Across the Pond

A year in the other Cambridge

Barcelona

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This was my second time and second week in Barcelona; in 2011, Anne, Christine, Jason, and I spent a week there on our grand Eurotrip. Any fears that I may have gotten tired of the city were completely unfounded. I got to enjoy the amazing weather, revisit some of my favorite buildings, find some new ones, see the city from even more vantage points than last time, have some darn good food and coffee, and make a complete fool of myself trying to break out my rusty espanol.

I traveled with two of my classmates who are not camera fiends like me, which is good news because this post will (hopefully) load a bit more quickly than my other ones. I think it also helped that I had seen the city before, so I was a bit more calm about my phototaking instead of frantically trying to shoot everything. (Do I do that normally? Possibly.)

We took an early morning flight and arrived in Barcelona around noon. We rode the Aerobus, a bus service that runs from the airport to Placa de Catalunya, to the apartment we were staying at in L’Eixample, which is Catalan for “The Extension.” From what we learned from a tour guide, it was the planned enlargement of Barcelona in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, so all the blocks are nice and square and the streets are wide and generally well paved. I never really went into this area last time, but I would stay here again. We were about a 15 minute walk from Placa de Catalunya, and it felt safe and residential and was convenient to a couple supermarkets and cafes and stuff.

Since none of us had slept all that much the night before, we took it easy the first day. We had paella and a pizza for lunch at a restaurant down the street from our apartment, and then headed down to Placa de Catalunya and Las Ramblas. I don’t know if it’s just me, but Las Ramblas and La Boqueria seemed a little less bustling than they were last time. Maybe it’s not full-on tourist season yet, or we went at the wrong time of day. The fruit we got was disappointing too, which was a let-down since I was so excited to get amazing fruit again. I think we forewent dinner (I’m starting to regret not keeping a journal like I did last time…) and instead got some really nice cappuccinos, mini croissants, and melindros at Mistral, a cafe just off of Placa de la Universitat.

The next day, I woke up an hour and a half after my friends did–off to a really good start. This was our Gaudi day, so after another cappuccino, we were off to Passeig de Gracia to see Casa Batllo, which is possibly my favorite Gaudi work. I had forgotten how cheesy the narration for the guided tour is.

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still love this rooftop view, especially the egg -shaped rooftop ornaments!

still love this rooftop view, especially the egg -shaped rooftop ornaments!

first and only group pic on this trip!

first and only group pic on this trip!

We walked over to Casa Mila / La Pedrera but decided not to do the tour. Instead we went to a cafe called Moon, which had mediocre cappuccinos but a decent burger. Then it was off to Parc Guell!

Being that Parc Guell was built to be outside of the city, it is quite a trek to get there. I believe this was the (first) time my friend Steph wondered why she was doing more hiking than she did on her family hiking trip the weekend before. (BTW, may I just take a moment to say that I did not fully appreciate at the time how well you guys navigated, Jason, Christine, and Anne. I just followed you blindly like a lost sheep. THANK YOU!!)

totally worth it for the view

totally worth it for the view

It was probably like this last time too, but possibly we spent this time more often indoors? Anyways, every evening before the sun set, we just had the most spectacular lighting. This photo doesn’t do it justice.

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In the Parc Guell gift shop, we found a poster of Gaudi’s works and discovered that Casa Vicens a) looks like a lego house, and b) was kind of on our way to dinner! (Speaking of lego houses, cool song) So we did a detour…

Casa Vicens, AKA the lego house

Casa Vicens, AKA the lego house

before going to Origens for dinner! We had really good tapas here last time, so I brought my friends here again. (This is a theme; I totally piggybacked off of all of Anne’s hard work and amazing planning.)

I might be getting my days mixed up, but I think we then took the subway to Barceloneta, where I proceeded to get us all turned around and lost, almost going down Passeig de Colom toward La Rambla instead of heading toward the sea. We finally got to the beach but then had a devil of a time finding somewhere to get a drink. We wandered all the way down to the casino area, where we found a nice creperie that served sangria. We also found out that the subway stops running at 12:30 on weekdays. So we took a cab back to the apartment instead. (Had a funny conversation with our waitress when I asked her where we could call a cab. She responded “Where do you want to go?” and I hesitantly replied “Um… Our apartment?” before she laughed and said “No no, you can go anywhere and find a cab.”)

Friday was our first day trip, but we had picked an afternoon tour so had the day to wander first. We made sure to check out Satan’s Coffee Corner, which several people said had the best coffee in Barcelona. It’s a tiny window inside of a hipster stationery/trinket store and the coffee most certainly did not disappoint. We also happened across a contemporary art institute but just admired the building because we were off to Montserrat!

After a short explanatory tour, we had some free time to explore.

still really like these lamps

still really like these lamps

We spent a little time in the basilica, but there wasn’t enough time to take the funicular to the top of the mountain, so we decided to do one of the walks up to a small chapel instead. But then we took a wrong turn changed our minds and went out to the cross of St. Michael instead. It was quite a hike (so much for a lazy vacation), but the view was incredible. We could see Barcelona from about 70km to the northwest, and this–of the Montserrat monastery and the valley below. You can actually see the Pyrenees in the far distance if you squint and use your imagination. (Just kidding–although I don’t think it’s very clear in the photo; they’re just below the line of clouds)

amazing view from St. Michael's Cross

amazing view from St. Michael’s Cross

After we got back to Barcelona, we wandered into the University of Barcelona, which is a really neat Romanesque building.

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We had dinner at Les Quinze Nits in the Placa Reial, which was another repeat from last time. I can’t say enough good things about this place. The paella and sangria last time were so good, and I have been obsessed with the spinach cannelloni that Jason ordered for almost 2 years now. (We had it again. Did not disappoint.) Also tried the fideua and the patatas bravas, which were possibly the best that we had on the trip. Also really reasonably priced, especially considering it’s in a huge tourist location.

Then we headed back to the apartment for a night in, with some cheese and ham picked up from a charcuteria and a really tasty rioja that we picked up at a corner store for €4.50. We watched this music video channel we had found, that did an odd mix of pop, oldies, and random Spanish ballads.

All of Saturday we spent on Montjuic, which is probably most famous these days for its magic fountain, but was also the site of the 1992 Olympics and a World Fair. As you might expect, there are remnants from all the events that have occurred there, so we managed to see quite a few things on that mountain. We took the funicular up, which is connected to the subway so it all counted as one subway journey. Good deal and really convenient!

We decided to begin at the top of the mountain at Montjuic Castle. It’s an old castle which is now open to the public and free. Basically just looked like an old defensive fort, but the weather was beautiful and we got pretty good views of Barcelona and the Mediterranean.

Montjuic Castle moat and Barcelona from the southwest-ish

Montjuic Castle moat and Barcelona from the southwest-ish

Next we went to the Joan Miro museum. I’m not the hugest fan of Miro’s work, but I really liked how the museum was classified by times in his life so that walking through the galleries you could see how his art progressed and what events he was thinking about. This was one of the coolest pieces, and since we weren’t allowed to take photographs in the museum, I took this from the roof.

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Afterwards we walked through the Olympic stadium park (I don’t really know what the correct term for this is), which was pretty but for some reason not as impressive as I thought it would be. *shrug*

Our next stop was El Poble Espanyol, which was built for the World Fair (I think) to show off Spanish culture. It’s a town that is cobbled together from parts of towns all over Spain, so that it represents Spanish village life. Some of the reviews online had made it seem like a huge tourist trap, but it was really quiet when we went, and it was nice to walk around the little streets and alleyways and explore the shops.

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Belltower in El Poble Espanyol

We stayed in El Poble Espanyol until it was time to head to the magic fountain for the show. Because it’s still on winter hours, the show started at 7pm, which was while the sun was still out. I was a little disappointed by the lack of color, but it was still really amazing without it. We stayed for all of the shows, and as the sun was setting, we were able to see some really cool colors in both the sky and the water!

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Before leaving Placa Espanyol, we checked out the mall that’s in the old bullfighting ring (I can’t remember the name of it…). We took the elevator to the top, which was pretty neat if a bit nerve-wracking. Then we got tapas somewhere close to our apartment before calling it a night 🙂

On Sunday we explored the Gothic Quarter, which is the old old part of the city. Last time I really wanted to come here just to see the bridge over Carrer del Bisbe, but this time I had done a bit more research (i.e. read all the things Anne, Christine, and Jason had looked up for our last trip…). On our way to the Palau de la Musica Catalana, we saw some castellers doing a performance!

Can you believe how little those kids on top are??

Can you believe how little those kids on top are??

We derailed our plans for a bit to watch them. So crazy!

Anyways, afterwards we continued on to the Palau de la Musica Catalana, which is a really intricate building. It’s a modernist building but not by Gaudi. The architect is Lluis Domenech i Montaner, who was apparently much more popular at the time and was also a politician in favor of Catalan independence. The music hall was designed to be a monument of Catalan music and was an incredibly intricate building.

sun stained glass on the ceiling

sun stained glass on the ceiling

view from the balcony

view from the balcony

The acoustics in here were amazing. Our tour guide played a short recording on the organ… I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anything that clearly in a music hall before. Also, tons of natural light that just complements the architecture really well.

the outside of the building featuring St. George, the patron saint of Catalunya

the outside of the building featuring St. George, the patron saint of Catalunya

Aaaand, that’s apparently the last photo I took that day, so the rest of this I’ll have to do by memory… we tried a couple places for churros y chocolate, but they were kind of disappointing. The churros were pretty good at the first place, but the chocolate wasn’t, and then the second place was just okay. I should have figured out where we went last time… We also just wandered around a bit getting lost in the alleyways of the Gothic Quarter. Saw the Barcelona Cathedral and went through the Museum of the History of the City, which is free on Sunday afternoons! I think we then meandered our way down to the Barceloneta beach, and I led us down the wrong way through a sketchier part of the neighborhood… but we got out okay! The sun was starting to set, so we grabbed a drink at one of their beach bars, which I think are called chiringuitos? When it started to get cold, we went to a restaurant for some tapas, fideua, and a tropical sangria that was more like a fruit smoothie than anything else. Afterwards I think we just headed back to the apartment and opened up the other bottle of really cheap but rather good rioja.

The next day was Sagrada Familia day. The line was long when we got there but luckily moved pretty quickly, so we didn’t actually have to wait a long time. It was pretty neat to see it again; there were some differences in the past 2 years. They opened up the area behind the main altar, and either the basement exhibit is new or I just completely missed it last time. Also, I liked the Passion entrance a lot more this time.

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I also told my friends to go up the tower, while I stayed safely on the ground. They came back and told me that they understood why I didn’t want to go up again… I guess I blocked out how terrifying it is, since all I remembered was that I didn’t want to go back up again. Sorry guys!

The original plan was to go up to Tibidabo afterwards and get dinner up there, but I didn’t plan this very well and apparently all public transportation up to Tibidabo doesn’t run on weekdays during winter hours, which it still was. So instead we found something to eat near Sagrada Familia. We ended up going to a tapas place that made really good croquettes in different flavors. Afterwards we walked to another subway station, which was actually a really nice walk through I guess a more residential part of Barcelona. We found a horchata shop so stopped to get a cup to share. They apparently make it out of tiger nuts in Spain. What tiger nuts are I have no idea… but I think I prefer the rice version from Mexico.

Trying to remember what we did… I think possibly we just the subway back to Placa Catalunya. Brought my friends to the fountain that you’re supposed to drink from so that you return to Barcelona one day, and then we wandered a bit around El Raval. We found Cafe Granja Viader (I think granja means milk bar?) that had some pretty good reviews, where they pretty much specialize in all things dairy. The specialty seemed to be this cheese (or something?) called mató, which kind of had the consistency of soft tofu but had a bit of a skin to it. My friend and I shared one with honey and walnuts and then a flan with mató, and my other friend got a lemon cake. It was pretty good but just a bit too much dairy… I think we would have been okay with about half that amount, which is too bad because I think that kind of soured (har har) my view on it.

Anyways, after that we were all too full for dinner, so we just went back to the apartment and vegged out, planning an early night because we were going on a day trip the next day. And then we found out about the Boston bombing and I ended up staying up reading way too many uninformative articles and being relieved every time someone told me they were okay. But in the interest of keeping this happy and hopefully finishing before I reach the 3000 word mark, the next day we were off on a cava and Sitges day tour!

(Okay, a quick whine: in addition to not sleeping much, this was also my WORST coffee day on this trip. I don’t think I had a single cup of good coffee, and I had a lot of them 😦 )

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First to the cava winery, which was actually different from the one we went to last time, but sounds like it’s a pretty big one as well. The tour was pretty similar to the last time, and we enjoyed some cava at around 11am, haha. We also bought a bottle to have in the evening!

Then we were off to Sitges, a beach town close to Barcelona. I kept thinking it was part of the Costa Brava, but it looks like that is untrue. It was a pretty cute, quiet town, and apparently is where Bacardi (of the rum company) was originally from. Apparently it’s a pretty crazy party town, but we didn’t really see it since we were there in the middle of the day. Had some pretty good Catalan chicken though… can’t remember what it’s called.

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We got back to Barcelona around 3pm, and we headed straight to Satan’s Coffee Corner for a coffee and to pick up some beans to ship home to my dad. I hadn’t really planned anything to do for the rest of the afternoon, but my friend suggested exploring the area further out north/northwest-ish of where we were staying, so we went walking! It was really neat to see a more residential side of Barcelona instead of the spots that are full of tourists, but for some reason or other we ran into so many smokers (or maybe I was just particularly sensitive to it that day). We did see some pretty neat streets, a square with a lot of kids playing, and a quiet market with lots of fresh produce that wasn’t as kitschy as La Boqueria.

For our last dinner (!) in Barcelona, we went to Moritz Brewery. So if I remember correctly… it was the first brewery in Barcelona, opened by some guys from Germany, at this location, which was pretty close to the Universitat. It was shut down at some point, but then fairly recently, the name was bought by a larger company which then began brewing beer again and also renovated the brewery location into an complex with restaurants and probably a factory tour. The food was a funny/surprising mix of Spanish and German, but it was all really good. We tried some of their beers too–also good. We left in a bit of a rush because we were trying to make it back before the supermarket closed, so that we could pick up some supplies for our exciting night in with cava (turns out semisec is really quite sweet) and youtube videos!

Since our flight the next day wasn’t until 10pm, we still had lots of time to chill. We went to Placa Catalunya again and hunted for postcards, then I dragged my friends back to Passeig de Gracia so I could try to take a photo of the Row of Discord like the one I had seen on a postcard:

eh.... close but not quite

eh…. close but not quite

Afterwards, we went back to Quinze Nits for one last sangria, spinach cannelloni, and patatas bravas. Then we strolled back to our apartment and got ready to go to the airport! Turns out leaving postcards until the last minute is a bad idea. There are no postboxes inside the terminal! Luckily we found a really nice lady working at the cafe and I asked her to post them for us in the most horrifically broken Spanish ever. (But I got a postcard today, so she did manage to mail them correctly!) The flight back was possibly the worst flight I had ever been on and has thoroughly convinced me that I never want to take Ryanair again. But I’m so glad I got to spend another week in Barcelona and was sad to leave. And to end on a happy note, one last photo!

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