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Barcelona: No Light, No Party

Words + Photography by Luke Alland, using Leica's Q2 Reporter.

Barcelona is a city that had been hyped up to me for years. Somewhere nearly all of my mates assumed I would find that perfect balance between an international community and being able to speak Spanish on a day-to-day basis. So, after years of cajoling I finally caved and booked a six-day stint in the capital of Catalonia.

The original plan, as boring as it may sound, was to be able to do some warm weather running for a half marathon I had planned in April. You know, little jog down by the beach, take in the sights and grab some snaps in my downtime. In summary, I ran twice and disliked almost everything about the city. Although I am begrudgingly willing to give it a second chance one day if ever there is a strong enough reason for me to go back.

It was mid-March, it should've been sunny. I would've even accepted cold if the light had played ball, but for the entirety of my time, it was grey and rainy. The city offered sparks of inspiration, but I knew in the back of my mind that I saw absolutely nothing of what makes this city anywhere near recommendable.

Empty restaurants were an unfortunately common sight

Cold weather, as we know, drives the majority of people inside — except battle-hardened British smokers of course — but this felt like everyone took it as an excuse to self-isolate. The bars were mostly empty, cafés and restaurants seemed lifeless, and the only real buzz was around one of the (honestly, quite disappointing) tourist destinations.

La Sagrada Familia was to me about as impressive as the amount of time it's taken to build it. 139 years, and it still isn't finished. The Great Pyramid of Giza was built in twenty-seven, and that was 4,600 years ago...

It's relatively grand, not awesome, maybe considerably impressive. The never-ending carousel of videos on the TV screens that line some of the columns inside La Sagrada Familia illuminated not only the dark interior of the basilica, but also my cold damnation of the place. It showed me how this crown jewel of Barcelona could look. The way the sun can provide the inspiration to the city and make it dance over the vast imagination of Gaudí's creations really did strike a cord somewhere inside me. It's just a shame the dopamine wore off after about twenty-five seconds.

With La Sagrada Familia knocked off the list — and being €26 lighter for the privilege — I booked my tickets for Casa Batlló, another of Gaudí's bombastic creations placed on the pedestal of Barcelona's brilliance. This came in slightly dearer, at an eye-watering €45. I'd like to point out, I've been to Petra in Jordan, which is an entire city and an entire day's worth of exploring for £50. Oh, and it also happens to be one of the Wonders of the World. So yeah, I was expecting huge things from steal-your-cash-Casa.

First floor of the Casa Batlló

The entrance was stunning, the walk through the reception area truly was something to behold, and even though it cost more for the guided audio tour, I needed it. I'm not naturally artistic, and don't pretend to have a huge understanding of Gaudí's work, so being hand-held through the experience with a genuine explanation added massively to how I experienced it.

I have to hand it to him, it's a stunning piece of design. Standing on the first floor and listening to how he envisaged, and then made reality, his grand plans of transforming the world underwater into the day-to-day lives of the family lucky enough to reside here.

The first floor was gorgeous, and the atrium is something I won’t forget in a hurry. However, Cartier have a shop on the first floor, so believing the heartfelt praise for my ticket money supporting the maintenance and upkeep of this building at the end of the tour, should really pale in comparison to the rent I can only imagine they charge.

The gorgeous whirlpool ceiling

What they considered to be the highlight of the tour, I see as an inconvenience of having to climb so many stairs. Again, maybe I don’t have the imagination for it (even the guided tour lost me at this point). In the loft, the white arches are designed to give the impression of being inside the belly of a whale. However, it seemed to me as if he had run out of ideas. Mercifully, the penultimate stop, before the gift shop, is a trip into Gaudí’s mind through the epileptic basement vault, which granted was very intriguing but far, far too short.

Steal-your-cash-Casa was worth a visit, but again, I just can’t get over the price. As with everything seemingly in Barcelona, the money just doesn't add up. You can eat and drink yourself silly, but the racket on the must-see items is a bit unbelievable. Aside from those, there wasn't in my opinion a huge amount to soak up, be it sun-rays or general feeling and it's a huge shame that it fell so flat for me.

I know I might have said a number of things that could be considered sacrilege, but I stand by them wholeheartedly. I thought the highlight of my trip would be a visit to the Nou Camp, which I'll touch on at length soon, but even that was a disappointment. I'd go back, but somehow I'd need to be guaranteed sun. I don't want to get scarred again...


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