I don’t like admitting when I’m wrong – even more on the internet where people can comment and critique – but I owe Barcelona an apology. The first time I visited the Catalonian city in 2008, I didn’t like it much. It didn’t help that I visited in winter and, like many tourists, didn’t keep a close enough eye on my possessions, so safe to say my first impressions were easily tainted.
But when planning our travels for 2016, the boy was eager to visit España (and yes, I know, Catalans consider themselves somewhat separate to the rest of Spain) but how could we visit the land of tapas, flamenco, vino and passion without a couple of days in Barca? So I resolved to see Barcelona through fresh eyes and give the city another chance (paying closer attention to my valuables this time).
Our visit was a short one, a quick hop from the big freeze of Iceland to defrost and explore Spain and Portugal as we slowly move south. We only had a couple of days to soak up the warmth of Barcelona but it was enough revisit this city and the treasures that await around its many twisting and turning corners.
With so much to do and so little time, our first priorities were on the big ticket items that dominate many travellers’ lists, La Rambla, the Gothic Quarter, La Sagrada Famiglia and Gaudi’s many architectural masterpieces – and of course sample the delicious delights of Barcelona’s many cafes and restaurants (apparently the city has the most per capita of anywhere in the world).
Our first morning was spent rambling down, you guessed it, Barcelona’s busiest street, La Rambla, taking in the shops, cafes and street performers that line the avenue. We stopped in at Mercado de La Boqueria to take in the sights, smells and signature tastes of Barca; where fruit stalls heaved with a rainbow of choices and Iberian ham came by the leg, not by the gram. A veritable feast on offer, we looked on in amazement at the cafes serving tapas and pintxos in every shape and size, before settling on a few selections to try for ourselves.
Rejoining the flow of foot traffic on La Rambla, we dived into the Gothic Quarter for a taste of narrow, cobblestoned streets and cars far too large to be travelling on them. Eventually, our feet grew tired and our stomachs empty again so we turned to the nearest tapas bar to refuel with chorizo, freshly seared tuna and a heaving pan of paella, topped off with a glass of the house white of course – better than most in Sydney and less than half the price.
The afternoon took us to La Sagrada Famiglia to marvel at the city’s longest ongoing construction, which is expected to be completed in 2027 as it largely relies on private donations to keep Gaudi’s ultimate vision alive. Having seen the structure eight years prior, I was amazed at the transformation it has undergone in that time – and astounded at how far it still has to come after its many years as a work in progress.
Our second (and sadly, final) full day in Barca comprised a visit to the Park Guell for another exhibition in Gaudi’s greatest works followed by an afternoon of wandering the many streets and plazas of Gracia (and only getting sidetracked by a few shops). The Park is a big climb, aided by outdoor escalators and your drive to see the city from the top. Once mounted, its amazing to see Barcelona stretch out before you, with the beach, wide avenues and buildings (including La Sagrada) laid out so orderly – betraying Barcelona’s signature sense of spontaneity. Guell is dotted with Gaudi’s signature architectural style, archways and seats decorated with twists and turns, colourful mosaics and spires surprise as you slowly weave through the greenery. Its an easy way to pass a few hours although we wished we’d packed a picnic so we could have sat and watched the crowds go past.
The evening brought another session of working our way through Tapas 24’s amazing menu with a range of traditional plates and daily specials on offer. The huevos frittos con patatas were out of this world and the ‘bikini’ – a toasted sandwich with truffles, cheese and iberian ham was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted in my life. Spanish food seems to favour simple, uncomplicated flavour options, and it never disappoints.
Sadly, the next morning it was time to pack up and move on to our next stop but happily, I was proved right in giving Barcelona a second look. Perhaps the city has changed in the last eight years but equally so I certainly changed my impressions of the place on second glance.