As we have crisscrossed Europe this year, we have visited some major tourist attractions. We go to Scotland; we visit Loch Ness. We go to Rome; we visit the colosseum. We go to Barcelona; we visit La Sagrada Familia. However, these big ticket locations have really never been the best part about our adventures.
We just visited Barcelona during our spring break trip to Spain. It was overrun. I mean, teeming, selfie-stick warring, pale tourists with cameras and maps, brimming with tourists. And no place was this worse than La Sagrada Familia. Certainly Barcelona’s most famous attraction, Gaudi’s famed church felt to me like the worst part about going to “can’t miss” places. Let me say too, this is April. While we are in the throes of many countries’ spring breaks, we have not achieved maximum capacity of the traveling set.
Twenty years ago I remember marveling at this strange and beautiful church with my sister Rachel. Now, all I could see were the ubiquitous, open-topped tourist buses and tacky vendors blocking the view of the main facade. Go inside? Forget it. While I remember just wandering in with Rachel, tickets had to bought weeks in advance (or wait in a two hour line).
I know, I know. I have been traveling a lot. I am also a bit older (last time I was in Barcelona was 20 years ago!) But in each city we go to, no matter how touristy, we always manage to wander and find a secret spot, a place that feels like people just live there instead of visit/take selfies there. La Sagrada Familia reminds me of the factoid that I learned while working with the US national park system; 80% of national park visitors never leave the roads, visitor centers or parking areas.
Even with little kids, I have found that our best times are not at the most famous monuments or biggest “wow-factor” tourist spots. And that is good news. Because, getting a front row view at these places is just getting harder and harder. So, Gaudi, I love your kooky church, but that may be the last time I see it. Except on other people’s Instagram…it makes for a great selfie:)