We made it to Barcelona without incident and hopped on the Aerobus – an inexpensive shuttle to the city center and various Metro stops. As we exited the Metro station that first night on our way to the hotel, the familiar smell of ganja smoke wafted past us, not just once, but a few times. I gave my friend a knowing look. It’s like home in San Francisco!
However, unlike San Francisco, Barcelona was really humid. The subterranean train station felt like a steam room, yet somehow I didn’t feel like I was getting free skin exfoliation.
Humidity aside, Spain’s cosmopolitan capital city is definitely worth a visit and we made the most of our 36 hours in Barcelona.
It’s true what they say: the Spanish really do eat late.
The hot time to arrive at dinner in Spain appears to be sometime between 9:15pm and 10:20pm (or 21:15pm and 22:20pm in the spirit of the country).
That first night, we grabbed a (late for us) dinner at Paco Meralgo, a tapas bar and tavern in the Eixample district.
Our first night in Barcelona, we ate dinner at Paco Meralgo, at my friend’s recommendation. Here is where we discovered many restaurants have menus in both English and Catalan (and/or Spanish). At the top of the menu photo you can see a dish called “Cuttlefish ‘Obama’ croquettes”. I don’t know what Obama had to do with those croquettes, but they were mighty tasty. We entered around 9:30pm on a Tuesday night and the resturant was pretty packed with a lively group of people. We were lucky enough to score two seats at the bar, seated next to a French-speaking couple, who spoke what sounded like good Spanish, to the servers.
Gambas con al ajillo or prawns with fresh garlic. These were served sizzling and very well seasoned. The shells were crispy and soaked in the flavor of the sauce. Mm mmm.
Pan de tomate, a popular Catalan tapas appetizer made with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and salt. Unfortunately, I don’t like fresh tomatoes (the more processed the better, ha!), so while I appreciated the dish’s value, my taste buds didn’t care for it.
Flor de calabacín y mozzarella aka zucchini flowers with mozzarella. Reminded me of one of the pizzas at Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, except in tempura form.
Langostinos de Sant Carles plancha (grilled langoustine) and Albóndiga de sepia (known as cuttlefish “Obama” croquettes in English). The langoustine was okay, I didn’t love it. The Obama croquettes, however, were flavorful and cooked just enough to be crispy, not enough to be burnt.
Cava, Spanish champagne, is a popular drink with Barcelona residents. I loved it; it was light, fresh and crisp.
Foie con pan or foie gras on toast. I’ve tried foie gras no fewer than six times and have yet to like it. The 7th time in Spain, wasn’t the charm. I’m okay with this though – I already have enough guilt over eating meat as is. If I liked foie gras, I’d think this was very good.
The next night, at Cuidad Condal, even with an English menu, I didn’t understand all the dishes, so I just ordered an assorted tapas platter. Clockwise: fried anchovies, clams in garlic sauce, ham croquettes, grilled prawns (gambas roja) and at center, grilled Padron peppers with sea salt. I loved everything! The croquettes were the best I had on the trip, the clams I could have eaten plates of and I even ate and enjoyed the peppers, which is unusual for me. Top meal for sure! I also met some friendly Americans from Texas, though the bar was full of a mix of locals and tourists.
It’s probably a good idea to buy tickets early to visit La Sagrada Familia
By the time we arrived at the tourist-magnet, Antoni Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia church, the line was days long…if you didn’t buy tickets online.
Famous Spanish Architect, Antoni Gaudi’s impressive basicalla cathedral, La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Construction began in the late 19th century and probably will not be finished until the mid-21st century.
Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona, Spain. One of the most visited sites in all of Spain. Construction has taken over 125 years and is still in progress. The design is so intricate and the attention to detail so impressive, you could stare at it for days.
Ham is kind of a big thing
We visited La Boqueria, an open-air market in the center of the city and we saw ham, ham and more ham.
Ham is kind of a big thing in Spain and that was on display at the La Boqueria market in Barcelona. The market was huge and many stands were serving some form of ham: burritos, sliced, shots, sandwiches, etc. Jamon Iberico is what Spain is known for and it is very, very good and comparatively cheap compared to when I’ve had it in the US. I’m going to miss eating all the fine ham.
More scenes from La Boqueria market in Barcelona. It’s just off La Rambla, a busy street in a touristy area. However, locals also shop at the market which has a diverse selection of foods.
More scenes from La Boqueria market in Barcelona. I ate more anchovies in a little over a week in Spain than I think I have in my whole life. They were pretty good too!
A walking tour is the way to go
Many cities offer free walking tours and Barcelona is one of them. It’s a great way to get a condensed history lesson and see the sights the city is known for. Our tour guide was a young guy from London who’d been living in Barcelona for three years. His energy and humor made for rich tales. Along with us on the tour were couples from London and Denmark, an Aussie duo and a trio of girls from Mexico.
It’s not everyday you get to stand on Roman ruins
George Orwell plaza in the Gothic district. Interestingly, this was one of the first public spaces in Barcelona to have video surveillance installed. It also used to be known as “Plaza Trippy” because of the drug deals, drug use and other assorted underground activities took place there.
El Call, the former Jewish “ghetto” in Barcelona and also location of the oldest synagogue in Europe.
Barca! There was art to be found everywhere in the city.
We took an informative 2.5 hour walking tour through the Gothic district. We learned A LOT about Spain’s ancient history and saw landmarks like the Santa Maria del Pi church, Barcelona Cathedral, tourists and even los ninos in school.
Art is everywhere
Barcelona doesn’t mess around with its art. Even things you think aren’t art, are art. You’re walking on the sidewalk and the tour guide tells you, “Oh, by the way, you just stepped on a Miro work.” Well, damn. I don’t expect to find intricate mosaics beneath my feet on the daily! What other groundart have I been missing?
This sculpture in Plaça de Sant Miguel is a tribute to “human castle” climbers.
An art exhibit alongside the promenade
Giant, fiberglass lobster by Javier Mariscal.
A Gaudi-designed lamp post in Plaza Real
Arte de la calle or “street art” found in the Gothic district of Barcelona
This former mansion now houses a movie theatre. Captain Philips, with Tom Hanks, just opened.
More art on the waterfront
A Lichtenstein sculpture, Cap de Barcelona aka “The Head”
The buildings look magnificent at night
Antoni Gaudi’s, Casa Batllo. Majestic to see at night. I was mesmerized by the light, color and detail.
Generali Seguros building in the Eixample district of Barcelona. The architect was a Gaudi disciple.
There is so much more to see in Barcelona and I only hit a fraction of it. Another 24-36 hours would probably have been sufficient. Lack of time notwithstanding, I consumed enough of Barcelona to decide that it’s a dynamic, artful and cosmopolitan city. I get why people love it.
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