With the family snoozing I hopped on my smooth city bike and humped uphill to scout our planned day in Gaudi’s Park Güell. It’s a hillside park so I found the upper entry to ensure a downhill visit (minimize whining) then rode to a recommended local peak – Parc del Guinardó – with commanding 360 degree views about town. I’d earned some turns downhill, so routed back through upper Park Güell and down to our lovely Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia. Those of you who know Barcelona must love Park Güell… these pictures tell a thousand tales.
Wednesday evening my plans failed… we got to the Picasso museum late but didn’t feel too sad to miss the exhibit as the Barcelona selection omits his most interesting cubist and blue periods… and we got a dose back in Malaga. Then we walked through the enchanting but over-touristed El Born barrio to what i hoped would be a highlight – a piano concert in the Palau de la Música. Alas I failed to carefully interpret the ticketing website’s Catalan – our concert was in a modern small concert hall, so we missed the Palau’s magnificent interior. Still the piano was a joy.
Barcelona is a biker’s heaven. The city sits on river delta deposits thus is relatively flat, and the boulevards have been tailored to accommodate cyclist routes. Bikes have the best lanes, and even have their own bike-specific stoplights and dividers that allow bikes – but not cars – to slice through traffic. Cross intersections have cut edges to improve sight lines and Bikes are generally allowed to run red lights when safe. Some bike lanes are shared
with taxis and buses… cars are relegated to fewer, slower lanes. Parking fees fund the city’s Bicing bike share program is the best I’ve seen – better bikes, more of them and more stations, even electric bikes. This socialistic program creates a virtuous preference for bikes and public transit, and frees Barcelona from car exhaust (if not smoker exhaust).
Thursday morning I biked south across Avenida Diagonal to scout the Avis office for our Saturday AM car pickup. That transfer looks straightforward, so I wind home through side streets to rally the family for today’s adventure… a family bike ride through La Barceloneta and along the waterfront. Our Cruising Barcelona bike shop is run by an efficient, friendly, bike-crazed Dutch gang. Sue and the boys taxi to their old town shop – I bike – and there we gather spouses, brothers and bikes, then weave through the tourist throngs to La Barceloneta. A Tesla tent is in the yacht harbor so we gotta tour the Model X… love the big windshield, hate the falcon wings (if only sliding minivan doors were considered sexy…). We bike north among sun worshippers along the friendly Barcelona beaches to Xiringuito Escribà for some seaside fish and views, then glide inland through the 1992 Olympic Village neighborhood and scoop up some gelato to calm warring sibling nerves. Returned along the open waterfront we drop off 3 bikes, load Sue and the boys into a taxi, and I take the opportunity to bike Barcelona’s southern edges. This is a city I could live in.
In Friday’s quiet morning I slip out onto my bike and pump 11 minutes up carrera de la industria to Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau. It’s refurbished and resplendent, a modernista masterpiece under-appreciated by the tourist hordes. With a 600 year old pedigree, this is a mashup of socialist catholic artistic, and engineering talents and passions – a century of Barcelona healing. The upper grounds remain a hospital, and indeed I had to bike carefully about the patients there… but the original lower grounds are a treasure of colors and craft. Underground tunnels – inventive in their day – ensured efficient transfer of patients, doctors and supplies among the buildings surrounding the central surgery center. Above broad, open air gardens provided a healing atmosphere. And I had the place to myself… therapeutic still. Witness:
I take an extra hour to linger in the quiet, healing space, then cruise home to gather the clan. They taxi, I bike, and we meet at Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf. Here kids in FC Barcelona jerseys kick soccer balls against the monument… it’s so much more charming and sincere than Paris. Walking seaward into the Parc de la Ciutadella we pause to enjoy some bubble blowers then find the Cascada Monumental, more modest than Rome’s Trevi, but just as proud. Further on we part ways at Barcelona’s zoo, where Sue justly elects to boycott viewing of caged animals, and we boys shrug and explore. It’s a shady, pleasant place, with most animals in good shape, and a few sad bears, cats and primates making Sue’s case. But they have wifi, so Sue’s able to keep us posted on her solo adventures, which of course involve good food. At 4PM we meet and she leads us back into El Born’s market and chocolate shop, winning the boys’ favor. They taxi home and I bike, soaking up a few last Modernista sites and photo ops along the way.