✈️4 Tips on Traveling to Barcelona

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. 

My children walking through the “streets” of Barcelona

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. 

5 Reasons to Go Vegan

I decided to go plant based about 4 years ago while dating my previous boyfriend. On his dating profile, he said he had been a vegan for about 9 months and found it boring. Being that I am quite the foodie, I assumed I could convert him from the “dark side” of boring bland veganism back to being an omnivore. Well here I am, single and four years later, and I am practically a vegan although I have succumbed to cheese pizza and my beloved cambozola cheese. There is also the about once-every-two-months bite or two of seafood, but that has occurred less frequently over time.

My ex slowly indoctrinated me into going plant-based by first sharing a few documentaries, Forks Over Knives and What The Health. These are films not about animal cruelty, but focused on the health affects of eating meat and dairy. I come from a long background of seeking out and preparing culinary delights, regardless of if said culinary delight had a mother or not. Alligator, escargot, caribou, foie gras, yellow tail…I have tried it all and enjoyed it immensely. Vegetables and fruit were in my diet, but I was lucky to be having one or two servings a day. After the documentaries, my ex turned me on to NutritionFacts.org by Dr. Michael Greger. He sent me YouTube video after YouTube video on meat, chicken and pork. I asked him to not send me anything on dairy, as I was not ready to give up my beloved cheese. I finally acquiesced and he started sending me the YouTube videos on the evils of cheese. I am at this point of being 95% vegan, with only small amounts of dairy products in my diet (perhaps some cheese in a salad or a cheese pizza about once a week).

Here are 5 reasons to go vegan:

Cheap

I have saved a ton of money going vegan. I thought it would be more difficult to find ingredients, but every grocery store has apples, blueberries, grapes, mixed greens and a whole plethora of dried and canned beans. I have had a more difficult time finding vegan cheese at my local, rural Walmart, but as long as I stock up when I am at a specialty grocery or natural foods store, the rest of those items are incredibly cheap. I think I used to spend $10 per meal on flank steak, chicken tenders and lamb chops. Focusing on having meat for one, two or three meals (bacon and eggs for breakfast) is a lot pricier than two cans of beans, a bag of greens and several types of fruit. Outside of specialty items like vegan cheese or substitutes like beyond or impossible meat items, the rest of the items are very inexpensive.

Cholesterol

Two years ago, after I had lost 50 pounds from eliminating alcohol.  I had high cholesterol when I visited my doctor. I was on a low carb diet at the time. I had assumed with a dramatic weight loss that all of my “numbers” would have been terrific. Not so. My doctor threatened me with statin drugs if it didn’t improve in the next year. I assumed it would work itself out and that the cholesterol was just a fluke or age-related. I became a vegetarian about two months later and mostly vegan about five months later. When I returned to the doctor for my annual exam, all of my cholesterol numbers were in range. I have to say, I was shocked and assumed that when I returned to the doctor, I was going to walk out with a new prescription for statins.

Prescriptions

I have been on asthma and allergy medications for the last twenty years. I am allergic to dogs (yes, I own my beloved Brittany Spaniel, Baci), cats, dust mites, trees and grasses. I read Dr. Greger’s book, How Not to Die, about a year ago. He addresses how being plant-based can eliminate many drugs from one’s diet. Well, I decided to drop one medication for about four weeks, and then another, and then another. So that now, I don’t take any medication related to my allergy-induced asthma. I went from 5 drugs daily down to zero. I have no scientific reason for it except that meat and dairy cause a lot of inflammation (which is why it is tied to so many cancers). So here I am prescription-free, which is a huge cost saving and hassle-free.

Interesting

I love a challenge. I want to figure out how I can take an old tried and true recipe and make it vegan. It might mean finding a vegan cheese or meat substitute, or searching the internet for how to make cashew blue cheese. It’s all out there. I have some terrific cookbooks like Thug Kitchen and But I Could Never Go Vegan, which really helped in the first months I took this challenge on. There was a point where I just didn’t care about trying to replicate something I would have had as an omnivore. The impossible and beyond products are great but replicating meat isn’t my desire anymore. I prefer beans (Rancho Gordo is the best!), tempeh and whole grains. It’s taught me to flex my culinary muscles and I can make a chili now that you would be hard pressed to even realize it’s vegan.

Easy

In retrospect, it’s much easier than I thought it would be. I think that initially I figured I’d be out there buying tofurkeys and chorizo substitutes. I did a little of that and bought crazy ingredients like EnerG Egg Replacer, Whole Wheat Pastry Flour, White Miso and Nutritional Yeast Flakes on the Internet. It’s now mostly buying seasonal items, like butternut squash, figs and Cosmic Crisp apples (they are awesome). Going to a restaurant has gotten easier as well. There are more vegetarian menu options (they will frequently have cheese…usually too much cheese) or even at chains like Cracker Barrel or BBQ restaurants, you can order three or four vegetables as an entrée. Almost everyone has a salad on the menu – you just need to make sure there isn’t any bacon or feta cheese in it. I do carry a vegan protein bar in my purse, but it’s rare that I have to resort to that. Peanut butter on an apple or banana is a perfectly healthy vegan meal…it’s just not that hard.

I never thought I would be a vegan at this point, but as I have been culling out my kitchen over the last few months, I decided I needed to donate my electric knife, whose sole purpose over the last twenty years was to slice up turkey on Thanksgiving. I can’t see going back to being an omnivore at this point. There is no upside and I’ve lost my desire for bacon and foie gras. If you had asked this foodie ten years ago if I would be a vegan today? I’d have said you were crazy. Seeing all the positive impacts it’s had on my life, I can’t imagine going back. What stops you from being a vegan?