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Tibidabo Amusement Park and Sagrat Cor Basilica: A Barcelona Dichotomy Worth Visiting

Looking northwest through the expansive window of our thirteenth-floor hotel room toward the highest point in Barcelona, I saw silhouetted against a pale blue sky what I thought could only have been a church, a cathedral, actually. I knew that the view of the city from there had to be unbelievable, and there was only one thing to do: Make the trek up there.

Tibidabo is the highest point overlooking Barcelona and is located at the northwestern boundary of the city. On a clear day, one is supposed to be able to see north toward the Pyrenees and south out across the Mediterranean to Mallorca. What more reasons did I need to go there? Getting to Tibidabo, however, may not be easy, but it is worth the effort.

The trip involves taking the subway, transferring to a bus or the Tramvia Blau tram, and then riding a funicular to the top. Only on weekends does the tram make the run from the subway station to the funicular station; on weekdays, you get there by bus, and ours conveniently dropped us outside the station.

When purchasing the funicular ticket, you have two ticket options: One, a round trip ticket that takes you up to the amusement park and back; two, a panoramic ticket that, in addition to taking you up and back, also includes some seven or eight tickets to the park rides. We decided on the roundtrip funicular option, thinking that we should check out the park before deciding on rides. Yes, there are easier ways to get to Tibidabo, a taxi for example, and I always encourage people to do what makes them most comfortable. For me, however, a destination is only the period at the end of a wonderfully crafted sentence in which every word is to be savored.

At one point during the funicular ride, I glanced down at my rumpled map and noticed that we were not far from the Parc Natural de la Serra de Collserola, a wonderfully wooded area reported to have many hiking paths. I knew that I would have to save visiting the park for another time, another day perhaps; We already had a full itinerary.

At the end of the funicular ride, after climbing the stairs up and out onto the small plaza that stretches across Tibidabo, it is impossible not to be startled by a wonderful dichotomy: A cathedral and a small amusement park within a few steps of each other. My partner was quick to point out that Tibidabo may be interpreted as a fundamental truth: We live in a world that is spiritual and secular, and today we were ready to enjoy both.

Because we were there on a Friday, the number of rides was limited. Luckily, the colorful ferris wheel (the Tibidabo Giradabo) was open, so up we went: And I mean UP. Now, I don’t know what it is about ferris wheels, but they actually scare me. On the other hand, I can ride some wicked rollercoasters; they never get to me the way a ferris wheel does. In a rollercoaster car, you are either strapped or securely locked in and are safely trapped. On the ferris wheel? Well. . .the ferris wheel is just so. . .open, and you just sit there in a little wide-open cab as the entire wheel slowly turns and then abruptly stops now and again, leaving you to rock back and forth, all the while clinging white knuckled to the frame of your cab and wishing your seat pants were covered with Velco. What is delightfully worse is that the big wheel slowly turns near the edge of. . .the highest part of the mountain! As I watched the spectacular panoramic view over Barcelona, the smile on my face was a grimace of terror. Yes, I would ride that ferris wheel again in a heartbeat.

Also in service the day we visited the park were two classic rides that anyone can enjoy: The popular Avió airplane ride, which creates the impression that one is flying over the city, and the colorful carousel. In addition, if you are not afraid of heights and do not mind standing with a friend or other fearless thrill seeker in what is no more than a bucket that slowly is raised at the end of an enormous latticed spindle until you have an unobstructed 360-degree view of. . .well. . .everything, then by all means climb on that ride. My fellow acrophobics can enjoy watching safely and happily from below. Sadly, the Muntanya Russa, a rollercoaster, was closed that day, which just means I will have to return soon again.

After the harrowing ferris wheel ride and a brief turn around the plaza, we walked up the steps to the beautiful and majestic Baroque main entrance of the neo-Byzantine crypt church of the Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor de Jesús, which in its entirety is a Roman Catholic minor basilica. Visiting the temple is free, but you will have to pay a small fee to take the elevator up to the very top. The interior of the crypt church is divided into five naves, in the center of which you find the beautiful main altar surrounded by walls and vaults that are lined with mosaics. Everything in the interior, especially the wonderful stained glasses, creates an atmosphere of peace and serenity, inspiring a few moments of quiet reflection for anyone and offering a noticeable contrast to the park outside.

After some time of peaceful reflection in the crypt church, we took the elevator to the very top of the cathedral, which is built in the neo-gothic style. Once on the observation level, you can climb narrow spiral stairs to explore the upper parapets and to enjoy the spectacular views not only of the city but also of the outer areas of Barcelona.

When we had finished exploring and photographing from the windswept towers, we made our way back down to the observation level, and from there rode the elevator back to the main level so that we could visit the neo-gothic church’s interior, which is markedly different from the crypt. That church has one nave and two aisles and the semicircular apses contain four beautiful rose windows. I thought that theupper church’s interior seemed a bit starker than the crypt, but that’s because I generally prefer the Byzantine over the Gothic. Whatever your preference, however, the visit to both is something worthwhile.

After a while we left the church and walked along one of the grand staircases that skirts the crypt level, stopping at the La Maisia del Tibidabo restaurant for a small lunch of tapas and beer, before making our way back down the mountain. While the food wasn’t all that remarkable, we were happy to have something to eat and drink while we sat outside in the afternoon shade, talking about our experience and informally planning the next few days. Afterwards, we rode the funicular to the bus station but, instead of climbing on a bus to take us the rest of the way from the mountain, we decided to take a short hike on a path that leads away from the funicular stop, and wended our way through what is the Parc de la Font de Racó and then out along the Avenida Tibidabo, with its cultural and architectural charm, its embassies, and small but luxurious boutique hotels, until finally arriving at the subway station for the ride back to our hotel.

After our trip from Barcelona and before writing this, I read many comments about other traveler’s impressions of the visit to Tibidabo and am compelled to add what I know to be an unsolicited but important general suggestion for anyone disappointed or critical of his or her experience. As with any trip anywhere, perhaps the better thing to do is to travel without set expectations, without a penchant for judgment or comparison, but, instead, to allow the travel experience to steep in your heart, your mind, your imagination and to let it become that which may enrich, edify, and inspire you to seek out more experience and adventure. All in all, when in Barcelona, a trip to Tibidabo makes for an enjoyable day, and can be a rewarding experience and adventure.

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