Move over, thirty-somethings. The sixty-somethings have arrived (Alexis’ mom, MaryLou, guest blogger, and dad, Ed). Barcelona is a city best seen on foot, and Alexis and Jon (A&J), having been there 6 years ago, showed us why they fell in love with it.
Day 1 — Thursday, July 9, 2015
We all arrived at the Barcelona airport within a few hours of each other and it was a major relief to see A&J waving to us from the crowd. Getting euros and then taking the airport bus to town (€5.90/person) was easy with them leading the way. Since there was a timing problem with taking over our Airbnb-rented condo on Placa Vila de Madrid, we relaxed while having our first meal in Barcelona, tapas at ATN Restaurant overlooking the Via Sepulcral Romana, an excavation of a Roman burial area.
Due to the delay in the condo, we did the first of our daily walks on La Rambla, a nearby north-south mile-long promenade and the place to be. Just off La Rambla is the Mercat St. Josef, or La Boqueria, where natives buy their produce, meat, and fish, and tourists gape and eat all manner of unusual foods. When it was time to take possession of our condo, we went into siesta mode which is very much practiced here.
Dinners are fashionably late in Barcelona, starting around 9 or 10pm. We took a recommendation from our landlady for “the best” paella at El Nacional. El Nacional was a food pavilion featuring several different cuisines served in different areas. We were told to head straight for the seafood restaurant. Although the building and ambiance were very impressive, neither the food nor the service lived up to our expectation. Barcelona is known for its nightlife. However after dinner, we were interested in one thing…sleep. Although we did make a point to pass by Casa Batllo for our first look at a work by architect Guadi.
Day 2 — Friday, July 10, 2015
It had quickly become evident that the Airbnb condo was not in satisfactory condition. A&J spent part of today contacting the landlady and Airbnb. This is worth mentioning because Airbnb went to bat for their clients and by day’s end a mutually acceptable compromise was reached so that we didn’t have to change locations.
Meanwhile we returned to La Boqueria for a breakfast of fresh fruit and pastries. We then decided to take a tour of the old city, or Barri Gotic, as outlined on a website Alexis had found. It was a charming stroll through narrow streets, past colorful storefronts and cafes, dodging motorcycles and cars that shared the maybe – 10 foot wide streets.
The tour went through the Placa Sant Jaume, flanked by City Hall and the Generalitat. In other words, this was the governmental area. There was a vintage car show taking place here today and we all picked out our favorite!
Next stop was the L’Aquarium Barcelona (€20.00/person) at water’s edge. It was a respite from the summer heat and the exhibits were standard stuff, until we got to the educational area which was a little more interesting.
Tonight’s dinner adventure started in the metro as we all got 10-ride subway tickets (€9.95). Our first ride was to Barceloneta, a waterfront neighborhood where fishermen lived. We decided to eat tapas again, at a bar called Jai-Ca where there seemed to be a lot of locals. We sampled a number of tapas, including Alexis’s favorite galician octopus (pulpo gallego), and enjoyed our meal at Jai-Ca.
Day 3 — Saturday, July 11, 2015
With their usual internet savvy, A&J rented a car which we picked up within walking distance of the condo, and we set off up the coast. It was no surprise that, on Saturdays, locals join the tourists to go to the beach and at our first destination, Calella, there was no parking available. We continued to Lloret de Mar, a gorgeous beach resort town 45 miles northeast of Barcelona, where we found public parking along the beach.
We enjoyed views of the Mediterranean Sea as we took short trails along the coast. Then we walked the narrow streets of the town to the Parish Church of Sant Roma. Unfortunately it was closed at that hour, but it was a beautiful Gothic structure. We backtracked past restaurants and souvenir shops and selected Cafe de la Vila for lunch. It was a good choice.
Jumping back into the car, we continued north to Tossa de Mar where, after driving through some very narrow streets we were unable to find parking. We continued on to our last stop, Girona. In Girona we climbed the 90 steps to the church of St. Felix and the cathedral which were lovely. Even more lovely were the elegantly dressed people arriving in limos for a wedding. By that time we were ready to enjoy a gelato. The town is of historic significance, but we could only briefly walk around before heading back to Barcelona to return the car.
We were celebrating someone’s birthday at dinner tonight and after walking around Plaza Real, we were literally “talked into” My Way Restaurant for the occasion with the promise of free champagne (cava, actually). My rare tuna was delicious, eaten in the glow of American movies on a screen behind us. Happy Birthday was sung. It was memorable.
Day 4 — Sunday, July 12, 2015
On Sunday, many institutions that charge fees during the week are free! We fortified ourselves with a continental breakfast at Cafe 365 and proceeded to the Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat, museum of the history of the city. The underground archeological sites of an ancient laundry, cloth dying factory, fish processing plant, and a winery are well preserved and visitor friendly. Then you see remains of a church that was built on the site. Upon leaving the underground area, we entered another large hall exhibiting Jewish Haggadot.
Next we got in the considerable line for (free) tickets to Palau Guell and were assigned 6pm as our entry time. This would be our first tour of a building designed by architect Antoni Gaudi, arguably Barcelona’s most famous son. This was the home of his patron and close friend Eusebi Guell, a wealthy merchant. Many of Gaudi’s creations, such as this one, are UNESCO World Heritage sites. The palau is near La Rambla and we had time to kill so we sat down at an outside cafe called San Remo to watch the beautiful people go by. Our 900ml Estella beers cost €9 each, but tasted great on this hot afternoon.
We went back to Palau Guell at 6pm where, equipped with English audio guides, we toured this beautiful city home. There are too many features to mention, but the roof is outstanding. Its 14 chimneys are each unique tree designs.
The day just got better as we took the metro to the area of Barcelona called Montjuic, where we ate dinner of paella and the noodle version called fideua at Kikiriki. The restaurant was a short walk to the Magic Fountain whose water is lit, colored, and dancing to modern music. The fountain is at the head of Avenida Maria Cristina and below the Palau Nacional. The effect is breathtaking, and we were close enough to get wet!
Day 5 — Monday, July 13, 2015
Another new experience—hot chocolate for breakfast. Oh, my, yes! We indulged at La Granja, having dark chocolate, churros, muffins, and croissants…yummy.
Today we bought all day passes (€27) on the Gray Line Barcelona Tourist Bus, leaving from Placa Catalunya, an easy walk from the condo. We did the east Green loop and then the west Orange loop. We could have gotten off and on the bus at any of its 32 stops because each is near a major attraction, but we just rode, learned a lot, and got a good feel for the whole city.
That pushed “lunch” to 5pm at Atril, near the condo, and while everyone else ate tapas, I opted for a salad which arrived late but was worth the wait.
We people-watched on La Rambla again this evening while enjoying huge sangrias at the outdoor Cool International Hotel (€10 each). There are lanes of traffic on each side of the promenade and at one point there was considerable police activity. Uniformed police were always highly visible on La Rambla…maybe due to pickpockets, about which we’d been warned. Once, on a subway, a man had loudly identified a woman as a pickpocket and she just got off at the next stop. We had no bad experiences.
Jon had noticed a Walk to Wok nearby and that is where we ordered Asian take-out which we took back to the condo and ate at 11pm.
Day 6 — Tuesday, July 14, 2015
We ate breakfast at a cute patisserie called El Cafeto, then went to Placa Catalunya where we caught a train to go 50 km to Sant Sadurni de d’Anoia. Cava is Spain’s champagne, and there are 80+ cava wineries here! A&J had reserved spaces for us on the 12:30pm English speaking tour at Freixenet (€7.50), a short walk from the train station, and a name we recognized. There were about 30 people on our tour. The facility was huge (the tour guide said they bottle 140 million bottles each year) and for part of the tour we rode on an amusement park-like train. Afterward we each got one glass of cava to sample.
We walked across a scenic bridge into the middle of the town to a restaurant called Selecte that had been recommended to us. My prix fixe €12 lunch of hake, melon gazpacho, a peach for dessert, and bottled water was delicious.
The nearby winery Recaredo was our next tour at 3:30pm. One couple from NYC joined us for a great tour. This winery only bottles 250,000 bottles per year so it was a smaller, more hands-on process. Our guide used words like “biodynamics” and “proactive agriculture.” She poured us 3 generous samples of differently priced cavas as part of our €15 tour.
Enroute back to the train station we noticed a tour bus beside a large building labeled “Simon Coll Chocolates”. We had just missed the last tour of this chocolate factory for the day, but the store was still open and they were generous with free samples. So we indulged. And we bought. Yum. And that’s why dinner was whatever was leftover in the frig, eaten on our patio. And a promenade and Manna Gelato at 11pm.
A note from the Herrs
Thank you to MaryLou and Ed for visiting us, as well as writing this blog. We were lucky enough to be joined (for Barcelona Part 2) by Jon’s parents as well. Once our group was fully assembled we explored the more popular tourist attractions. Be sure to check back for Barcelona Part 2 to hear about Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Montserrat, and more!