A Stumble About Barcelona

Couples Travel, Cultural Travel, Spain — By on September 18, 2012 at 12:00 pm

by Caitlin Cromwell

Special to The Lost Girls

Having never been to Spain and not knowing much about it my boyfriend, Bradley, and I decided a quick trip to Barcelona would be the perfect side trip when we went to visit my parents in London this summer. Bradley thought Barcelona was going to be rather mellow, and I was overwhelmed by the fact that we didn’t speak Spanish or know a thing about where we were headed—the makings of an excellent adventure.

We discovered that there is magic in the air in Barcelona. It is the perfect place to go and allow the streets to tell you what you have come to discover. We arrived by plane on a Monday afternoon and took the train into the city. I always prefer to take public transportation over a taxi when I am traveling, partly for the challenge of figuring it out, but mainly for getting a better feel for what the city is really like day to day. (Barcelona’s El Prat airport website has excellent information about how to take public transportation into the center of Barcelona.) Thanks to Rick Steves’ recommendation our hotel was clean, central and cheap. We stayed at Hostal Operas Ramblas just off the main street—Las Ramblas—in the tourist area, which is the perfect place to stay when time is limited.

Las Ramblas itself, while a great orientation tool, felt a little too touristy for our liking so we ducked off into the streets of Barri Gotic – the city’s oldest quarter. The streets – if you can call them streets – were like a labyrinth. Really they were more like small alleyways woven together. What a treat to just shove our hands in our pockets and stumble about jaws agape at the old architecture. The first little tapas spot we stopped at was right in front of the Barcelona Cathedral – La Catedral de Barcelona – a beautiful gothic structure. Here we learned that in Barcelona it is most expensive to sit outside on the terrace, 10% more charged on your bill for these seats, and cheapest to eat standing inside at the bar. After being positively drenched in London we were just fine with being charged a little extra for our lovely terrace seating in the sun. The next tapas bar we stumbled into was my favorite in all of Barcelona. The place is called ZIM and it is located at 20 Dagueria, an impossibly tiny pedestrian street near Placa Sant Jaume. It was as if a tapas bar had been created inside what was once a small cell in a dungeon, spruced up of course with a bright red wall behind the bar, some jazz music playing and candles flickering on the stonewalls. There was not a bad bottle of wine in the whole joint; we know, we dutifully sampled them all.

Barcelona really is a dream for just hopping from tapas bar to tapas bar. If you make it there Carrer de la Merce, a street near the bottom of the Barri Gotic nearest the sea is teeming with funky little spots. The nearby Placa Reial is an impressive square lined with bars whose patrons spill out onto the respective terraces. We were so inspired by the energy we had to grab a spot and mingle with the crowd for a bit. Next thing we knew we’d been dancing for hours and it was four o’clock in the morning.

I am not just content to wander about aimlessly when I travel, I always have to do some sightseeing, so my goal for us the next day was to make it to the Sagrada Familia and Casa Batlo. The guidebooks do not lie – Sagrada Familia is a must see when you are in Barcelona. The church is still under construction so don’t dismay when you arrive and see cranes outside. Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece began in 1882 and completion is expected sometime between 2020 and 2040—how’s that for a deadline! The views from the top are incredible and the walk down the tiny spiraling staircase is like a rollercoaster ride. Important notes: payment for entry is cash only (pay the extra 2 euro to take the elevator up) and the elevators close at 5:30pm.

The next stop was the Casa Batlo, another work of Gaudi’s. We really became big fans of his on this trip. Gaudi’s work still feels so avant-garde we marveled that it was created a hundred years ago. Gaudi took all his inspiration from nature and Casa Batlo was inspired by the sea. Walking through the Casa Batlo made me feel like I was inside of a seashell.

That night we wound up at Bar Marsella, which is famous for being a watering hole for both Hemingway and Picasso in their day. The paint is peeling off the walls and they still serve absinthe if you are up to it. This place is worth the visit and is located in the El Raval area of town, which used to be quite shady, but gentrification has taken hold although there are still plenty of prostitutes hanging about.

Our final night in Barcelona we stayed at Room Mate Emma in the L’Eixample area of town. It was incredible, a luxurious change of pace for a couple of weary travellers. Whenever I splurge on a nice room there is method to my madness—forced rest—when the room is glam I am more likely to slow down. We purposely tossed our guidebooks and set out on our own to discover what L’Eixample had to offer. My favorite discovery in this neighborhood was Carrer d’Enric Granados, a lovely tree canopied street lined with bustling terraces where we had an innovative and delicious dinner at Habaluc.

My best advice for a first time trip to Barcelona let the city streets and the Mediterranean air set your pace. If you do, who knows, something magical might happen.


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  • Shirley says:

    Thank you for the inspiration. Now, a trip to Barcelona is definitely on the agenda. I look forward to trying to find the places you have written about. As well as enjoying what happens along the way.

  • Barcelona is a great city and I agree public transport is always the best way to get a feel for a place.

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  • Sam Bisby says:

    Barcelona is such a great city and I’d love to go myself, but when my parents went for a weekend the other year, they had plenty to say of the steep prices. Think a round of drinks for four people on Las Ramblas cost nearly £30 or something crazy.

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