Up until my mid-twenties Barcelona – or Spain for that matter – wasn’t even on my radar. The only cultural reference I had about Barcelona was a class project I did when I was 9 that coincided with the ’92 Olympic Games. When I thought of Spain I thought of flamenco dancers and matadors.
When I got married we decided to plan a trip. Weddings are expensive and the idea of a honeymoon was not in the cards right away. This gave me ample time to try and decide where we wanted to go! Immediately London popped into our heads. It made sense, I have family in England, we enjoy big cities that have a lot of culture to offer and hey, speaking the same language only makes it easier.
In my usual “Go Big or Go Home” philosophy I thought – If I’m going to sit on a plane across the ocean and deal with jet lag I’m going to see more then just one city. I wanted to see Paris, Amsterdam and Rome too (I’m such a classic romantic!) We looked at what would be involved in all those places and after talking it over with my parents one night over dinner the idea of a cruise came up. But wait – if we’re going to start our trip in London how would a cruise work? I decided to look online to see what was on offer. After ogling many ship’s itineraries I found one that actually fit our timeline AND departed from Southampton U.K. – I decided right then and there it was the universe leading me in that direction and that was the trip we were to take.
Initially I was a little sad as Paris and Amsterdam weren’t anywhere near the ports of call but there were so many more exciting ones I had never even thought of! Vigo Spain, Lisbon, Gibraltar, Sardinia, Rome, Florence, Nice/Cannes and ending up in Barcelona!
The cruise itself was 11 days and we planned 4 days in London before boarding the ship. With 2 days set aside for flights and knowing I had saved up enough vacation at work to take 3 weeks that left us with 6 days once we got off the ship. I wondered if it was worth hoping a quick flight back to London for those 6 days but the more and more I looked into what Barcelona had to offer I was salivating with anticipation. Before I knew it I had booked an apartment in the El Born neighbourhood for that week and set out making a list of all I wanted to see and do while there.
Can I just say thank god for the internet? Guidebooks on Barcelona aren’t bad but it wasn’t until I read about the actual city and it’s culture did I get excited to visit. Like I said before I didn’t really know anything about Spain but the more I read the more I fell in love with the idea of Barcelona. I was so happy when the city lived up to my expectations.
Infamous Iberico Ham
After the jaunting around involved in the cruise it was nice to plant my feet on the ground and not feel so rushed to explore the whole city in a day. Getting an apartment (it was the first time I booked one abroad) was not without it’s hiccups but it really did make all the difference in the world. Exploring the city from a neighbourhood like the locals and not from a hotel in the centre of town really impacted how much we enjoyed out stay there.
Me & the Dali Egg
Always the dutiful tourist one of my first tasks was to get tickets to the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus. Yes you might balk at the idea of being “one of those” tourists but honestly those busses/tours are such a great way to get an overview, orient yourself in a new city, scope out some places you want to check out and the hop-on-hop-off is so much easier for first-timers in a city to navigate then the metro. More experienced travellers may disagree with me but I think it’s a great starting point option! (Having also taken the same bus tours in London, New York and Chicago)
View from our apt balcony
We walked, we ate, we visited galleries, we drank – it was heaven! The apartment we rented had a balcony overlooking the city and was above a trendy art gallery with a cafe and a bodega on the same corner. We walked through the Barrio Gótico de Barcelona each morning to get our cafe con leche and watched the gorgeous Spanish women shop before making our way to La Rambla to visit La Boqueria to grab some lunch. Walking still we stumbled upon Casa Batlló and a Dali museum. Visiting Parc Güell by day and at night we would eat tapas and paella and listen to street buskers before stumbling home with blisters on our feet and watch the lights on the hill at Tibidabo from our balcony.
My description sounds like a montage from a movie and in some cases it was, but there were also many instances of given being given the wrong directions and not knowing about their skewed business hours and being starving at 5pm with no options for food until 9pm. Then the time when we took the wrong bus ended up somewhere in the suburbs at Diagonal Mar – a giant shopping mall where we darted inside when it started to rain and we ended up buying DVD’s of a couple of our favourite movies to watch back at the apartment while we rode out the bad weather.
Barcelona is one of those places that stole a part of my heart. Not that all of the places I’ve visited haven’t been special but Barcelona like few others was one that felt so comfortable almost like home. I hope someday soon to go back but having so many other cities to see first it’ll just have to wait.