Barcelona is my second real European experience. People in Barcelona really know how to party. They will have a party for any reason. They even have a national holiday off of work for the day that France defeated them. While we were visiting, there were so many fiestas going on we had to look by area for the times and schedules.
Barcelona is full of placas. A placa is an open square area where people congregate to eat, socialize and/or relax. Most of them have tables set up for dining by the restaurants across the street. Even though it’s all cement, the areas get crowded with people (some even sitting on the ground) enjoying wine, food and friendship.
Barcelona is home to famous architect Antoni Gaudi. I honestly never heard of the guy until I started talking to other people about Barcelona. His buildings have a whimsical fairy tale look which stand out. This was considered modernized art in the early 1900’s. Even on today’s standards I believe he was way ahead of his time.
Yes, tapas maybe cheap everywhere in Barcelona but once you order anything that comes from the sea the prices double. Even though the sea is steps away, shellfish is the highest items on the tapas menu. Most of the tapas on display don’t have prices listed but usually they were the least expensive. I ordered a tapas portion of clams (roughly 10 small clams steamed in butter) and when we got the check they charged twelve euros for the clams and the rest of the tapas were less than two euros.
Patatas bravas (fried potatoes) is the most popular among the locals. This dish is served most commonly with spicy tomato sauce or an aioli. My favorite way was served topped with a fried over easy egg and foie gras.
Pulpo a la Gallega (Galician style octopus) is a traditional Spanish Galician dish served at most tapas restaurants. The octopus is boiled and topped with paprika, olive oil and salt.
Jamón ibérico and Jamón Serrano are Spanish dry-cured hams. The meat is cut from the hind legs. Ibérico comes only from pigs that are at least 75% black Iberian pig, (also known as the black-foot pig) which is found in southern and southwestern Spain and southern Portugal.
Serrano comes from white pigs and is less expensive than the Ibérico ham because of the breed of pig and the added expense of feeding the black foot pigs mostly acorns, which gives the meat a distinctive color (dark red) and rich flavor.
It was really exciting to know that I was here at the same time the third richest billionaire in Mexico was visiting Barcelona. During our bike ride in the park we came up on his beautiful yacht named Mayan Queen. Everyone was stopping and staring at his yacht. Some were taking pictures (like me). It was spectacular. The owner’s name is Alberto Bailleres, he is a Mexican billionaire businessman worth $9.6 billion and his yacht cost an estimated $140,000,000.00. We wondered to ourselves where in Barcelona he could be eating or visiting that could impress him.
It’s hard to keep track of business hours in Barcelona. We arrived on Monday and were told that most businesses are closed because that’s their day of rest. Then it was Tuesday and some businesses were still closed but some were open and this went on throughout the week. That’s when we learned about the siesta hours. Businesses open in the morning shut down in mid afternoon and then re-open later in the evening until about midnight. The time in between is known as siesta. With that being said, it still does not explain the unusual business hours kept.
There were days we went to breakfast restaurants that were closed during breakfast hours. The biggest confusion was on a rainy Friday night, everything was closed and people were nowhere in sight in the places that were packed the night before.
Wine, vermouth and sangria is sold throughout Barcelona. You can get a glass of wine cheaper than you can a Coca-Cola and some places. I quit drinking alcohol many years ago but if I was still drinking this would be a dream come true. Most of the tapas bars are just that — bars. For those who can control and enjoy their drinking, tapas is usually served on small plates while drinking alcohol. Prices range from one euro to €15 depending on what dishes you order. Prices can get really high when seafood is involved. During my visits to tapas bars I witnessed locals standing up drinking in groups with one or two plates of food in front of them and it looked really relaxing. A lot of the tapas bars have a tiny sitting area or tall tables across from the bar to eat at.
El Bicing (pronounced “bee-sing,”) is a bicycle service for locals only. Locals buy a membership card for roughly €47 a year which allows them to rent bikes anywhere in the city to get around. There are many stations throughout Barcelona where the bike can be borrowed from or returned. Bikes are rented thirty minutes at a time. After thirty minutes the bike must be replaced at a station for at least ten minutes before renting it again or if the person doesn’t return the bike within two hours, they will be charged €6 and given a warning notice.
Transportation was easy around Barcelona. There is a train, metro and bus route that will got us anywhere we need to go throughout the entire city and surrounding areas. We chose public transportation throughout our entire week here and it was wonderful. The only walking we really did was to and from the metro and in the surrounding areas (which is great for me because I’m lazy when it comes to walking all day). Another great way we got around was renting bikes. That gave us accessibility to get from the beach, Gothic area, parks and restaurants in less time then it would walking and taking the metro or bus.
We signed up for the E-bike tour with Green Bikes. E-bikes (electric bike) propel the bike every time it’s peddled forward. This was great for going up hills and the tour was all uphill during the first half of the three at hours. We all rode our breaks down second half.
Our tour guide explained the history of Barcelona and took us to Montjuïc Hill where the 1992 Summer Olympics took place. Barcelona built most of that area just for the olympics. The cauldron for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic flame sits empty but historic. Most interesting was the story of Christopher Columbus.
The rumor is that Queen Isabella had an affair with Christopher Columbus and her husband funded his travels to send him away from her. After a bit of research on the internet there’s mixed reviews on that story of whether it’s true or not. But it sounded good during the tour. But they did mention on most of the research I’ve done that the Queen’s husband was not the best looking guy on the planet and didn’t treat her well at all.
One thing you have to look out for when traveling abroad. Is anyone approaching you speaking English. Coming from America I’m pretty street smart but I let my guard down a little when I’m out of the country. So you can understand that when somebody comes up to you speaking English first thing to do is turn around and listen. But sadly it’s usually followed up by a scam or asking me to buy something. This only happened to me once here but it reminded me quickly not to ever put my guard down.
Whenever we spoke to people that had been to Barcelona they all suggested Las Ramblas street as the place to see. Some people swore by it (including a travel agent at AAA). We couldn’t wait to get there. Las Ramblas is Barcelona’s most famous walking street. Along with being saturated with tourist, it is a mile long tree lined street full of trinket stands, souvenirs, and over priced outdoor patio restaurants. The street connects Plaça de Catalunya in the center with the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell. Throw in a few loose people selling selfie sticks and there you have it. Walking down the street I couldn’t understand why anyone would go near there. Once we saw it we never returned.
We stayed in a modern apartment in the Gracia area of Barcelona. This area was more residential and less touristy but filled with local restaurants and shops. Some of the more impressive areas of Barcelona were minutes away from our place.
Barrio Gotico – has many small streets that open out into squares (placas). El Born is a very trendy area with unique stores, boutiques and hipster restaurants & cafes. We loved both areas.
Park Guell – Gaudi’s modernist park on Carmel hill overlooks Barcelona.
Parc Ciutadella was full of locals enjoying the park and children playing. We spent time here relaxing and watching drunk hippies walk a tight rope they tied between trees and blow large bubbles with two sticks and a string.
During our visit to Barcelona the La Mercé Festival was going on and part of it took place in the park. Gourmet food trucks and a stage was set up for entertainment later in the evening. We ate at the food trucks and left when it started raining. That night it poured down rain and we wondered what became of all the planned activities that evening throughout Barcelona. I was really excited about seeing the human towers during the La Mercé Festival until I saw photos of the crowds online from last year’s festival.
La Sagrada Família is a large Roman Catholic church designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. When Antoni died the church was less than a quarter done. Since then the church has been under never-ending construction. It’s the most popular landmark for tourist in Barcelona. Tickets are sold in advance, we waited too long (4 days before going) and tickets were sold out so we couldn’t see the inside.
Sitges – an upscale beach town thirty minutes by train from Barcelona. Truthfully Doug and I got into an arguement here and ended up having a really miserable time so I don’t remember much about the beach except the topless lady next to us and the soft sand.
Barceloneta Beach- We spent a couple of days here relaxing on a soft sand beach with the locals. There were three different beaches separated by stone but next to each other. The beach walk was covered with fake Nike shoes, designer purses sold by immigrants from other countries. On the beach were men selling mojitos. They were carrying trays of plastic cups full of mint and sparkling water (or something bubbly) and had a bottle of some unknown liquor in the other hand. Not one person bought one the entire time I was on the beach. The problem with the whole thing is none of these people had a restaurant or place they were seen making these, they would just appear literally out of nowhere with trays of drinks.
My favorite beach was Bogatell Beach which is about 15 minutes walking from Barceloneta Beach. We rented bikes and rode there from the El Born area.
Since we’ve started this journey, I have realized how dangerous America really is. Since we have been gone so much violence has happened. Two citizens shot by police officers unjustly, a bombing in New York City with a terrorist suspect arrested and a mass shooting in a mall killing 5 people. The crazy thing is, we have only been gone for 3 weeks! I have never felt safer in the places we have visited. The people seem to have a more relaxed attitude and I haven’t seen or heard any public violence or raised voices. It makes me wonder why America puts so much fear into the public about foreign countries that just isn’t true. I understand there is violence all over the world and bad people everywhere. I’m just saying there is also good, peace and harmony in a lot of places too.