What with our last day being on a Monday, Barcelona’s museums and galleries had pretty much shut up shop for the day, as they do on every Monday of each week. This pattern of closures, which appears to be followed across the continent, bamboozles me, especially in a tourist centre such as Paris or Barcelona, where frankly tourists don’t care whether it’s Monday or Friday – they still want to see it. Wouldn’t it be more economically productive to have staff working different shifts to cover a 7 day week rather than close the museum for an entire day? And if cities are so intent on closing one day a week, can’t the attractions close on different days so that tourists aren’t left, one day a week, utterly out in the cold? (I should proudly point out that for tourists coming to London, you will find all of our top galleries – the National Gallery, Tate, the Courtauld, the British Museum open 7 days a week, thank you all the same).
Mercifully on this last Monday in Barcelona, we were not left out in the cold, because despite the museum doors being closed, we were able to enjoy one last burst of warm weather. And where better to enjoy those clement conditions than by heading to the places from which we could best admire this city from above? Seeking something of an unusual vista rather than the normal tourist havens of Park Guell and the old funfair at Tibidabo (which is open even fewer days of the week), our first stop was up a very creaky and somewhat scary small lift to the roof of the old gothic cathedral. Being up amongst the spires and gargoyles of this gothic icon made for a very unique platform from which to admire Barcelona’s old town, and the wider spread of its urban sprawl, down to the coast and up to the fringes of the mountains.
Views from the roof of Barcelona’s Cathedral
But as far as I am concerned, the best view of all Barcelona can be found, not in the centre, nor North of the city, but from atop the hill of Montjuic. Montjuic can often be overlooked by those stuck rigidly to the tourist trail caught up in the narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter and La Ribera and up into the Eixample amongst the Gaudi masterpieces. But this hill, which overlooks the city from its position south west of the city, and which plunges down from a heady peak almost into the sea below, was the centre point of the 1992 Olympic games which relaunched the city to the world at large. It is also a hub of culture and reclamation, boasting several gardens, the Miro Foundation, and the spectacular National Art Museum of Catalan Art at the Palau Nacional/
Of course both of the latter were shut (after all, it was Monday), but our concern was not with the insides of buildings, but with the extensive open spaces, and the unbeatable view from the top. In order to reach the mountain, we enjoyed the majestic approach which extends from the Plaça d’España to the Palau Nacional, a broad triumphal avenue constructed for the 1929 World Exhibition and which, at certain times of the year, boasts the additional splendour of row after row of spectacular fountains which shoot up into the air like a thousand sparkling columns.
The Palau Nacional on Montjuic and the stunning view from the top
Sadly there were no active fountains in sight for us, but the added benefit of this was the opportunity to hear the first birdsong of Spring as we ascended the hill, and gradually moved away from the concentrated bustle of the city. As soon as you reach the top, the spectacular views of Barcelona are available to be enjoyed from practically every vantage point. From in front of the Palau Nacional, the view extends down across the triumphal Avenue Reina Maria Cristina to the two copies of Saint Mark’s campanile in Venice; then moving across the hill, you reach the iconic diving pool which was used in the Olympics, and from which the most spectacular view of Barcelona can be enjoyed – with the old town and the Sagrada Familia rolled into one, directly behind the pearly white diving board and cerulean blue pool. What a view! Then heading further up the hill towards its peak, the view switches west, across the beach, the port and the Mediterranean Sea. And it was there that we discovered our next destination: the Jardins de Mossen Costa i Llobera
What we saw of the pool…and some iconic diving shots
Clinging to the steepest façade of Monjuic and gradually terraced down to the port below, these gardens were crammed full of an abundance of tropical palms and spiky cacti of every variety, size and colour. The bounteous panoply of vegetation was so profuse that, with the sun beating down upon us, I felt as though we had entered a tropical paradise island like the Tahiti of Gauguin’s artworks. It was simply incredible.
The Jardins de Mossen Costa i Llobera
Not wanting to drag ourselves away, but with lunch and, ultimately, the journey home to England beckoning, we descended Montjuic in the only way two view-seekers possibly can: by cable car down to the port below. Once there we were able to indulge in what has to be the most delicious twist on a seafood paella I have ever eaten – noodle paella, delicately but richly caramelised around the edges so that the subtle flavours of the shellfish stock were transformed into a sweet smoky caramel which tickled ever sensorial trigger.
Down to the Port via the cable car
And so it was that our trip to Barcelona came to an end. Still outside, still enjoying the sun, still feasting unapologetically and ultimately revelling in the good life which this city can provide so well. All that remained was a trip to Barcelona’s sensationally sparkly new terminal 1 airport, and a swift (if a little bumpy) flight back to blighty.
It all ended with lunch
So there it was, a city trip that dreams are made of. But although this may conclude the diary of our trip, it is far from the last post in the Daily Norm’s Barcelona series. With new photos, paintings, recipes, food reviews and norm sketches still to share, don’t forget to come back to The Daily Norm soon!
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