Here’s what I love most about our recent travels. Post-Asia, we have never made the conscious decision to venture outside the US with complete free reign on where to go. All of our trips over the past year were opportunities given to us by friends. We’ve had the chance to explore their incredible ‘hometowns’ (using that term loosely) from the jungle to the desert to the big city. Spain was a bonus: With us heading across the pond to celebrate the wedding of two of our closest friends in London, we decided to tie in a few days in the land of tapas, bronzed skin, and Messi.
I don’t know if we’re becoming more price-conscious and willing to do anything to save a few bucks, or desensitized to the ridiculousness of our recent travel itineraries, but this one involved four flights to get to Barcelona. The Upside: We saved $800 and had a nonstop – imagine that! – flight home from London the morning after the wedding. The Downside: That many flights across multiple carriers coupled with our luck meant we were definitely in for some type of travel snafu. After all, we’re the people that for no fault of our own got stuck in dodgy Johannesburg for two extra days with nothing but the clothes on our backs (even better, the same set of clothes we’d camped in for the past week) while we waited at the mercy of the airlines to get us home. We’re also the people that spent a combined 33 hours at the Dubai and Dulles airports thanks to delays and hefty layovers (I can give great advice on setting up a makeshift bedroom/office right at your gate – convenient!). So what would it be this time?
Jake’s bag. By flight #4, it had gone missing. With zero time to file a claim as we were running to catch our last leg and all three airlines pointing fingers at each other as to who lost it (via Twitter no less – the only option for communication without cell service), we were losing hope we would ever see the contents of his closet again (wouldn’t be the first time). So, with that, we arrived in Barcelona. Me, excited and ready for some Spanish wine, Jake, yet again in a foreign country with one outfit.
Truth: Spain was never on the top of my travel list. I saw myself in Istanbul or Santorini or without question – Krakow (given my roots and the fact that we’ve been in talks about a visit for years now) before Barcelona.
What was I thinking?! I’m so thankful we followed the advice of friends and my sister (who was there weeks before us) rather than my instincts. Spain has everything that makes me happy: History, culture, gorgeous architecture, my favorite foods (namely manchego cheese and $15 bottles of cava, readily available at all times of day), beautiful, welcoming people with a zest for life…
It was apparent after night #1 that the Barcelonians operate on a slightly different schedule than we’re used to. Dinner at 11:30 pm followed by drinks at 2 am, clubs by 3, and a 7 am nightcap at at McDonald’s – seemingly the only place open before mid-morning on the weekends. (I’ll use that as my excuse as to why we had to dine there. For breakfast. We were just starting our day when everyone else awake at that hour was finishing the previous one.) Aside from the clubgoers making their way home, the streets were empty on Saturday morning… until we ventured over to Sagrada Familia, where we found the rest the tourists. I’d place bets there were at least 500 people in line to see the inside of this famous church. Poor schmucks. No one must have told them to buy tickets online and skip the 3 hour line.
Call me crazy but I’m not a huge fan of Gaudi, the architect who designed Sagrada Familia and a number of other famous buildings in Barcelona. I found the outside of the church to be downright ugly. (Gasp! Sorry to all who have raved about his work to me.) It reminded me of a really poorly constructed sand castle. But the inside… spectacular.
So was the view from the towers. (Which you only get a glimpse of here – but its the view in my first pic up top.)
The staircase down. (Although this is taken from the bottom up.) Spot the tiny face and camera in the center? A little friend from Hong Kong we met on the climb down. His repeated hiyaaa!‘s were undeniably HK. He shared my love of taking photos of the spiraling steps. I’m assuming my tiny head moonlights in almost all of his pics too.
Having checked off the only tourist attraction on our list for the day, it was time to do what we do best. Nap. And then feast. We headed over to the Gothic Quarter to drink cava (same idea as champagne or prosecco), people watch, and snap 137 pics of stunning old buildings, none of which did the scene any sort of justice. But here are a few for the heck of it.
With the sun BLAZING down on us – it was uncharacteristically hot at nearly 100 degrees – the beach was calling. After a quick pitstop in H&M to add swim trunks to Jake’s scant set of belongings, a jaunt down Las Ramblas and into La Boqueria (a huge covered market) to arm ourselves with more food and drink, and an unplanned tour of the harbor, we were …lost. But, we spotted our favorite type of transportation – a rickshaw – with a far too good looking pedalist behind the helm. ‘To the nude beach, sir!’ (Think he knew we were tourists?) Minutes later, we stationed ourselves on the sand to take in the sun (still shining at 7 pm), the sea, and the overabundance of skin.
Sorry, no exposed women in sight.
I’d call Day One a success – and one of the most memorable days of the entire trip. Barcelona is worth every bit of the hype and there is A LOT to see and do. Obviously we did what suited us best, but a few other ideas to keep in mind:
See more Gaudi. If you enjoy his work, there’s more to see than just Sagrada Familia. There are numerous buildings donning his designs all throughout the city. Notably, Parc Guell is a garden complex featuring a series of buildings, including Gaudí’s house. My sister, who like me, is not a huge fan of the man’s design, actually really enjoyed this site and highly recommended it.
Discover the city on foot. Our favorite areas were the older ones, like the Gothic Quarter. Our hotel was near the Passeig de Gracia and we found ourselves strolling the boulevard towards the water as often as we could. Our location was perfect for us – a little outside the hustle and bustle, really close to public transport and shopping, and right off the major streets so we could easily find our way around.
Go out! We weren’t firsthand witnesses to it, but the nightlife in Barcelona seems…. intense. I haven’t seen people finishing up their night at 7 am at the local McDonald’s since…. well, HK.
Food and drink: Make time for it! Spanish food is amazing. And I’m by no means a foodie or rave about food very often…. so you know it’s good. My love of Spanish tapas and copious amounts of cheap cava ran deeper than that of Italian cuisine and prosecco. Why? I’m not a carb lover, so the array of seafood, meat and cheese options available in Spain – right up my alley. And like the prosecco in Italy, cava in Spain is everywhere, at any time of day, and its CHEAP. At $14 a bottle, we often had two. One of our favorite spots was Cuidad Condal, which is quite well known and ALWAYS busy, but we were lucky that our hotel was a 2 minute walk from the restaurant and that we eat early by Spanish standards. We were able to snag a seat at the bar and in front of the chefs so we were able to scope out the best dishes.
Take the Aerobus. Cabs are not that expensive in Spain, but the airport is a good 35 minutes away so taking the airport shuttle will save you some cash. It’s super convenient, cheap, and judging by how frequently it runs (every 5 minutes!) and how many people it transports – it’s the best way to go. Once you land in Barcelona, there are signs to lead you right to it. On the way back to the airport, it picks up at multiple locations throughout the city. We got luck in that it was just a 5 minute stroll from our hotel.