The haunting of history is ever present in Barcelona. I see cities as organisms, as living creatures. To me, Madrid is a man and Barcelona is a woman. And it's a woman who's extremely vain.
-Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Spanish novelist
Exactly a week after elbowing my way through Las Ramblas in Barcelona, I was sitting in a coffee shop in Madrid when I overheard someone say ‘Las Ramblas.’ Curious, I looked up from my laptop to see a large group of people not talking to each other but glued to their phones. I suddenly became aware of how quiet the coffee shop had become, and how everyone else also seemed obsessed with their phone. Weird, I thought as I turned my attention back to other things. I chalked this up to the twenty-first century until I returned home later and heard about the brutal attack on Las Ramblas’ pedestrians. I had to pinch myself, I couldn’t believe that someone would be so cruel to drive a vehicle through the most lively, congested, and popular part of the city on August 17th. As of today, sixteen people (mostly foreign tourists) lost their lives, and I’m grateful that I wasn’t one of them. My heart goes out to the victims, because I imagine they were tourists like me, innocently drinking in the magical Spanish city of Barcelona in peak season.
From what I’ve read about Barcelona in the past few weeks, the city has recovered somewhat from the attack (there will always be scars, of course). Tourists continue to flock to the city to enjoy gorgeous architecture, white sand, surreal art, and lively street cafes. Because I was in the city only thirty-six hours – a paltry amount of time, given what the city offers – I decided to just rent a bike and ride around, skipping expensive museums and attractions so I could visually take in the city. Here are a few of the many photos I took of Barcelona's sights, enjoy!
1992 Olympic venues
Twenty-five years ago, Barcelona hosted the 1992 summer Olympics, an event that "totally transformed" the city into the sports-loving place it is today. It was fascinating to see firsthand the grand stadiums, pavilions, and villages created specifically for this world event, especially since the facilities remain in excellent condition (unlike the remains of Sarajevo's war-torn venues). The main venue is centrally-located just south of the city center, and the Olympic village is also centrally-located but closer to the seaside. While I found the architecture to be a bit stiff and bland, I enjoyed seeing the venues still in use and open to the public.
The works of Gaudí
Barcelona is full of interesting architecture, from grand old apartment buildings to modern glass boxes. Of course, there is also the UNESCO-listed architecture of Antoni Gaudí, whose distinctive Catalan Modernism style is peppered throughout the city. While most of his works are open to the public (if you can handle long lines and high ticket prices), I unfortunately didn't have time to explore the sumptuously-bizarre interiors.
More of Gaudí's fabulous park, with spectacular views of the city.
A trip to Barcelona isn't complete without a visit to its seaside of endless white sand and clear blue water. While riding along the boardwalk (which is great for pedestrians, runners, and cyclists), I met a nice local taking pictures. He kindly took a few photos of me and later emailed them to me, and I'm posting one here just because I don't have a picture of me on a bike :)
Parc de la Ciutadella
Historic + Modern
There is plenty of old and new architecture in Barcelona, and occassionally it mixes to produce some interesting results.
What is Barcelona like from a cyclist's point of view? While there are many protected bike lanes and car-free areas in the city, cyclists generally aren't welcome on the streets, and cars and buses make this plenty clear. My hostel host warned me a few times not to bike in the city center and I mostly followed his advice.