Back in June 2018, my fiancé and I tried something new where we both flew separately to a different city (Paris). Her from London — where she lives — and myself from Amsterdam. This worked out great, so much so that we travelled to Copenhagen later in 2018 and now in November 2019, meeting up together in Barcelona.
Much like our trip to Paris, I had been to Barcelona a few years prior, with my friends. We ended up not doing very much other than drinking beer, chilling on the beach and visiting the Barcelona Nou Camp stadium. It was a great trip but not super cultural. This time, I wanted to do and see more while spending time with my fiancé. As I mentioned in my blog post about Paris, something which is equally applicable:
“I wanted to visit again but this time with my fiancé and experience it again as a much more mature and educated person but also to be able to show someone else around as well as experience new things myself.”
We also decided to visit Barcelona to try and get some last bit of sunlight from the year; it was surprisingly warm in December over there; shorts weather even. Our hotel for the trip was in the Sant Martí/El Poblenou area of the city, which was great as it was right by the Museu del Disseny (more on this later). Additionally, we decided to choose a hotel which was deemed a sustainable property with the Biosphere certificate.
Our trip can be summarised into three topics: Cool museums & galleries, cool coffee bars and other random cool things. Here is a bit of a recap of this great long weekend away.
1. Cool museums and galleries
As I said before when I visited Barcelona last time we didn’t go to any museums or galleries but this time I wanted to make sure we did and one in particular: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s (and Lilly Reich’s) Barcelona Pavilion.
The Barcelona Pavilion was the German Pavilion for the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona. It was used for the official opening of the German section of the exposition. The building was an excellent opportunity to show the new spirit of the Weimar Republic; a demonstration of “the clarity, simplicity and honesty” of Germany at that time.
The relatively small, single-story and flat-roofed building is somewhat of a mecca of modern architecture and Modernism in general; it was great to see this masterpiece in real life, albeit a reproduction (1983–86) but built to the same standards and in the original location. Also importantly, the entrance cost to the Pavilion (quite cheap) contributes to the conservation of the building and the organisation of activities by the Fundació Mies van der Rohe.
On our second day, we visited the city’s main museum: the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona aka the MACBA, which is also a Modernist style building in the Gothic area. The permanent collection here is very similar to many other modern and contemporary galleries and museums in major cities with the likes of Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and local artist Joan Miró, which are always great to see.
There was a temporary exhibition on displaying the work of the German artist, Charlotte Posenenske: Work in Progress, which presents an in-depth look at her work between 1956–1968. Posenenske’s works can be described as Minimalist and Conceptualist as well as including elements of participatory art and performance, social practice and institutional criticism. It brings together her first experiments with mark-making, her later aluminium wall-reliefs, and her last and best-known modular sculptures.
I saw Posenenkse’s work for the first time recently at the Space Shifters exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London.
Speaking of her work in 1968 she said “the things I make are variable, as simple as possible, reproducible. Rearranging into new combinations or positions that alter the space.”
Side note: the MACBA is also an internationally famous skate plaza; a bit of a Mecca of a skate spot. On any day you can find a lot of people skating here on the perfect ledges, smooth floor, numerous stair sets and other skateable objects; you can follow @macbalife on Instagram to see what gets thrown down there.
On our last day, we visited the Museu del Disseny de Barcelona, aka the Design Museum Barcelona. We had walked past it numerous times on our trip it was hard not to check it out, obviously being a lover of design also helped with this. We managed to get into the museum for free on account of one of the four floors being closed for filming, but that wasn’t a problem. Of the exhibitions here, the one most interesting was the permanent collection of the museum which showcased a vast amount of products of recent decades which have been designed, created or produced in Catalonia: From the World to the Museum, Product Design, Cultural Heritage.
Most of the items here were everyday items which we take the design of for granted; however, despite being so commonplace they are great pieces of design, and in turn, they are part of the culture. These items included the likes of the Silla Pedrera, the SEAT Ibiza Mk.1 and the slightly more niche HED TriSpoke bike wheel.
Equally as impressive as the design inside was the architecture and outside of the building, designed by MBM in 2009 and opened later in 2014. It has a military/fortified look to it with its sharp angles, dark grey cladding and lack of windows. Tied together with a sufficiently ominous cantilever overlooking the street and a rooftop garden to bask in the sunshine. Or to sit and try to find a nice place to get lunch.
2. Coffee Places
Drinking coffee is something new for me; for years, I have been that guy who doesn’t drink coffee, abhorrently avoiding it at all costs. Still, earlier this year, I decided to get into it. Initially, I wanted to get into coffee because of the amount of design-conscious coffee bars and cafés in London and Amsterdam and then discovered the social aspect of drinking good coffee in a city; taking time to sit down, relax and chat with friends over coffee.
I did some prior research about cool coffee places in Barcelona by looking through Instagram and asking my like-minded friends for their recommendations and visited a few of them. Four different places overall.
Firstly, Espai Joliu in Poblenou, a small, distressed coffee place in the back of a house-plant concept store. Its unfinished look is part of its charm; it looks like they moved in yesterday and threw in a coffee bar and whatever tables and chairs they could find to create a cosy environment.
Next was Satan’s Coffee Co in the Gothic area; a place which feels quite touristy but this was a hidden gem where “punk attitude goes hand in hand with quality, style and professionalism.” High quality finishes to this place is what makes it a beautiful place and very satisfying yellow benches.
Day two and post-MACBA — in El Raval — we visited a highly recommended spot: Nømad and this one in particular Nømad Everyday (the other two Nømads are closed on weekends). This is a pretty small space with seats for only about eight people but with a super clean fit-out with lots of white. Interestingly Nømad roast the coffee sold at Espai Joliu and the place below.
Finally, on our last, we visited Three Marks Coffee near our hotel in El Poblenou; a small place split over two floors where you walk through the door, and the coffee counter is right in front of you with a lovely pink wall behind. With super friendly staff and a relaxed vibe; it was probably my favourite of the four places, but I would happily recommend any of these to anyone interested in good coffee, interiors and vibes.
Other coffee places I had on my list included Orval (sister store of Espai Joliu), Nømad Coffee Lab & Shop, Nømad Roaster’s Home and Satan’s Coffee Corner in Eixample.
3. Cool Things
It could also be seen as a given now that if you visit one of the big European capital cities, it is possible to find a piece of work by Keith Haring, either on the street or in a museum. At the MACBA it is hard to miss their, quote-on-quote ‘Keith Haring’ as it is painted on the wall right next to the entrance and it’s massive. The long, red piece is typical of Haring’s work using figures, here holding hands and either being chased, eaten or grabbed by snakes. At one end it reads Todos juntos podemos parar el sida (Together we can stop AIDS).
Doing some later research, I found out that this Keith Haring is not a Keith Haring but an excellent recreation by the MACBA team. Haring painted this image onto a wall in 1989 in the Plaça de Salvador Seguí, which was later heavily tagged, damaged and planned for demolition. However in 1992, the city council asked the MACBA to try to preserve the piece, this wasn’t possible, but paint samples and detailed sketches were made to allow the MACBA team to re-create the image (with the artist’s heir’s permission) in its place now. So it is Keith Haring’s image but not done by Keith Haring’s hand.
It is almost impossible to visit Barcelona and not visit Gaudi’s masterpiece, the Basílica de la Sagrada Família; it is an icon of the city as much as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, the London Eye is to London and the Brandenburg gate is to Berlin. We decided to avoid the queues and not go inside, however you can still admire this piece of Gothic architecture (despite me being a lover of minimalism and brutalism).
The story of the Sagrada Família is also part of its allure; the fact it was designed and construction started over 135 years ago, spanning over three different centuries so far. And its still not finished and won’t be until 2026 (estimate). Various reasons for this long construction time include a lack of funds, the Spanish Civil War and fires which destroyed the Gaudi’s original plans.
However, with modern technology such as 3D visualisation and printing; the process of designing and creating parts of the building has been sped up. The fact that no single part of the building has a right angle and very few parts are made from straight lines is also very time consuming but as Gaudi said when he was confronted with the long construction time in the early days of the building, he replied “My client is not in a hurry.”
Getting a bit further out of the city we ventured over to the Parc de Montjuïc; home to the 1992 Olympic Park and Stadium, the National Palace, Montjuïc Castle, the Calatrava Tower, several museums and our intended destination, the Jardí Botànic Barcelona.
Opened in 1999 (created much earlier) the botanical gardens are set over 14 hectares and covers six different zones of plants from the Mediterranean and Canary Island climates which are characterised by dry, hot summers. Overall, around 1500 species of plant grow here although they are all relatively young and several areas have not yet been planted as to maintain a mixture of young and old plants.
From a design perspective, the gardens are beautiful example of an all outdoors botanical gardens with no large greenhouses, the dusty surface and sandy soil, mixed with the concrete pathways zig-zagging up and around the inclines of the hills from section to section. Zig-zags are a recurring theme in the gardens with a large water feature in this shape as well as a touch of Dutch modernism with some Rietveld Zig-Zag chairs, designed way back in 1934.
After our three and a bit days we made our way back to the airport, sadly from separate terminals so said our goodbyes and went our separate ways; this left me plenty of time to relax after all of our escapades as well as think about writing this piece.
Below are some more nice images from this trip; hopefully, just maybe, this write-up and images have convinced you to check out Barcelona (again) for yourself.