Spain: Valencia and Barcelona

Hey y’all,

Since we were in Spain for quite awhile, I’m writing the blog post about the second part of our trip where we visited Valencia and Barcelona.

After experiencing Madrid, Seville, and Granada, we headed on towards Valencia.  Unfortunately, there was no direct train or bus from Granada to Valencia, so we had to spend most of the day traveling to Valencia.  I wish we had planned our route a little better because we arrived in Valencia at 4:30pm and we only had one night there.  So our late afternoon and evening was packed with seeing as much of Valencia as we could.


After dropping our bags at our hotel (which was the nicest hotel we stayed at for the whole trip – another reason why I wish we had more time in Valencia), we headed for a walk on the old riverbed which has been turned into a park.  By the way, a big shout out to Rafa, who gave us a great tourist guide for Valencia and other parts of Spain.

SH Ingles Hotel in Valencia

Doug climbing the ropes

The park had all sorts of playgrounds, work-out equipment, running paths, and was generally awesome.  If I lived in Valencia I would totally hang out in that park.  One of the playgrounds was a giant depiction of Gulliver and had slides all up and down it.  We acted like kids and went down the slides.

Gulliver’s slide playground

At the end of the park, we connected with the City of Arts and Sciences.  This is a massive area of museum and aquarium buildings that looks like some futuristic city.  It was really nice architecture and we got there just as it was getting dark.  It was pretty good timing so that we got to take some pictures with still a little light in the sky and then also once it was dark.  Enjoy the pictures below.  We didn’t actually go inside any of the buildings, but just admired from the outside.

City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia

City of Arts and Sciences

More of the City of Arts and Sciences

Even though we didn’t visit the museums or anything, we were satisfied just walking around the outside and taking pictures of the cool architecture.  If we had more time in Valencia, it would be nice to visit some of the stuff.

Next up was to try a regional specialty called “horchata.”  This is a sweet milk-like drink made from tiger nuts.  It is typically served with “fartons” which are a type of pastry that you dip into the horchata.  To be honest, I was very skeptical about this horchata drink.  So much so that I didn’t even order my own, but tried some of Doug’s before deciding if I liked it or not and if I wanted my own.  Turns out that it wasn’t bad!  It was sort of like a milk-shake, although maybe watered down a bit.  The fartons reminded me of a doughnut because they were soft dough with a sugary glaze on the top.  Anyway, if you are in Valencia, definitely try out this sweet drink!

Farton and Horchata

Tigernuts – known as Chufa in Spain – are soaked in water to make horchata

That was about all we had time for in Valencia.  Of course, we went out for tapas that evening, but I think we did that just about every evening on our trip, so that was nothing special.  However, we did go to a really awesome place called Sagardi.  All of the tapas were lined up on the bar and occasionally passed out by the waiters.  This meant that we didn’t have to translate a menu and guess at what we were ordering!  Genius!  Although, we still couldn’t always make out what were in the tapas just by looking at them!

Tapas at Sagardi


The next morning we were up early to travel to Barcelona.  At least this time we were on a direct, high-speed train, so we arrived in Barcelona by lunch time.

Back in the summer of 2005 (wow – that was 7 years ago!), I spent 6 weeks studying in Madrid.  During those 6 weeks, I tried to see as much as Spain as possible.  My home base was Madrid, but I managed to visit San Sebastian, Pamplona, Granada, Segovia, Morocco, and Barcelona.  This was my first time back to Barcelona since I was there with my friends Rach and Vicki.  You might remember Rach from my blog post about her wedding in Vail (America trip blog post).

Vicki, Tara, and Rach in Barcelona in 2005!

While Vicki, Rach, and I were there we visited La Sagrada Familia, and this was the first thing that Doug and I did on our visit.  The La Sagrada Familia is a massive church that was originally designed by Gaudi as basically a Gothic church, but he added his own modern touch to it.  It’s actually still under construction, and has been for over 100 years.  The goal is to finish it in 2026 which is the 100 year anniversary of Gaudi’s death.  I know we’ve been seeing a lot of church’s throughout our travels, but I think this one is my favorite because it is so different than the others.  Sure, St. Peter’s in Rome was amazing (blog post) because it was so massive, and the York minster has some great Gothic architecture (blog post), but La Sagrada Familia is just so much different than the rest that it really stands out.

La Sagrada Familia

Rick Steves, Doug, and La Sagrada Familia

The last time that I was at La Sagrada Familia, the outside of the church was very impressive, and looked pretty similar to how it did this time.  However, the inside of the church was nowhere near complete.  There were construction barriers and scaffolding all over the place and you could only follow a narrow path through the church.  The ceiling, walls, and floors were not complete, and it honestly was not that impressive walking through the inside.  So when we went this time, I was completely blown away by the inside of the church!  Wow, this time, it was no longer a construction site, but an actual, working church.  And it was incredible!  Yes, Gaudi was an artist, but he was also an engineer.  He used hanging weights to calculate the perfect shaped arch to use in order to get only compressive loads.  The weights hanging on a chain would create an arch that was completely in tension, called a catenary.  The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is also in the shape of a catenary.  Gaudi was also inspired by nature, so a lot of his designs resemble tree branches and stuff like that.

The inside ceiling of La Sagrada Familia

Doug and me in La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia – so much more complete than last time, although there is still work to do. All the clear glass will eventually be stained glass.

La Sagrada Familia from the other side

Gaudi’s catenary model

There was also a museum in the basement of the church that had a lot of scale models, pictures of the church’s progression, and Gaudi’s hanging weight models.  If you flip that model upside down, that would give you the arches for the church.  I thought that was pretty cool.  The museum was worth a walk-through, but it will eventually become the church crypt, so I don’t know how long it will be a museum.  Overall, if there is one thing you are going to do in Barcelona, it should be La Sagrada Familia!  So amazing!

That evening we saw another amazing thing: the Magic Fountains!  These fountains dance along to music and have colored lights.  I thoroughly enjoyed the display and it was much better than the fountain show we saw at Versailles earlier this year (blog post).  There were also a bunch of guys walking around selling beer, so it was quite enjoyable to sit and watch the fountains while drinking a beer.  The first half of the display was all to classical music, which I thought was fantastic, but then they switched to a medley of more modern, popular songs, and that was even better.

Approaching the Magic Fountains

One of the many pictures and videos I took of the fountains

Enjoying the fountain display

That evening we also passed by the old bullring that has now been turned into a shopping mall.  We didn’t go shopping, but I still thought it was a cool picture.

Old bullring

The next day, Saturday, was our last full day in Spain, so we made the most of it.  First up was a visit to Parc Guell, a park designed by Gaudi.  He originally wanted to make it into a private housing development, but that didn’t happen, so now it’s just a really cool park.  It had lots of cool architecture, and even though La Sagrada Familia was more impressive, this was still worth a visit.

Entrance to Parc Guell

Gingerbread-like house in the park

I had to push the Asian tourists out of the way to get this photo in front of the famous ceramic dragon fountain – *peace*

Hall of 100 columns – can you find me?

Gaudi inspired by nature – this looked like a surfer’s perfect wave

more of the park

one of the best views of Barcelona – too bad it wasn’t a clear day

We continued our Gaudi tour by going to the Block of Discord.  This street was given the title Block of Discord because there are multiple houses on it with interesting modern architecture, and they all seem to be competing with each other.  The first house we looked at was Gaudi’s Casa Batllo, followed by Casa Amatller (by Cadafalch), and then Casa Lleo Morera (by Muntaner).  We didn’t go inside any of the houses, but just admired from the outside and read Rick Steves’ descriptions.

Gaudi’s Casa Batllo

Casa Amatller

Casa Lleo Morera

Later that day, we took a stroll down Las Ramblas, which is the famous pedestrian-friendly and touristy street.  Of course, we took the Rick Steves’ guided tour so that we could learn about all the sites along the way.

The top of Las Ramblas

Fountain of Canaletes. If you drink from the fountain, you will return to Barcelona one day. Doug is drinking from it!

A lot of flower stalls on Las Ramblas

Plaza Reial – we had a nice lunch in this plaza

Doug standing on the lion at the Columbus monument – I think I cut off Columbus – oops

Barcelona Waterfront

Saturday evening we explored the Barri Gotic, which is Barcelona’s Gothic quarter.  Of course, we followed another Rick Steve’s tour through this neighborhood, which was where the ancient Roman city of Barcino was founded.

Cathedral of Barcelona – we didn’t feel the need to explore inside after seeing the amazing La Sagrada Familia

College of Architects with Picasso carving

Picasso lived in this area of Barcelona for almost 10 years, and there is a famous Picasso museum in Barcelona.  However, we decided not to visit the Picasso museum since we already went to one in Malaga (blog post).

Carrer del Brisbe Bridge – connects Catalan government building with president’s residence

Church of Sant Felip Neri with bomb damage from the civil war

Columns from the temple of Augustus from the Roman times

We ended our tour of the Barri Gotic neighborhood back in front of the cathedral in order to see the traditional Sardana dances.  The Sardana dance is a traditional Catalan dance where everyone holds hands in a circle and does these slow dancing movements.  It was pretty cool to see this unique dancing, although it actually wasn’t all that entertaining.

Sardana dances

That evening we obviously got more tapas, and then the next morning we headed back to England.  Overall, it was a fantastic trip to Spain and really nice to take a week off work to tour around for a little longer.  It was a great anniversary trip, although I’m not sure it beats our honeymoon to the French Polynesia.

Honeymoon in Bora Bora

And now for the food collage!  We ate tons of amazing food while Spain!  The Iberico ham was really good, as well as the wine, sangria, and cerveza.  Here are two food collages because we ate so much food on the trip that I couldn’t fit all the pics onto one!

Food collage 1

Food collage 2