We had a lot to look forward to in Barcelona. We were meeting some friends of ours, one who lived in Barcelona, and a couple that were visiting Barcelona. These friends traveled with us to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest back in December and January and we were excited to see them again. The couple were also bringing Diem’s new phone and I was getting her old one so I would finally have a phone again after not having one for over a month. Some part of me was glad to go through a forced phone detox but most of me was glad to get connected again. Barcelona is famous for its amazing and unique architecture, including works of Antoni Gaudí and Lluís Domènech i Montaner, which have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is also home to the Picasso Museum and the works of Joan Miro and many other artists and sculptures. Barcelona is also one of the world's leading tourist, economic, trade fair and cultural centers. Additionally, its soccer team, FC Barcelona, boasts the best player in the world, Lionel Messi, and is a national and international powerhouse.
We had a long trip to Barcelona from La Spezia. We took 3 trains to Marseille starting at 9:50 AM and arriving at 8:00 PM. Then we took overnight bus to Barcelona. We arrived at the Barcelona Nord bus station at 5:30 AM. We couldn’t check into our Airbnb until 3 PM so we put our luggage in lockers (5€) and walked past Arc de Triomf to Bar J'Univers in the Mercat Santa Caterina for coffee and pastries (4.50€ total). We walked through the Cathedral of Barcelona which is a beautiful Gothic style cathedral and free before 10 AM and then down La Rambla Street towards port. I really needed a haircut and we found a place online that was just north of La Rambla and the Plaza de Catalunya. We walked to the haircut place Yeeesss Barbers (12€) and along the way we saw Casa Battlo and Casa Mila, some of Gaudi’s famous buildings in Barcelona. The area north of the Plaza de Catalunya is a really swanky part of town with a lot of upscale shops and restaurants. After my haircut we walked to lunch around corner at Catalana but it was too early to serve tapas. So made our way towards another restaurant that Diem had researched, Tosca. After lunch we went to Anny's Beauty Salon for Diem's haircut (24€). By that time it was getting close to 3 PM so we went back to the bus station to get our luggage and checked into our Airbnb. We showered up and relaxed for a bit watching some TV shows. Later, we walked to dinner at Vinitus, dropped by market for some snacks, and then went back to our room for night.
We were still tired from the long ride to Barcelona so the next day we slept in and had lunch close by the apartment. After, we walked to El Born CCM (Centre de Cultura i Memòria) which recalls a hard period of the history of Barcelona: The War of the Spanish Succession from 1701 to 1714. The CCM contains some old ruins and is free to enter but some of the special exhibitions in side are extra. A short walk from the El Born CCM is the Parc de Cuitadella. The Parc de Cuitadella houses the Parliament Building, the Barcelona Zoo, the Cascada (Waterfall) Fountain, and leads up to the Arc de Triomf. We grabbed dinner at a taco shop and then headed home to freshen up for the game. We then met up with our friends at 6 PM at their hotel’s rooftop bar for a drink.
We’re on a tight budget so we try to limit our splurges for really important or special events. One of the splurges we decided on was to go see FC Barcelona vs. Manchester City at the Camp Nou stadium. This was a Champions League match so it was more expensive (~200€) than a regular Spanish Liga game. After we had a drink and caught up for a bit, we took the metro to the stadium. The game was pretty amazing. The Barcelona big three (Messi, Neymar, and Iniesta) are so freaking talented. Messi scored a hat trick and Neymar added a goal late but it was really some of their dribbling and passing that showed just how good they are. The crowd was pretty crazy as well, particularly the section behind the goals. Here’s a video of them marching and chanting and they didn’t really let up the entire game. After the game, it was really crowded in the streets so we went to a local Hungarian bar for drinks and food to let the traffic die down. The metro stops running a midnight so we took a taxi home after the bar.
The next day, we met up with our friends for a late lunch at Bar Del Pla in El Born neighborhood near our Airbnb. After, we walked down to El Boqueria Mercat, bought some fruit cups, and walked around. We then walked down La Rambla Street and down the port. La Rambla Street is one of the most famous of Barcelona. It is lined with shops and restaurants and there are a number of cool street performers. Down by the port, we went to go check out a restaurant (Casa Tomasa) that was recommended to us, but it was too crowded and we wanted a sit down so we decided on a random restaurant nearby. That later turned out to be a bad idea because Diem got food poisoning from the razor clams she ordered there. Another friend of ours met us there around 6 PM after she got off work. We chatted for a bit and then walked towards the El Born are again to grab drinks at Zero before dinner. We met up with some more people for dinner at Mirilla. The food was pretty good but a little expensive for what you got. After dinner, we walked to Parasido Bar (speak easy behind pastrami shop) for drinks. Diem was starting to feel sick and we went back to the room around midnight.
The next day, Diem was recovering all day so we didn’t do much. I went for a run by the Sagrada Familia and then went through Park Guel. The rest of the day I took care of Diem, watched movies, and worked on the blog.
Deim was feeling a little better the following day and we went to Bun Bo for some Vietnamese food to help her feel better. We met up with our friends to check out the Casa Batllo by Gaudi (22.50 euro to get in). Diem was still feeling nauseous so it wasn't very enjoyable for her. It was very pretty and unique but it wasn’t really worth the money. Afterwards, we met up our other friend and we walked to meet up with her friends at Barcelona’s Oktoberfest at Fira Montjuïc. Diem was feeling better but not enough to drink so I got beers for myself and a weiner dog & pretzel for me. Barcelona’s Oktoberfest was just one big tent but even that tent wasn’t as big as the main tents in Munich’s Oktoberfest. The tent was pretty empty when we first got there but it was getting pretty crowded and festive later on. I ended up having 3 liters by the time we left (we stayed 3 hours). We walked to dinner and tried to get into Le Pepita but it was overbooked so we went down the street to their sister restaurant La Cava. We had a few drinks at the bar while we waited for our table. I may or may not have had a bit too much to drink earlier and so we just left early.
The next day we met up with our friends for lunch at Sensi Bistro around 1:30 pm. The sign says the restaurant opens at 1:00 pm but they really didn’t open until half past one. The service was really slow, we stayed for almost 3.5 hours, and the food was just ok. Afterwards, we walked around and ran into a food and wine festival that was happening this weekend. We wish we had seen it before lunch because some of the stalls looked really good. We walked around there for a bit and then decided to take a break back at our place before dinner. We to our friend’s house for wine and a chit chat before dinner. For dinner, we went to Double Zero sushi restaurant. It was decent sushi but nothing special. In typical Spanish fashion, dinner ended at midnight and we just went home afterwards.
On our last full day in Barcelona, I woke up sick with a nasty cold so I stayed in bed until lunch at a Ramen spot, then went right back to bed. We had an appointment to see the Sagrada Familia at 5:00 PM. We sprung for the most expensive option (29 euro) which included access to one of the towers, an audioguide, and entrance to the church. The exterior of the church is really nice but the interior really steals the show. It has changed so much since 2001 when I last saw it. The stain glass is spectacular and I imagine even better when the sun shines through on clear day. We wandered around following the different spots highlighted in the audioguide which took about an hour to finish. We took a ton of pictures but really could have stayed longer and taken more. I'm not the most religious or spiritual guy, but looking around this amazing cathedral definitely awakened some spiritual feelings and filled me with gratitude that I was able to witness this spectacular creation. There is a separate entrance in the corner of the church to do the tower tour and an elevator takes you up the tower. We did the Tower of the Nativity which is on the entrance side but you could also choose to go up the Passion Towers which give you a better view of the ocean. There is a decent view of the city from the tower and you can also walk along to some other towers as well but it’s kind of a maze to find your way to the other sections. I don’t think the tower is worth the extra money. It is very short trip and you don’t get a better view of the church or more information. To get down, you have to walk down a spiral staircase which started making us dizzy by the end. After the church we made our way to dinner at Cera 23 which is in La Raval district of Barcelona. Dinner was pretty good but I wasn’t feeling well so I couldn’t really enjoy it fully. We grabbed a drink at a bar called Collage, which was an artsy bar with special cocktails. After the drink, we went home so I could rest.
On our last day, we spent most the day in Barcelona. We left our bags at the train station then walked to a lunch spot, Quimet Quimet about 45 minutes away. Lunch was decent but most of the ingredients were out of a can and tasted like it. We then walked along Mountjuic to the MNAC (Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya) which is housed in the National Palace. We grabbed some coffee then went to the train station. At the station, we used our Eurail Pass to get into the Sala Lounge which had free drinks (coffee, beer, water, juice, etc) and pastries. We stayed until our train departure to Madrid then took an overnight train to Lisbon.
Barcelona is an amazingly beautiful city. Not only is the architecture uniquely stunning, but it also has great beaches, viewpoints, food and culture. The only downside to Barcelona is that it is more expensive than most other places in Spain. We ended up spending a lot more than we wanted to but it was great catching up with friends and exploring some more of the city. I would still love to see the Montserrat Monastery, another one of Gaudi's creations, and maybe drive along the coast but that will have to wait for another time.
See the full gallery of our time in Barcelona here: Barcelona, Spain