We tend to fall in love with most cities we visit. The phrase “we need to move here” has been uttered more than once. So we’re aware of the potential for hyperbole when we say Barcelona is our favorite city in the world! We are by no means “world travelers” but between the two of us we have visited many of the “must-go” cities (Tokyo, London, Paris, San Francisco, Prague, Florence, Amsterdam, Bangkok, Vancouver, Montreal, NYC, etc.) and no other city comes to as close to perfection as Barcelona does. If even the most mundane neighborhood in Barcelona were in the US, it would immediately launch it onto one of those cheesy Yahoo top 10 list of most charming towns in America. The most charming areas of Barcelona are simply indescribable. So rather than giving you a laundry list of superlatives, we give you a quick rundown of how we spent 100 hours in Barcelona.
Hour -036. Yes, that is “minus” 36. Our love for Barcelona began 36 hours before we arrived after we watched the most ingenious video on how to take the AeroBus from the airport to the hotel. It is worth the watch if you are planning on taking the bus.
Hour 000. Fri 11:00. A nice stroll through a generic modern airport. A quick chat with a cranky immigration officer. No wait for the luggage at all. The airport looked just like in the video. We remembered the instructions clearly and walked through it like the locals – directly to the AeroBus line. In no time, we were on our way to downtown Barcelona.
Hour 001. Fri 12:00. Arrive at the conveniently located Eric Vokel Apartments on the Gran Via. It is a charming 3-bedroom apartment, with an updated contemporary look that makes you think you are staying inside one of those display rooms in Ikea. Note to self #1: Do not assume 3 bedrooms means a double bed in each bedroom. Who gets the kids room with the twin bed? I guess we do since we are nice like that ☺.
Hour 003. Fri 14:00. Nestor leaves a sleeping Yolanda and her parents at the hotel and takes the AeroBus back to the airport from Plaza Espana to pick up his parents. Note to self #2: remember that the AeroBus does not take credit cards. Note to self #3: Carry small bills. The bus driver will get annoyed when you try to pay for a $7 fare with a $100 bill.
Hour 007. Fri 17:00. Check Nestor’s parents into apartment. Siesta Time!
Hour 010. Fri 20:00. We walk a few miles to Plaza Espana to eat at place called Tapa Tapa. We later would learn this was some sort of chain, and yet we would return. Being vegetarian/vegan in Spain when traveling with meat eaters (i.e., no veggie restaurant in the itinerary) means that your diet will consist primarily of Papas Bravas, Poblano Peppers, Olives, Grilled Veggies (almost always eggplant, zucchini and red peppers) and Bread with Tomatoes – and simply no other place we visited had better of all the above than Tapa Tapa. So don’t miss this place. The bill arrives: $70 for dinner for 6 people? Are you kidding me? We knew the USD was strong but this was ridiculous.
Hour 013. Fri 23:00. We all crash. Sleep.
Hour 023. Sat 09:00. First full day in Barcelona! An ambitious plan awaits but everyone is excited. Note to self #4: Add up all the miles you expect to walk, so that don’t accidentally make your parents walk 5+ miles like we did, oops! The city is incredibly walkable and thus deceiving. We used mapmyrun.com to check the miles, and in the span of 2 days we had covered >10.
Hour 026. Sat 12:00. After more walking through picture-perfect streets we get to the Basilica of Santa Maria Del Mar a gorgeous 14th-century Gothic style church.
Hour 027. Sat 13:00. Mercado de Santa Caterina. A large bustling market with amazing energy. Pig heads and fresh fish everywhere. A bit smelly in that weird I-don’t-know-if-it-stinks-or-I-like-it kinda way. Loud, lively, where tourists and locals mix ordering, fish, ham and chorizo. Do not miss it. Our parents couldn’t resist picking up some fresh chorizo – or as Yolanda’s Dad continued to call it choriZIO. ☺
Hour 028. Sat 14:00. We try to eat lunch at the market but we could not find a place for 6, so we begin walking around and find a little place called Bar Blau. Definitely worth the visit for a quick lunch. Excellent service, cheap beer, amazing pizzas. We had the organic pizza sans cheese with grilled veggies (“from Pedro’s garden”) and it was delicious.
Hour 030. Sat 16:00. A walk through Passeig de Gracia for a beautiful, yet free, urban architectural tour. The Paseo is anchored by Gaudi’s Casa Morera, Casa Batllo, and Casa Mila. If you think Gaudi’s look is a bit over the top, you’d be right. Apparently he was rebelling against the modernist idea that simplicity = progress, which in turn was based on the racist notion that ornamentation = primitivism (e.g., “only primitive people use ornaments”), and thus to modernists simplicity was the hallmark of progress. Gaudi called BS on that, and made a point of going over the top with the ornamentation in his work, and we thoroughly enjoyed viewing it.
Hour 034. Sat 20:00. Daniel, Nestor’s cousin who lives in Zaragoza, joins the group with his family (his wife and two kids) and we are off to eat at La Xalada—at the corner of Avinguda del Parallei and Carrer Parliament. Pretty standard Tapas menu if a bit short in choices but the ambience is moderate upscale with midscale prices. So, it is perfect to impress your parents y familia.
Hour 038. Sat 24:00. Nestor’s sister and her husband arrive from Houston via Istanbul. Yeah, apparently the amazing service of Turkish Airlines and their unbeatable prices are worth the extra 10-hour detour. For those counting, our group just ballooned to 12 people. I’d say that makes it an official family reunion!
Hour 047. Sun 09:00. We walk to Parc de Montjuic. The first stop is the uber interesting Barcelona Pavillion designed by Pavello Miles van de Roche. This is the opposite of Gaudi. Apparently Miles van de Roche was one of the major figures of modernism who believed simplicity was a sign of progress. There is a fee to enter the micro pavilion but most of it can be seen from the outside, so if you are not into this type of architecture you many not think it is worth it. No need to buy tickets in advance.
Hour 049. Sun 11:00. We “climb”, via outdoor escalators, to the top of Montjuic to see the Olympic Park. It is really worth the escalator-assisted non-walk up the mountain. What happens to the escalators when it rains?
Hour 052. Sun 14:00. The group was split into multiple taxis on our way to a beach side restaurant at the Barcelonetta. Either Sunday taxis are a lot more expensive or we had an entrepreneur driver.
Hour 053. Sun 15:00. Amazing tapas lunch with the entire family at La Guingueta located where Carrer de Judici hits the beach. This looks like any run of the mill beach size tourist trap but in reality it is a restaurant by the renown chef Carles Abellan, a former student of Ferran Adria, who until recently owned Bulli en Girona, considered by many to be one of the best, if not the best, restaurant in the world. Adria is now at MIT and runs some sort of gastronomy research laboratory. The Barceloneta Beach is gorgeous but crowded. There are also a lot of topless people on the beach so be aware in case someone in your party is easily offended by nakedness.
Hour 055. Sun 17:00. Yolanda finds vegan ice cream at Gocce di Latte!
Hour 056. Sun 18:00. We walk through the charming Barcelonetta town with a mandatory stop for more drinks. Andres, Nestor’s cousin’s best friend from grade school, joins the group. Andres lives in Barcelona and had not seen Nestor in probably 20 years. Andres, Daniel, and Nestor used to get in trouble together in Caracas when they were kids. They are now grown up and managed to stay out of trouble, barely.
Hour 057. Sun 19:00. Daniel and Andres convince us that it is safe to walk back to the hotel via La Rambla. We have read so much about pickpockets and purse snatching in La Rambla that we were hesitant to go there, but we are glad we did. The place is beautiful, lively, and packed despite the setting sun. There was police presence everywhere and the entire area felt extremely safe.
Hour 058. Sun 20:00. We walk by hordes and hordes of people wearing the Barca uniform walking towards Plaza Catalunya shouting chants in Catalan and waiving the Barca flag. Little did we know that Barca (the Barcelona soccer team) had just beat Real Madrid for the national soccer championship. For our American friends, imagine the Superbowl on steroids.
Hour 060. Sun 22:00. I guess it is time to eat again. We are now officially on Spanish time, which means that dinner rarely happens before 10 PM.
Hour 070. Mon 08:00. Early wake up as we have reservations to enter La Sagrada Familia at 10:45 AM. After a bustling walk + metro ride, we arrive with a few minutes to spare. You have a 15 minute grace period to show up and if you are late, no entrance for you!
Hour 073. Mon 11:00. La Sagrada Familia. To be honest, we are not really church people, but this place is really something else! The pictures of the outside you see on postcards and magazines do not give justice to the beautiful craziness inside. I say Gaudi was on acid. It is really difficult to describe because it is so different than any other church we have visited. Is this a church? A spaceship? A kaleidoscope? I am sure that the Jesus on the back wall was the inspiration for Batman. We do not get impressed easily by “touristy” sites, but this deserves all the hype it gets and more. It should be on everyone’s bucket list. Get the tickets online ahead of time. We saved HOURS of waiting by doing so. And be there on time. They take their schedules seriously.
Hour 077. Mon 15:00. Parc Guell. Had we come here any other day we would have been much impressed, but after the beauty of La Sagrada, and then the crazy trek up the hills of the west side to get to the entrance, this place was a bit mundane. Worth it? Probably if you like Gaudi’s work, and especially if you are already on that side of town. However, save yourself the time and trouble and take a cab directly to the main entrance instead of taking the Metro to the Vallarca station. If you do decide to take the Metro, just note that the “walk” up on Baizada de la Gloria makes walking up San Francisco hills seem like a walk in the park. There are some outdoor escalators to help you, but you still have to walk up some very very steep inclines. So steep that it made one of our parents unexpectedly say about the hike up: “this is f— up”! Also get the tickets in advance online and skip the ticket purchase line.
Hour 083. Mon 21:00. Vegeterian Paella! No need to say more. Incredible “arrocera” (paella restaurant) Xativa L’ Arrosseria – in the Gracia Neighborhood. Excellent service and over one dozen different types of Paella.
Hour 86. Mon 24:00. A long walk from Gracia to the hotel via Paseo de Gracia. Walking at midnight on a Monday night and this city still feels extremely safe. We get to see Casa Batllo at night. It is a bitter sweet walk since it is be the last night out before we all take separate trips the next day.
Hour 094. Tues 08:00. Early wake up to finish packing and do laundry. Nestor’s sister warn us that the combined washer and dryer machine in the apartment would not dry as well as what we are used to in the US. She was lying. The machine did not dry AT ALL! So plan one day ahead if you think you will get a small load of laundry done before you head to your next destination.
Hour 098. Tues 12:00. Final lunch together back at Tapa Tapa, the place where we ate our first meal in Barcelona. More choriZIO (para nuestros padres), more cerveza, and more amazing food. After eating in so many places, we are sure this restaurant has some of the best Tapas in town and we briefly consider a Detroit franchise. Don’t miss it.
Hour 100. Tues 14:00. We say goodbye to some sad, crying parents and take a cab to the cruise ship port. Yolanda’s parents would fly back to Michigan the next day and Nestor’s would travel with his sister to Paris as well. We are sad to leave our families and Barcelona, but excited about seeing the Med and doing some reconnaissance work for when we come back on a sailboat, someday.
We had an amazing time with our parents and family in a city that was just flawless. Great food, great service, beautiful, clean, orderly, vibrant, smart, and practical. Barcelona is a city like no other. It is simply perfect.