Day three of Barcelona starts by picking up my flight attendant sister-in-law Debbie, whose layover in Barcelona coincides with our last full day in the city. Debbie is a world traveler in the truest sense of the world. With access through her airline career to almost all continents, she maximizes her layover between flights by balancing sleeping and touring.
We exit the metro at the María Cristina station on the Avenguda Diagonal (Diagonal Avenue) and meet Debbie in the lobby of her hotel. This part of the city, Les Corts, boasts a distinctly modern feel compared to the historic area around La Rambla and our flat. High rise hotels and sleek office buildings, edgy sculptures, a towering El Corte Inglés shopping mall, plus university and medical facilities combine to lessen the charming old world atmosphere and increase the feeling of a world metropolis.
Today’s two sightseeing goals: A) La Sagrada Familia cathedral which my husband and daughter had missed the day before and B) Park Güell, another of Barcelona’s famous architect Gaudí’s creations. Despite how Park Güell is written, it’s pronounced “Park Way” if you’re a local (or you’re working hard to pronounce things correctly). Most non-natives just say “Park Well” or “Park Gwell.” The locals will always know what you mean.
We ride the metro to La Sagrada Familia, exiting beneath the majestic cathedral. For my husband and daughter, it is the first time they have seen it IRL. Debbie, my son and I have seen it already. We stroll around the outside and my husband takes photos with his “good camera.” I use my knowledge fresh from the previous day’s guided tour to provide my own version of a tour of the cathedral’s exterior.
From La Sagrada Familia, we catch The Barcelona City Tour bus and begin our afternoon of sightseeing atop a double-decker bus. We all agree to endure the sometimes interminable wait at each hop-on-hop-off stop as a compromise to see as many sights as possible during our limited time.
After enjoying the breeze in the bus’s open top seating, in a short while we arrive at the Park Güell bus stop. Our party of five descends to the sidewalk, following signs pointing to Park Güell. I had read–and had some vague memory–that there would be a hill involved in our ‘short walk’ to the park. In reality, we are scaling nothing short of a mountain. We stop for water and ice cream at a shop on the corner before the climb. During the hike, we exchange smiles and polite winded conversation with others who are also scaling the steep streets to the park. At one point, there is actually an escalator along the pedestrian path. (You know it’s serious if there’s an outdoor escalator along a street.) We are out of breath, it’s hot, and the park feels far. However we are in good spirits and we keep our steady pace. While it feels like a five hour hike, it is probably more like a twenty minute climb to the park entrance.
Park Güell has two areas: paid and free. The paid “monument area” includes many of Gaudí’s mosaic tile sculptures, including the iconic chameleon on the staircase at the entrance, a building and a pavilion area, both crafted with loving care in his signature style. The free area is a wooded walkway through columns of stone crafted by Gaudí to blend in with the natural environment. Though we have summited Park Güell mountain, we skip the monument area and overlook some of the monuments for free. (I have to leave something for my kids to see when they come here on their own later in their lives, right?) We catch our breath, take photos, and stroll along the path before leaving the park. As if by magic, the return walk seems to take no time at all.
We climb on the next tour bus and relax back into seats with the gentle wind in our faces. We drink our water. Away from the park, we enjoy the feel of the city again. Among other sights, we see La Pedrera and Casa Battló, two of Gaudí’s other famed architectural jewels in the city. Both commissioned as residential buildings, they are now dedicated to the tourist industry. We snap photos from our seats as best we can along the route. When the bus stops at Plaça de Catalunya (the main plaza of the city) a few minutes later, we clamber off. We bid farewell to Debbie, who jets off to meet up with her fellow flight attendants for local dinner and drinks. Though we leave much of the city unexplored (the Olympic Village, the Port area, and the outer reaches of the bus tour), we answer to our rumbling tummies and return to our air-conditioned flat, exhausted from the day.
This is our final night in Spain. Despite a few setbacks (like flat tires, sickness, and homeless people), our trip is an unmitigated success. We came out of Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona with plenty of positive experiences. The sights are memorable, but the magic of visiting with friends and loved ones (my friend from my junior year abroad in Madrid, my host family in Valencia, and my sister-in-law in Barcelona) made the biggest impression on my family. My Spanish friends opened their hearts to us as though twenty five days instead of twenty five years had passed. These are the moments I will cherish, and I hope my kids will, too.
Spain will be in our rear view mirror when we catch an early train into France in the morning for the second week of our tour.