We spent nearly ten full days in Barcelona, and in a city with so much to do it almost didn’t seem like enough. I can’t imagine what I’d choose to skip if we had spent the more typical 3-4 days here before moving on to somewhere else in Spain. I remember being overwhelmed by the size of Barcelona on my first visit in 2009, but this time seemed different. It was huge, yes, and overwhelming on our arrival day. But by day two, somehow this city of more than five million people seemed more livable than raucous. I had taken more time to learn about and appreciate the distinct neighborhoods, and the urban planning nerd in me was really excited by what was there.
We spent most of our time in the San Antoni neighborhood, where our airbnb was located. Like many of Barcelona’s post-1900 neighborhoods, this one was built in squares with the corners cut off so that the street cars had more room to turn. The neighborhood featured wide avenues to bring in more light and trap less air pollution. And my favorite part – one of the famed superillas (super blocks), in which a 3×3 square block area was turned into a pedestrian zone. Only residents and delivery drivers were allowed to bring a motor vehicle in the super block, and this rule is enforced in an amazingly clever way – all roads are one-way, and you are forced to turn left at every intersection within the super block. This means that if you try to cut through, you’ll just end up leaving the super block on the same side you entered.
The design of the super block meant that there was plenty of space for people. And the people used it! At any time of day we passed through, pedestrians were everywhere – kids playing, families out for a walk, elderly persons reading the newspaper, and al fresco dining at every restaurant and cafe. These super blocks, more than anything else, made Barcelona feel so much more livable than any other large city I’ve visited.
We also had a chance to explore the architecture of Gauí and of Barcelona’s medieval El Born neighborhood. And I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to attend an FC Barcelona soccer match! We saw FCB play against third place Getafe, and the match could not have gone better for a neutral observer. Our seats were incredible, three of the four goals were scored at our end of the field, and we even got to see some Messi magic. Of course, there is the small matter of maybe, possibly (but we’ll never know for sure), unwittingly contracting the coronavirus at this match. But at the time, it was everything that I’d hoped for from the experience.
Finally, we took a day trip to Andorra, the tiny country nestled between Spain and France high in the mountains. It’s known as a tax-advantaged shopping destination for locals, and I will shamelessly say we went almost entirely just to say we’d been to another country (we figured the regret of not going was worth avoiding). Truthfully, there isn’t much there for a traveler to do. The highlight for us was lunch at at L’era del Rossell, a traditional Andorran borda. For us, it was on the fancy side, but a lot of fun to try something new.