30 hours in Barcelona: Plan carefully to see the most
By JILL SCHENSUL | THE RECORD (HACKENSACK, N.J.) (TNS) Published: September 8, 2016
Spending just one day in any new destination is only enough time to realize that you need to spend more than a day there.
You start looking around and you get wind of places you really ought to see: Don’t leave without a visit to this museum or that unexplained road where the cars roll uphill.
But the clock is ticking. You’ve got one day, that’s it. You’ll soon need to be somewhere. And the reason we find ourselves in that too-short situation is that if we stay, we’ll miss ... what? A cousin’s wedding? The next place on our itinerary?
That’s why I was in Barcelona with about 30 hours to spare. Several fellow passengers and I had arrived a day early in this city in the Catalonia region of eastern Spain, the port of embarkation for an upcoming cruise.
I had been to Barcelona before, several times. Just for a day, a stop among many on various cruises. I liked the place, a lot. I’d strolled along the wide and tree-lined La Rambla on my first trip, when I’d also gotten my introduction to architect Antoni Gaudi among the mosaic lizards and serpentine terraces of Park Guell; I’d seen the work in progress of the Sagrada Familia. Those were the musts. I figured whatever I got to see this time would be gravy.
But I was traveling with a friend with a black belt in travel planning. Lisa gleefully amasses details, deals and logistics. I am grateful that she not only doesn’t mind but actually thrives on the minutiae.
She set about finding hotels, restaurants and attractions and sending me link after link of musts. I also remembered seeing the best flamenco dancers ever at Tablao Flamenco Cordobes, and said we had to go there.
You see where this is going, right? Right past our 30 hours. But Lisa had a schedule that would fit everything in. Knowing all the ways things could derail a schedule, I enumerated a few for her, then crossed my fingers.
So here is how we attacked the city, along with the snags, the smart moves and the time potholes we avoided:
Day 1: Noon
Where: The Barcelona airport — we’re here, and already off schedule.
Snag: 45 minutes waiting for luggage.
Timesaver: We took a cab rather than a shuttle or public transportation that would include many stops and perhaps not drop us at our hotel door.
Where: Hotel le Meridien, Barcelona.
Timesaver: Within walking distance of many sites we planned to see, as well as La Rambla.
Snag: Our room wasn’t ready. We had to change into walking shoes, etc., in the crowded lobby and deal with storing our luggage.
Where: In search of lunch on the street without a plan
Snag: Don’t spend 20 minutes walking all over the neighborhood reading menus. If the first one looks good, go in.
Timesaver: My friend. She’s a human Zagat guide and had all the restaurants near our hotel scoped out and memorized. Two minutes from our hotel, we came upon Bar Lobo, where she stopped and said, “This is supposed to be good.” And it was.
Snag: We waited a half hour for the check. Should have sought our waitress or taken alternative action sooner.
Where: Casa Mila
Timesaver: Although it was close enough to walk, we took a cab.
Our timed tickets were for 3 p.m., and we just made it to this house, one of the crowning achievements of Gaudi — though he quit before it was finished because of arguments over money and design with the Mila family. It was designed as an apartment building, with the Milas occupying one of the units. Casa Mila is probably one of the most famous buildings of the modernisme style, which was not just about new aesthetic, but Catalan society’s renaissance.
Four areas of the building are open to the public, but the most famous is the roof, which, like everything else Gaudi designed, has no straight lines — even the ground undulates, like paved moguls. And all around the roof lurk strange figures vaguely resembling helmeted soldiers. These were Gaudi’s idea for hiding the too-industrial presence of stairwell covers, chimneys and ventilation shafts.
Where: Back to hotel
Timesaver: Combine sightseeing with getting to your destination. We took a route that let us walk along La Rambla for some window-shopping.
Where: Tablao Flamenco Cordobes
Timesaver: Eat at the attraction. At Flamenco Cordobes, your 79 euros (about $88) comes packaged with a preshow dinner of tapas, a glass of Sangria and dessert.
The flamenco is held in a separate small theater. You’re close enough to see the dancers’ perspiration glisten and feel the thwack and thumps of their heels against the wooden stage.
Where: Back to Le Meridien
Timesaver: More sightseeing on the way. We’d been curious about the Gothic Quarter, so we took a walk through that area on the way back.
Day 2: 8 a.m.
Where: Le Meridien
Timesaver: Wake up fast, pack fast, store luggage. Prepare for a marathon of amazing modernisme architecture.
Snag: I should have packed the night before. Wasted time.
Where: Casa Morera
Timesaver: Because Casa Morera was so compact and uncrowded, we were able to see the house in less time than we’d scheduled, allowing us to have an early lunch.
Casa Morera is on the Manzana de la Discordia, a stretch of Passeig de Gracia between Carrer Arago and Carrer Consell de Cent. This block is known for its collection of modernist buildings by four of Barcelona’s most important architects: Gaudi, Lluis Domenech i Montaner, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and Enric Sagnier.
Snag: Don’t try to see a slew of major attractions. You’ll be frustrated that you don’t have enough time and won’t be able to appreciate what you do see.
Casa Morera, built for the Morera family, was a good slow start to the day. It’s small and compact and gave us a sense that someone — a family — lived there. We were also able to get a close look at the craftsmanship and detail, from the wallpaper to the intricate patterns of the wooden floors.
Where: 4 Gats
Timesaver: Scope out in advance not only what dining options are near your location but also what is open when you’ll be there. The cafe 4 Gats was perfect for its modernisme theme, and right near our next stop, Casa Batllo.
Where: Casa Batllo
Timesaver: Advance tickets really saved us here; we waltzed right past the slow-moving line of visitors waiting in the rain. Also, research the best time to visit.
Snag: Unfortunately, the line outside was typical of the situation within: Rooms and hallways were crowded, sometimes leading to time-wasting standstills.
This is a masterpiece of Gaudi’s career, filled with his classical themes of nature (flowers embossed and painted on walls, door frames, ceilings) and natural forms (not a straight line anywhere).
You can visit the rooms where the Batllo family lived; the attic, which has been turned into a museum with original sketches and models from Gaudi’s studios; and (drum roll) another roof, this one more reminiscent of Park Guell, with a dragon and other serpents in the Gaudi mosaic style (broken plates and other ceramic shards are the tiles of choice).
The crowds thinned out in the staircases, which overlooked interior terraces covered in ceramics and flowery designs. I spent far too long just going up and down the stairs, taking photos from different angles.
Where: Palau de la Musica Catalana
Timesaver: The cab, again, was our only chance for being even close to schedule.
Snag: The cafeteria we had to walk through was so inviting I was tempted to stop for coffee. My friend pulled me along.
This Palace of Music, our last stop of the marathon, was built from 1905 to 1908 by architect Domenech as a home for the Orfeo Catala choir. It’s a breathtaking homage to music and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Guided tours start with a video of its history and end at the concert hall, with its incredible stained-glass sunlight. Just walking in will give you goose bumps. I still get them when I think about it and the magical pink light that fills the place.
Afterward, I had just enough time for coffee. No lingering. We had to go get our luggage and get to our ship.
We headed for the street, and I promised next time, I’d come back.
Next one-day visit, maybe I’d schedule in a whole dinner.
Casa Lleo Morera is another example of Barcelona's Modernism. Francesca Morera i Ortiz commissioned architect Lluis Domenech i Montaner to completely remodel the existing building at 35 Passeig de Gracia in 1902. It is one of several houses by top architects on the Street of Discordia, Passeig de Gracia, in Barcelona. (Jill Schensul/The Record/TNS)