Birthday gift of this year. After a year when I strained myself to please my friends and nearly forgot that it was me the reason for celebration, and another year of the same story with less enthusiasm, I decided that it was time for me to finally do something that will actually cheer me.

Still, in a moment of over excitement, I decided this year as well to make a try and share with some closer friends and my lab mates, some dear memories of birthday celebration that I have from childhood, but I failed quite badly. Good that I have planned this long weekend trip a while ago. It yanked me out of my misery :).

But the trip wasn’t that smooth either. The flight was only one hour long, but even that seemed an eternity. In the whole aircraft, there were 3 places where people were hyperactive and of course one of the very lucky passengers to participate involuntarily in this, was me!

My father always tells me that I speak too fast and I never gave took him seriously. Well all things at their time. The 2 seats next to me were taken by 2 probably Catalan women (mid age). One of them was the hyperactive type. You could see only when looking at her: skinny, mignon and… talking a lot. I mean A LOT! Continuous process, nothing discrete in it. She out talked the pilot both at take off and landing and the only interruption was when she ate. Thank God they invented manner around the table. I imagined I’d read a paper for the exam later on. Well, forget it. As Bernard pointed it out, people get anxious in the air, lack of oxygen makes you irascible. So either it was me, or she who suffered of oxygen insufficiency!

Finally made it out the aircraft, far from the talkative entity, right into the heart of tapas and paella land. The city is neat. Clean, though the streets are packed with tourists all year round I’d guess. The beach is less attractive, for me at least. Though some might enjoy the increasing degree of nudity as you go north, the sand is full of stubs and the water was cold, not for swimming.

On the other hand, the hop-on hop-off double decker open top tours for visiting the city are good value for the money. There are 2 companies, one offers 3 circuits, the other 2. We end up taking the 2 line one (red). They are very nice for visiting the milestones of the city and getting an intuitive sense of the city’s topology.

First things first, as a traveling habit, as soon as I get into a new place, I go straight away to the Tourist Information point to get a map. Said, done .. and got a map big as a bed sheet! It is only later when in Dublin that I realize how much of a difference it makes to have a proper guide with the list of sights and a reasonable sized map with street names in alphabetical order. I guess a change in traveling style will follow soon (for me).

Accommodation in a neat hostel, room with balcony looking the main road (-> ear buds for a good sleep). Sightseeing: basically one day went by with a trip to Colonia Guell and some sightseeing around Placa Catalunya. The colony wasn’t really worth the effort. Besides the fact that Iulia double validated her train ticket at arrival ( poor system setup poorly – at least made the trip more interesting), the shrine of Gaudi is beautifully built in the same ornamental style as other masterpieces of his, but that’s all there is in Colonia Guell.

Magic Fountain Placa CatalunyaSame evening, we made our way back to the Placa Catalunya and spend there at least an hour by watching the wonderful play at the Magic Fountain. It is a truly beautiful spectacle. The water changes in height according to the accompanying music’s rhythm, and so do the lights change. The show is over by midnightish.

I guess I should learn Spanish too, or at least improve my Italian, since in Barcelona, I got along only by miming and speaking a mix of Spanish and Italian. No French, no German and not too much English was of help.

Shopping: YES! Amazing variety of colors and fabrics! I just love the various floral and abstract patterns in the clothing and they are reasonable priced too. And shoes, bags, very nice leather goods, of good quality and design as well, at a reasonable price.

Sagrada Familia: unending story! It is a pity that Gaudi couldn’t finish it. Seems like its construction will go on forever! The guided tour is very nice! Again you become an information junkie by the time you finish with the tour, but you learn a lot. The idea that stroke me the most, is how Gaudi used his inspirations from nature, to create a futuristic masterpiece, a very complex and totally innovative, for his time, architecture. The pillars sustaining the structure are inspired by trees from the forest and they are made of different materials according to the weights they have to bear. The stained glass patterns and icons are simply amazing and the resonance of the inner space during services must be outstanding, since he dedicated time to study this feature too.

The 2 different stories depicted on the 2 entrances of the cathedral and many many other details embroidered in the minutely sculptured figures. Souvenirs with his work can be found everywhere, but as a lesson, next time I just buy what I like on the spot cause you don’t find the same things everywhere.

The remarkable features of the city are its markets. La Boqueria and Mercat St Caterina are just wonderful!

Lovely, the fish market is delightful, at least for someone coming from a mostly continental environment. You find all the exotic fruits possible, sold as well as ‘macadamia’ or zumo. Very refreshing!

Park Guell, well it is probably the busiest park of Barcelona, but the most decorated too. All the columns and gangways are covered in an unusually beautiful and creative architecture. Winding lanes and colorful mosaics. And of course, black market merchants who will offer you cold water and sell you nice glass necklaces for affordable prices (though some bargaining is recommended – tested, works!). Was a bit surprised to see some cute green parrots nesting in the foliage of the palm trees hanging over.

Of course it is not possible to see everything, but at least most of the things didn’t go undiscovered.

Tip: Barcelona supposedly has public Wifi connection but it is not straightforward to make it work. So have a look at that beforehand especially if you go, like me, with a list of to sees and you don’t want to get a headache by trying to find them on your paper map.

More pics here.