In short, Barcelona would be Manhattan’s Upper East Side if it were moved to the Mediterranean. Absolutely beautiful. And more than just appearances. Let me begin…
We arrived at our hostel via bus and metro. Other than a tricky elevator, we had no real problems finding the place, which was located right in the center of the city. As soon as we opened the door to the reception it felt like home.
They were welcoming, helpful, and spoke a friendly English. We went to a place called Frico for brunch (phone: 93 452 54 95), recommended by the hostel. Brunch had been missing in our lives for two months in Italy, so we were excited to have eggs, bacon (not just pancetta), and toast in our tummies. Later that day we found another thing that had been missing: Starbucks. Real coffee. Hard to believe that in Italy you could miss coffee? Well, in Italy, a café is an espresso. Don’t order a café Americano – it’s watered-down espresso, not coffee. So it was nice to have coffee.
After a nap, we made our way to the Antonio Gaudí park. Gaudí is pretty much the patron saint of Barcelona. He designed tons of stuff in Art Nouveau style, including this Park Güel, and he began work on a cathedral called La Sagrada Família, before being hit and killed by – get this – a tram car! Seriously watch those tram cars.
To get to the Park Güel, we climbed a huge hill, and took the outdoor escalators. Cool.
When we arrived, it was dusk, but we were fortunate to see most of the park and a beautiful sunset before its closing at dark. It had been a beautiful day weather-wise.
On our way through the park we kept seeing this castle, called Tibidabo, especially after dark when it was all lit up.
We never did go all the way up there, but apparently in the summer time there is a sort of amusement park (notice the Ferris Wheel in the last photo?) adjacent to this beautiful construction.
That night, we wandered down to the Barri Gòtic neighborhood, near the Mediterranean beaches. We were heading towards a restaurant recommended by the hostel and a guidebook, but ran into a guy I had known at Lehigh, and ate dinner at a place called Taller de Tapas (phone: 93 268 85 59 and www.tallerdetapas.com) with him and two of his friends, sort of by accident and insistence of the waitor. Perhaps they were short on tables? None of us really minded, though. Sangria helped ease some of the awkwardness. And the food was delicious! We had a bunch of seafood – shrimp, cuttlefish, (cuddlefish for you, Michelle!) mussels, and more.
Tapas, a Spanish tradition, are a wonderful gift to the world of cuisine. You sample everything in really small portions, and it’s very conducive to sharing. I spent a little more than I had planned on that dinner, but I really enjoyed it. Afterwards Sara and I went to a club called Shoko, located along a strip of clubs which actually sit right on the beach. Sort of under the boardwalk. Like if the boardwalk had a bottom floor. Truly an awesome concept, I don’t know why we don’t adapt it in New Jersey. We also met our first “stag party” at Shoko, which is a European term for “bachelor party,” and which is often banned from places if they are too obvious. This one wasn’t. They were a bunch of nice guys from England. Actually nice guys from England kind of dominate the scene in Barcelona – beer drinking on La Rambla by day, beer drinking on the Mediterranean by night.
The next day, Saturday, Sara and I headed towards La Rambla, one of the main streets which leads to the sea from the city center. On the way, we did some shopping, stopped for lunch at a place called Txapela (phone: 93 412 02 89 and www.angrup.com) and ate outside at a leisurely European pace.
Then we got some postcards, took a lot of pictures, and bought a snack at the Boqueria market. I got fresh coconut pieces which I munched on for the next two days, for only €1! Sara got a delicious fresh-fruit smoothie. Afterwards we went into a shop called Deƨigual (www.desigual.com) where a unique jacket had caught my eye. The jacket was really expensive but I ended up with a brightly-colored top and a new favorite store. And then we got Dunkin’ Donuts, and found the Placa Reial, a beautiful piazza.
We made it down La Rambla without being pick-pocketed, and took a ton more pictures along the coast.
We explored a pier which reminded me of Inner Harbor, Baltimore.
And dipped our feet in the Mediterranean!
It was a nice and sunny evening, but then we were so exhausted from walking around all day that we hailed a cab on the way back. The cab driver didn’t try to rip us off. Yay.
We bought groceries and made some fish and risotto for dinner, in the hostel’s kitchen. Later that night, we went to a bar called Chipito’s. They have hundreds of different shots for less than €2 each, many of which the bartenders proceed to light on fire before serving. One called “Harry Potter” causes sparks to fly; one called “Boy Scout” allows you to roast marshmallows on the bar before consuming the contents of the shot. Without adequate warning, you may even be lit on fire: “Here, just stick your thumb in here…” (bartender grabs my hand and a lighter) WHOOSH! *My thumb alights and is then shoved in my own mouth to extinguish!* For the more mild-hearted, Chipito’s also offers a selection of jungle-juice-type drinks. €11 gets you a huge glass. Split it with a friend or two. Or five. After Chipito’s and another chance meeting with some classmates, Sara and I went to another club near the sea, called Catwalk. We had to pay an entrance fee and it was still pretty crowded on both floors, but it was a good time.
On Sunday we headed to Gaudí’s Sagrada Família. We tried to find a place to eat but it was very difficult until about 11,00 when we saw some people sitting outside being served, so we made ourselves a spot and enjoyed another breakfast of eggs, potatoes, toast, and cappuccino. I guess the Spaniards like to sleep late on Sunday like the Romans.
When we arrived at Sagrada Família, I was immediately impressed, although a bit confused as to what the heck was going on. There were so many different styles and colors and textures and ideas all meshed into one. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Apparently it’s still not finished, either, which means I will just have to go back in 20 or so years to see it completed!
Sunday night, we made reservations through the hostel to see a flamenco show, called Tablao de Carmen: flamenco puro. (Carmen’s Table: pure flamenco? As in, non-rehearsed, improvisational.) It claims to be the best flamenco show in Barcelona, and it was definitely a wonderful experience, including a traditional Andalusian dinner and wine. We heard there was another show for much less than we paid which included tapas and drinks, but ours was located within an experimental town called Poble Espanyol, built for Barcelona’s 1929 International Exhibition, which we had wanted to see. It contains buildings which are reproduced from various regions of Spain, and many restaurants and shops dedicated to different crafts: jewelry making, textiles, etc. Unfortunately they were not open – either because it was Sunday or because it was the off-season – but we got a sense of the place and then enjoyed an energetic flamenco performance. On the way there we also stopped at the MNAC, a huge museum which boasts plenty of fountains and lights, but they only run on Fridays and Saturdays. We had seen a glimpse from Park Güel when it was lit up, and I can only imagine how breathtaking it must be up close with the fountains running.
I guess this means I have to go back someday.
Next up: Berlin.