June 2014 was a milestone for me as it was this month that I first stepped on European land: SPAIN. I was sent to present an oral presentation on my interesting case paper at the American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists (AAGL) International Congress on Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery in Barcelona, Spain.
I took Singapore Airlines on my way to Spain. Layovers were at Singapore and Milan, Italy.
We arrived in Milan at about 6 in the morning. Landing was smooth on Milan Malpensa Airport, on the dew-filled city of Milan, Italy.
About an hour later, we flew back to the sky to Barcelona, Spain. Excitement was building up so fast especially when I saw how quickly the plane was approaching the coastline of Spain.
And about and hour or two later, the plane landed at Barcelona, Spain. The airport was called, Aeroport de Barcelona-El Prat.
Immediately went to my hotel at Gran Hotel Torre Catalunya to drop off my things as I will go back to the airport to rendezvous with my wife at one past 12.
The hotel is a four-star hotel, but its amenities and rooms were comparable to that of a five-star hotel. The location was superior as it was just across Sants Estació, one of the main train stations of the Barcelona metro. And from there, you can go to virtually all places around the city.
The convention place was also near my hotel. As a matter of fact, the venue is a hotel, just atop the Sants Station. Barceló Sants Hotel boasts of its modern, avant-garde image, offering a spaceship-like environment once you get inside. Rooms are called orbital.
Just outside the hotel is one of Barcelona’s parks, the Parc de l’Espanya Industrial (Catalan). It was created in 1985, designed by architect Luis Pena Ganchegui. It has a long line of trees, a lake, an amphitheater, and a sculpture created by Andrés Nagel, the Dragon Without St. George.
On my way walking to the convention place, I saw a McDonald’s store inside the Sants Station.
At the first day of the congress, foreign delegates were overwhelmed by the strong domination of the Spanish language. We were offered the option to avail of the convention translator for free. While a lecturer is presenting, I was listening to the real-time translation in the headset.
Fellowship Night was held at Can Cortada, located at Avinguda l’Estatut de Catalunya, is a local restaurant with a rustic atmosphere, serving authentic Catalan food. The place is an old 11th century stately house, and has a lush garden where eating dinner can be extremely a taste of seventh heaven.
After the congress, I and my wife had the opportunity to tour around Barcelona. We had lots of fun. We toured the city on the Barcelona Bus Turistic, ate in different restaurants, and explored the wonders around Barcelona.
First stop is the Arenas Commercial Centre Barcelona. It was formerly a bull fighting ring which was converted into a beautiful mall with a 360 degrees view of the city, a rooftop skywalk offering panoramic view of Barcelona. It is located along Plaça d’Espanya.
The Plaça d’Espanya, located at the foot of Mt. Montjuic, is one Barcelona’s most important and famous squares.
After touring around Montjuic area, we went to Las Ramblas. La Rambla, a famous tourist spot, is a tree-lined street in central Barcelona, connecting Plaça Catalunya to Port Vell. Along La Rambla are multiple cultural spots, stores and shops, and never-ending surprises and fun.
A walk further down La Rambla will lead you to Plaça Reial. It is located in the Barri Gòtic area. It is a square surrounded by a large number of restaurants.
One particular restaurant where we ate was at Les Quinze Nits. It serves Mediterranean food, and I got to eat one of the best paellas and tapas here. Before we got seated, we patiently waited in the long queue which attracted us actually. People wouldn’t be waiting in a queue if this was not a great restaurant. After my wife and I got seated, we were surprised that our food server was a Filipino. We later on learned that the restaurant is predominantly staffed by Filipinos.
At the lower end of La Rambla is the Columbus Monument. It was constructed in honor of Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to America, a monument to remind the Spanish people of this great feat when Columbus reported to Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand V in Barcelona.
The next day, we went to La Barceloneta. This place is famous for its off-white colored sandy beaches. As a matter of fact, the Barceloneta beach appeared in the story of Don Quixote chapter LXI. It is where Don Quixote and Sancho arrived first in Barcelona, as guests of Roque Guinart. It was also thought that the beach inspired Miguel de Cervantes as the place where Don Quixote and the Knight of the White Moon fought. Anyway, before strolling along the beach, we first ate at El Rey de la Gamba. The seafood platter was so overwhelming! And the Sangria was the best, as it should be.
After our stomachs were filled, we then proceeded to walk around the beach area in Barceloneta. Along the beach, you can find various establishments. One of the most prominent landmarks in the area is the W Barcelona Hotel or the Hotel Vela (meaning, sail) due to it’s shape.
We ended the day strolling along the beach. It was a fantasy fulfilled, to walk along the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea.
On the next day, we again rode the Bus Turistic. The view was lovely while the cool wind brush on my face.
First stop was at Poble Espanyol. It is one giant architectural museum. A big village showcasing a collection of masterpieces of Spanish architecture. The featured buildings are representations of the different regions of Spain. As one said it, it is “Spain within Catalonia”.
Our next stop was at the magnificent La Sagrada Familia (complete name is Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família). The church was designed by Antoni Gaudí. Construction work began in March 19, 1882. Gaudí himself said: “The expiatory church of La Sagrada Família is made by the people and is mirrored in them. It is a work that is in the hands of God and the will of the people.” The work is expected to be finished by 2028, and when it is done, it will have 18 towers (the 12 for the apostles, 4 for the evangelists, and 1 each for Jesus and Mary).
After a refreshing tour in La Sagrada Familia, we went to another piece of artwork by Gaudí, the Parc Güell. Originally intended to be a private estate, mimicking those of the British private houses, the Parc Güell is now a world-renowned public park. Out of the 60 envisioned houses, only two were built. This is due to the unviability of the place to be privately high class as it should be. Lack of buyers due to the highly exclusive character development and the lack of suitable transport system caused abandonment of the project.
On our last day as tourists in Barcelona, we went to Montjuic area for another round of sightseeing. We decided to see the Castell de Montjuïc.
The castle is an old fortress, dating its construction back to the year 1640s. It is on top of Montjuïc Hill.
Of course, Barcelona won’t be complete without paying a visit to my most favorite football club: the FC Barcelona. The Camp Nou is home to the FC Barcelona, and here we see a museum dedicated to the athletes of Barcelona. The Camp Nou Stadium is also here. Unfortunately, there was no scheduled game when I visited this place.
I can say that my Barcelona tour is now officially complete with a visit to this stadium.
The night ended with a visit to Torre Agbar, one of Barcelona’s distinct structures in its skyline.
As I wrap up my trip in Barcelona, Spain, I am reminded of a quote I read in one of the walls of Sants Estacio.
Goodbye Barcelona. And until we meet again.