Visca Barcelona (Viva Barcelona)
My lineage is from The Philippines, a country that was subject to Spanish rule for more than 300 years, so the impetus for this trip was very personal. I was interested to see how much Spanish culture resonated with my own Filipino heritage.
But once I got to Barcelona, the trip turned out to be interesting on lots of other levels. In addition to the obvious influence of Spanish names, blend of language, religious and culinary influences, I also got to understand Barcelona stands out as a progressively sustainable and unique place – making it an ideal destination for PARALLAXploration.
In recent years, a surge of Catalans has been seeking separation from Spain. This piqued my curiosity, as I wondered why they were so passionate about independence.
As a designer, the beautifully designed political campaigns that surround Barcelona really caught my eye. The Catalan government was counting down to the day voters were to choose their new representatives – even though my poor Spanish/Catalan prevented me from reading the banners, the designs alone made me wish that I could have voted! Large portraits with simple layouts were effective and personal at the same time, making them incredibly memorable.
La Diada (Catalan National Day) has become an important day in Barcelona so I was lucky that my travel coincided with the day – I got to witness groups of people around the city rally together and converge in one spot in the city as a show of solidarity. By walking through the streets with Catalans, I began to feel that their passion wasn’t rooted in an entirely political agenda – it was about holding on to their own culture and identity. Younger groups were more vocal and rebellious, while family-friendly gatherings showed togetherness and a sense of confidence. As they convened in a central meeting area I documented their energy and spirit. The gathering of Catalan people was impressive – pride was clearly dominant that day.
You might notice that there are different flags in my photo albums. The official Catalan flag has yellow and red stripes. Adding a red triangle signifies support for separation from Spain, while further coloring stands for other, more nuanced aims of other Catalan political party.
Certified sustainable tourist destination
In 2015, Barcelona became the first destination in the world to receive the Biosphere Responsible Tourism certification – something I found impressive. The majority of the city has been designed for pedestrians first and cars second – walkways were usually bigger than car lanes and I barely saw any parking lots. City planning also included many center squares and hexagonal intersections for community access points, populated with everything from local food and specialty stores to museums and residential spaces.
All taxis in Barcelona are electric, and the city has increased accessibility in public spaces and transportation. Waste management is impressive – the city is very clean. And Barcelona offers many eco-friendly ways to tour the city – including self-guided walking tours that encourages visitors to explore the variety of local areas in Barcelona. Instead of just funnelling me toward a few “expected” tourist traps, I feel like I got to experience the “real” Barcelona and support the local economy in the form of small mom-and-pops stores. For further information about Barcelona’s sustainable tourism go here.
Exploring the barrios (neighborhoods)
I stayed in a flat in the Gothic Quarter, the original Barcelona city center that dates as far back as 133 BC. Walking around that part of town, I couldn’t help but feel like I was surrounded by history – much of the original Roman and Medieval architecture still remains. Exploring (aka “getting lost”) in the Gothic Quarter is easy since the streets resemble a labyrinth, and most buildings have multiple entrances and points of interest on all sides – as if there was no such thing as a back alley. With every turn, you’ll run into a church, then a museum or government building with guards, an elementary school (that doubles as a beer bar at night), or one of Barcelona’s many small outdoor cafes. Meals in Barcelona are best eaten sitting outside. Why anyone would sit indoors to eat their paella is absolutely beyond me. Such a meal (in addition to the always present tapas and sangria) is best experienced outside, allowing you to also soak in everything else that the city has to offer.
A special place high in the serrated mountains of Montserrat (about one hour from Barcelona by train) is the Benedictine monastery where the famous black madonna (Virgin of Montserrat) is located. According to Arthurian myth, the Holy Grail is located here. To this day, monks continue to have retreats at this basilica. On the edge of the cliff at Montserrat lies the famed Stairway to Understanding. Check out the video of me climbing the steps like a monkey. I didn’t go all the way to the top because each step gets smaller the higher you go – and I felt like living that day.
Gaudí is Barcelona
Picasso, Dalí, and Miró all lived in Barcelona during their lives, but the city is represented best by the life’s work of Antoni Gaudí, the city’s most popular and distinguished Catalan architect. And with good reason – his architecture is completely in a league of its own. Gaudi’s body of work ranges from housing developments, a park, and (his opus) the unfinished cathedral. All of it was breathtaking.
Guadi was part of the Modernista movement around the turn of the 20th century. He was inspired by nature (for its forms and bio-structures) and his belief in God. The depth of thought that went into Gaudi’s work is amazing. He considered the roles that light and ventilation play in any structure and how such elements would affect the mood and experience of a person in the space. He practiced sustainability long before it was in vogue – he developed a technique called Trencadís that reused ceramic waste in his structures. Although Gaudi died in 1926, his work still is fresh and innovative as it was a hundred years ago.
Below are few places I was able to see during my visit:
La Pedrera (early 1900s) is a luxury apartment complex built with organic textures and a unique stone facade. The rooftop was my favorite part of this building, as it offered amazing architecture cast against the magnificent backdrop of Barcelona’s skyline.
Park Güell (est. 1914) was a way for Gaudi to celebrate his love of nature by integrating several natural and organic shapes into the architecture of a park. His unique style of architecture blends with the pathways and vegetation of the park – and his mosaic tiling a great center point for all the lookout points and vistas.
Sagrada Familia (ongoing construction since 1882, completion aimed for 2016) is so large and incredibly detailed that it stands alone as a work of art – completely unlike anything else in the annals of architecture. In typical Gaudi style, he combines his love of God (it was a cathedral after all) with his appreciation of and respect for nature. Light inside of the building filters through stained glass windows and through giant tree-like beams before it reaches the floor of the cathedral – almost like you’re standing in a giant, magical forest. The ceiling is so ornate that your neck begins to hurt because you can’t stop looking at it. With two unique entrances filled with sculpture, scripture, and metaphors, I spent a considerable amount of time exploring Sagrada Familia – and came away from it feeling like I’d only scratched the surface. One could spend a lifetime trying to fully grasp the magnitude and depth of this building.
I was fortunate to make a contact with the Barcelona location of the Salvation Army, an international charitable organization. Lieutenant Beth Gabatin and her team offer free home-cooked meals to the homeless every morning and provide free clothing to those in need. I was inspired by Lieutenant Gabatin’s devotion for those who were less fortunate than her and impressed by how much she was fulfilled by her work — check out her interview clip below. If you’d like to reach out to the organization visit their Facebook page.
Creative Mornings in BCN
I was also fortunate to volunteer with the Barcelona chapter of Creative Mornings at the event that marked their 3rd anniversary. For those who haven’t heard of the organization, Creative Mornings is an international breakfast lecture series for the creative community, run by local creatives who volunteer their time. I spent my time documenting the event for them. A delightful congregation of creatives came together for inspiration from guest speakers Daniel Pasqual and Elsa Yranzo. Check out my video interview with artist and musician Ricardo Macedo for his perspective on what inspires him about Barcelona. Check out CM BCN’s website to see upcoming events.
Adéu de Barcelona
What started as a quest to understand how Spain influenced my own culture and heritage quickly took on a life of its own. Barcelona offers too much beauty, culture, and personality to digest in one trip – a return visit is necessary. The passion of the people and culture of Barcelona continues to resonate with me – even though I have been back for a few weeks – and I’ve come to view home with fresh eyes. It’s my hope that readers can get just a little bit of this inspiration and passion through this post and images I took on my trip. Thank you Jonathan, Guusje, and the rest of thinkPARALLAX for making this trip possible.