You often hear crazy stories about people’s travels through Europe; 21 countries in 7 days, Contiki tours of European night clubs for 2 weeks or “holidays” where the time spent in the air is equal to the time spent rushing through the tourist beat. The average stay in Paris is 2-3 days. How could it be possible to really get a feel for Paris, to fall in love with Paris, to see Parisian life outside the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower in only 2 days?
I visited two new countries and a less familiar place in my current country over two weeks and I think that is about as much as my camera (and bank balance) can take. When I am a tourist I want to walk the streets walked by locals, I want to eat where the locals eat and not be bound by a rigid list of “must-see” sights. Barcelona proved to be an easy city to do this in.
Barcelona had turned on a beautiful day for our arrival. We stepped out of the metro and straight into the hustle and bustle of La Rambla. This is truly an incredible street-keep your bag to the front, shoulders back and enjoy the human statues, restaurants bursting onto the footpath, street sellers and souvenir shops. Sophie and I made our way to our hostel for night one: Kabul Hostel on Plaça Reial. Absolutely prime location…
Later in the afternoon Sophie (NZ Sophie) and I continued down La Rambla via a huge monument to Christopher Columbus to the waterfront and harbour area. It reminded me of Wellington waterfront, though there was slightly less wind in Barcelona! We were just in time to see the sun set over the hills behind Barcelona, the boardwalk was packed with tourists and locals alike and strangely the smell of crêpes wafted in the sea air.
That evening we met another NZ friend, Siobhan, who was flying in from England. After a long day of traveling priority number #1 was a drink. Fortunately, there is a bar in Kabul hostel but unfortunately it serves only beer… We made friends with some Aussie blokes who showed us their local-another Irish pub! Barcelona night life doesn’t start until 2am by which time I am generally ready to go home but I made an exception for Barcelona. Spain is slightly behind the times on their smoking rules and it was not until three days ago that smoking inside public places was banned. Smoke fumes combined with sweaty clubs does not make for a particularly pleasant night out.
The next day we packed up ready to leave Kabul-trying not to wake the 23 other people in our dorm sleeping off their hangovers! We had been recommended a bike rental place so our first day in Barcelona got off to a good start with a bike ride around the water front. Another gorgeous day. We stopped for a re-fuel in a beautiful park where the paths were lined with clementine trees!
That night we moved hostels to a far more quiet place. Slightly lacking in atmosphere as it was in the suburbs but a good nights sleep was guaranteed. The next day was New Year’s Eve. We braved the crowds and headed to the Picasso Museum which was absolutely fascinating! I really enjoyed learning more about Picasso and while some of his major works weren’t featured it was very interesting to see his progression and development as an artist from his early days through to old age.
Lunch that day was unbelievably good! We picked up a flyer from our hostel advertising a place called Wok to Walk. Bit of a mission to find it but well worth it in the end. It was like Subway but for stir fry! You choose your type of noodles which is then cooked in front of you with the standard assortment of veges or you can add more veges, tofu, chicken or beef strips and a sauce. Delish!
With full bellies we ambled through the old city in search of the Cathedral. It was the strangest Cathedral I have seen. There is a courtyard area that has been made to look like a mini-forest with pebbled paths and a little pond. To one side is an enclosure full of geese and a fountain. Inside the Cathedral it was beautiful but a mass was about to start which we weren’t too keen to stick around for-gelato was our next priority!
New Year’s Eve night was a strange night. We returned to the Irish pub from our first night and again ran into two Aussie boys-there are Australians everywhere! So New Year’s Eve was spent with NZ girls and Australian boys in an Irish pub in Barcelona drinking sangria… When the clock struck twelve we were showered in confetti and the Aussies had disappeared but french boys had suddenly arrived so I spoke french to bring in the New Year which now seems like auspicious sign!
Worried about the frequency of trains back to our hostel in the wop wops of Barcelona we left town early. A good nights sleep was also necessary for the big walk the next day over to Parc Güell. A beautiful walk on a very quiet New Year’s day. The peace was soon destroyed when we reached the park. I felt like I was surrounded by paparazzi there were so many camera flashes! The mosaics are absolutely incredible and the work that must have gone into these masterpieces is mind blowing.
For our last day in Barcelona we decided to see another Barcelonés legend: Antoni Gaudi. We signed up for a walking tour specifically for the Gaudi buildings. I’d never done a walking tour before but what a great way to see a city! There is no set charge-you pay what you think the tour is worth; the guides are great and you learn a lot! Our tour took about 2 and a half hours, though we cheated and took the metro… Personally, I didn’t really like Gaudi’s style of architecture though I can appreciate how revolutionary his works are and the talent required to design such buildings.
The walking tour finished at the Sagrada Familia but there were tourists everywhere (I can’t imagine Barcelona in the high season!) so we headed up to a church over looking all of Barcelona.
We celebrated our last night with a proper Spanish meal out. We wanted to stay away from the over priced tourist traps so after a wee hunt on Google we found a little restaurant called Horiginal. The english link on the website is broken but you can check out a video here. Our waitor was lovely and seemed almost to relish the opportunity to speak english as supposed to resent it. He recommended us a delicious bottle of rioja to accompany our pan con tomate, calamari a la romana, iberico ham, assortment of cheeses, octopus and of course the main event: paella!
Our goal for the trip was to have traditional seafood paella and this meal did not disappoint! All over Barcelona we had seen placard boards outside restaurants advertising paella but none of it appealed. It all had a mass produced quality about it and the peas were all symmetrically positioned! This was a fantastic meal, a fitting end to our trip.
I absolutely loved Barcelona. The people, both locals and foreigners, were so warm and welcoming and keen to show you their city. We met so many people that came to Barcelona 3 or 4 or 15 years ago and just never really left. Barcelona sort of wraps you up in itself. It is a place where you shouldn’t necessarily check sights off a list; walking the streets, soaking up the atmosphere and people watching is the best Barcelona.