Thanks to our wonderful mid-term break (four days off during a six week program), I got to spend the weekend and then some in the beautiful Spanish city of Barcelona. Thinking we would maximize time in Barcelona, Erik and I decided to fly out at 6 AM from Heathrow. Sounds like a great idea, until you find out that there is no public transportation that can get you to the airport at that ungodly hour, forcing you to leave the night before. We started our journey at around 10:30 PM, took a London City bus to a coach station, a National Express bus to the deserted bus terminal far outside Heathrow, and another National Express bus to Terminal 5 of the airport. When we arrived around 3 AM, it was a ghost town. Every bench had someone sleeping on it, but other than that, the terminal was entirely empty. We wandered through the check-in area until we found a place to sleep. My bed for the night, if you could call it that, was the tile floor, my pillow was my backpack, and my teddy-bear was my purse as I wanted to protect it from getting stolen. I tell you this not to complain but just to emphasize the pure lunacy that evolved throughout that night. We were in one of the busiest airports in the world, and it was dead silent and deserted. After about an hour or so of sleep we went to security (when it finally opened around 4:30) and made our way to our terminal. Because Heathrow is a pretty high security airport, they prefer if traffic between the terminals only moves in one direction. Being in Terminal B, I naturally wanted to get to our gate, so we bypassed all the delicious warm breakfast options in Terminal A to get there. When we arrived we were essentially the only human beings in Terminal B, which meant, much to my chagrin, that there was no food. When we tried to take the tram back to Terminal A, we physically could not do it due to a number of one way doors and escalators. However, in the distance we saw a beacon of hope…a walkway connecting the terminals! One sign said authorized personnel only, but another simply labeled the walkway. Seeing this as our only viable option to get food, we walked through the slightly industrial, wire and vent filled tunnel under the runways to return to Terminal A. No one said anything to us so it must have been ok right? After eating we boarded our flight and slept the entire way to Spain.
Goodnight Heathrow Airport
Before I knew we were flying, we had touched down (not that I even remembered take-off I was so past tired). After taking a short cab ride to our hotel and being delighted to see that our room was not only ready at 9AM but also clean and nice, we set out to stroll around the surrounding area. Our explorations brought us to Camp Nou, Barcelona’s football stadium, to a 7 story department store to buy sunscreen, and to a movie-star themed cafe in which we ate a delicious lunch (think guacamole, goat cheese, and amazing coffee) for about 2 hours.
Inside the largest Nike store in Camp Nou
Some guys we met…
Delicious cafe con leche to keep me awake!
We were delighted to finally use some of the Spanish we had spent so many years learning as we tried to understand a “lispy”Spanish accent and some Catalan influenced slang. After lunch, we took a brief nap that about doubled my amount of sleep for the night (woohoo for running on three hours) and headed for Barceloneta to see the real downtown area and get some dinner with my friends. At this point, I realized that Barcelona was a perfect mix of Europe meets Caribbean Island. It is a beautiful European city placed on a beach with loads of Spanish flair and culture (obviously). We enjoyed dinner at a ocean-view outdoor cafe and had delicious paella and sangria. After, we strolled down Barceloneta’s beach area, before heading to bed.
Friends and sangria
Maybe I was a little excited to eat this paella
The next day was our designated tourist day. Thanks to Mrs. Rayno for organizing, we had a Hop-on Hop-Off bus tour that essential drove you everywhere you wanted to see and would pick you up and take you to the next destination all day long. We started our tour by going to see the Gaudí houses in Barcelona, la Pedrera and Casa Batlló. For those of you who do not know Gaudí is an Art Nouveau-inspired architect whose creative buildings are dispersed throughout Barcelona. If you click on the London as Art section of my blog (click here) you will find more on Casa Batlló. But here’s an outside picture for those of you who don’t want to click:
After continuing on the bus journey and passing Plaça Catalunya (a big plaza at the top of La Rambla), La Rambla (one of the most famous streets in Barcelona with shopping, dining, and a direct route to the ocean), the Cathedral of Barcelona in the gothic neighborhood of the city, Barceloneta (where we had dinner the night before), we arrived at Sagrada Familia, another Gaudí masterpiece. Since I am kind of a huge church-nerd I was unbelievable excited to see Sagrada Familia, but little did I know just how amazing it was going to be. It is going to be very hard to do it justice in my descriptions and pictures. The outside of Sagrada is very distinct, with stone carvings and mosaics covering the facade of the Church. The inside was completely different than I expected. The ceilings were high, and ornately carved pillars seemed to go endlessly upwards towards it. The walls were covered with giant stained glass windows through which brilliantly colored light streamed. Above the alter was a sort of dome that was like a direct portal to the sky, with sunlight streaming in. To say the least Erik and I were in absolute awe. We must have spent at least and hour and half inside the church, admiring the architecture and artistry and watching the expressions of shock and joy that radiated from those who entered. I now know what it must have been like to go into any of the grand churches in the world for the first time and to see them brand new. It was overwhelming to imagine someone, hundreds of years from now, walking into Sagrada Familia and looking at it in the same way that I see St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, as a piece of history. Sagrada is truly history in the making.
a masterpiece in progress
Sadly, this side was the victim on an arson attack in 2011. I can’t imagine who would want to ruin a place like this.
Next, we went up into one of the towers of Sagrada Familia via an elevator. When we got to the top, we were the only ones up there so we could move as slowly as we wanted. The tower stairs were fairly narrow, and we could not help but be a little nervous being in such a high, open-air place. Regardless of our claustrophobia and height-fears, the view was breathtaking. After we enjoyed the view of the Spanish landscape, we got to experience another view…the one down a very long, spiraling, steep set of stairs.
boy, that’s a loooong way down
…and a looong way up
Thanks to the nice New Zealand couple who took this picture and complimented us on our ability to speak English
After our time at Sagrada Familia we enjoyed lunch and got on and off the bus at various stops such as Parc Güel. The park had architecture and mosaics done by Gaudí, but sadly we did not have time to go in since we got a little lost and ended up getting distracted by another church (…I know so uncharacteristic of me…). Finally, we met up with my friends at La Rambla to have dinner (sangria and paella again!) and went to bed so we could wake up early the next day.
the distracting church
On Sunday,we went to mass at the Cathedral of Barcelona. The inside of the church was quite dark and was of the gothic style. Erik and I understood about 1/5 of mass (thank goodness for the Amens and Allelujahs) because it was in Catalan and difficult to hear. Still, we were grateful for the opportunity to go to church in Spain.
Next, it was off to some relaxing on the beach with my school friends. The sun was nice and warm, but the water was too cold for swimming. Regardless we enjoyed our time there and even ran into an old friend of mine (crazy that we were both in Barcelona at the same time!).
After the beach we stopped quickly at the hotel to shower and change, and then made our way to Monjuic (a large hill on the west side of Barcelona.) We took a gondola to the top and got the best views of Barcelona we’d had all week. At the top was an old castle and plenty of paths to explore. Erik and I spent some time walking and talking, just enjoying the views and each other’s company.
The view from the top
A guy and a gondola
Eventually, we took the gondola back down and strolled through a park area toward the Fónt Magica (Magic Fountain) by Plaça d’Espanya to meet my friends for dinner. As we strolled down the hill, we found ourselves overlooking the Magic Fountain from atop a set of balconies, stairs, and miniature fountains (miniature in comparison to the ginormous Magic Fountain!). Again, another great view as the twilight faded in Barcelona. We met up with the girls at a restaurant called Brasa Pura and then headed back to the hotel for the night. It felt so strange to go from dinner to sleep but the Spanish eat so late (we finished at 11:30!). I think I am too much of an old lady who likes her early bed time to have such late dinners (teehee).
On Monday we awoke sad to leave Barcelona but happy to have London to return too. We went for a swim (complete with stellar bathing caps) in the hotel pool and then, revisited Camp Nou (Barcelona Stadium) to pick up some souvenirs for some very important people (I’m looking at you, Dad and Carsten). Then it was off to the airport and time to say adios to Espanya.
Going to Barcelona reminded me of just how many places there are to see in the world and how many of them I still need to go too. Even more so, it reminded me of just how fortunate/blessed/lucky I have been to have such numerous opportunities to see the world. I know my travels will continue, and I am excited to see where life will take me (literally). I am positive Barcelona will be on that list! I HAVE to see Sagrada Familia when it is complete!
PS: Remember that deserted walkway we went through on our way to Spain? Well, upon returning to Heathrow we saw the exact same walkway clearly locked-up and marked private. Whoops, guess we may have broken a law unintentionally!
- Nicole Murgas
Images ©Nicole Murgas. All rights reserved.
Check out Nikki’s blog A Midsummer Night’s Dream… in London for more blog posts!