Destination: Barcelona, Spain (Part 2)

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Dragon statue at Parc Guëll (Feb 2016).

Although I was in Barcelona for only three nights during last year’s vacances d’hiver, so much had happened in terms of what I saw, what I did, and what I ate that it merits a second post just to cover them all!

As written in the previous part, I’d hit the streets of the Catalonia capital during my first day (and a half) since getting in, sweeping through the busy, touristy Las Ramblas to viewing the grandiose, surrealist architecture of Gaudi’s creations at the Sagrada Familia and the Casa Battló. Incredible highlights, but again there was still much to explore with the rest of the time I had in the city.

After visiting the Casa Battló on my first morning in Barcelona, I made my way over to the Picasso Museum, popping into a small bakery along the way to get a quick bite to eat for lunch before arriving at the museum in the early afternoon. Just like with any other tourist attraction in the city, there was a notable queue to get in, but it wasn’t too bad as it went by rather quickly and, with my old university student ID, I was actually able to get in for free! Considering that I’d been paying a pretty hefty sum for the other attractions (Sagrada Familia, Casa Battló), having something free for once was very refreshing.

Unfortunately, I could not take photos inside of the museum, but all the same, I was quite happy wandering around and taking in the diversity of works from the Spanish artist himself. From his classically-trained origins to Impressionism and later to Cubism, there’s so much more to this man who is recognized as one of the most influential artists in history. Many people (including myself) associate Picasso with Cubism, but after seeing the other styles of work that he’d done during his lifetime in the museum, we’ve been proven incredibly wrong.

Even though I consider myself more of an Impressionist type of person (enjoying the likes of Monet, Degas, and so forth), I also enjoy Picasso’s works, some of which are, indeed, of Impressionist influences. That said, I actually found myself liking the museum more than I’d thought, even though it was rather small. Better yet, I didn’t have to pay to visit, so always a plus!

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Courtyard of the Picasso Museum.

I was quite tired after the Picasso Museum, since I’d been walking all over the city for most of the day; I decided to head back to my hostel to rest, since I would be going on later that night to meet someone for dinner and otherwise hang out. Returned to my hostel where I stayed until about 18h00, then went out again to head over to a tapas bar that I’d bookmarked to try out, located on the way to Montjuïc. It wouldn’t open until 19h00, but from what I’d researched, it was a popular one, so it helped to arrive early to line up and stake your place in front of the bar!

Made it over there about a quarter to 19h00 and shortly thereafter, the person with whom I was to meet showed up. She was a fellow Couchsurfer, a woman in her early thirties originally from Turkey who was visiting for work. Aside from staying with hosts through Couchsurfing, the website also allows you to meet up with others just to hang out and whatnot. I decided to do that whilst in Barcelona, and she’d messaged me expressing interest, so that’s how we met up in front of the popular tapas bar, which already had a notable crowd growing even before the doors opened up!

Any case, the place opened for business at 19h00, and we pretty much rushed inside to stake our spot right in front of the bar; within twenty minutes, the bar was packed with people. We got our beers, ordered our plates, and before I knew it, I was savoring what I would say is one of the best tapas dishes that I’d ever tasted. Mind you, that was my first time trying it, but since then I’ve been to other places in Spain and tried their tapas, and still, that place in Barcelona has my heart.

What did I have? To start, the Couchsurfer and I got some artichokes with Brie cheese and caviar- you might think it’s a bizarre combination, if not downright unappetizing, but I swear, it worked! The artichoke was so soft it was like butter; it also didn’t have that usual bitter taste of artichokes I’ve had, and the cheese and caviar made it super rich and decadent. We also got mussels drenched in this savory, slightly spicy sauce, which was nice and briny, along with pork cheek and chips. Just like the artichokes, the pork cheek was so tender and, paired with the lightly-fried potato chips, it worked wonders for my taste buds. I also decided to splurge a bit more towards the end of our tapas fest and try a salmon-honey truffle toast, which didn’t disappoint as well. I’d never heard of honey truffle before, but after that, I was hooked on the concept!

Food photos to snack on (vicariously, of course):

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Artichokes with Brie cheese and caviar.
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Mussels and pork cheek with chips.
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Salmon honey-truffle toast.

Really, words cannot describe just how perfect the food was. It wasn’t necessarily cheap, but I was fine with the splurge! The Couchsurfer and I left after tasting those dishes, since the place kept getting filled even more and more with people and we didn’t want to be crushed in it. We headed out, wandering the streets of Las Ramblas and hopping from bar to bar in search of the best mojitos (of which we’d discovered that we had a mutual love for them). Excellent food and drinks, excellent company.

We parted ways at 23h00 to turn in for the night, but we’d made plans to meet up the following night for some more drinks and hanging out. I turned in past midnight, tired but fulfilled from the good food and drinks.

The next morning was my final full day in Barcelona: I woke up early and headed over to visit Park Guëll, again another of Gaudi’s artistry. I didn’t visit it the last time that I was in Barcelona, which had been almost ten years ago, and considering that it’s a must-see while in the city, I knew I had to make it over when I still had the opportunity!

From my hostel, it was rather a way out on foot (easily one to two hours), so I just took the metro over, getting off at the closest stop and making the 15 to 20-minute walk up to the top of the site. I arrived at the entrance and showed the guards my timed ticket to enter at 10h00 (having purchased it online the night before). Once I got the okay, I was in!

Despite the overcast skies that day (thankfully, no rain), the park was still lovely in all of its mythological surrealism (a distinctive trope of Mr. Gaudi himself in hist architecture). I started off with the serpentine bench, long and curvy with small, bright mosaic chunks laid out all over the area. Certainly one of the most iconic parts of Park Guëll, and what I’d been meaning to see the most out of the rest of the park. I also asked some tourists for a photo with it, and my life was complete!

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Bench at Park Guëll.

From there, I continued down to the gardens, passing by the Austrian gardens, the slanted pillars of the Viaduct, and of course, the iconic salamander statue near the entrance, crowded with tons of tourists (unsurprisingly). I was lucky to have even been able to snap a photo of it on its own!

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The Austrian Gardens.
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Pillars of the Viaduct.

After visiting a couple of Dr. Seuss-like buildings near the entrance of the park, I left Park Guëll, happy to have visited, even though it wasn’t as big as I’d originally imagined. Took the metro over to Passeig de Gràcia, where I’d spent some time in the day before, to visit the other few houses associated with the Illa de la Discòrdia (“Block of Discord”). With the ticket that I purchased at the Casa Lleó Morera, I was also allowed to visit the Casa Amatller with it as a “two-for-one” kind of deal. Although I had no idea what to expect inside of them, it didn’t hurt to take a look!

I visited the Casa Lleó Morera first and was taken away by the 180-degree stained-glass room that led out to the patio. From floor to ceiling, the walls were covered in colorful depictions of birds and other animals which for me was the most impressive part of the building.

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Casa Lleó Morera.
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A bit dark to see, but the stained glass were amazing.

I checked out the Casa Amatller after, and while I personally preferred the Casa Lleó Morera over Amatller, I couldn’t refuse the complimentary hot chocolate at the latter’s cafe on the ground floor after the tour. It was my first real taste of Spanish hot chocolate and I was really taken back by how thick it was…in a good way!

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Casa Amatller.

With the two casas done, I was feeling a bit tired, so I returned to my hostel where I rested a bit before heading out again at 19h30 to meet up with the Couchsurfer with whom I’d hung out the night before. We walked along Las Ramblas once more, heading towards and arriving at a bar in which a Couchsurfing meetup event was happening. Just like with the ones that I’d attended back in Bordeaux, this one was also a meet-and-greet of sorts where locals and travelers alike came for drinks and to chat. More specifically, it was a language-exchange kind of night, so people got together to practice their target language with native speakers.

The Couchsurfer and I met a trio of Spanish guys who were locals in the area; they were here celebrating one of the guy’s birthday, as well as improving their English. The Couchsurfer and I were native speakers, so we chatted about random topics: travel, work, visiting Barcelona, and so forth. We got drinks (along with some patatas bravas, or fried potato wedges served with mayonnaise- delicious!) and hung around the bar, meeting people from all over the world (although many of which were locals). Eventually, the Couchsurfer and I left rather early, around 21h15, since she had plans at 22h00 and I had to wake up early the following morning to leave, so we went out, said goodbye and parted ways near my hostel. Overall, it was a modest, but pleasant night out.

…and that concludes my stay in Barcelona! Coming back after ten years is really a completely different experience: considering that the last time I was there, I was only 13 years old, so returning as an adult I have more insight into what I want to see and do, as well as understanding better the historical and cultural aspects of the monuments and overall appreciating them.

As I’ve said before, I’m taking it upon myself to return in 2026, during which the Sagrada Familia is slated to be completed, and not only accomplish the goal of visiting Barcelona in ten-year increments (2006, 2016, and 2026), but also seeing how my perspective as a thirty-something will compare to my twenty-something and teenage selves. It’s weird how time is sometimes, but philosophical musings aside, I can’t wait to return to Barcelona.

Look out for my next post on my vacances d’hiver from last year. Next up: Madrid, Spain! 

 

— Rebecca

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