This past weekend was a long weekend for Richie, due to the Szent Istvan holiday on the 20th, so we decided to take advantage of that and (finally!) go to Barcelona! I say “finally” because it seems like we’ve been talking about taking this trip all summer, but the timing hasn’t worked for various reasons. Any place that has massive quantities of tapas, seafood, and sangria is a sure win for us, though, so we were determined to make it work before the end of summer.
We decided to try one of the budget airlines that’s gained prominence in Budapest since the collapse of Malev called Wizz Air. The fares are truly budget-worthy; however, as you probably know, they try to kill you with fees for every little thing (such as checking in at the airport – 2,000 forint; adding a bag – another 2,000 forint each way; using a credit card – yet another 2,000 forint. I’m surprised they don’t charge a fee for using the restroom.) The other way that these airlines save money is by only flying at certain times, and usually just one flight per day. Our flight to Barcelona left at 6:10 am, meaning we had to leave our flat for the airport by 3:45 am. Yuck. We definitely slept the entire flight.
We once again used the master, Rick Steves, to teach us his ways and what we should do on the trip, so we started out our trip with a few sightseeing walks. The first walk took us down the Ramblas, which is basically the main touristy drag of Barcelona. I took absolutely no photos on this part of the trip. First, because I didn’t think the Ramblas was all that exciting (possibly because of the sheer masses of humanity also walking along the street with us – remind me next year that August is awful for sightseeing) and secondly because I was too tired to remember that I had brought my camera with me 🙂 The best part of this area was the market. When you enter, the first thing you see is really colorful juices everywhere! They had all sorts of combinations, like blackberry coconut and banana watermelon. Mmmmm. I stuck with the more traditional strawberry and pineapple. The market also has lots of stands selling jamón, which are giant dried/cured pig legs, and others with fresh fruits, vegetables, or seafood. Wandering around a market close to lunchtime is fairly dangerous – I got so hungry that I literally didn’t care what restaurant we went to as long as it had tapas. This turned out to be a really poor decision, because we were served what were possibly the worst tapas in the history of the world. This, plus the lack of sleep, made me decide that I needed a nap, stat. We headed back to our hotel – me to nap, and Richie to change for a trip to the beach.
After a much longer nap than I had originally planned (3 hours… whoops!), Richie returned from the beach and we decided to continue our walking tours with a trip through the Barri Gotic (the “Gothic Quarter”) of the city. Our main destination was the Cathedral of Barcelona, which dates back to the 13th century and is really breathtaking. The tall vaulted ceilings, the beautifully carved wooden choir, and the cloisters with geese were my favorite parts. We heard just the beginnings of some music as we were leaving the church, and I can only imagine how beautiful it would sound with a full choir and organ.
We completed the Gothic Quarter walk, which involved a few sites such as the statue of the Martyrs receiving their last rites before being garroted (cheery!), a church and children’s play area pockmarked with bomb damage from the Spanish Civil War (also cheery!) and a few government buildings, which were being used as the background for a protest by the Spanish version of PETA (complete with disgusting photos and faux blood – SUPER CHEERY!)
At this point, we’d worked up quite an appetite, despite the gory photos, so we headed to La Paradeta. This restaurant was recommended to us by a friend for having incredibly fresh seafood – the restaurant has piles of seafood, fresh from the markets, at the entrance. It’s mostly crab, prawns, and shrimp, but there were also calamari, some other type of squid, monkfish, and tuna. You pick which one(s) you want and the restaurant cooks it for you. It’s a great concept, but the execution was a little poor. This was mostly because of timing – we were in line right behind a huge group of tourists that were all trying to order together, and the restaurant was really busy overall. Long story short, some of Richie’s food never arrived and they charged us for the wrong thing. The food we DID get, though, was really good and really affordable.
We headed back to our hotel for some rooftop beverages. Our hotel was one block from the Sagrada Familia, and the height of the hotel meant the terrace had a lovely view of the church, so we sipped Spanish red wine and enjoyed the view while chatting with some fellow Americans we met at the bar.
The next day, we started pretty slowly. Richie had just returned from a whirlwind work trip to the US, so that plus our early flight the day before wiped him out. Around 11, we ventured out to Park Güell, which features a lot of the unique design of Antoni Gaudi, the architect behind a number of structures in Barcelona (including the Sagrada Familia). The park was originally supposed to be a housing site for really rich people; apparently it was an idea before its time, because the rich people of the early 1900s wanted to live in the middle of the city and not in remote gated communities. So, instead of the private residences, markets, and gardens that were intended, the place was converted to a municipal garden.
After we finished touring the park, we decided to give La Paradeta another chance, since there was another version of the restaurant located just behind our hotel. Lesson learned: lunchtime is the way to go. It was much less crowded, and the people had plenty of time to answer our questions about the food and how it would be prepared. We ended up with all the right food this time, and it was delicious! I ordered – well, I have no idea what, but it was some kind of squid or baby octopi, battered and fried.
I ate about 75% of that plate without help from Richie. Soooo good.
Our afternoon was spent touring the Sagrada Familia church. It was started in Gaudi’s lifetime (1882) and is still unfinished, with an expected completion date of 2026. If I’m still alive and the church really is finished by then, I would love to go back and see it in its completed state. The portions of the church that are completed are so beautiful. There are three main facades – the Nativity Facade, showing the acts leading up to the birth of Jesus; the Passion Facade, showing the acts leading up to his death, and the Glory Facade (which hasn’t been started). The Nativity Facade was the only part completed by Gaudi himself; the Passion Facade was done by another artist, and the Glory Facade will be done by yet another. When completed, the church’s windows will all be stained glass; right now it’s about half and half, which makes the light inside really interesting!
The rest of the day was spent shopping and eating (two of my favorite things!) We ended our night with more rooftop drinks, this time dipping our feet into the small pool and chatting with some French people that joined us. At that point, we decided that it was our goal to meet new people from a different country every night of the trip 🙂
Our last day in Barcelona was primarily a beach day. The weather was hot and humid, so perhaps not the best time to go (I think I sweated off all of my sunscreen, which is why I’m a bit pink-cheeked these days!) but the cool water felt so good on our hot skin!
Sunday was also our best tapas day – we found a restaurant for lunch and a different one for dinner (although owned by the same company, we later discovered) that had an amazing selection and great sangria.
After the beach, we attempted to visit the Picasso Museum – we had read in our Rick book that the lines were best in the late afternoon – but when we arrived, the line was so long that it probably would’ve taken 2 hours to get in. I can’t imagine what it would be like in the mornings if the afternoons have the shortest lines! So instead we did more shopping until the FC Barcelona game that night.
Background: Richie played soccer in high school and loves watching the sport. I can take it or leave it – watching on TV is pretty boring to me, but I’ve enjoyed attending FC Dallas games in person. Richie’s always told me that FC Dallas is really not the best example of soccer, but I didn’t really know any differently, so I thought most soccer games ended in a 0-0 tie (yep, I think FC Dallas has only scored once in the games I’ve gone to… maybe twice). Apparently not. We went to the Barça game and 3 goals were scored in the first ten minutes of play. Watching the footwork of the teams was amazing – I could never manipulate the ball (and the other players) like they do! So I might be a newly converted soccer / football fan.
After the game, we had a really uncomfortably-sardine-can metro ride home and continued our tradition of meeting new people at the rooftop terrace. This time, we met an Irish guy who used to work for PwC and now works in a factory producing marzipan because he likes the work/life balance better there. So, if I decide I don’t want to be an accountant anymore when we return to the US, perhaps there’s a job in food production calling my name.
On Monday, we once again had a painfully early flight, although this one allowed us to leave our hotel at 6:45am rather than 3:45am! It felt absolutely decadent to sleep for those three extra hours. Note to self: the next time I say, “Let’s go with the airline with the early flight – that way we can get more sightseeing in!”…. don’t.
Next up: our Szent Istvan celebration!