People always ask, “if there was one city in Europe you could spend 4-5 days in, what would it be.” My answer is always and still is: BARCELONA. For anyone traveling to Europe for the first time, I think it is a must visit. For anyone trying to use it as a 2 day launching pad for a bigger trip, great. It’s easy to get to, everyone knows it and as I previously said its one of my favorites. There are many reasons why I like Barcelona and maybe its just my personal preference but its the only city I’ve been to that has my big 3 ; amazing food, plenty of sites to see/activities to do, and a natural attraction. There are tons of cities that have 2 of the 3 but Barcelona has it all with some of the best food in the world, at least 5 activities that are very worth it and then the beach and ocean as the natural attraction component. Think about it for a second, can you think of another city in the world with all 3? London – nothing natural ; Tokyo – nothing natural ; Amsterdam – not great food ; Cape Town – not great food ; Lima – not enough things to do. It’s super hard to find all three but when you do, you know you’ve got a great city.
We hopped on a fast train from Madrid and were in Barcelona in under 3 hours. We were staying a week and I was certainly very excited. I had been before, a few days, 5 years back but this time I really wanted to see the city. We had a centrally located AirBnB which wa a little 2 story loft wedged into the corner of a nicer apartment building. It wasn’t quite like the other units but it is just what we needed (except for the construction noises that seemed to be reverberate around the house 24/7).
Now in Barcelona, there are plenty of attractions that are worth checking out. You have Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, the Gaudi Houses, Montjuic with its cable car, Calle de blai, La Rambla, La Boqueria and of course the beach. Each area has a unique vibe and it’s worth really exploring as much as you can so you can get the true essence of the city. In between your daily point A and point B, you will find awesome craft breweries, coffee shops and cafes to enjoy a great meal or a quick vermouth.
Our train arrived at the central station and decided to walk from the train station to our apartment. The walk was probably a bit too far with our suitcases but we carried on as every dollar (or Euro) saved now could be used for something more fun than a cab. We set our stuff down, walked down the famous La Rambla which was packed being a Saturday and weaved our way through the Gothic Quarter. The little alleyways, seemingly so old and historic, until you see the thirty-fifth tourist shop in the ground floor of this beautiful old building. Such is life and I know, as a tourist, I’m contributing to it but there’s something weird about knowing that this used to be the spot all the locals wanted to live in until it became overrun with people like me wondering around looking at, but mostly not buying, the random chotchkies in the store shelves. Overall, it was a great day with nice weather and we saw some of the main sites you want to see but other than that it wasn’t super memorable. But maybe that’s just because the next day Sunday, might have been my favorite day on the whole trip, the ideal of all ideal Sundays if you will.
Let’s set the stage here a little bit. Back home Sundays are the day of rest and spent loafing around the house catching up on chores but on this trip they were THE day. We usually travelled to the next city/country on Saturdays so this meant we couldn’t go out too late in the previous city that Friday night because of the early travel but we also didn’t get a full Saturday in the new city. Because of this, we had to really maximize our Sunday’s because after that, we were right back to working Mon-Fri and going to the next city again. We mapped out our day and we were going to wake up and walk to Barceloneta which is the neighborhood adjacent to the main beach. It was a 45+ minute walk which are always the best. Halfway through we grabbed a coffee and a bite to eat and began to go block by block throughout the whole town. The anticipation of the destination is always fun so I love long walks in the morning as they give you a feel of the city before it really wakes up.
Upon reaching the beginning of the harbor, we stumbled across a little outdoor art market showing this and that. Beyond was the main harbor with Yachts galore. One stood out in particular as it felt like it stretched out a mile and we wondered who in the heck owned it. Luckily google was there and by just typing in the giant name on the side, I was told that the yacht was owned by the King of Bahrain, an island in the Persian Gulf. I haven’t been there yet, so another to add to the list. The harbor is lined with restaurants with outdoor seating and past this is another market this time with food, clothes, art, crafts and everything in between. It’s a pretty substantial market which I think runs every week and it’s definitely worth visiting. After weaving our way through the multiple vendors at the market, we finally made it to the beach to made begin phase 2 of our Sunday Funday.
Fast forward through this and that and we begin to walk from the beach through the little area of Barceloneta. It has narrow streets, row after row of buildings of all about the same height, 4-5 stories and clothelines going between to form a sort of web. It’s frequented by tourists a ton but its got its own independent vibe that I loved. There are tiny little bars and shops that are locals only and I fully support that. After walking around for a bit we stumbled upon a little tapas place overlooking the square.
From the outside there is nothing extraordinary about this lunch but I still remember almost every detail and it was one of my favorites on the trip. We were sat outside by a waiter who had either woken up a bit too late or wasn’t expecting the amount of tables he was responsible for. There was a chalkboard outside that was barely legible but was serving craft beers it looked like. There were pigeons to the side that were picking over the leftover food from patrons before us. At the edge of the patio, we could overlook the main promenade with a mixture of kids running around playing soccer to old men playing chess and everything in between. The place was very busy so I figured I had one shot ordering so after several minutes the waiter come over I had to do the full order in one swing. I ordered a beer that they were out of, first mistake, Hannah asked a question about a certain wine, second mistake. I felt I was going to miss this opportunity and he surely wouldn’t come back to our table for 20 minutes but I got it together and made it happen.
I ordered a different beer and a vermouth (more on that later), Hannah ordered a “big wine” to make sure it was enough to last and I ordered a series of tapas including meats and cheeses, olives, smoked mackerel, pan com tomato and grilled artichoke hearts. The food arrived promptly and it was delicious. The sun was shining we each had our (2) drinks and were able to nibble from a never-ending smorgasbord of small bites. The smoked mackerel topped with a pickle and dijon mustard to dip was fantastic, the pan con tomato just crusty enough to be enjoyable but could still soak up the juices from the juicy artichoke hearts. On top of that, meat and cheese never hurts. But the star of this show and the trip in general was my newfound love for Red Vermouth or simply Vermut as they called it.
I’ve never been fond of red wine but have always enjoyed Negronis which have red vermouth in them. I would never think of drinking it on its own but since red wine was everywhere in Spain, I figured I’d try it. It comes in a sort of miniature pint glass garnished with orange and olive and served over ice. While sweet, it has a bitter undertone and the olive brings briny-ness while the orange adds a hint of citrus. It is a perfect sip-able drink and pairs perfectly with a beer so you can slowly enjoy the vermouth while you drink the other a bit quicker. I don’t know what it was about the vermut and Hannah didn’t get the appeal but it was something I began to crave and get at almost every restaurant we went to. I figured I’d never drink it again so I lived it up (ironically I drank it again at a Vermouth bar at our last stop in Sweden) and Vermut became my alter-ego for the week. After the meal we walked around got some more tapas and drinks and waited around for our Sailing Tour.
We went out on a sailboat with another 3-4 other people. It was a great time. Sun was shining, drinks were provided on the boat, the other company was fun and we had a blast. It was pretty choppy so we didn’t go far but we had awesome views of the harbor and the city in general. The captain was from Ireland but had moved to Spain as a kid and like any other captain had plenty of stories to tell. We successfully ended our boat trip without getting sea sick, stopped at a brewery real quick (I have to be annoying to travel with because I insist on stopped at almost every brewery for “just 1”) and began our 45+min walk back to our neighborhood which was just as fun as the walk in as the buzz had set in. We had fish and steak for dinner because why not and we ended our night having a fantastic Sunday that we thoroughly enjoyed. After a great day and half in Barcelona we could relax during the week knowing we already checked off some amazing memories and had a full work week ahead of us.
The rest of the week was fantastic as well. We saw all the main sites I mentioned above, ate some really great food and had successful weeks at work. Another highlight was heading to Calle de Blai where there are famous for Pinxtos which are small bites served over toasted bread. This street is famous for these and almost every restaurant serves them. They have 25-30 varieties in an open window at the front each with its own corresponding numbers. To order, you simply grab a piece of paper and list the numbers you want along with the quantities. It is such a fun experience and a really great way to try tons of flavors in one little sitting. We ended up going back again on our last day because we loved it so much. At the end of the week, our time in Spain had come to an end and we were heading to France next for a few weeks. Spain was the perfect launching pad for our gran adventure and we thoroughly our enjoyed our time there and hope to be back there again soon!