Next stop, Barcelona
Article by Julia
Is Barcelona on your bucket list? I just visited and I think I want to keep having it in my list. This is why…
Barcelona is a city where you find entwined traces of Renaissance, Baroque; from the military medieval origin to the flourishing modernism. Architects of the 20th century put Barcelona in first place for the avant-garde. The developments in design and innovation, combined with a sense of urbanism and ecological values changed the Catalan capital into one of the continent’s most famous cities.
Gaudi is probably the first name to come to mind when thinking of Spain, and indeed his presence, in Barcelona at least, is alive in a way that you really cannot but fall in love with this genius. From the astonishing La Sagrada Familia to Park Guell, it was hard for me not to be completely astonished and want to learn more and more about the design, the thought behind every piece and the man himself. On you daily strolls you can easily check other Gaudi masterpieces off your list, such as Casa Batlló, Cascada Fountain at Parc de la Ciutadella, Casa Calvet, Casa Vicens, etc.
What I love about Barcelona are the many squares, big plazas, but especially the small ones. It really has that feel of “just slow down and relax” vibe to it. I particularly liked the Gothic Quarter, getting lost in the narrow streets and always finding a surprise new square. Do spend some time at Plaza Catalunya, the intersection of Gothic Quarter, Raval and Eixample; Plaza Sant Jaume (not when there are protests happening though, because this is a hot spot where Barcelonians head to when they need their state’s attention); Plaza del Rei, a square tightly bordered by attractions, but which still ensures a sense of peace where silence is broken only by the ringing bells of the Cathedral of Barcelona. The square in front of MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona) is a nice place to have a beer among youngsters showing off their skating or dancing skills.
If you are a fellow art lover, do take a stroll at Calle de Avinyó, the street where the brothel which inspired Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” used to be. It is so randomly amazing to suddenly face a sketch of the painting on a wall.
There is a variety of museums in Barcelona too, but I felt the need to bond more with the city through long strolls, equipped with an offline map and lots of sunscreen.
- Book your attractions tickets online as you get the possibility of skipping the line and having more time to enjoy your day out and about. Also try to choose what actually interests you, there are so many attractions it will be hard and stressful if you overload yourself. I got lost at the Hospital de Sant Pau complex that I ran out of time and didn’t even visit the tourist site even though I had the ticket.
- If you do not intend to book a guided tour, just casually tag along other groups on site. Being able to speak and understand both English and Spanish made it so easy for me to learn about the details you don’t stumble upon randomly. Like how the Gift Shop at Park Guell, the original porter’s lodge is designed after an elephant and the long tower represents the elephant’s nose, the inside ceiling designed after the shape of the elephant’s mouth ceiling; or how even in The pediment of the Passion façade of La Sagrada Familia, Jesus is actually not sculpted in the middle of the structure, but sitting on the bridge connecting the two towers, up high. It’s funny to learn about these mind-blowing facts while having to show a coolness and look like you’re minding your own business, but so much worth it!
- Just get lost in the city. You’ll find yourself somewhere new and exciting.
When I talk about food, my experience in the city could be titled “Around the World in Barcelona”. I had the great luck of having amazing hosts who were always showing me new parts of the city. That sometimes made me not needy of my offline map so it was difficult to remember on my own all the locations. And I was always trying new types of food so Barcelona is definitely not a boring spot.
I had probably the ultimate Spanish treat as my first meal in Barcelona; cerveza and nachos. What a great combination. Somehow the best memories are made while enjoying food, be it a beautiful and delicious brunch at Alsur Cafe while gazing at Palau de Música Catalana – a vegan lunch in front of La Sagrada Familia – a dinner at a corner hidden restaurant where you make your order by checking items on a list and enjoy food in a big table with friendly strangers sitting right next to you – a bowl of hot ramen right after an afternoon at the beach or a midnight snack of tomato bread, chorizo al diablo and so much vermouth in a taverna with old wooden benches where everyone is hailed goodbye with the noise of a dozen bells hung on a rope. Include some delicious arepas in an afternoon with a Venezuelian taste to it and this is the moment when I ask myself what more would I encounter if staying longer in Barcelona?
If you do not have a host then definitely make a good research to find the places that best fulfill your taste and hunger. Also do not forget to visit the various food markets. I was a complete tourist at La Bouqeria Market and then a client at Santa Caterina Market as it was so close to my apartment. I even found the green long peppers which are so hard to find outside Albania, so I could cook Albanian fërgesë for my friends. So many people have tried to persuade me on the idea of an Albanian inspired tapas restaurant. Hmm!
What makes Barcelona such an amazing city is that after all these attractions of all sorts, all the delicious food, your day is still not complete without a stop at the beach. How cool is that!? The beach is a great place to keep meeting new (alright, very handsome) people, enjoy the sun (which in a summer day sets around 9:30) and swim all you want. Barceloneta is the closest and easily reachable beach with the metro stop right next to it (just take L4). It offers the classic Barcelona beach view with the Hotel W in the background. The downside is just the water being not so clean, it almost reminded me of Durrës beach.
I’d recommend going to Playa de Bogatelli instead, just a bit further down from the city centre but so much nicer and cleaner. The water is here is South Albania clear so you know what I mean.
- Guard your belongings dearly. Barcelona is notorious for pick-pocketing or just people grabbing stuff right from your hand, so avoid keeping a lot of cash with you, holding your phone carelessly or not paying attention. All you need is money for a beer and if in a couple or a group better take turns to go swim. If you are alone, you are screwed. Lol, nah, just maybe deal with the logistics before jumping in the sea…
- Do take advantage of that gym membership and exercise a couple of weeks prior to your Barcelona trip. If you’re traveling in the summer, you’ll especially thank me for this advice. And try to be discreet and hide behind a pair of sunglasses while admiring those beautiful male and female bodies (cause it will be hard not to stare at times). Ah, I miss Barcelona!
Photography by Julia Janku