I didn’t expect to like Barcelona as much as I did. Did I set the bar low? Setting the bar low does great things sometimes. I anticipated being slightly annoyed with it like I have with other major European destinations like Rome and Paris, but I loved Barcelona. Loved. It. It’s charming in a way I can’t out my finger on. It sucks you in without even trying, and next thing you know, you’re enjoying the hell out of yourself.
We picked out a sweet little apartment with a rooftop terrace. ROOFTOP TERRACE. I need one of these in my life. It’s a great little place to unwind—prop up your sore feet with a glass or three of vermouth and some snacks. I’d show you the link because it was a tiny little thing with a terrace that was almost bigger than it, but apparently the listing has been taken down. It exists, I swear. It was quiet and comfortable in that part of town, and yet you can get just about anywhere easily. Neighbors liked to hang out outside of the building in the concrete parks along the street. So many dogs!
I missed Roma I was in heaven.
Despite the notoriety Barcelona gets for pickpockets [we saw one happen!], I felt safe. As with anywhere, be aware of your surroundings and don’t make things easy, and you’ll be fine. The super touristy areas of Las Ramblas and down through the El Raval neighborhood are kind of exhausting. I’m just never a huge fan of that. Dodging people who are either slow, impatient, or generally rude isn’t my idea of a vacation. That’s been my only annoyance. Nothing is perfect. Wading through the sea of people to go to La Boqueria was worth it, at least once. It’s a huge market.
The most miles were logged walking all over this city. One of the days, we walked up Montjuic. It’s an area overlooking the city that’s home to gardens, a castle, a cemetery, and was home to the 1992 Olympics. The stadiums and facilities are open to wander around in. I’m probably being really insensitive to the awesome that is the Olympics, but the empty, older facilities just seemed creepy. They had an eerie quiet on a windy afternoon, and while there were tourists, it was just uncomfortably quiet. It could have easily doubled as the setting of a horror film. I can only imagine the cities that host the World Cup are like after they spend all this money on huge facilities only for them to sit empty. The gardens and castle were beautiful. While we didn’t check out the castle, we did go to this hilltop outdoor cafe and enjoy an overpriced can of beer. You could take a aerial tram down the hill, but you miss out on the cemetery if you do that. Its a unique experience seeing their cemeteries. They’re vertical and by family, and they still exhibit that same type of quiet reflection and honor that cemeteries in the states do. I enjoyed it about as much as someone can enjoy a cemetery before it starts getting weird. My grandma would be so proud.
Did you know they converted a bullring into a mall? Now I can say I’ve been to two. The view from the top is worth seeing. It’s not nearly has high as some of the other places in town, but still a nice perspective to see Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya Barcelona.
Food was nothing short of incredible. Mas Q Menos for a quiche lorraine. Simple and delicious. Verin for a Spanish tortilla sandwich, which was made by a sweet old lady in a little bar while we watched the Barcelona match. There were old ladies supporting the team for longer than I’ve been alive. It was so fun to see. The server was absolutely baffled as to why we were in their bar since we weren’t from the hotel across the street. They clearly don’t get many tourists. My most favorite spot in the city was Morro Fi for a marinated seafood plate and some heavenly vermouth. They make their own vermouth and cava, and have this teeny tiny little shop that spills out into a couple sidewalk tables. Seriously good bottles of vermouth for 6 euros. We went to Brunch & Cake for an incredible eggs benedict over a waffle. It’s a cute little cafe with kitschy furniture and an open homey kitchen. I sat on a sofa and ate at a little side table. Restaurante Wow was our obligatory burger of this part of the trip. It came with swimsuit runway show on the TVs and an impromptu dance party behind the bar as they were closing. Those were the standouts but you know there was more. There is always more.
We checked another stadium off with a stop at Camp Nou. This is FC Barcelona’s stadium. It’s gigantic, holding 99k people. The tour was self guided again and included a museum and more cheesy photo-ops. I still can’t believe people like these—posing on a green screen screen with player or trophies superimposed on it. It was interesting to see the difference between this stadium and Real Madrid. They’re huge rivals, and they couldn’t be more opposite in how they present themselves. Barca is more humble, “yeah, we have some accomplishments, but you can judge for yourself,” and Madrid is very in your face with it. Madrid has won the most trophies and been dubbed the best team in the world, and they’ll tell you all about it. At least four times. Despite having so many seats, I don’t think there is a bad one in Camp Nou. We tried to go to their final game of the season when we first got into town, but the tickets didn’t shake out. 600 Euros a seat? No thank you. Watching it at a local bar was just as fun I’m sure.
The weather turned a bit more Portland [read: grey and rainy] towards the end of the trip, which nixed a chance to head out to Montserrat, a mountain just outside of Barcelona. We spent time viewing Gaudi works instead. I’ll confess to not knowing much about him prior to the trip, but the photos of his work didn’t do any justice. I really wasn’t expecting much since it’s just so different, but his work was so great to see in person. Park Guell was really unique. Part of it is free, which is great for when you poorly time the ticketing and don’t actually have time to check it out. You can see his work all throughout the park. It had a little bit of a similar feel to Sintra when we were in Portugal. The Sagrada Familia was by far the most interesting cathedral I’ve ever toured. It’s hard to believe it was started over a century ago and it’s still not finished. I repeat: the work being done isn’t restoration work; it’s still built. I don’t think I’ve been so awe struck by a building before. Everything was planned for a special reason, and the design is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The war destroyed at lot of Gaudi’s models, so a lot of the time has been spent reconstructing those models so they could build as he would have wanted. The audio tour was necessary since I didn’t know what I was looking at or why it was special, but I was in eyes wide open and jaw-dropped the entire time. I would love to come back and visit when it’s completed in the next 20 years. It’s going to be magnificent.
The final meal of the trip was at an Italian restaurant with a couple of wood-fired pizzas, a bottle of sangiovese, and two cannoli. Despite three weeks in other parts of Europe, I still love Italy. The boys who run the shop are from Napoli and know how to make a pizza. The trip home was mildly eventful. We apparently packed too little and it raised the eyebrows of Spanish immigration. Apparently being American and packing light isn’t normal; neither is doing your laundry on vacation.
In short, this trip was really special. I’m torn, as I always am, between the idea of going back to see what we missed, like the northern parts of both countries, and heading off in some new destination. We’ve already started debating where to go next. Let’s be honest; it started while we were in Spain. Never enough traveling. Never.
[Recap: Lisbon, Porto, Seville, Madrid]