Finally! I feel like this trip has been a long time coming…
As a former art student, to see a Gaudi in Barcelona has been a total goal of mine for years and it seems impossible that Barcelona, or Spain even, had been missed off my travels for so long! If you were to dream up your perfect place, this Catalonian destination surely would come pretty darn close; dynamic city meets beach life, world class art and culture, phenomenal food, the sunny buzz of the streets one minute, then relaxing into sleepy siesta mode the next, and then when the sun sets, bars re-energise and it’s a party town until the early hours.
At least this is what I’d been told.
‘You’ll be amazed by Barcelona, oh you’ll want to move there, you’ll fall in love…!”
I literally hadn’t heard a bad word about this town, but despite this I was keen to keep cool and steady my expectations. What if I didn’t fall head over heels? It sounds so great, but…
Day 1: Paella and Picasso
Heading above ground at Passeig de Gracia station, we emerged at arguably the heart of Barcelona; the beginning of the bustling boulevard of Las Ramblas. We’d timed our break perfectly too and were due this gorgeous bright March weather for the next four days (Wahoo!). In the sun there were quirky street stalls. markets (remember to check out Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria!), restaurants spilling out onto the street, groups of tourists alongside locals relishing the warm weather…
No stress, just this happy, easy-going atmosphere. Sunglasses on, coat off, time to slip into this Catalonian culture and indulge in some tapas and Estrella. When in Rome! Huh, actually I could get used to this…
In search of food, we found ourselves in the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter); the ‘old town’ district characterised by its maze-like winding avenues, narrow streets and historic Gothic architecture, located slightly off to the East of Las Ramblas. Falling into a fairly unassuming looking restaurant (Bar Rodrigo) in the shadows of Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar we stumbled through the tapas menu and opted for a traditional Spanish dish, Patatas Bravas, a plate of fried calamari and a portion of croquettes, as well as a small portion of sea food Paella which we wanted to share between ourselves.
Thirty minutes later, I’m a total convert and a now a self-confessed lover of all things Tapas! And the Paella… uh… Well I can’t say I wasn’t warned, I’ve already found a little soft spot for this city. Yep, fantastic food certainly is a sure fire way into my heart.
Venturing further into Barri Gotic, forcing our way down one of the narrowest little streets ever we found the Picasso Museum. Being a fan of his work anyway, this place was on the top of my itinerary, but I had heard that even those who could take or leave most art galleries had really enjoyed this insight into Picasso’s early work and the discovery of how his practice evolved from a traditional style into his more well-known cubist form.
Image Credit [http://www.bcn.cat/museupicasso/en/]
Rather frustratingly for this happy snapper, there was a strict no photo policy inside the building, but for the standard 11 Euro entrance fee we got a great look around the permanent exhibition, which displays a full range of his works, extending from his preliminary sketches, delicate watercolours, early realist landscape and portrait works, following through to his Blue and Rose period and where he experimented and refined his practice as moved into the style that made Picasso a house-hold name.
Dinner was a serious treat as we seemed to disregard the limits of our wallets. As a budget traveller I wasn’t accustomed to this level of service, but the waiters at 7 Portes wouldn’t let us lift a finger; the vino tinto kept flowing, the Paella was one of the best I’d tasted and the blood orange sorbet totally topped off an amazing, unforgettable night. We were wined and dined to the sounds of a classical piano and went home merry!
Day 2: Barcelona’s Gaudi’s
I’d be a pretty poor traveller to miss out on experiencing a Gaudi first hand, so after pre-booking time slots for both the Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell’s monumental zone online, the alarm was set for a Gaudi-frenzy of a day.
You’ve seen the pictures, the Instagram snaps, you might have read about it at school, but seeing those staggering gnarly stone towers in front of you is something else entirely. You’ll see the cranes jar against the organic features, the new brick work against the weathered rock; it’s weird, it’s displaced, it’s strangely modern and classical all in one, yet totally looks like it belongs here, it’s pretty darn amazing!
Go inside, and it’s even more surprising. Again, it’s a bizarre blend of the contemporary and the traditional; the design that works with light and colour is just mind-blowing.
Parc Guell is situated to the north of the city centre and is about a 10 minute walk to the Park entrance from the nearest metro station. A fair chunk of the Park is actually free to enter, so it is possible to just take a walk around the bulk of the grounds without a ticket, but if you want to take a closer look at the main area, or the ‘monumental zone’, you’ll have to purchase a timed ticket for 7 Euro.
So why visit here? Those views across Barcelona and the Mediterranean sea and pretty unbeatable. Marry that with the pops of colour from Gaudi’s mosaic bench, the tiles, that lizard! It’s like some real-life Willy Wonka-esque world.
I’m going to apologise now for the photo dump that follows this paragraph, but Parc Guell was seriously snappable!
Having some more time spare after exploring Parc Guell, we thought we’d continue the theme and take the Metro to Parc de la Cuitadella in the East. I was most keen to see the fountain which I’ve since learnt was predominately designed by an architect called Josep Fontsère, but he was actually supported Antoni Gaudí, so there are some Gaudi influences in there!
We ended up spending a few hours here walking around the Waterfall, circling the lake and sipping on cans of Estrella on the grass. I also got a little too excited about the baby geese! Look how adorable they are?!
Day 3: Life’s a Beach
You’ve only seen half of Barcelona if you haven’t spent some time with sand between your toes. Barceloneta Beach and the Area around Port Vell just resonate chilled out Med-vibes. Not being the biggest beach fan ever, I was surprised how much I warmed to this city shoreline. After rinsing off, we took a short stroll back to the port, time to practice some of my very basic Spanish; ‘Estrella y Sangria por favor… Gracias!’
Lunch was had based on a recommendation; Cerveceria Catalana, a small but incredibly busy tapas joint a couple of blocks from the main shopping avenue of Passeig de Gracias. After arriving, we put our name down for a restaurant table, but then eventually managed to squeeze onto a bar stool instead. An hour later we emerged full and happy from Patatas Bravas, Four Cheese, Small fried Squids, Chorizo Baguette and Fried Camembert. Tapas Heaven!
The afternoon was spent taking full advantage of a Spanish Siesta, I mean, where else in the world can you take a post-lunch nap and be credited for embracing the local culture! In March, it was less that we were struggling with the midday sun and rather that we were nursing a rather lovely tapas induced food coma. Still, it was great to re-charge our batteries for the evening’s events…
A twenty minute walk from our hotel took us to the Font Magica de Montjuic. On some evenings you can catch a free light and water display to music which is pretty fun.
After lining the stomach with yet more Paella it was high time we sought out some beer at the local watering holes. El Raval, which was our local district for the four days was full of cheerful studenty bars. Two favourites though had to be Bar Marsella and London Bar, both similar in that neither had been modernised and both had managed to retain their glamorous old style decor; peeling paint clung to the walls and dusty bottles were stacked up behind the bar.
Both were supposedly frequented by Dali, Picasso and Hemmingway (pretty cool, no?) – Marsella is rumoured to be Barcelona’s first bar, opening for business in 1820, whereas London bar was slightly later in 1910. Though the smaller of the two, London Bar hosts live music of a night so gets busy quite quickly.
Day 4: Cable Cars, Castles and the final Paella.
With half a day left to spare we chose to take the bus to Mount Montjuic and take the cable car to the Castle. What we failed to realise is that there was the Barcelona Marathon being hosted on this same day which made traffic a bit of a nightmare, but the views made it worth it!
After a walk around the castle grounds, we had just enough time to walk back fom Montjuic into Barri Gotic for one last plate of Paella and then back to the airport.
So Barcelona? I know everyone said I’d love it, and yeah, they were right. I came, I ate and I siesta’ed. I was won over by the Gaudi’s and found a new love in Bravas, it’s their fault alone that I’ll be boarding that plane home at least half a stone heavier, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I loved my introduction to the Catalonian culture – Barcelona, I’ll be back for you!
£375 per person for four days inclusive of:
Return flights from London Gatwick via Vueling Airlines (£110), three nights with breakfast and late check out at Abba Rambla Hotel in El Raval (£72.50 – one half of the double room cost), entrance fees to Picasso Museum (11 Euro), Parc Guell (7 Euro), Sagrada Famila (15 Euro), and Montjuic Cable Car (return) (11 Euro), 1 x T10 travel card (9.95 Euro) for use on the Barcelona Metro and all food and drink, including one over budget but amazing meal at the famous 7 Portes.