This August I traveled to Barcelona with my son Benson, my daughter Natalie and her fiancé Kevin. We had spent 5 days in Bordeaux before arriving in Barcelona by train. I have been wanting to travel to Barcelona and Spain in general for the better part of twenty years. Leading up to traveling to Barcelona I had been watching countless Spanish language series on Netflix like Hache and La Catedral del Mar which take place in Barcelona. My previous travel to Spanish speaking countries has been mostly in South America, I wanted to get my ear accustomed to “Spanish” Spanish. While learning any romance language can help you in parts of Europe, I’m not sure all that effort was worth it although I really do enjoy watching foreign language shows.
Here are my tips on traveling to Barcelona:
Transportation. Traveling by train from Bordeaux took us from Bordeaux to Narbonne (France) where we transferred to a train from Narbonne to Barcelona. The train ride from Narbonne to Barcelona is very scenic. We passed by the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain on one side and the Mediterranean on the other. There were kite surfers on the inlets and the rest of the landscape was mostly desolate. Upon arriving in Barcelona, Benson and Natalie decided we should take a subway to our apartment location. As we entered the Estacio Sants, I was entirely overwhelmed by all the signage and crowds snaking in and out of gates. I have to say I really wanted to get into a cab mostly because I am not a fan of maneuvering luggage on a subway and I freeze in confusion by the tumult. Yes, we went down some crowded staircases without escalators but in retrospect, it really was the best way to go. I’m glad I just trusted my kids to get us where we needed to go. After walking about a half mile with all our luggage (take suitcases with wheels please), we traversed what is a labyrinth of streets (neh, alleys) of the Gothic Quarter. There were no cars on these streets. If and when there is a car on these streets, it’s an event which shuts down a lot of the street making it impassable. Take public transportation, have either very light bags or sturdy bags with wheels because you will be walking with your luggage.
Catalan. Folks in Barcelona speak Catalan. If French and Spanish had a baby, it would be the language Catalan. This means that every sign, package and menu is in Catalan. Not Spanish. Not French. Yes, we were usually handed menus in English and the majority of folks in the Gothic Quarter spoke English and Spanish due to the high number of foreign tourists but you are immersed in Catalan. Most street signage is in Catalan which while somewhat similar to Spanish (it’s frequently written in Spanish below), it can get pretty confusing. Sortida is Catalan, Salida is Spanish and Sortie is French for Exit. I had to study Catalan on my language app for about three months before traveling to Barcelona but when I got there…I kept reverting to Spanish. Most will be able to speak English and will usually default to it in tourist areas but they speak Catalan and Catalan is not Spanish.
Food. Our apartment in Barcelona had a very small refrigerator, about the size of a large dorm refrigerator in the United States. This evolved into a happy turn of events because I never even tried to cook. This fortunately, “forced” us to eat out at practically every meal. The food in Barcelona was terrific. For the carnivores in our group, Benson, there was a huge array of sliced cured meats like jamon, chorizo, salchichon, lomo, and sobrassada. For a plant focused person like myself, the roasted peppers and eggplant was simple yet divine. The assortment of seafood was terrific and the octopus is not to be missed. Serendipitously, for foodies like my family, there were three of the best restaurants in Barcelona at the bottom of the stairs to our apartment. One of which was La Alcoba Azul (the blue bedroom), was directly below us. We had plates and plates of incredible food in the back of this cave like restaurant with very low ceilings, ancient wooden tables and candles that had what looked like centuries of melted wax. Every morning we ducked into a multitude of cafes for espresso and lattes and whatever their specialty was for breakfast: either crispy flakey croissant or pan con tomato. The only meal we had with a reservation, was at Gourmet Sensi. To my surprise they had some delicious creative vegetarian options like Ravioli with Truffles and Parmesan and Cannelloni made from eggplant. Each forkful was delicious. We reflected later that probably the best food was that last night in Barcelona at Gourmet Sensi. The Mercado de Boqueria is an enormous public market that has practically anything to go. You can get a cup of charcuterie, fruit slices, cheese slices, olives and roasted nuts…anything. When I go back to Barcelona, I will do a better job of planning my lunch to be eating my way through “La Boqueria”. In retrospect, I love that we rarely had a plan yet ate incredible food at every meal, snack and coffee break. My advice is to eat the food, everywhere and often.
Explore. Fortunately, our apartment had air conditioning which is unusual for the Gothic Quarter. It was nice to have a refuge from the 90-degree heat although there were plenty of beaches within either subway or walking distance as well. I finally put my toes in the Med at Playa del Bogatell. There are countless public beaches to choose from. There are numerous attractions like the public parks like Parc de la Cuitadella and Parc del Port Olimpic and anything designed by Antonio Gaudi is worth the trek like the Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Casa Mila and Palau Guell. The Tempo de Augusto is a historic landmark that is part of a temple that was built by the Romans in the 4th century. FOURTH Century! There are several museums in Barcelona and we explored the Picasso Museum where they had some of his earliest works from when he was a teenager. It’s a remarkable transformation from a classic portrait painter as a fifteen-year-old to the cubism he was known for in his later years. His style so dramatically changes throughout the museum that I kept walking up to each one to verify it was Picasso who painted it. I think I could have explored Barcelona for another year and not found the same place twice. My advice is to get out and explore Barcelona, there are countless offerings.
I’m glad that we didn’t have a frenetic pace to our trip and that the four of us were together for a handful of things like dinners, a flamenco show and the Sagrada Familia. I spent time with each of my children separately and together and I had some time on my own. We constantly were weaving experiences together and apart. The result was a relaxing, delicious escape to an intriguing city. I cannot wait to return.