8 Days in France and Spain – part 3

Thursday morning saw us make an early start from Avignon as we tried to fit in a quick trip to Carcassonne to see the walled city that one of our favourite board games is named after before catching our train to Barcelona from Montpellier in the early afternoon, a total of roughly 400km of driving. Thanks to the French motorway system and the generous 130km/h speed limit we managed this in just under 4 hours which gave us just enough time for a quick visit and a few photos in Carcassonne itself!

The old city of Carcassone sits high on a hill looking out over the surrounding valleys and the walls and fortifications have been immaculately preserved. The scale is impressive and you have to wonder how any attacking army would have thought they had a chance of breaching the multiple layers of walls and moat/cliffs surrounding them. These days the inside of the fortified city is full of little tourist shops and stalls, the modern day city of Carcassonne is spread around the base of the hill. Our visit was brief but we enjoyed the views, especially as we could see some snow covered alps to the south which made a nice contrast the the warm environment and surroundings of Carcassonne.

The train from Montpellier to Barcelona was fairly old and rickety, but it went slow enough that we had plenty of time to admire the coast line and scenery that we passed through. We arrived into Barcelona early in the evening and checked into the hostel. Before we arrived in Barcelona we’d been told many times to watch for pick pockets and the staff at the hostel repeated this warning in a fairly dire tone, almost like it was inevitable that we would fall victim. Despite that we never saw any sign of trouble, even in the crowded subways or walking Las Ramblas after midnight, but we were definitely watching over our shoulders constantly. While I’m sure the problem exists, I have to wonder if it is over-hyped, it would have been nice to wander through the city without having pickpocketing constantly on the mind!

We spent most of Friday exploring the Gaudi parts of the city, starting at the Sagrada Familia and continuing on to the Park Guell in the afternoon. The Sagrada Familia was definitely a highlight, possibly of the entire holiday. The building is amazing, both in design and construction but also for the fact that it has been under construction since 1882 and is nowhere near finished yet! The style and shape is like nothing you’ve seen before. We took a tour through the inside of the church which is currently a builders workshop where you watch the workers crafting the custom mouldings and pieces of the church. It is scheduled to open as an actual church sometime in 2010. Park Guell continued the Gaudi theme with lots of spiral styled pillars and mosaics. For a single artist/architect Gaudi has left a very distinct mark on Barcelona.

On Friday evening we tried to visit the Font Monjuic on Monjuic mountain, an impressive fountain lit by a multitude of lights that performs in time with music every evening. Unfortunately the fountain turns out to also be in the middle of the Barcelona convention centre area where there was some sort of auto show on. Toyota had taken the opportunity to exclude the public from the area and put up giant inflatable tents that obscured most views of the fountain. A sad end to the day, but we tried to make the best of it by climbing to the top of the mountain to watch the sun set over the city. We dined Spanish style around 10pm at a delicious Tapas restaurant near to our hostel. Needless to say that every meal we had in Barcelona was delightful and ridiculously cheap (compared to Dublin standards) too!

By Saturday, the last day of the holiday, our feet were getting pretty tired of walking and exploring so we spent most of the day exploring Barcelona’s beautiful leafy parks and testing the park benches. Barcelona really is a beautiful city with lots of green spaces and plenty of families and friends out enjoying the sunshine and fresh air.

Barcelona was definitely my favourite city of all the places we visited, followed closely by Aix-en-Provence. As lucky as we are to have been able to spend 8 days in such a wonderful part of the world, I can’t help but think that we need to spend much more time there to really get a feel for the place and pick up some more of the language and culture. If only Google had an engineering office in Barcelona…

Photos from the last portion of the trip are in the gallery as per usual:

Comment from OB on 2009-05-17

Barcelona-wise, you guys should watch “The Spanish Apartment” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0283900/) if you haven’t already. I have the English-subtitled version somewhere if you’re interested.

Comment from Gill on 2009-05-17

Thanks. Nice to see a mix of familiar and unfamiliar!! Looks like you had a fabulous time – no food photos tho!

Comment from Alex on 2009-08-11

This sounds like you had the time of your life! I think that the Sagrada Familiais one of the most impressive building in the world because of the detail that has been put into it and the effort to get it to be build. Barcelona is a gorgeous city and yes i agree, aix en provence is also another of the most beautiful areas.