Ahhh… Barcelona. Our little unexpected surprise. Our laat lammetjie.
About two months before we due to leave for Europe, my very clever and scheming husband discovered that if we changed our return flights home from Heathrow to Barcelona (but still laying over in Heathrow) we would save enough money on airport taxes to afford an extra three days in Europe. So we booked a Ryan Air flight from Rome to Barcelona, where we would spend the twilight of our European trip. I’m so glad he discovered this, because Barcelona was probably my most favourite city in Europe (okay maybe a very, very close second to Amsterdam). Barcelona was friendly and green and pretty and much cheaper than anywhere else we had visited. The buildings and architecture and street style made me fall head over heels in love with design and fashion and art and the delight of an artisan item of clothing. And TAPAS! And SANGRIA! And sexy Spanish men and women! To be honest, Barcelona was never been on my bucket list, but I am so, so, so very glad we met.
Um… how do I put this eloquently (insert creepy wide-eyed, tongue-out emojicon)… the Spanish are incredibly yummy. Both the men and women ooze sexiness. Olive skin, dark curls, brooding looks, big perfect smiles… you gets me? They do not, however, speak English. Not in a nasty, unfriendly I-can-speak-English-but-I’m-not-going-to-speak-English-to-you-because-you’re-a-tourist way, but a I-literally-can’t-speak-English-way. Hand signs become very important! It would probably serve you well to learn some basic Spanish phrases before you get to Barcelona. The people are friendly with a wonderful sense of humour and are super helpful (if they can make out what you’re actually asking of them). We’ve heard since we’ve been back from friends who have visited Barcelona that pickpocketing is rife in the city. We never saw any thing of the sort or any shenanigans at all, in fact. We rode the notorious Yellow Line on the Underground without incident. As in any major city in the world, keep your stuff close to you. And don’t hobble around in stilettos carrying a Chanel bag and rocking Versace glasses and expensive jewellery. You will be targeted. It’s just common sense. We also were probably unlikely to be bothered because we resembled stinky hobos in our unwashed clothing as we neared the end of our trip!
Burning eyes and sore necks and happy hearts and inspired spirits. This is how you will feel after a wander around the streets of Barcelona. The city pays homage to famous architect, Gaudí, who designed much of the architecture during the latter part of the nineteenth century. His work is unlike anything you’ve ever seen and if you see one attraction in Barcelona, make it the Sagrada Familia. Don’t wait in the ridiculously long queue – prebook your ticket and timeslot online and go in the entrance on the Career de Provença side – much better! The church is amazing and totally worth the visit – if you can afford to, hire audio guides. And go as early as possible to avoid the masses. And be prepared to be gobsmacked by the impressive pillars and stained glass windows and decorative statues. I can’t even explain. Here are a few of the gazillion pictures I took in there:
Just a little way up from the Sagrada Familai is the Sant Pau Recinte Modernista Barcelona, a hospital first built in 1401. In the late nineteenth century, renovations to the hospital (sponsored by Catalan banker, Pau Gil i Serra) began to accommodate a booming Barcelona population. It was eventually completed in 193o and features a whole network of underground tunnels linking the separate buildings which were used to wheel patients between buildings safely and undercover. After another eighty years of medical service, the hospital was declared a World Heritage Site and after some extensive renovations, the lovely gardens and certain buildings are open for the public viewings. It’s like a little city within a city and wandering around the different blocks was quite the experience. So much mosaic work, so much beauty. It really was a great last minute stumble-upon. Also, you get a massive discount if you’re 29 and under and they don’t check ID. Just saying. That’s a lot of leeway. Use it. Lose it. Up to you.
I actually get a lump in my throat remembering our morning at the Picasso Museum. Not because it was a particularly out of this world amazing museum or gallery (which it is, actually) or because I got to see so many of his amazing paintings in real life (which was also mind-blowing, actually), but because it made me fall in love with art again. And I suppose “art” is a loose term – what I mean is I fell back in love with drawing again. When I was about fourteen, I went through a bit of a rough patch and with the help of our very talented art teacher, Miss Beatty, I learnt how to draw. Drawing with pencil and pastel and charcoal and chalk was my absolute favourite and it provided a great source of comfort to me during a tough time. I have no freaking clue as to why, but I dropped Art in standard eight. I really should have continued with the subject – I think perhaps my life would be completely different to what it is now. Seeing Picasso’s paintings and his range of styles and his obvious love for his work made me wonder back to that little girl with the big, sore heart who used to spent hours drawing in her sketch pad. Needless to say, back home, I’ve bought a sketchpad and started (rather tentatively) to draw again. I’m getting my eye back in and I’m messing around with patterns and I’m loving it.
As for the museum – get there really early to avoid queues (especially if it’s raining) and book tickets online. You are not allowed to take pictures of any of the artwork and they have cameras everywhere, so don’t even try sneaky it (like my husband did). There are also audio guides, which are really useful – especially if you have no clue about Picasso.
After a bit of a disappointing culinary adventure in Italy, we were not expecting much of Barcelona. It’s amazing what happens when you are not placing expectations on people/places/events, because we were pleasantly surprised! Bar for a disgusting brown “paella” glop at a place right next to the Arc de Triomf (yes, there’s one in Barcelona too), everything else we had was delicious. Tapas! Oh, the tapas! I have a new found love for aubergine, and even Andrew who always professed his hatred for the poor purple plant, has bought and fried up some aubergine chips since we’ve been home. The drinks are much cheaper in Barcelona and if you tip and flirt with the
HAWT nice barmen, they’ll often fill your wine glass way past that nasty little line which usually ensures your five euro glass is finished in three sips. We stayed on a street just off Las Rambla and all the restaurants we tried served decent to freaking-amazing tasting tapas and dishes were priced for about 2 euros to 7 euros each. As you can imagine, we ordered lots of the two euro dishes and a couple of the seven euro dishes! Our favourite place in Barcelona was hands down (and a BIG thank you to Emma for the recommendation) a dingy little champagne and carvery bar called La Champañeria. There is no sign over the door, but it’s down a little street called de la Reina Cristina – you’ll know you’re there by the massive wooden door, legs of meat hanging everywhere, serviettes strewn all over the floor and happy people spilling out of the crowded bar onto the street. We tried to go there on our first (and only sunny) day in Barcelona and arrived at about 3pm. It was far too packed and we weren’t in the mood for jostling to the bar, and so we decided to come back the next day. The next was grey and drizzling and we headed on over to the bar after we had been at the Picasso Museum. We arrived at about 11am and stayed until 3pm – it was empty when we arrived and by the time we left we could barely make it to the door for the masses of people (and slight inebriation). So, do you want to know the consumption count?
Four bottles of cava (champagne) – at 6.50 euros a bottle, it was cheaper than a draught beer at any Italian restaurant we’d been to. We took advantage! If you’re not as piggy as we are – a glass of champagne was about 1.20 euro – the rosè is delicious!
Two Hot Chorizo Bocadillo (another recommendation from Emma – kinda like a small roll with meat)
Two Plates of Cheese
Two Plates of more Hot Chorizo – they gave us free black pudding with this one
One plate of Parma Ham
All in all, our end bill came to about 37 euros – not bad for a day of decadent eating and drinking. It was probably THE most fun we had in Europe in terms of drinking and eating out. Amazing how not feeling completely ripped off makes everything feel so much more fun! The barmen were friendly (totally not English-speaking though, but great at guessing), everyone around was in a great mood and it was just wonderfully festive. There were no tables or chairs – the vibe is to stand at the bar and drink and eat to your heart’s content. As mentioned before, the floor is littered with serviettes and crumbs, but it all adds to the ambiance! So delightful. We took many drunken selfies and sent them to all our foodie friends – and that is the true sign of a good hangout.
I so wished we had stayed in Barcelona for longer than two days. My little heart fell so in love and I’m dying to return again, to see more Gaudi, to drink more cava and eat more tapas and explore the Spanish countryside. Not to mention the each. I didn’t even know Barceolan had a beach until we got there! Luckily we have return tickets next July… :0