I love Barcelona. Everyone told me I would, which made me slightly suspicious about the city; I mean, if everyone tells you that you will love eggplant and it actually tastes gross then you a) are disappointed, and b) annoyed that your friends led you astray. But I shouldn't have worried. Barcelona is the perfect combination of history and cutting edge, food and art, city and sea, and I was smitten from day 1.
I arrived on a Tuesday evening for the conference I was attending, and checked into my hotel around 10:30pm. Even though that is standard eating time in Spain, I was tired and needed to check in at work so I decided to just eat in my hotel's restaurant. That didn't stop me from having tomato bread and jamon, both of which made up the majority of my diet for the balance of the week. That and cortados.
The next morning consisted of work as well, and then I took myself on a lengthy stroll to the Musée Picasso where the conference registration and first sessions were taking place. I was staying near the Mercado Sant Antoni, and my stroll took me through the Ravel to the Boqueria for lunch.
Unfortunately the Mercat Sant Antoni was in the midst of refurbishment. There were some pretty cool temporary market buildings around the area, but I was still slightly disappointed I couldn't go in the actual market structure.
My route, which I used frequently throughout my stay, was the Carrer Hospital. It conveniently takes you straight to Las Ramblas right by the Boqueria.
And the Boqueria is A-MAZING.
Chichirones (fried baby octopus) and pimiento padrones (small hot green peppers cooked in oil with sea salt on top) and a beer to wash it down. I was in heaven.
After my lunch, I continued my stroll across Las Ramblas and through the Barri Gotic to the Barcelona
Cathedral. The Barri Gotic is really lovely, a maze of old streets now sort of taken over by touristy shops but with some real gems of vintage and antiques shops and small boutiques.
Barri Gotic slowly turns into El Born, a really fashionable area between the Gothic heart of the city and the seafront. I found myself starting to windowshop in stylish boutiques and designer home stores and realized that this neighborhood was one to remember.
At that point I had to head into the Musée Picasso, where I stayed for the rest of the day meeting other conference attendees and taking part in the opening night panel discussion. It was a great way to end my first day in the city, and get excited for the following day of conference sessions.
Thursday the keynotes started at 10am, so after running through emails and work stuff, I headed to a cafe for a cortado and then over to the conference. The conference was held at MACBA and the CCCB which are two stunning building situated next to each other at the northern edge of the Ravel. My hotel was less than 10 minutes walk from the site, which was perfect, and I loved walking the old streets to "work" each morning. It reminded me of my summer abroad in Florence – in fact, much of Barcelona reminded me of Florence, that medieval urban plan of winding streets, impressive stone buildings, wrought iron furnishings, and curious alcoves – only with a distinctly Iberian flavor.
I spent Thursday and Friday in various sessions at the conference, and when it closed Friday evening I was completely inspired and overwhelmed. I was glad I had the rest of the weekend in Barcelona to decompress and sort out my thoughts in a leisurely manner.
The Irishman had arrived Thursday night to join me in Barcelona, and we started our weekend Friday night by eating at Cal Pep. As foodies, we were massively annoyed at ourselves that we missed out on getting reservations to Tickets, Ferian Adria's new tapas bar, but heard that even better, and more authentic, is this gem of a tapas bar in El Born. Apparently Thomas Keller says it was the best meal he's ever eaten in Europe, and several friends independently recommended it to me. So once my conference had closed Friday night, The Irishman and I dashed off to the restaurant so we could be there as it opened.
What can I say? It was one of the best meals of my life. You sit down at the bar and they ask you what you will and won't eat, and what you want to drink, and voila! Six courses of the best fish I've ever tasted, one of the most lovely white wines I've ever drunk, a fabulously multilingual waiter who assured us we would love what we were served (and didn't grumble when I asked him to add in an order of pimiento padrons), and the most amazing dessert of flavored whipped creams. Amazing. We were lucky too – a mere 10 minutes after we sat down, a line had formed along the back wall of the restaurant and was out the door. Because of that we were rushed, but it all felt like part of the old school Spanish tapas experience.
Saturday was devoted to checking out all of Gaudi's greatest hits, including touring the interior of La Sagrada Familia, his unfinished cathedral. I must admit I didn't really know anything about it besides how it was unfinished and will continue to be constructed for the next 50+ years, so when we entered the interior I was astounded. I literally was blown away by how imaginative and otherworldly it looks, like nothing I've ever seen before. Because I was taken so off guard and thrilled by the surprise, I'm not going to post any images of the interior; I want those of you who might go to be equally as impressed.
We also saw the apartment building and a few homes he designed, as well as buildings "in the style of".
Sunday was devoted to walking along Las Ramblas to Barceloneta and the seafront. We discovered a whole new part of the city that was emerging from years of decay and becoming a vibrant, regenerated community. When I return to Barcelona, I would seriously consider staying down there.
We rounded off our day with a lovely final tapas meal and sitting on the beach for a few hours before having to go pick up our luggage and head to the airport. On our way home, I thought to myself that I didn't really get to see all of the "highlights" in Barcelona, and felt slightly guilty that I didn't see any of the museums despite having attended a museum conference. But I'm okay with that because it gives me so many reasons to go back to Barcelona again and again. I loved the spirit and attitude of the city, and am already thinking of when would be best to go back. I hope that every single one of you get to go there soon, if you haven't already been.
If you go:
All major airlines and discount carriers fly from London to Barcelona El Prat (the main airport in Barcelona). We flew Ryanair from Stansted for £60 return, no checked baggage, including fees. There are literally hundreds of hotels in Barcelona; we stayed at Hotel Market near Mercat Sant Antoni for the majority of our stay, and then moved to Room Mate Emma for the last night. Hotel Market was lovely, fantastic location, and bargain priced, but the walls were extremely thin. Room Mate Emma was in near Passeig de Gracia and in a more suburban part of the city but clean, tidy, and good value. Metro is safe and easy to use for €2 per trip. Taxis are relatively inexpensive but drivers can take advantage of tourists. Taxi from the airport to city center is roughly €25 each way and there are also busses and trains that go direct to the airport.