Exploring Barcelona

So this post is long overdue as I visited Barcelona back in summer and right now as I sit down to type this I realise that it’s new years eve (with 2020 fast approaching!) All I can say to justify the delay in posting is that these last few months back at university have gone by quicker than I could’ve ever expected and with it being my final year I admit this blog quickly slipped down my list of priorities. But since being back home for the holidays and having some space to collect my thoughts after the whirlwind that is Christmas I find myself back at my keyboard with fresh energy to write. So without further ado let me give you the do’s, the don’ts and what I learnt in the breathtaking city of Barcelona.

To give some context this trip was my first city break and my boyfriend and I’s first holiday away together so as you can imagine I was both nervous of what to expect and excited to find out. With this in mind I must say our journey didn’t have the smoothest of starts. Our flight was delayed by an hour with an additional hour waiting on the runway due to rain but we took off eventually and finally touched down around 8 pm. We then hopped in a cab but unfortunately what was supposed to be a short uneventful ride to the hotel ended instead with us stranded in the middle of the city centre desperately trying to navigate the metro with our suitcases to travel the rest of the way there. With neither of us knowing the area and (perhaps naively) not double checking on our phones if we were heading the right way our cabbie drove us right into the centre. Pulling over to the curb at La Rambla he told us in broken English that our hotel was nearby and proceeded to take our suitcases out of the boot of the car. It wasn’t until the car had pulled away that we turned to google maps and realised we were still half an hours drive from our hotel.

It was abruptly made clear to the both of us that we were not the savviest of travellers. The only silver lining was I can be sure we’ll never make that mistake again! By the time we arrived at our hotel, after a crowded metro journey and sweaty uphill battle from the station to hotel with suitcases in tow, it was getting late, we hadn’t eaten and all I wanted was to flop in a heap on a bed. But once we were there the stress of the journey melted away quickly and we had enough time to be shown our room and eat dinner at the hotel restaurant before flopping in said heap on the bed.

So far our holiday hadn’t quite gone to plan but my mood hadn’t dampened and Sunday was a fresh start.

The Hotel – A home away from home

Before skipping too quickly onto our activities first let me tell you about the hotel because it truly was deserving of note in itself. We hadn’t planned this but coincidentally this holiday also marked mine and Chandler’s 6 months and so although I knew it was by no means a relationship milestone to shout about it still felt special enough that I wanted to stay somewhere romantic. This was when we came across the hidden gem that is Primero Primera and since staying there I cannot recommend it enough. Tucked away in the surburban area of Les Tres Torres, just a 5 minute train journey from the bustling city centre, I couldn’t have dreamt of a more ideal place to stay.  Being in an unfamiliar place the friendly, go the extra mile attitude of the staff made us feel right at ease from the moment we arrived and the stress of our journey was immediately forgotten. We had booked one of the hotels ‘superior’ suites which either came with a balcony or one of the top floor attic suites with a terrace. We were given the latter with its own secluded terraced area and outdoor sofa. It was perfect. It felt really private and made us feel settled straight away.

Day 1 – Culture vultures

With that being said, on to our first full day in Barcelona! The weather was gorgeous and once we were up and dressed we decided to head back into the city centre and explore the Gothic Quarter. I had done some research beforehand and found there was a Picasso museum (Museu Picasso) tucked away down one of the smaller streets further away from the more tourist-y centre of La Rambla. Barcelona is known for its iconic Gaudí architecture and art work and of course sights like La Sagrada Familia were top of my list of places to go but I’d never realised Picasso had also spent time in his formative years in this city too and that there was a gallery filled with his original artwork. So I thought it was worth checking out. A fair warning though for anyone trying to find this place…keep yours eyes peeled! The building was so inconspicuous we only managed to spot it from a small sign on the outside wall and a long winding queue of fellow tourists waiting to buy tickets. Still eating icecreams we had bought on our walk we joined the queue and within 15 minutes we were in. Using an under 25s discount it cost us only $15 for entry and it was well worth the wait. If you have the time and money I would highly recommend visiting just to see his artwork in person. The gallery was organised from his earliest work to his latest and it was incredible to see his artistic progression from studying realism before becoming more expressive and experimental in his work.     

In keeping with spanish tradition we had a late lunch afterwards. We chose to eat at a quirky little tapas bar called Cremat 11 that we had spotted earlier on our way to the gallery. We had passed a number of potential bars and cafes but with beautiful décor fit for any ig influencer’s feed this one caught my eye the most. I didn’t want to sacrifice on taste for aesthetic either but I was reassured by their authentic tapas menu. Chandler had never tried tapas before either so it was a new experience for him too.

After what had felt like a long day exploring we headed back to the hotel to recuperate and have dinner. What we hadn’t realised was because it was a Sunday nearly all of the local restaurants were closed. A rooky mistake to make but instead we settled on takeaway pizza with room service for dessert. Although again unplanned, eating in the comfort of our room was heaven after our first day exploring.      

Day 2 – A lazy day in the sun

We spent the second day down at the beach. Unfortunately I couldn’t take any pictures this day as we didn’t want to bring any valuables. With only the two of us no one could watch our bags if we both went swimming so the camera was left behind this day. It was scorching hot on the Monday and looking back it was the best day we could’ve picked to spend at the beach. We grabbed some Lays and fresh peaches from a local shop on the way there before proceeding to hunt for a spot to set our towels down. Luckily we only had to walk along one stretch of beach before we found a nice amount of space to settle. Being a city beach I didn’t have the highest of expectations, assuming it would be noisy from the city and less clean than ones further away from the crowds, but I was pleasantly surprised. Once you were facing out to sea and towards the horizon you could forget almost completely that a sprawling city lay behind you. So this was how we spent our second day, lounging in the sun eating and drinking. Not the most exciting or impressive perhaps but it was the perfect day to take it slow and relax in each other’s company.   

Day 3 – Raining on our parade

However, the sunny weather didn’t stay long. The next day we woke to the sound of rain hitting our rooftop. Luckily, rather than be disappointed we were already prepared. I had looked ahead at the weather and seen it was forecast to rain most of Tuesday so instead of hiding inside our room all day we decided we would take the opportunity to go sightseeing but in the shelter of La Sagrada Familia. We had booked tickets along with audio guides for the afternoon. They were only a couple extra euros and for somewhere with such a rich history it felt like it would be worth it. So, with umbrellas in hand we headed out late that morning stopping to grab some brunch at the cafe opposite the cathedral first. If I could suggest just one place to visit in Barcelona La Sagrada Familia would be it. It’s one of those places where you just have to be there and see it with your own eyes to really appreciate its architectural brilliance. It’s sometimes described as having one foot in the past and one in the present due to building work having begun in the 19th century that is still ongoing now. This combination of old and new was breathtakingly stunning and despite my best efforts even my camera couldn’t quite capture its magnificence.

We finished our day having dinner at the local restaurant, A Contraluz. Like most of the restaurants we ate out in that week in Les Tres Torres it had a gorgeous romantic atmosphere with attentive service and delicious authentic food. The only downside to this was the price. I wasn’t expecting Barcelona to be the cheapest of holidays but I did not budget for quite how expensive food would be there. Perhaps staying in the centre or not eating out as much as we did would have cut costs but Les Tres Torres is quite an affluent neighbourhood and so most of the restaurants can be expensive so unless you want to be spending more than €100 a day it would be a good idea to budget and keep lunches cheap. On average dinner was €70 – €80 each night though on our last night we splashed out which cost us upwards of €100.

Day 4 – Out exploring

Because of the heavy rain the day before I hadn’t managed to get any photos outside La Sagrada Familia. Luckily the Flea Market we were planning to check out that day was nearby so we stopped off on the way to take some pictures before we made the short walk on to the flea market.

The flea market itself was the only disappointment of our week. Despite being set under one of the most impressive (and photogenic) structures I’ve ever known a flea market to be at, it failed to live up to it’s location and was much the same as any market you could expect to find in Hampshire, England. Filled with second hand, perhaps even third hand, children’s toys and spare kitchen cabinet pieces I wouldn’t hold your breath on finding any authentic Spanish treasure here and I certainly wouldn’t recommend wasting your time hunting for hidden gems to bring home as holiday gifts.

But this disappointment was a blessing in disguise. It freed up our day to visit other sights on our list, the next being Park Güell. The climb to the tourist attraction was in itself beautifully tranquil and really put into perspective how much more there is to Barcelona than just the city centre.

Once we arrived at the park we began to make our way around the gardens. A little tip for those looking to save a bit of money here, the outer parts of Park Güell are completely free and open to the public and so if you’re looking for a cheap day out and aren’t too fussed on getting the closest view of Gaudí’s architecture it’s a great option. We spent a good couple of hours wandering around the park and if we’d thought to have brought food it would’ve been the perfect setting for a picnic in the shade. The most rewarding part of the climb there though was the spectacular views that greeted us looking out over Barcelona.

Day 5 – Lazy day, take two

There’s really not too much I can say about our second lazy day and our second to last day in Barcelona. Hit with another heatwave similar to Monday’s it was simply too hot to have the energy to do much more exploring so instead we decided to stay on our terrace eating and drinking and relaxing in each other company. We had planned to visit the MNAC and the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc but we ended up enjoying our day so much that we decided to cancel all our plans to venture out  and instead just let ourselves have a thoroughly enjoyable day of doing absolutely nothing. 

Day 6 – Final Goodbyes

On our final day before flying home we returned to the Gothic Quarter to do some last minute shopping for my family. First though, we spent the morning travelling out to visit the Camp Nou stadium, a must-see for any football fan. At €26 per ticket it was a bit more on the pricier side but even lacking any football expertise myself I could appreciate what you got for your money, which included a tour through the FC Barcelona club’s history before seeing the stadium itself.

Once we were back in the centre we did our final exploring before calling it a day. The little side streets of the Gothic Quarter are filled with an endless number of shops and cafes to check out so it was the perfect place to spend our time looking for gifts to take home. It was a long day with the stadium tour as well but it was worth it to squeeze in the last few opportunities we had to sightsee before our flight home.

A lasting imprint

All in all I would say our trip to Barcelona was an eventful one and I definitely underestimated how much there really is to see and do there which made it the perfect place to go for a weeks summer holiday. So if you’re looking ahead to summer 2020 holiday destinations I would highly recommend here! You could probably fit the top sight-seeing stops into a long weekend if you plan it right and aren’t afraid of some early morning starts to make the most of your time but for us a week gave us the flexibility to truly relax. It allowed us to do everything at our own pace without rushing and led to some days where we just enjoyed the gorgeous location we were in instead of checking off another thing on the endless sightseeing to-do list. And with a nation famous for its siestas this approach to daily life fit in well with the locals too. Before we knew it we had grown accustomed to dining no earlier than 10 pm. This leisurely culture approach to daily life was a thankful break from the mundanity of everyday life back in England and the perfect escape everyone needs in a good holiday.

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