I’m beginning to be a bit of a regular in Spain. Considering my first visit to Spain was less than 18 months ago, when I went to Madrid in September 2014, Barcelona is my third trip to España in less than 4 months!
I didn’t write any posts about the other two trips, but I went to Tenerife (Canary Islands) in October for a beach holiday, and then Sevilla for a week in November to learn Spanish.
This time, the occasion for Barcelona was Luke’s annual birthday trip, which in previous years has included the likes of Berlin, Stockholm and Prague.
Arriving at El Prat (yes that’s its actual name) Airport, task one was to strip off various layers demanded by British weather to embrace the 17oC welcome of Barcelona in January.
Our Airbnb flat was everything it promised to be, and an absolute bargain for the ridiculously central location it was 5 minutes from Plaça de Catalunya.
After a quick siesta (when in Spain...) we went for a little wander towards the Barrio Gotico. Going through Las Ramblas, it wasn't long before we were being offered all manner of drugs. I say we, but Andreas took the brunt of it while I was relatively left alone. It must be my innocent looks...
While everyone else goes to admire the architecture in Barrio Gotico, we amused ourselves with some more modern art pieces.
Dinner was a bit of a challenge. The first couple of places I was hoping to go to were shut for their annual low 'season', so we settled on a place we'd walked by - La Castanya.
We were hoping for some good tapas. While not quite disappointed, the tapas was decent rather than anything special. The craft ales were great though.
The morning we'd signed ourselves up for a free walking tour of Barcelona, but having gotten merry while catching up (seeing as we now live across Bristol, London, Stockholm and the Netherlands) until the wee hours of the morning, I'd put the wrong 'Plaça de l’Àngel' into Google maps and led us to the wrong location. Ooops!
Instead we wandered down to harbourside at Port Vell, and then onto La Barceloneta Beach.
For lunch we found this tiny little restaurant called el ben Plantat that had some simple sounding but perfectly executed daily menu (menu del día) that was very satisfying.
After lunch we decided to head up to Montjuïc to get an aerial view of Barcelona, given the lovely clear day that it was. This required taking a bus, which tested my Spanish a little as the driver of the first bus we got onto was being really helpful and advised us to buy a 'T10' ticket at the sundry shop by the bus stop rather than pay for individual fares, although took me a few goes before I fully understood why she was trying to tell us to leave the bus.
Instead of getting the bus all the way up to the Castle, we ended up walking from the bottom of Montjuïc.
It was about 6 pm when we to the Castell de Montjuïc, we didn't pay to go into the castle compound, but decided to ride the Telefèric de Montjuïc (I love cable cars!) down.
This gave us another splendid view of Barcelona just as the sun was setting.
Dinner was at Lolita Taperia where Freddie had been to on a previous trip. Really great tapas, and because there were 6 of us, we got to order a good variety to have a taste of everything. We also sat on this big table next to a group of Spanish-speaking Americans who lived in Barcelona who were raving about the food and at one point even gave us half a bottle of wine when they were leaving. Cheers guys!
Dinner done, we went onto Bar Marsella.
This place is an institution, where apparently the likes of Dali and Picasso have frequented. Established in 1820, it doesn't look like it's changed much at all.
The done thing at Bar Marsella is, of course, absinthe, so that's what we had.
With an absinthe-fuelled night that carried on with drinks in the flat till the early hours (what happens in Barcelona... *wink*) , the obvious thing to do the next day was to visit the must do thing in Barcelona.
The Sagrada Familia is undoubtedly breathtakingly magnificent and awesome (in the true sense of the word). In my travels I've seen many a cathedral and church, but nothing comes close to its beauty. I'd say not even St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City, which is obviously awesome in its own way.
If you like architecture, be sure to check out the little museum before you exit the grounds, which tells you the process (which is ongoing) of the Sagrada Familia's construction and is also where you can get a glimpse of Gaudi's mausoleum.
Top tip: Be sure to book online. Not only is it quicker, but a few €s cheaper as well. Not having taken this advice, we ended up standing in line for over an hour (exactly what you want on a hangover) even on a Friday afternoon in the lower season.
One of the places down the street from us (on Rambla de Catalunya) that seemed to be packed every evening when we walked past was this place called Ciutat Comtal.
So trying to get 7 of us into this place without a booking at 9:30 pm (following a grand siesta) on a Friday night was probably wishful thinking. When we got there, my heart sank when I saw there were loads of people waiting for a table at the bar area.
But by some jammy miraculous chance, they had a table for exactly 7 that was free and we were seated right away! Probably with the other diners giving us killer looks. Don't ask don't get eh...
Great tapas once again, with the standout dishes being the really fresh, sweet seafood - we tried the prawns (gambas) and cuttlefish (sepionas).
Friday night, party night.
Music in Spain is awesome. With their mix of pop, cheese and latino beats, I always have a blast dancing the night away and our night at the Tanga Party at Under Club was no exception. Oh, and the boys (in the crowd and on stage) weren't half bad looking either!
Quite obviously, our next (and final full day in Barcelona) began in the early afternoon with us heading back to La Barceloneta.
Being Saturday, the beach was much busier with lots of more locals enjoying the weekend sunshine.
Luke, both Mikes, Freddie and Andreas decided to take it further by having a dip in the sea.
Yours truly decided that my hangover was better served by staying dry and warm, but they enjoyed themselves. An old couple watching were quite amused and gave them the thumbs up. Maybe next time I'll join in (yeah, right).
On the way back to the flat, we stumbled across the Basilica Santa Maria del Mar. It was one of the things I had wanted to see but didn't quite fit into our schedule.
The Santa Maria del Mar is very different to the Sagrada Familia, and is in a pure Catalan Gothic style. To me it, it's got a timeless appeal and just exudes a serene atmosphere that inspires peaceful contemplation.
For dinner, after a siesta (of course), we decided we should try some traditional Catalan food. I found a place and then rang them up and (in Spanish) booked us a table. New achievement unlocked!
The place we went to was Chicoa. A little bit 'old school' in look and decor, but the food was very tasty and staff welcoming (and even joked with us).
As we had tons of drink left in the flat, we stayed in and played games and chatted the night away rather than go out. In hindsight, I'd have preferred to go bar hopping instead to discover more Barcelona nightlife, but c'est la vie.
Waking up that final morning in order to be out of the flat by 11 a.m. was definitely a struggle after another 6 a.m. finish.
We had a few hours to kill before our flight and another thing on my list was to visit a market (as I often like to do). We headed to the Mercat de Sant Antoni on the edge of the Raval.
Unfortunately we realised that: 1) the Market stalls are closed on Sunday; and 2) it was under renovation, and seems to have been under renovation for a while, although the stalls seem to have been rehoused nearby.
The silver lining though is that there is a vintage book fair every Sunday right next to the market.
Soon enough it was time to head off to the airport.
Me being me, one last meal wouldn't go amiss, and I made everyone wander round looking for this tapas place (can't quite remember the name) but pretty glad I did.
All in, it was a great trip to Barcelona that was all the better for having been able to spend time with good mates. Nonetheless, I didn't quite get to see everything I wanted to, so a return visit is due in future!
For now... Adéu... fins ara Barcelona!