Hola! Wake yourself up this morning with a coffee and a pastry from any of the cafes around the city. If you can find them, try some Xuixos (pronounced ‘shoo shoo’) they are native to a city just above Barcelona and their light crispy outsides are filled with crema Catalana – a luscious custard. If you are up early enough you may even get to see the quiet side of Barcelona, a rare sight and beautiful in its own right.
You are up early because the day is full and starts with a trip to the Sagrada Familia. Pre-booking tickets (€15) is the best idea otherwise try and get there before it opens (9am all year round). The line may already be winding around the block but it is shorter than it will be later in the day. This cathedral was started over 100 years ago and still has a long way to go before it is finished. The architect Antonio Gaudi died in 1926 but his vision is still being carried out. Work is scheduled to end by 2033 but I won’t be holding my breath. You can see the finished vision in the basement of the cathedral and the outside is a long way from done. The interior however is finished and is one of the most marvelous things you will ever experience. It is peaceful, mesmerising, lifting and inspiring. The colours and shapes are like you have never seen before. It is really something that needs to be seen to be believed. The accompanying museum giving the design plans and history of the building is also very interesting. I would also recommend to get the ticket that allows you to climb the towers. It’s a fun climb and the view is unreal.
Got a taste for Gaudi’s work now? Well luckily in this city you are not short for samples of his designs. Perhaps the best example (after La Sagrada Familia) is Parc Guel. This is actually a failed attempt of Gaudi and Guel’s, his financier, to create a new neighborhood for Barcelona with a totally new design. In the end nobody bought in to this new neighborhood and what remains today are two houses, one for Gaudi one for Guel, set on large park lands dotted with beautiful examples of Gaudi’s sculptures and landscaping and in the center a large covered marketplace. It is also set high on a hill behind Barcelona and has beautiful views across the city all the way to the sea.
Now that you have experienced some of the open areas of the city, it is time to dive into beating heart. Les Rambles is the spine of the city, the point from which the energy of the city is radiated. My favorite spot along it is La Boqueria, an astounding fresh food market about halfway down. The hardest thing here will be picking just one thing for lunch. Fresh juices, fine slices of jamon, savory pastries, tasters of seafood, hot, dark coffee, everything you could ever want is here. Take your time.
Taking a left from anywhere near the bottom of Les Rambles will lead you in to the Gothic Quarter. The warren of streets is the oldest part of the city. Here, taking the right twists and turns you could stumble upon the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, Placa del Rei or Placa Sant Jaume. The best shops are in this area too, handmade shoes, unique jewelery and eclectic clothing can all be found in this mini labyrinth.
Did the afternoon really pass that quickly? Did you suddenly realise that you are hungry and your heart sank when you remembered that the Spanish don’t eat dinner until much later? No worries! That’s what tapas are for! These delicious snack sized foods were invented when flies were buzzing into peoples drinks in the hot weather. A crafty bar man would put little flat lids (‘tapas’) on top of the glasses and add a snack on top as a sort of garnish. It caught on and now there are lots of tapas restaurants offering menus with tens of different options. My favorite is Piscolabis on Rambla de Catalunya, sitting in the middle of the street you can watch the city winding up for the night.
The sun is setting, your stomach is sated but you still have hours to go until the city really starts to party. Warm up for the night with the Dancing fountains at the foot of the national gallery. Some might find them cheesy but I love that something as basic as water fountains lit by many coloured lights and set to music (often cheesy) can bring so many people together to laugh and smile. There must have been thousands there to watch the first time I went. It is in such a beautiful setting and you will get to watch the city light up from the elevated position. Treat yo self!
Back into the center of the city on the metro, Placa Rial, just off las Ramblas is my favorite place to be in Barcelona at night. The completely enclosed square shows off the moorish architectural influence on the city. Archways and windows are lit up warmly, palm trees grow in the center of the square around a fountain and many elaborate street lights designed by Gaudi. Every bar front has tables and chairs spilling in to the square and all are humming with music, talking and laughter. There is a flamenco show in one corner, an Irish bar (for all your sport viewing needs) in another, several of the bars have nightclubs in the back or downstairs, cheap takeaway eats are just in the adjoining alleyway. Others like the famous beach bars of Barcelona, I prefer this buzzing gem which feels like its own community within the wider sprawl of the inexhaustible Barcelona.
Preferred method of transport – Train €2.15 a ride 10 for €9.95