Ah, my beloved Barcelona. A truly international city. True, it has been designed and built for tourists, making it one of the most visited cities in the world (ranked #10 by Forbes last year). That didn’t stop me from loving it as much as I did.
I actually ended up in Barcelona before I went to Italy simply because the bus ticket from where I was in France to Barcelona was only €5, and I found a fairly cheap ferry ticket onward to Italy. I am certainly glad I did. But once again, my stay was not nearly long enough.
My visit to Barcelona was a bit different than other cities I have visited for a few different reasons.
I was unable to find a couch surfing host in the short time I had before my arrival. So I booked a cheap hostel for four days for a great price: only $30. It wasn’t in the center of town, but it wasn’t too far outside either. It was quite a nice hostel, Barcelo Hostel, and I even had the room to myself the first night. It was clean, quiet and secure. All I could have wanted in a hostel. I did learn one lesson however. The first night my bed seemed to be made of solid metal. Not the most pleasant. But as I mentioned, I had the room to myself, and when I woke up, I found that all the mattresses were not the same. Five others were decent, and two were amazing. So I simply switched beds, and the next three nights were perfect.
I decided to abstain from any form of public transport. Not even a bike. Not that I needed to, since in Barcelona you can get 10 metro tickets for only €10, but I didn’t want to miss anything. As you keep reading, you’ll see it was a good decision. I certainly got my exercise in. Total walking distance over the 3 ½ days in Barcelona – 80 km! For the Americans reading this, that’s 50 miles!
A part of that walking was taking two of the three tours of the Travel Bound Barcelona Free Walking Tours. These were definitely top notch walking tours. The first was the basic tour of the city, and the guide was easily the most interactive guide I’ve had in any walking tour I’ve done so far. We covered a considerable portion of the old city, and I got some good tips on where else to visit while I was in town.
The second tour was something else entirely. It was called the alternative walking tour, and it showed “the other side” of Barcelona. I absolutely loved the tour guide, especially the way he ranted throughout the tour. It definitely showed me the nitty-gritty, behind-the-scenes look at the town. And while I could go on for pages about this tour, you’ll just have to go there and experience it for yourself.
The third tour was the photography tour. I didn’t get a chance to take it, but I had a great talk with the tour guide, and I randomly ran into him in the middle of town a couple days later. Small world! As usual, I won’t spoil the tours for anyone by going over them in detail. But I can’t recommend them enough to anyone visiting Barcelona or Spain, especially the alternative tour. In fact, I told the tour guide he should make a website about the information he presented on the tour, just so that people could get the data without physically visiting Barcelona, as the data is so essential for everyone to have.
The night I arrived, I found out there was a marathon in Barcelona the next day. I would have loved to run it myself, but I missed the deadline to register. What a disappointment! Well, it was a little too expensive for me anyway, but it made me want to get back into marathon running. In fact, I just might set aside a year to do as many great races around the world as I can. Tough Mudder will be at the top of that list. Races like Hood to Coast, Cape to Coast and a few of the top marathons will be on the list too. Would the Bull Run count?
Of course, I had to try the food while I was there. I think I managed to overdo it the first day. By noon, I already had a croissant and coffee, a Spanish-style hot dog and a juice. Then I found the Sunday market in Barceloneta on the peninsula. Wow! There is cheese tasting, meat tasting, an organic yogurt stand, meat pies, pastries, beer and wine tasting, oils, soaps and chocolate churros. I had a little of everything (except the soap). And the prices were unbeatable.
I then took a stroll along the beach. Did you know Barcelona has a miniature version of the Burj Al Arab? It’s only a W hotel, but still quite grand. Speaking of the beach, can you believe the beach in Barcelona is only 23 years old? It was built for the 1992 Olympic Games. Before that it was simply the port for ships. Not even the palm trees are native. They were imported for the same Olympics. All 9 species of them.
I then did the first walking tour, as described above, and then went to one of the museums with a friend I met on the tour (I can’t seem to find on the map which one it was, but I certainly liked the art). Unfortunately by the time I made it to the Picasso museum it was already booked for the rest of the day, so that will have to go on the bucket list for my next trip to Barcelona. There are also several other museums in Barcelona, but I didn’t look into them until the next day, Monday, at which point I found out that most of them are free on Sunday! Boy did I miss out. And that is why going to a new city does take a little preparation.
Then it was back into old Barcelona for more food. I just can’t remember what it was, as it was completely eclipsed by the dessert which followed: the best ice cream parlor in town, Gelaaati di Marco. WOW! I had three flavors: chai tea, tiramisu and another flavor I forgot. But I will never forget that taste. I’m sure the gelati in Italy will be even better, but this was certainly the best I have had so far in my life.
After that it was a trip across town for…more food! It was time to try my first tapas. Unfortunately I’m not exactly sure what was in them simply because I didn’t understand the Spanish of the waiter. The first was a roasted pumpkin soup with corn, cheese and other ingredients. The second was potatoes with separate humus and spicy cauliflower sauces. The last was bread with stuff (I think it was roasted cheese, eggplant and sundried tomato). All three were totally fantastic!
Finally I took my gluttonous self back to the hostel, forgoing the intense nightlife that Barcelona has. Actually, the city basically has a schedule that lasts until 6 AM, and then sleeps until around noon. But I wanted a good night sleep on the right mattress in preparation for another adventure filled day. Total walking distance for the day: 22.4 km.
Monday started out with a trip down to the docks just to check where I would be leaving on the ferry from. Good thing I did, as it turned out the terminal was about 2 km south of where Google Maps said it was. Google Maps is great, but not 100% accurate, especially overseas.
From there, I hiked up the mountain (hill) to the south which overlooked the city and the port. They also have a cable car from there to the end of the Barceloneta peninsula, but I didn’t feel like forking out the €9 for a one-way ticket. Instead, I simply enjoyed the view, got some great photos, and then ran into the center of town to meet up with the friend from the walking tour for another hot dog and more sight-seeing.
Next I went to the second walking tour where I met a whole batch of great, new friends. After the tour we went for another stroll along the beach, saw a fantastic sunset and then walked all the way across town to a €1 tapas restaurant. Yup, they were that cheap. Not big, but definitely filling. Each tapas was on a skewer and they were all displayed buffet style. You just grabbed as many of you want from the extensive and constantly changing selection. At the end of the meal the cashier simply counted up the number of skewers and gave you the bill.
After that, I walked all the way across town again to a couch surfing event. One thing I try to do in every city I go to is seek out the couch surfing events to meet some new friends, and this one was one of the better ones I have been to. As mentioned earlier, Barcelona is definitely a nightlife town, and the couch surfing event had the entire second floor of a bar all to itself. I met many new friends from all around the world (Italy, Colombia, Canada, Netherlands, Germany, etc.) showing just how international of a city it is. Speaking of which, I met more Americans in Barcelona than all of my other travels so far combined.
At 1:30 AM it was finally time for my final trek across town to get to my hostel. Total walking distance for the day: 27.9 km, a new record since I started keeping track a month ago.
Tuesday I started out in search of breakfast, and was fortunate to wander into the Mercado de La Boqueria, the permanent farmer’s market in the center of town. Cups of juice are €1 each, and there are dozens of flavors. I had six! I also had several samples of nuts, fruits, meats and chocolate. Between that market and the €1 tapas restaurants, you can certainly travel to Barcelona on a budget and eat great meals.
I will also mention that The Travel Bar, from where all the tours start out from, offer a discount on their drinks if you go on the tours. Their homemade sangrias are delicious, while only costing €2.
After that, I set out to find La Sagrada Familia, passing by Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf on the way there. La Sagrada Familia is a church designed by Barcelona’s famous architect Antoni Gaudi. Its construction was originally started in 1882, 133 years ago! It would have taken several more centuries to complete if not for modern building methods. As it is, it will take over ten more years to complete. However, eight of its eighteen spires are currently done, and it is already quite an impressive structure. I could definitely see it being the most magnificent architectural structure of its kind in the world. Exactly what type of architecture is it? Not really sure. Five styles are listed as going into it, but I think at that point a whole new style is created.
After that, I walked west to where the giant metal fish rests atop the Barcelona Casino. Not a lot to do there, especially since I don’t gamble, so I walked back down the beach…again. This time I took off my shoes, changed my convertible pants into shorts and walked in the water while getting a nice tan.
Finally I went back to the Mercado de La Boqueria for some more juice and two quiches, which I haggled down to €4.
By that time, I had already walked 20 km in the day, and it was finally catching up to me. So I went back to the hostel, tagged and uploaded all my photos for Barcelona into Flickr and turned in for an early night.
Got up early the next morning and walked the 5 km to the ferry, bringing the final total walking distance up to just over 80 km, factoring in the 3 km I walked to hostel on the first night. The ferry ride was absolutely stunning, but that will be the subject of my next post as soon as I get around to it.
And thus ended my three day “vacation” in Spain. There were plenty more things I could have done in Barcelona such as hike up Montserrat, visit all the museums, see the sports stadiums (Barcelona has one of the best soccer teams in the world; they played the night I left and won), etc. So I will have to go back again someday along with the rest of the places I still need to visit in Spain. It seemed like everyone I talked to gave me a better place to visit in Spain, whether Seville, Basque country, Madrid, etc. From what I get, northern Spain is one of the most beautiful places in the world. But the rest of Spain is nearly as good.
I will make one final comment. Barcelona is actually in an autonomous region called Catalonia. They have their own language, customs and culture, and a few years ago they even voted to separate from Spain. Unfortunately the Spanish constitution does not allow them to do so. But if they managed it, the Basque region would follow suit. It’s interesting to see how much the Catalonian culture has been squashed down over the years. Even their language has been banned three times in history. All of which added to the uniqueness of the city. But for more information on that, you’ll just have to do the alternative walking tour I mentioned above.
I’m sure I’m forgetting plenty more I wanted to say, but this post is already overlong. Simply look at my photos for everything I forgot to mention.
Next stop: Italy! Yippee!!!