsewhere in Spain, is a less-well known Roman site, though it is pretty important, considering the first two non-Italian Roman emperors were born there.  The site itself is a bit weird – it is mostly unexcavated so there are vast expanses of field dotted with olive trees between the excavated portions, what little signage there is is, again, mostly in Spanish, and we might have been the only people in the entire site that afternoon, which was a bit eerie/creepy.  A Traianeum (temple used for the worship of the deified emperor Trajan) was advertised on all the sign posts, but once we trekked across what felt like several miles of field to see it, all we found was an area covered over with gravel (presumably for protection purposes??).  So, ultimately, I felt like I wandered around in the sun for two hours for no real reason, though I guess it’s pretty cool to be able to say that I’ve been to the birthplace of Trajan and Hadrian.  

Our flight to Barcelona was at 7:20, so I dragged Chris away from the site around 4:00 so we could return the rental car on time (being an archaeologist, he gets a lot more out of a site than I do, even if it is covered in gravel).  Our flight and subsequent taxi ride to the hotel was uneventful, though I have to admit I was really intimidated by the size of the city.  I know that most cities we visit are quite large, and that the tourist area is usually always the historic center, but Barcelona just seems so much bigger and more inaccessible than any other city I’ve been to.  Perhaps it’s because I’m not very familiar with what the city has to offer – besides Gaudi,  of course – but I’m a bit more nervous about our time here than I have been previously.  

But, as Horace said, carpe diem!  We’ll be sure to make the most of our time here, and Chris as dissertation work to do anyway, so at least I’m guaranteed some Roman stuff.  😁