Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Hipster Capital of Europe - Barcelona

What do I know about Barcelona?  Before I visited, precious little--I remember the guy shooting the arrow to ignote the flame of the 1992 Olympics, ummm Antoni Gaudi (dude who did all of that wonky cement stuff) and tbh that's about it.  Oh, it is in Spain - somewhere.  And actually it's the capital of Catalan.  Just to set the record straight.

Little did I know when I trained from Malaga to Barcelona in December 2012 I was about to fall in love with one of Europe's most unsung cities.

Malaga Railway Station
First thing - when in Spain travel by train--get your pass BEFORE you leave your country and enjoy the fabulous bullet trains and the great food.  We paid the first class upgrade and thoroughly enjoyed our rides.  The stations were uber cool and and the waiting rooms impressive.  There is always food (snacky stuff-like airport lounges) and alcohol available - help yourself.  Reservations COST money - we made them because we are wimps -- but honestly out of season I can't see they are worth the added expense.  I imagine in the summer reservations would be essential. 

Hotel's cool dryer
Picking a hotel - as always I use Trip Advisor to find the best deal for our bucks.  When you don't know a city it is difficult to decide WHERE is conveniently located -- while it might be cheaper to stay outside the central business district, I have found that what I waste on public transport and the time involved, it's better to stay in the heart so you can get to all of the main attractions in record time.  I must admit, finding a map that covers the whole city and has all the districts marked is well nigh impossible.We decided on the Gothic Quarter aka Garri Botic (Old Quarter--I find Old Quarters/Old Towns that are gentrified offer the best in Hotel Raco Del Pi). Nearby is the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria - a bustling market place with loads of goodies to take back to the hotel room.  Of course before you visit the markets you should stroll down La Rambla - it's the busy thoroughfare in which people parade at night,  it's colourful and lively.  Though I believe one should keep an eye on their pockets (we read plenty of warnings about pickpockets at train stations and in busy areas).
Great Architecture - opposite hotel
 We were steps away from the tube/underground/metro and  in the heart of the bustling shopping area -- surprisingly virtually no noise filtered up to our rooms and I loved to stand on the balcony and watch the passing parade and appreciate the hotel facade opposite (see photo).

You might have noticed that we visited in the winter- we usually travel during our Christmas holidays as it is an ideal time to visit Europe.  Gone are the summer crowds and the hotel prices are very reasonable.  The weather was cool but not too cold (caveat - I love cold weather).  The Christmas markets are open we bought a pooping Christmas log - a rather strange Catalan tradition.

Okay the first thing we did when we were there was to visit one the top-rated tapas bars on Trip Advisor - Anem de Tapes. It was expensive and pretty remarkable but what was more fascinating was that it took us
Hubby and a great mural/
to a great part of Barcelona. I love winding streets that throw up all sorts of unexpected surprises when you turn a corner.  (See photo of my hubby in front of a great mural).  Nearby is the must-visit Picasso Museum.  I love a good museum but, like most people I suspect, a couple of hours is plenty for me.  So we were happy to rest the feet after our visit at the tapas bar.  I always try something I usually wouldn't so it was sweetbreads and something on the special board...of course I can't remember that.

Guell Shop
The next day we took an open-air bus tour of the city -- it was a quick way to orient ourselves and we love being able to hop on and off to please ourselves...we always do TWO trips of the city and then on the second get off at the places that attracted us.  Of course we wanted through the various parks and Guell was our favourite.  See from the photo the crowds that were already gathered at 9am, in the winter.  No one who goes to Barcelona can miss the startling architecture and designs of modernist Antoni Gaudi.  Guell Park was our first stop--wonderful gardens, quiet, but it gets crowded quickly so get there early. There are plenty of places to walk and the Gaudi style is transfixing - to me it seems overdone.  I like simple lines and so it goes against my aesthetic soul, but the texture and the colours work overall and I came to see past the Gaudi-ness :) . 

Casa Batllo
Fantastically comfortable
While there you will no doubt try to get a picture on his famous salamander.  Then we visited the still unfinished  cathedral the Sagrada Familia--its incredible to see a building started in 1882 that won't be finished until 2026.  You could spend hours there alone but we had to move along as the growing crowds made enjoying the architecture more and more difficult.  From there we went chose to visit the Casa Batllo (known as the house of bones) with its flowing Art Nouveau style -- to be honest we were getting Gaudi-ed out and skipped La Predrera across the road (it was also getting a bit expensive). Batllo had the most amazing furniture too - I want to replicate these fabulous fibreglass "stools" I think they would be great outside around the pool.  Anyone know a fibreglasser?

At night there is the decorative and fun Magic Fountain which has a laser light show.  Another great park to visit is Parc de la Ciutadella - with its Cascada -- great to stroll through or to simply sit and watch the world go by.  We are boring old folks and so after a day's sightseeing, at night we simply wanted to collapse in bed so we would be up early and out and about.  Also remember on Sunday most of the shops will be shut, it is a Catholic country. 

One thing you must try is the super large meringues with hazelnuts.  I had one everyday  they fill a hand - are wonderful because meringue and nuts would have to be one of my favourite ever combinations.  Here is a photo taken from another website.

I was dumb enough not to take a photo - this one doesn't give an idea of how big they are...Oh and they're cheap.  Holiday is a time you can eat meringues for breakfast, right?

Before you go - make sure to read Carlos Ruiz Zafon's trilogy set in Barcelona and track your way around the city--at least read The Shadow of the Wind.  It's a great detective thriller.

I am officially in love with Barcelona and would definitely live there if I could. 

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