Arguably the most liveable city in Spain and home to Spain’s most notable and iconic church, Sagrada Familia. We are definitely not in South America anymore, the roads are smooth, the buses are nice but my goodness is the Spanish hard!
To make it harder, the Catalonian people don’t generally speak Castillian (“normal” Spanish), they speak Catalan, which is a separate Latin-derived language and is like a version of medieval French, with a bit of Spanish and a touch of Portuguese thrown in. We’d both been looking forward to Barcelona for sometime, having heard many friends’ travel through and seen pictures of some fairly notable monuments… most of all we were looking forward to more delicious food!
Another travel day
We arrived on our bus from Madrid on Saturday and made our way to the hostel. After sitting around and waiting for half an hour for the group in front of us to sort themselves out, we finally checked in and settled in. We’d missed lunch and it was far too early for dinner but we decided that we’d go and find ourselves some food and beer anyway. We settled ourselves into a bar across the road, and unfortunately the Catalonians haven’t followed the tapas with beer situation that we had experienced in Madrid… you might be lucky to get olives. We sat and drank anyway, ordering some pimiento de padron (fried chillis), fried anchovies, some pipis and grilled cuttlefish. Life is good!
We decided to head into bed early, as we still hadn’t completely recovered from the jetlag that had been catching up with us after our flight from Bogota. It was especially the case for Dee. Our room in the hostel had a giant window in it, facing into a completely covered area containing a fluoro light that was on 24/7, with not so good curtains. We had organised to talk to James’ dad at midday, and unfortunately the light caused Dee to confuse the time of day. She woke up at 12:35 freaking out that we’d missed the phone call… Unfortunately it was 12:35am, not PM… it was going to be a long day.
Sunday as a Tourist
Waking up at a more appropriate time than midnight on Sunday, we hunted around to get some breakfast and coffee. Like South America, Sundays are a day of rest, thus meaning everything was closed, including the bakery and the supermarket. We had the quick phone call with James’ dad before heading on the Metro in to Barcelona’s central street, La Rambla. Starting off at one end with a round of sangria and food, as pictured below:
We then began to wander our way down the tree lined pedestrian mall. La Rambla was apparently a sewerage stream-bed in the earliest days but over many years (a few hundred) it has eventually been transformed into a tourist mega-hub connecting Plaça de Catalunya in the centre with the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell.
You could easily spend hours wandering up and down this street watching street performers, looking at all of the little stalls, being hassled by the locals to go on tours and finding random things to eat. Our stumble of random food for the day was Redbull Icecream… very weird but surprisingly tasted exactly like Redbull. We probably wouldn’t go out of our way to buy it again, but you know, you’ve got to try everything once!
After a few hours it was time to start making our way back to the hostel and find some dinner nearby, before tucking in for an early night of cards and writing.
Walking tour day!
Some of the easiest and cheapest activities that we have done have been to go on the city’s “free” walking tours. In some places these tours have genuinely been free, run by the city council and extremely informative. Other places, not so much. For Barcelona we expected a little bit of history of the city and walk around the touristy areas. Instead the tour started near the main cathedral (not Sagrada Familia) and went through the streets of the Barri Gótic.
The Gothic Quarter was built in the late 19th Century and is a weaving pattern of roads and side streets leading out to grand squares. Throughout the quarter there are multiple narrow allies churches, plazas and museums filled with a large amount of relics from when the Spanish first conquered South America.
We were told about the various cities that had existed in Barcelona, from the original fishing village, to the Romans arriving, the Visigoths, the Moors (arabs) and then Spanish Empire. Sprinkled amongst the information were some interesting facts about the civil war and how it has shaped the city into what it is now. This particular walking tour was actually free, no tips required and quite interesting… though Dee chose to sit this one out, wanting to hire a bike and explore the city. Instead, finding her way back to La Rambla and into what could loosely be described as a street food market – more of a hall filled with gourmet food!
There was food for days in that hall; all sorts of cured meats, cheeses, seafood and every option possible for good wine. After a few tastings of bits and pieces around the hall, a walk wasn’t a bad idea. Barcelona has quite a number of beaches that begin near the port and stretch quite a distance; the majority of them are artificial and were built for the Olympic games in 1992. We had organised to meet at one of the beaches so we could swim and enjoy some sunshine, however James was carrying the bag holding the swimsuits and the walking tour went two hours longer than expected. Instead of swimming we settled ourselves in for lunch a few cocktails near the port and then proceeded to have a few craft beers at a bar that James had passed on his tour. After that we made our way through the gothic quarter to a very highly recommended ice-cream shop for Mojito and Basil-Tomato ice creams… odd but delicious.
After wandering around for a few more hours, seeing churches and one of the many museums we cruised on back to our hostel for some cured meats and cheeses and a nice bottle of wine… this is living!
Views of the City
On Tuesday morning we decided to take a small break from all of the rich food and drinks to explore one of the many tourist spots around the city. We got ourselves to the metro station and then onto a bus before getting lost on our way up to the hill near El Carmel, which was the site of a big anti-aircraft battery during the civil war. It was extraordinarily hot and there were lots of people either sun-baking or sitting with their shirts off in the “no entry” sections. We stayed on the hill for a while, taking in the views of the city and then decided we needed to find some shade before James burnt the back of his fingers again.
After heading down through a small park, we caught the metro back into the city, and found another set of markets to have lunch. There are so, so many places selling fresh and cured foods here, just look at all of the deliciousness!
There was so much nice food here, but we managed not to buy any (barely). We wandered through the market and settled on a small wine bar with delicious tapas; Dee had fried artichoke, gazpacho and veal carpaccio, James having confit duck (although it took a long time). Barcelona’s food hasn’t disappointed thus far, although it’s more expensive than what you’d pay at home, it has definitely been worth it!
Another round of Cultural Enlightenment
We needed to burn off a little of the wine we’d devoured so we ventured a little deeper in to the city to find where the state parliament was located for our obligatory photo. If the locals had their way, Catalonia would be it’s own country, completely separate from Spain, so technically we should get extra points from Tristan for being at a state and national parliament all at once.
Along the way to find more wine we stumbled across one of the many sites of the Museu d’Història de Barcelona. The El Born Centre for Culture and Memorial was home to Mercat Del Born for many years, along with failed government plans to turn it into offices, and then a retail centre. It was eventually decided that the market would be restored and turned into a library; however, during excavations extensive ruins of the medieval city of Barcito were discovered around seven metres underground.
We spent a while in the centre, reading through some of the historical information scattered around the museum (and being hassled numerous times, being questioned continually as to why we hadn’t hired a guide), then made our way toward the Picasso Museum. We had lined up to buy tickets but they were quite expensive and we’d seen a large number of Picasso’s works in Bógota less than two weeks prior so we skipped out this time around. We instead made our way to Barcelona’s version of the Arc de Triumph, taking a few more photos along the way.
Take note Brisbane…
Something we have realised in the five days that we have been in Spain, is how completely terrible (and expensive) our public transport is in Brisbane. The metro system in Barcelona (and Madrid too) has been so easy to use and extremely cheap. There is an option for a T10 ticket (so ten trips, that can be used by more than one person at a time) or a tourist ticket, which gives you unlimited transport between 5am and 11pm. There aren’t 18 zones to try and navigate your way through and the ticket machines are really easy to use. Having a system like this at home would be wonderful! Following our wine and food cultural tour, we had a quick trip back to the hostel on the metro with just enough time to duck to the supermarket and then out of the heat to do some blog writing. Strangely the part that we are up to writing in the blog was about us sitting down with some drinks and having meat and cheese for dinner… right now we’re eating a platter of meat and cheese for dinner with a few drinks. Surprise?
More cultural things!
It probably comes as a surprise to our readers that there is a little more happening than booze and food on this trip; we have actually ventured out and seen some things whilst reviewing some of the delicious things we have ingested on the way around. Still struggling with the time changes (yes! Five days later!) we got up close to midday on Wednesday and got ourselves together enough to head back into the city and explore some more.
Barcelona is home to some fairly unique structures and streets, mostly thanks to Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi. His work incorporates a modernist twist and includes building materials such as stained glass, wrought iron and ceramics – this sounds fairly standard right? Wait ‘till you see some of the pictures…
First up, we caught the metro to the end of Avenida Gaudí, where we started seeing some of his work, in the form of modernist lamp-posts and a few sculptures.
We were surprised to find that we could cross the roads along the avenue without feeling like we were playing Russian Roulette with the traffic; the drivers actually paid attention to the traffic lights! After walking for quite some time and stopping in for some breakfast coffee along the way we then stopped to see one of the biggest tourist attractions in Barcelona, Sagrada Familia. Wow! The church is huge, taking up an entire block and has towers 170 meters tall. It is very quirky, with what appears to be fruit on top of some of the towers; the patterns around the church’s walls are extremely intricate. It has not actually been finished yet, albeit started in 1882, and the large fees to visit (minimum of 15 Euro, more if you want a guide) go towards finishing it. The photos don’t do this place justice!
Next we headed off to the Casa Milà, however the map situation turned out to be a problem. We have offline maps saved in Google Maps, however it can’t do routing, and for whatever reason it keeps being confused where we are. Here Maps is not as complete as Google, but it can do routing which is somewhat helpful. We also have a paper tourist map. Flicking between the paper and Google maps, we thought we knew the way there but there were two problems – Google got our location wrong, and the paper map (as are apparently all the ones of Barcelona) is rotated by 90 degrees so North is not at the top of the map. After getting confused by our location moving for a while, we realised we were instead very close to Casa Batllo, so we went their first.
Casa Batllo finished construction in 1906 and was one of Gaudi’s finest works. The building’s façade was replaced with waves of ceramic and stained glass in mosaic patterns, topped with a roof covered in iridescent scales.
After that we walked the few blocks to Casa Mila (also known as La Pedrera) for a look at some more of Gaudi’s work. La Pedrera was designed to replicate an open stone quarry, it was completed in 1912; it is now home to the Pedrera Foundation who have turned it into a cultural centre.
To try and save ourselves some money we had a packed lunch of some sandwiches for the beach, and had planned to buy a few beers nearby to take down. After hunting for quite a while we couldn’t find a supermarket and discovered the stall near the beach had beers! Winning! Except we found out that they were 2.30 Euro each (!), so Dee went for a walk to get some at a shop further away while James found an umbrella to hire. The beach was okay, but the sand quite gritty and we had to sit a fair way back from the water to have an umbrella. Although James has started getting a little bit of a tan going on it was extremely sunny and very, very, very hot, we definitely needed the umbrella… and a litre of sunscreen.
After having enough sun, and Dee’s side getting a bit burnt, we went back to the hotel to cool down, planning to meet up with Eva who we’d met in South America for drinks and dinner. Unfortunately we had a little communication breakdown and didn’t get to see Eva, instead we had dinner at a little place across the road from us and had chilled out with the locals. This obviously included a few more wines and beers…
So long! Farewell!
We weren’t quite ready to leave Barcelona when we did, but we had places to go and people to meet. Thursday morning was a fairly uneventful one, mostly venturing out to find some coffee (Dee had wine – you’re allowed to have it for breakfast here!!!), then off to the bus station. Our next stop… Valencia!
Go see all the photos from Barcelona