Author: Justin Boot
Date of Trip: October 2015
Oh, and Casino Royale was never filmed there. The real thing is so much more beautiful.
Barcelona, Spain: This is where the cruise began and ended. I spent an extra 2 days here after docking. This was my second time in Spain. I was in Málaga and Seville back in 2011, so I thought I knew what to expect. But Barcelona has a life all its own. It’s over 2,000 years old. It has survived kingdoms, wars, invasions, plagues, and so much more. Its varying neighborhoods, churches, landmarks, and architectural designs are a testament to its rich history. Of course, there was too much to do. Most travelers will advise you to hit up the Boqueria, and I agree completely; I hadn’t seen such amounts and variety of fresh food since my time in Tangier. There are also several restaurants near the waterfront; I enjoyed some awesome paella after touring the Museu d’História de Catalunya. Which, by the way, has an awesome rooftop bar/observation deck overlooking the marina. After you’ve spent a few learning about the history of Catalonia, go up there if you want some nice sunset photos.
But if you’re in Barcelona, there’s one name that’ll constantly come up: Gaudí. And for good reason; his architectural designs are unlike anything else, and add even more to the city’s unique cultural flavor. If you haven’t heard of the Sagrada Familia, you need to put it on your bucket list. Even if you don’t care much about religion or architecture, you need to see this place at least once. Preferably in the afternoon, when the sun is shining through its massive stained glass windows and bathing everything in a multicolored light. There is a very good reason this is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The Sagrada Familia isn’t just a cathedral; Gaudí envisioned it as walking through a forest, and built it accordingly. The arches curve up like massive tree trunks, culminating in a ceiling that resembles a flowery canopy. There’s an underground section that displays Gaudí’s works, as well as a window looking into his crypt. You can also pay a little extra to take an elevator up one the church’s many spires, giving you one of the best views in all of Barcelona. Be warned, though: this place is overflowing with tourists. If you’re going to go, schedule and order your tickets through the Sagrada Famila’s official website. It’ll save you a long wait and even more grief.
While you’re waiting for your appointed meeting time, there are plenty of options in the immediate area. Most tourists will flock to the nearby McDonald’s or KFC (seriously!), but you can do better. Try Brasa y Vino, a quiet little restaurant over on Carrer de Sardenya. They serve tasty seafood and chicken dishes, as well as freshly-made jamón. There were also numerous food and chocolate stands throughout Avenue de Gaudi, but that made have been due to the Castanyada celebration. If you prefer your churches to be a little more…traditional, be sure to visit Barcelona Cathedral. Built between the 13th and 15th Centuries, it is a prime example of Gothic architecture and is arguably one of finest in all of Spain. It’s easy to be awestruck by its incredibly ornate altars and ceilings, but be sure to seek out the elevator hidden inside. If you bought a ticket, you’ll be allowed to take the elevator up to the roof of the cathedral and get an excellent view of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. There’s also the nearby Arc de Triomf and its surrounding park areas, but I sadly didn’t get enough time to see all of it.
That can be said for this trip as whole. The last two weeks of October 2015 were some of my busiest and most demanding adventures in my life. The cruise’s pace was utterly grueling. But for all rush and stress, it was worth every second. I saw so much of Europe, places normally reserved for dreams and bucket lists. France, Italy, Vatican City, Montenegro, and Spain, extended glimpses of humanity far removed from my daily life. It’s not about the amount of places you see; it’s the memories and experiences you have there. It sounds so cliché, but it’s true. I will cherish those moments, and I look forward to going back someday. I hope you make it out there, too. There’s a lot of world out there. Go see what you’re missing.