by Geri Bain and Jenny Keroack
Inspired by the grand tours of aristocrats past and the more recent adventures of TV’s Gilmore Girls, 18 year old Jenny Keroack proposed that she and her mom, travel writer Geri Bain take their own grand voyage. This summer, the two set out to share as much of the Old Worldas thirty days would allow, recording their favorite places and activities along the way. Jenny’s are in italics while Geri’s are in regular type. Read about their adventures, explorations and all the schleps in between. The following is their last installment, logged from Barcelona.
Our schedule precluded our travelling by train from Venice to Barcelona and our two-hour nonstop flight on Alitalia’s Air One was cancelled about a month before departure offering a rerouting with a stopover or a refund. Happily, we found a bargain flight on Iberia’s Vueling which got us to Barcelona in time to enjoy a full day.
Settling in: The Hotel España is just a half block from the nonstop scene along La Rambla. Yet once inside, the ambience is tranquil and chic. We loved the contrast of the trendy new (2010 renovated) bathrooms and backlit headboards with the historic 1859 architecture and intriguing public spaces designed by celebrated modernist architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner. Particularly noteworthy are the bar, with its museum-worthy chiseled alabaster fireplace, and the tiling and wood work of Fonda España, known for its reasonably priced gourmet cuisine. The chef Martín Berasategui, also manages the nearby eclectic and very upmarket Michelin two-star Restaurante Lasarte. The small rooftop pool and hot tub looked inviting, but they closed at8 p.m. and we never took that mid-day break we’d intended.
Parc Güell. Everyone knows that Barcelona is Antoni Gaudi’s city, with signature curvy landmarks like the Sagrada Familia and Casa Batlló, but to see his vision for a utopia, visit Parc Güell. The park was commissioned to be Barcelona’s Beverly Hills, a place above the city for the rich. However, after Barcelona’s elite deemed Park Guell too ridiculous to live in, Gaudi bought one of the site’s few homes, which ironically, he didn’t design, and lived on the site himself. The development is now a public park where visitors and locals walk through a Dr. Seuss-like forest, filled with amazing architecture that playfully blends with and emulates nature. Built on a steep hill, the park is the perfect place to photograph Gaudi’s beautiful architecture and, if you walk up high enough, the city below. And in honor of Gaudi’s generous nature, it is free to enter, although there is a fee to visit Gaudi’s former home, La Torre Rosa, furnished with his original designs.
Barcelona by Bike. With narrow, pedestrian-filled streets in its historic districts and no bike lanes or connected parks, Barcelona isn’t the best place for biking—with the exception of the beachfront promenade and the lovely Parc de la Ciutadella. But Fat Tire Bike Tours, our favorite city touring company offered a guided tour, so we signed on. The seven-mile, four-hour tour provided a wonderful overview of the city’s history and modern highlights with engaging anecdotes such as the one about Sagrada Familia, where our guide told us that when Gaudi was asked why he put so much detail into the tops of the towers, he responded, “because god will see it.” We took our guide’s advice and returned to tour the inside of Sagrada Familia near sunset as the stained glass windows cast their colors on the fanciful sculpted forest of stone pillars.
Roman Ruins. Before the Catalans populated the city, Barcelona was part of the Holy Roman Empire. Archeologists found remains of the metropolis beneath the current city. While bits of ancient walls and aquaducts emerge around the city, the best place to learn about Barcelona’s ancient past is at the Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat. An elevator equipped with a clock ticks back the years as it descends to the Barcelona of 12 b.c. An excellent audio guide and several short videos bring the ruins to life with fascinating details as you explore the remains of an ancient winery and other shop. For example, Barcelona’s prior residents had baths/spas for men and women which the rich and poor alike were permitted to use. We also learned that Roman laundries used urine as detergent and got a look at their complex system for fermenting wine. A winding trail of exhibits leads back up through time to the surface—and the present.
The beaches: The beach constantly beckoned at the foot of the city, just a short walk from Las Ramblas. But to fully unwind, we decided to spend our last night at the Hotel Arts Barcelona. We were tempted to lounge by the pool and garden hot tub and be served drinks and snacks while just looking at the beach, but the gentle waves beckoned. To the right was lively Barceloneta beach, to the left, a series of pretty strands filled with sunbathers (most topless). The sand was soft and the water was clean. Finding an open area, we laid out our towels and enjoyed the guitar musings of fellow sunbathers. The beach boardwalk is lined with terrace eateries and bars, but we opted for tapas at the hotels Michelin starred Arola, where we enjoyed scrumptiously creative tapas such as purple endive with chicken, walnuts and blue cheese.
Shopping. Barcelona was probably my favorite place to shop during our trip. Styles from all over Europe come out of Spain, making it a great place to buy clothes from unique designers. The prices there also seemed lower than in other places, with tons of sales, whether that’s because the designers are based in Spain or because of the country’s economic troubles I don’t know. The upscale shopping area, Eixample, was our favorite place to shop. It has a kind of Fifth Avenue vibe and a mix of expensive and moderately priced clothes. The Bari Gotic also has some interesting shopping, along with a rich array of Gothic architecture. Guide books say to shop along La Rambla; I found the touristy area oppressive due to the thick crowds and enjoyed its side streets in the Barri Gotic and El Raval more. That said, our favorite pick-me-up snack spot was Escriba, a historic cafe on La Rambla, with the thickest, best hot chocolate ever.
Next: New York. We were eager to rejoin our family and come home toNew Jerseybut sad for the trip to come to an end. It had been a magical time of constant surprises and stimulation. Back home, we saw the beauty around us—and the tourists strolling through New York City–with fresh eyes.
Geri Bain (right), a widely published travel writer and editor, has written about more than 60 countries and contributed to publications including inc.com, N.Y. Daily News and Robb Report. While travel editor at Modern Bride magazine, she wrote an acclaimed guide to Honeymoons and Weddings Away. She is a past president of the New York Travel Writers Association and former editorial director of Endless Vacation magazine.
18-year-old Jenny Keroack wrote for the Observer Tribune from 2009 to 2012 and her work has appeared in the Riverdale Press, Elegant Lifestyles and other publications. She was a researcher/blogger for the N.Y. League of Conservation Voters last summer and is now studying political science at theUniversityofChicago.