I cannot believe this is our last post for “Our Tuscan Year!” We are leaving next Tuesday for the states, and from there we will be getting ready for our a host of weddings and family events before our own wedding day on July 3rd! It will definitely take some time to digest my journey these past nine months, and luckily this blog has documented the memories that will last us a lifetime. My last blog post tells the story of our few days in Spain, including a day and a half in Barcelona and a few days on the island of Ibiza for Ryan’s bachelor party. Ryan’s friend, Dave R, traveled with us through the south of France and Barcelona. Once we reached Ibiza, they were met up with two of his other buddies, Josh and Dave V. I won’t be adding any details of the bachelor party on this post, as I was sitting on a lounge chair soaking up the sun at a resort 🙂
Barcelona is full of treasures. Despite claiming it has more visitors every year than the Italian capital of Rome, it is unabashedly laid back. Instead of throngs of tourists clamoring to view of every sight, visitors seemed to adopt the Barcelona vibe by enjoying strolls along the harbor and sunbathing by the ocean. Yet despite this laid-back culture, Barcelona has a plethora of historical and cultural sights to keep the most eager tourist satisfied.
We stayed in the Duequesa Hotel in the Gothic Quarter. It was conveniently situated near the harbor, beach, and bar and tapas scene. We didn’t make it out until after 10 PM our first evening, but that was perfectly in line with Spanish culture where the night is young through midnight. We found our way into a lively tapas restaurant called Sensi. The food was bursting with a myriad of flavors which was refreshingly different from the more simple Italian style fare. The tuna tartare, sea bass ceviche, roast duck, and pork were standouts. Following dinner, Ryan and Dave were set on trying Absinthe (a strong alcohol illegal in the U.S.) at Bar Marsella, a hangout popular with Hemingway, Picasso, and Dali. The absinthe was bottled for Bar Marsella, and the bartender even had a signature method of burning a cube of sugar on a spoon above the absinthe, followed by diluting the drink until it is considered “drinkable.” Drinkable is an exaggerated term, however, as Ryan and Dave struggled to ingest the rubbing alcohol -scented, yellow-colored drink. I refused to taste it. We ended the night at Dome Nightclub Barcelona, which played throw-back John Paul hip-hop beats, some from over a decade ago!
The following morning we took the Barcelona Free Walking Tour of the Gothic Quarter, a highly rated experience on TripAdvisor where the guides only work on tips. We thought the tour was excellent as our guide provided a significant amount of historical background on the city and the walking/talking ratio was just right.
One of our first stops was Las Rablas, a famous tree-lined walkway near the Gothic Quarter. The street was reconstructed into a pleasant area because the King wanted an easy way for his troops to enter and leave the city in the 1300s. Before, however, the street was full of waste, sewage, and crime. Now it is home to many street artists, touristy tapas bars, and plenty of shopping.
Nearby was the Santa Maria del Mar Basilica, named after the Saint Maria who was tortured by the Romans for her Christian faith. The story goes that she survived being thrown down a hill with a barrel of sharp object and then survived being crucified. When she was finally beheaded, doves flew out of her body. These events were supposed to represent three miracles. The body of Santa Maria can still be found in the church.
The most impressive building in the Gothic Quarter is the Barcelona Cathedral, which started construction in the 1200s and ended in the 1400s. The main front was redone, however, in 1898. The church exhibits Gothic style and is decorated with steeples and gargoyles. The picture below is not a good representation of the steeple as the angle was very close and the sun was right in my lens!
Our guide led us to a sweet little square in the Gothic Quarter, a place where musicians come to play in the evenings and where Guadi used to pray every day in its church. The square was heavily damaged by a bomb in one of the world wars, and you can still see dents from the shrapnel in the buildings. Apparently, Guadi died on his way to this square when he was hit by a tram.
At the Palau de Generaletat, we learned a little bit more about the political situation in Barcelona. The Catalonia region of Spain wants to secede from the country, but Madrid will not let Catalonia have a referendum. The sentiment of succession dates back to when the Kingdom of Spain conquered the region and the Catalans lost independence. Many people in Barcelona speak Catalan instead of Spanish, and there is a lot of resentment towards the northern part of the country. In this government square, there hangs the proposed flag of Catalan if the region were to secede.
After the tour, we enjoyed a relaxing lunch on the beach, which we learned was created prior to the Olympics in order to prepare for the mass of visitors to the city. The beach was nicer than I imagined, with a sprawling beach walkway and an abundance of shops and restaurants.
Later in the evening, we visited the famed La Sagrada Familia, the immense Basilica deigned by Guadi. It started construction in 1883, although Guadi died in 1926 before its completion. The remaining construction of the towers has been going on for over 110 years and is expected to be completed in the first third of this century! Although we did not enter since it was very near to closing time, we got to see the small parish and admire the contemporary facade that is unlike any church we have ever seen in Italy or France.
Guadi is an idol in Barcelona for his signature architecture scattered throughout the city. This includes the Casa Mila house and the Bitlo apartments. He also designed the lamps within this government square near Barcelona’s own Arc di Triumph and even has his own museum in Park Guell. Unfortunately we did not have time to visit many of these sights given we only had one day, but would certainly include them in a 2-3 day itinerary.
Our last meal in Barcelona ended on a high note. We coincidentally ended up at another restaurant owned by Sensi that was slightly more trendy and expensive. The food did not disappoint. Octopus with romesco sauce, sauteed squid, and pork were our highlights. I could not be happier with the tapas food we had the please of tasting in Barcelona.
The next morning we set off on the short one-hour flight to Ibiza, one of the Balearic islands in the Mediterranean sea. It’s reputation is for nightlife and electronic music, hence the reason Ryan chose the location for his bachelor party. We all stayed at the Grand Palladium Resort, an all-inclusive hotel with a host of pools, sports activities, and plenty of food and drinks to go around. The boys only stayed for one night (they ended up staying elsewhere on the island and doing more activities), while I relaxed for an additional two night.
I found the resort to be modern, clean, extremely efficient in its service, and just crowded enough to be lively but still always find a quiet space by the pool. I took tennis lessons for two days with local instructors. The price for a one hour private session was only 40 euros. In the city of Chicago this could easily be double! The buffets, which I dined in for 3 meals a day, offered enough variety to keep me satisfied, but I certainly would start to get bored after a week!
My only excursion was a short bus ride to Ibiza town. The town is a cluster of boutiques, restaurants, and bars along the harbor and a pretty tree-lined park separating the road. I only spent enough time there to shop for a new bathing suit, but it would have been a nice place to return for dinner.
Overall, I enjoyed my R&R time in Ibiza. Although there is not much culture to discuss, the three days were just what I needed before heading back to our hectic lives in Chicago!