I had the chance to take a vacation far from home last month, and by far I mean Spain. I traveled with my dad since part of the vacation was to celebrate his retirement and the other part was to celebrate completion of my chemistry Master’s degree. I’ve visited other countries before but more preparation was put into this trip than any other. The first time was a trip to Italy when I was in high school. The school paid for a guide who took us around to the most impressive tourist sties like the Leaning Tower and the Vatican. The second time was to France for a martial arts class. That may seem like a long way to go just to get some exercise but my local Aikido school had been reaching out to other dojos and one of them just happened to be in France. Both of those were memorable trips but nerve-wracking because I wasn’t able to speak either language. In Italy I stuck close to the group who followed the guide closely. In France when I was on my own I kept my mouth shut and my head down and only looked up to take pictures. This time, when my dad mentioned he was interested in joining me, we decide early that we would avoid hiring guides and not focus solely on the well-known tourist sites. Also, part of the reason I suggested Span was because one of my activities during the COVID shutdown was learning Spanish. I started with a phone app, but later found a private tutor and a conversation group so when we left I was far more confident than I was compared to the other times. We started planning the cities to visit back in March and were researching things to do for months. We ended up staying in four cities over the span of two weeks.
We landed in Barcelona and figured we’d need a day to recover from the jet lag. Being in a new place, my instinct was to find a taxi or use a ride share app but my dad insisted on going with the cheaper option and getting train or bus passes. The public transportation system was thankfully easy to navigate with or without familiarity with the language since the ticket vending machines had multiple translations. We opted for the Metro because it offered the lowest price for multiple-day passes. Having unlimited uses on the passes throughout the day, and Google Maps at our fingertips, we were able to get everywhere we needed to go without issues.
Yes, I mentioned that we wanted to avoid the main tourist sites, and no, my dad isn’t spiritual, but the first place he wanted to go was Sagrada Familia. I didn’t know much about it before we left, but it’s a cathedral that began construction in the 1800s and has yet to be completed. My dad was drawn to it on account of the architectural rather than the religious appeal. When I saw it up close I understood why he was so interested. There are scenes carved from stone that depict the life of Christ, from the birth to the crucifixion. I liked the design of the faces, which were blocky and I thought it made them a little creepy. There are also colored portions that depict different fruits, each with its own meaning. There are massive spires on all sides, and based on the information available, the remaining construction seems to include adding even more. That was just the outside. Inside the altar and stained glass windows are amazing and the ceiling is terrifyingly high. I don’t know anything about architecture but I can spot seams in stone slabs and I can’t imagine how much weight each column is supporting. From my perspective, being able to build something that large out of stone in a way for it to remain stable is the true miracle.
There were some other architectural sites that my dad was interested in seeing but we didn’t get as close as we did to Sagrada Familia. Most of the buildings were housing developments designed by Gaudi that have been turned into museums. We didn’t go inside any of those but made sure to pass by them on our way to other places so we could take pictures of the outside. My main stop was a music museum. I’ve been taking luthiery classes and my teacher recommended the museum because there is a violin maker named Jose Contreras and supposedly one of his models is on display somewhere in Barcelona. I searched every room in that museum with special attention to the violins and saw lots of interesting models but none by Contreras. One of the people at the front desk mentioned that the museum’s inventory changes sometimes so it’s possible I missed it, or it’s just in another museum. Despite the failed search, it was a worthwhile stop.
We stopped by a few other museums over the next few days but after Sagrada and the music museum were out of the way it was mostly just taking in the city. We didn’t seek out any beaches but there were plenty of harbors to stop and look at boats. We also made the most of our metro passes by taking the trains to random stops and checking out whatever part of town we ended up in. In general, we just wanted to spend the final hours relaxing and enjoying the city.