We Should Really Hang Out More, Barcelona
May 1 – May 8
The first dart we threw at the map landed on Barcelona.
That’s not exactly how we chose it, but it’s not far off. We knew we wanted to ease into the trip (i.e. not start right off the bat with an African safari) so a modern European city fit the bill. After a quick “What if we started in Barcelona?… Sure, let’s do it.” conversation, we booked our flights and that was that.
Many friends of ours have raved about Barcelona, so we knew we both wanted to see the city for ourselves to see if it lived up to the hype. What we didn’t know was that we’d both fall in love with the city to the point that we could easily see ourselves living there someday.
I think it was Joni Mitchell who once said, “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til your cell phone’s gone…” or something like that (so ahead of her time, that Joni). We definitely took the quick access to internet and instant communication for granted at home. After hopping on a bus into the center of the city and walking to the apartment we were renting a room from to meet our host, Luciano, at our pre-scheduled time, we found ourselves standing with our backpacks outside the front door just hoping that he would show up on time as he had told us a day earlier via email. No cell service. No internet. No email. Just me, Noelle, our bags, our thoughts, and the stares of passers by.
But sure enough, Luciano showed up and let us in just as he said he would. On our elevator ride up to the room, he turned to us and asked, “How’s your Spanish?” to which I replied, “Mas o menos,” proud of myself for remembering something so quickly off the cuff from high school Spanish. Except I had just told him “More or less,” which made about zero sense as an answer to his question. Off to a good start.
The room looked exactly like it did in pictures. We couldn’t have asked for a better living situation to kick off the first stop of our itinerary (NOTE: thinking of traveling and need affordable, but nice accommodations? Go to airbnb.com. Do it. You won’t regret it). Small private balcony with a table and two chairs… check. Massive local market right behind the building with every type of meat, cheese, bread, seafood, fruit and vegetable you can imagine… check. Walking distance to just about every area of the city… check.
As more of my Spanish came back to me and allowed us to communicate well enough to get by without looking like a complete idiot (we’d save that for other countries later on), we set out and explored as much of the city as we could in the six days we spent there. We walked everywhere. In our entire time there the only time we took any form of transportation other than our own feet was one brief subway ride when we were stuck in the rain across the city at the end of the night. Outside of that, we explored as much as we could in our short time there. We hit the must-see tourist stops like Sagrada Familia and Las Ramblas, and also spent plenty of time weaving our way around every neighborhood within walking distance. Sagrada Familia, along with anything else designed and built by ___ Gaudi around the city, can’t be done justice by pictures and was well worth the price of admission and extra few euros for the audio tour.
But for me, the biggest non-food highlight (more on the food below) of the local attractions we checked out was seeing an FC Barcelona match at Camp Nou. I’ve been a huge sports fan my entire life, and seeing a Barca game was right near the top of my sports bucket list. From having a beer on the lawn outside the stadium as the fans flooded through the ticket gates before the game, to seeing Lionel Messi in his prime (and scoring 2 goals, no less. I got his first one on film from the 500 level: Messi goal), the experience exceeded my greatest expectations. It’s something I’ll likely tell (read: embellish) my grandkids someday, and by that time Messi will have likely scored eight goals and beautifully assisted on 19 others. But I digress…
Barcelona makes it easy to never find yourself underfed or even the slightest bit parched. Aside from one dinner of underwhelming and overpriced paella, we ate at some great places, the top two being La Champaneria and Quimet y Quimet (both coming on recommendations from friends and family). The former is found by stumbling down an unassuming back alley, but as soon as you walk in the noise level jumps a few levels, and you’re forced to squeeze through the packed crowd to get up to the counter to order your required two items, most of which included bread, cheese and some sort of delicious meat. And each food order is accompanied by a required (not kidding) bottle of cava, a delicious bubbly wine, native to Spain, for just two more Euros. Oh, and each time you shout your next order at the chef behind the counter while stumbling through the Spanish translation for sausage order more food, they give you more cava, no exceptions. It did not suck. The next day we found ourselves standing at the barrel tables at Quimet y Quimet where we nommed on some delicious montaditos (mini sandwiches) and (surprise) more cava. The food is on another level. We’ve dreamed about the salmon, yogurt and truffle honey montadito since leaving (in between the night terrors of our paella experience, of course).
However, these dining experiences actually paled in comparison to the lunches we treated ourselves to by picking up a baguette, some cheese and a cheap bottle of wine, enjoyed in a local park or the balcony of our bedroom. The simple things, amiright or amiright?
Barcelona will always hold a special place in our heart due in large part to the fact that it was our first stop on this adventure. But it also has so much to offer with something for everyone. If you like cities with delicious food and drinks, easy access to water, good local sports, interesting local art, architecture and culture, and/or if you just enjoy a leisurely stroll watching things go by, then you will love this city. And if you don’t like any/all of those things… well, I just feel sorry for you.