Where: Barcelona, Spain
When: September 2015
Hotel: AinB Universitat Apartments
Why Barcelona: This was our last long weekend in Europe before we headed back to the States in 2015, and one of the places I really wanted to see was Spain – in particular, Barcelona. I had heard so many good things and was interested to see what all the fuss was about.
The Trip: It has been over three years but I do remember the trip starting off delayed – so we did not get into Barcelona until late afternoon/early evening. We booked our room at AinB Universitat Apartments on the recommendation of friends, and despite a rough check-in (we had to wait 45 minutes until the owner showed up) it was a nice apartment in a good location – plus, it came with a free bottle of Rioja, Spain’s red wine.
The initial plan was to walk down La Ramblas, but because of the time, we were tired and hungry! I was dying to try some Paella and Sangria, so we went on the hunt for food, and while I got the Sangria, I remember being a tiny disappointed in the Tapas. However, I remembered our first meal in Rome, with crunchy noodles, and decided to not base my opinion on that first meal.
We called it an early night to prepare for the next day which included La Sagrada Famila, Park Guell and a Tapas food tour.
I had booked tickets to both La Sagrada and Park Guell in advance to avoid the lines (always, always, always do this if you can unless you are being spontaneous…then be prepared to wait awhile for the popular sites).
Our tickets were for 1015 into La Sagrada, which gave us 30 minutes to explore the church up front before we were slated to go up the church’s towers. We would then have time to explore the church some more if we wanted.
So, I’m not going to lie – walking up to the church I was wondering what in the world we were looking at? It didn’t seem like a work of art, it seemed like a hot mess without a clear view of what it wanted to be. I mean, there is a Christmas tree as a spiral at one of the entrances. As of March 2017 (the 135th anniversary), only 70 percent of the basilica is finished. It is the brainchild of Antoni Gaudi, and the goal is to have the basilica finished by 2026 – the 100thanniversary of Gaudi’s death.
The inside is a bit more impressive than the outside, with tall columns that look like trees holding up the structure. Honestly, the part I liked the best were the colors – they were amazing! Vibrant and beautiful as the sun hit the stained glass and there was just a rainbow! But mostly, we just walked around confused as what we were looking at. It just wasn’t our taste…as much as we wanted to like it!
We went up the towers and the view was gorgeous! It is definitely worth the trip up, especially if you aren’t wowed by the church!
We should have been more prepared for Parc Guell than we were after our experience at Sagrada familia. (One tip – it’s a bit out of town, and you can take the metro and walk, but the park is up a serious hill. Do what we did and take a cab up, then take the metro back to town).
However, as we approached the park, we were both like…oh no, more crazy! We had tickets with a set time of a 2 p.m. entrance, but because the church took less time then expected, we found a restaurant for lunch and finally got some Paella and more Sangria while we hung out!
The park…it was initially meant to be a high-end neighborhood, but like Sagrada familia, Gaudi’s vision was not completed and it has since been turned into a garden. The view of Barcelona is amazing and the mosaic’s are gorgeous and very cool.
We went back to the hotel to rest a bit before what I think was the highlight of our trip – the Tapas Food Tour by Foodlover. My favorite thing to do in any city is a food tour – I have yet to go on a disappointing one. You learn so much about the city and see things you wouldn’t while trying food and wine local to the region.
This tour did NOT disappoint, and I highly recommend it above anything else you do in Barcelona. You meet at Casa Mila, another Gaudi creation that we admired from the outside but didn’t go in, and then walk to a less touristy neighborhood for an insane amount of tapas and unlimited wine. It was awesome.
The next day, we slept in because the tour went longer than expected and we didn’t get to bed until super late! (Everyone on the tour enjoyed each other’s company so much, we all went out together afterwards!) The plan was to mosey down La Ramblas to the Gothic/El Born districts. That night, we were going to a flamenco show at Palau de la Música Catalana!
My favorite areas of Barcelona are El Born and the Gothic neighborhood. I really just liked getting lost in the tiny side streets and looking at the architecture. It was unfortunately a bit packed that weekend, but still enjoyable. I recommend not necessarily making a plan, but just wandering and see what you can find – we found some really neat stores this way.
After walking a bit and resting up, we were ready for our final night watching a flamenco show. I will say this – do NOT miss Palau de la Música Catalana. Even if you don’t watch a show there, the theater is worth a visit. It is absolutely gorgeous inside and out. I was more impressed with the theater than the show to be honest (which was a teeny bit boring…). While in that area, eat at Tosca which is right across from the theater. By far, the best food we ate in Barcelona. We ordered so much food and even though we were stuffed, we couldn’t stop eating the food it was that good!
Final Thoughts: So, this is an unpopular opinion – but Barcelona was not my (our) favorite. I did not find Gaudi’s works mind-blowing/life-changing, La Ramblas was not better than any other pedestrian road and it was really just a big city with some sites to see in-between. It did not give us the best impression of Spain as a whole (later changed by Gran Canaria, and hopefully one day, Madrid and southern Spain!). I will say that our impression of Barcelona could have been influenced by the fact that we were a bit stressed out – given that we were PCSing three weeks after the trip and it was definitely an unsettled time. But unlike Berlin, which I do want to try again, I do not see us going back again.