The Hidden Streets of Barcelona

In Barcelona, I ate paella! I have long been wanting to make paella at home, but the challenge seems too difficult to overcome just yet. And I’m sure eating it in Spain is so much better. My husband and I became huge fans of Spanish food and tapas were a great way to try everything. We sipped sangria and fell in love with the croquettes. We never had a hard time finding good food in Barcelona and the atmosphere made eating it even better.

Barcelona is confidently one of Europe’s coolest city’s. It’s always on the cutting edge of art, design, architecture and food. The big city vibe combined with old Spanish charm make it easy to fall in love with. No wonder people decide to study abroad here! The dark, tiny streets are hidden like secrets which make them so magical and romantic. The people are so full of life and the air must have something in it that makes everybody happy. Barcelona air has endorphins. It must.

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I felt useless with the two years of High School Spanish under my belt. Not only because I forgot almost everything other than, “hola” and “gracias”, but also because Barcelona natives speak Catalan. Sure, they speak Spanish as well, and many of them speak English too, but Catalan is their dominant language. I never quite understood the story behind Catalonia and Spain, but I got a taste while I was there. Catalonia (Barcelona) is actually struggling to become their own government. They have no Spanish pride and would like to eventually become their own country. In fact, in just a few months they will be meeting with the new King of Spain (residing in Madrid) to discuss the possibilities of this happening sooner rather than later. It will be interesting to see what happens. It’s funny to me because I never removed Barcelona from Spain, I always thought it to be proudly part of the beautiful country, but I was wrong. We learned much of this while watching the Spain vs. Netherlands World Cup game at a crowded outdoor bar. Mike and I were excited to be there to watch the Spain fans go wild at the television screen, however, the crowd went wild in happiness when The Netherlands scored a goal. They were actually rooting against their own country! All in all, Catalonia (Barcelona) does not want to be a part Spain, they would ideally like to be their own country.

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We arrived by plane early Wednesday afternoon. It was our first flight of the trip and all went smoothly! We did not take advantage of the super cheap flights on Ryanair as they were unavailable, but we did find good rates on another airline. The reason we flew was because the travel time from the South of France to Spain would have taken an entire day. And we didn’t want to waste any time. Like France, Spain’s main means of transportation were on strike. Meaning no trains and no taxi-cabs were running. So we had to take the city bus from the airport to the hotel, not the most comfortable option, but I am quickly becoming less snobby about public transportation, so it didn’t bother me. We stayed at a really gorgeous boutique hotel called Hotel 1898  that sat right along the La Rambla, which is Barcelona’s most famous boulevard. Our room was rather noisy as the windows looked right out onto the vibrant streets (Barcelona is one big non stop party, so it never quieted down), but the overall location, beautiful rooms and atmosphere made it perfect for us. Another perk being the rooftop pool and bar which offered stunning views of the city and made our stay even more enjoyable!

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We had so much fun strolling through the La Rambla boulevard, stopping at flower vendors and unique shops that lined the car-less row all the way down to the water where it ended. On either side of the boulevard were the small, dark, tiny streets  that I found so magically romantic. These were the most fun to explore. We must have walked a hundred streets while we were there and it never got old. We’d look for tiny restaurants, cafés and bars to grab food and drinks in, and we happened to stumble upon some really cute places!

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Our first day consisted of exploring the tiny streets followed by a rather unimpressive dinner. Our hotel concierge recommended a restaurant close to the hotel called Restaurant En Ville, and since we were both so tired from traveling, we decided to trust him. Important note: Whenever the hotel concierge pulls out a business card of the restaurant he/she is recommending, never go. This is not a good sign. It’s unfortunate because we knew better, but again, we were so tired that we decided to trust him. Terrible decision. Anyways, we ate really bad seafood, a mediocre bottle of wine and then bolted to a colorful bar down the road where we enjoyed tapas accompanied by a pitcher of sangria! It wasn’t the worst way to end a bad dinner and tiring day!

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Thursday morning we set out to explore even more of the city, making a pit stop at Gaudi’s famous designed building, Casa Batllo. I fell in love with all things Gaudi while I was in Barcelona. Sure, I’ve learned about him, read about him and knew how significant his innovative designs and architecture was, but I never truly appreciated the genius that he was. Blown away by the building’s movement and curvature, I was so excited to see the La Segrada Familia, which we had purchased tickets in advance for (very smart thing to do) on Friday.

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After hours of walking, we decided to eat lunch at the big local market right along the La Rambla. I love local markets more than anything, so I was really excited to spend some time there! The extremely colorful Mercat de la Boqueria had an extremely inviting entrance and an even more intriguing inside. With tons of fresh stands and a number of bars and cafés to choose from in and around the establishment, our options were endless. We ate some really good seafood and delicious tapas, had some local wine, and then ended our afternoon with fresh fruit juices!

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That night we dined at a well known restaurant called Ciudad Condal. Famous for fresh tapas and delicious sangria, the place is always packed. With a strict no reservation policy, the wait can usually be very long, but we got lucky with a table by the bar. We shared way too many plates and sipped some really good sangria. The fun atmosphere was absolutely better than the food, the portions were very large and the dishes were just okay. We had so much fun dining there though that it was worth it! After dinner we stopped at a sports bar to watch one of the World Cup games. It was the first night of the World Cup, so if you can imagine, the bar was packed with people in great spirits! Which made it really fun!

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We had purchased tickets in advance to go see Gaudi’s La Segrada Familia for Friday at noon. I was so excited. I’ve heard such amazing things about the masterpiece, but seeing it in person blew me away. The line to get inside the temple wrapped around for blocks, but with our passes we had purchased online we didn’t have to wait at all! As soon as we stepped up to the entrance, our jaws went limp. We were speechless and awestruck with many different feelings. It was a moment of wow. Hands down the coolest architecture and design I have ever seen, words can’t even begin describe its beauty. Barcelona’s most famous attraction and for good reason began its construction in 1882. Still not complete, they are hoping for it to be finished by year 2026. At which time I would love to go back and see it completely finished! Cranes and scaffolding obscured many of our views, but so much of it was visible and what I could see I loved. We took an elevator up to the top of one of the towers which lead to the most stunning views of the city. We also walked through the small museum explaining much of Gaudi’s progress in the works of the temple and his life. It was just the coolest church ever.

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We were in such good spirits after having such an eventful morning at the church, we had a really fun lunch filled with tapas and beers at a cute spot called Set de Gotic followed by a relaxing afternoon at our hotel’s rooftop pool. We drank sangria over a competitive card game and soaked up some vitamin D. For dinner that night we ate at a fun restaurant in a tiny plaza right below our hotel called Bar Lobo. The tapas were amazing and the atmosphere was great! We loved it there! Just outside the plaza was an outdoor bar with a huge flat screen TV. We grabbed seats and beers and watched Spain play The Netherlands in the World Cup game. This was the night my husband and I got a true taste of the Barcelona sports fan. The crowd screamed negativity toward Spain and cheered on The Netherlands. It was so bizarre. Still really fun though!

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Saturday was our final night in Barcelona. We started the day by taking a walk by the water, exploring the coast and gazing at the hundreds of sail boats.

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We then proceeded to walk to the coolest restaurant ever, Cal Pep. The restaurant seats roughly 20 people and is open weekdays and on Saturdays from 1:15pm-3:45pm and there are no reservations. A line of prospective customers stands outside the door typically an hour before opening… that’s how desirable this place is. It’s a spot where locals go to gossip and eat spectacular food. How did we hear about it you might ask? My mother-in-law and sister-in-law dined here during their trip to Barcelona a few years back and still swear it is one of the best meals they have ever had. So Mike and I got to the restaurant around 12:45 and waited in line. As soon as the doors opened, a nice man sat each diner along the bar where you get to watch the chefs cook. Mike and I were the last two people who made it in the restaurant, being seated at the very end of the bar. We were all smiles and high-fives as we had just made the cut to eat at the coolest place ever!! The people behind us who didn’t make the cut just stood outside and waited. Brutal. No menus were provided, the chef just started bringing us food, it was amazing. We ate the best fried octopus I’ve ever had, delicious mussels, potato omelets (also known as a tortilla here in Spain) and so much more. We shared a bottle of wine and had a rather expensive, but perfect lunch. Cal Pep was one of my favorite experiences of Barcelona and one of the best meals I have ever had. I am so excited because each customer receives a recipe card for the potato omelet! I am going to attempt to make it for my husband as soon as we get back from our trip 🙂

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That afternoon we visited the Picasso Museum, home to over 3,000 Picasso pieces. We love museums and we love art, but we were actually rather disappointed by this museum. Sure, it was cool seeing doodles Picasso drew when he was just 14 years old, these doodles were amazing, don’t get me wrong, but the museum did not house any of his well known masterpieces. It was kind of just a hodgepodge of works that they stumbled upon from his childhood one day. My favorite series of work in the museum were that of his Pigeon paintings. I despise pigeons more than anyone in the world, they are useless creatures who are literally good for nothing, but he portrayed the pieces really beautifully, actually!

Barcelona’s Gothic Cathedral was next on our list of things to see. It was built in the 11th century and was so dark and bold. The chandeliers were my favorite. This church was a lot more dramatically gothic than any other church I have seen and I really loved it. I was happy we made the trip to see it.

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Before dinner that night, my husband and I took a walk down to the Plaza Espanya metro stop to see the fountain show, which happens every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night starting at 5pm until 10pm. My friend Abbé studied abroad in Barcelona and is in love with the city! She had some great suggestions of things to do and this was one of them! After our romantic water escapade, we dined over paella at a very authentic Catalan restaurant. I’m not the biggest fan of cutting open and de-shelling my own prawns, but it was worth it.

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I learned so much during my time in Barcelona and I have a list of tapas to add to my cooking to-do list! I’m so excited to take what I have captured here back home with me and infuse it into my everyday life. No, my paella will never taste as good as that from a traditional Catalan restaurant, but I sure as heck can try! And my prawns will be de-shelled, so there. 🙂 Sunday morning we board the fast train to Sevilla! Stay tuned for authentic tales on old Spanish charm. Until then, adios!

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