Barcelona was beautiful; unfortunately we were sick with colds the whole time we were there but we would visit again to see more. We did take the customary walking tour to learn more about its very long history. Although we had heard pickpocketing is a big problem, we saw it as being a quite clean, organized, modern city-- the only thing we noticed were the knockoff salesmen with strings in their hands to run if police arrive. When walking both in the city and along the water, the streets were picturesque; either the narrow twisting corridors of the old city or wide, architectural boulevards in the newer section both open onto many plazas with fountains and gathering places.
We learned about a few very strange Catalonian traditions involving Christmas, hitting with sticks, and pooping good presents, and the evidence is here with many famous people, including of course the whole soccer team, depicted working on those gifts.
In addition to a few workers strikes, we also ran into a protest march with many people demanding the government stop cutting programs. The thing that most surprised and impressed me was that behind the citizens walking, a team of people trailed with brooms and garbage cans to make sure the streets they passed were clean and ready for normal traffic.
Of course we wanted to try paella and fortunately found many vegetarian and vegan places in parts of the city with a more "hippy" vibe, including this version of the rice dish.
But the star of the show in Barcelona had to be the Sagrada Familia church. It is still unfinished after more than a hundred years of construction, but is surely already magnificent. We also learned more about Gaudi's methods and work in a museum below the building, and were awestruck by how passionate an advocate he was for ideas far ahead of his time. We avoided standing in line for long by getting tickets online, but before visiting it seemed expensive just to see a building that's not even completed. I have to say, it's really worth it -- don't miss it if you're in Barcelona!
We liked what we saw of Catalonia a lot, despite not speaking Catalan; everyone there seems to speak Spanish and English also. We have two more weeks of traveling and will be back in Buenos Aires and then San Francisco, but Barcelona is one of the places we're already planning to come back to!