Fresh from my experience in Prague, a month had gone by at school and the days had started getting longer and warmer. Summer was definitely on the horizon, and the first place that sprang to mind with beaches was the heart of Catalunya – Barcelona.!
After a couple of days of frantic planning to figure out cheap flight deals and the bookings finally taken care of, the time had come for my first of many cheap flights within Europe, this one, courtesy of Ryan Air. Getting to the airport of Memmingen (which was no bigger than an ALDI), in a desolate corner of Bavaria took longer than the actual flying time to Girona, an hour’s drive away from Barcelona. Finally, being the last to arrive at Girona, I met my friends’ who had flown in from Hamburg and Cologne who were kind enough to wait for me, desperate to start our 10 day tryst with Spain.
Ninety minutes later, traffic not being on our side, we ended up in a small yet cozy youth hostel right next to La Rambla, the main street of Barcelona’s old town. By virtue of a booking mistake (which I still cannot believe/comprehend), we had no beds at the hostel for 1 of the nights.! We were confident of finding a bar to keep us busy for that night ;). After a good night’s rest, the time had come to explore Barcelona.
What does Barcelona offer ?
- Free Walking Tour: There are whole bunch of tours, with different themes to choose from in Barcelona. The one which we took, covered the general history of the city, majorly focusing on the Old Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. Legend has it that the city was named Barcino after Hannibal’s father Hamilcar Barca, visit the cathedral in the Gothic Quarter, learn about the Spanish Civil War and end the tour at the famous footsteps at the Placa del Rey where Christopher Columbus was received after his discovery (controversial ;)) of the New World.
The Seafront Promenade: Starting from the Columbus Monument at the end of La Rambla, walk along the Barcelona seafront taking in the view of the World Trade Center, the sail boats docked neatly next to each other and relax at Platja de la Barcelonata or any other beach on the long stretch.
La Sagrada Familia: Even to people like me who do not quite know the technicalities and intricacies of architecture, one look at the magnificent cathedral will leave you gaping in awe. A masterpiece by Antoni Gaudi, the La Sagrada Familia which, to this day, is still under construction rises high amidst the business establishments and residential blocks of the city. Booking online is highly recommended as the queue can sometimes circle the cathedral multiple times.
Park Güell: Situated around 15 minutes by bus/metro on a hill, this park is another one of Gaudi’s creations. Full of unique architecture including a viaduct, a serpentine mosaic bench across the main square, a terrace to view the city’s skyline, unique colored mosaics found in many places, this park is a perfect place to have a nice walk and relax to the sounds of many musicians who play beneath the archways.
The Nou Camp: For football fans like me, although I don’t support FCB, this stadium is a must visit given its history and the sheer structure of it. A significant part of the Catalan culture, witness to the great Manchester United team who won the 1999 UEFA Champions League final and having boasted the services of two of my favorite players to play the game – Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, it was a surreal moment for me to walk through that famous tunnel and step on this hallowed ground.
Mercado de La Boqueria: Another one of my favorites in Barcelona, this old market lies at the center of La Rambla offering a wide variety of goods ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables, a fish market, the famous Jamon to candied fruits and sweets.
Other Sites: Placa Espanya, The National Palace, The Magic Fountain, Casa Batllo, Placa de Catalunya, Picasso Museum.
Walking around the narrow lanes, some utterly devoid of sunlight owing to the close knit structure of the buildings and getting lost in this maze of streets is my favorite thing to do in Barcelona. A variety of quaint shops and eateries can be found in many of these streets allowing you to put your taste buds to the test.
Delicacies: We took a Tapas Tour (Costs around 20 Euros) to experience the wide range of tapas available, which included a variety of cheeses, olives, salads, bread with olive oil etc. The tour takes you to 4 eateries all serving different tapas and a complimentary glass of Sangria, one of which is the Jamon Experience – a museum as well as a store dedicated to the famous Iberian dry cured ham.
The famous Tortilla Española (Spanish omelette) and Patatas Bravas (fried potatoes with different kinds of sauces) can be found in every corner of Barcelona, best to try these in the authentic old shops of the inner city, far from the horde of tourists. The Paella, a sticky rice dish cooked with olive oil and vegetables, also has versions with seafood and meat is another traditional dish to try out for lunch/dinner.
Last but not the least, forget about chugging down beers when you’re in Barcelona or any region of Spain, that’s why they have Sangria for.! Irrespective of the time of day, this concoction of red wine, lemonade or orangeade along with fruit slices is the perfect drink to have under the hot Iberian sun.
Getting There: Barcelona is served by the El Prat Airport and also the Girona Airport, an hour’s drive to the northeast of the city. A lot of cheap airline carriers operate to both the airports making it a perfect destination for students and budget travelers, and Barcelona is also well connected by buses (affordable compared to trains) to the other cities within Spain.
Places to Stay: If you want to stay near the beach and the hustle and bustle of the city then hostels are the way to go, innumerable hostels are scattered throughout the Gothic Quarter and streets adjoining La Rambla. AirBnB is another option with larger independent spaces and a quieter atmosphere if you’re travelling with a bunch of friends.
Personal Recommendation: Pillow One Barcelona Hostel located at Carrer Montserrat, 13, 08001 Barcelona, Spain and St. Christopher’n Inn located at Carrer de Bergara, 3, 08002 Barcelona, Spain.
This post wouldn’t be complete without the “The One With The Train Rides”.! So, the one night for which we did not have a booking at the hostel, and we had plans of partying, did not quite work out as we were all beat up from walking the city and the night being extremely chilly. The night shift worker at the hostel kindly allowed us to relax on the roof, after around 30 minutes of requesting him in Spanish using Google Translate for each word.!!! He also joined us for a couple of drinks and surprisingly offered us a blunt :D. Unfortunately, he could permit us to stay on the roof only until 4 in the morning and said we can be back at 7 in the morning to check back in. Once we were back on the chilly streets, with our summer clothes on all of us looked at the sign “Drassanes”, the metro stop near our hostel and with a nod of agreement headed straight into the first train of the day. We continued to ride the trains back and forth across this beautiful city until the sun finally rose and it was warm again.!
Barcelona, the only place outside Germany that I’ve visited twice has come to be my favorite city in the world. It is vibrant, colorful, historical yet modern, full of music, food and Sangria.! She definitely deserves multiple visits, the first one made possible by these wonderful people.
Until the next destination – Salud 😀 !