Upon discovering I could finally leave for London Thursday, March 21st around noon, for a flight that I had scheduled for 8pm that evening, I immediately booked a flight from London to Barcelona the next day, about 8 hours after my arrival into Heathrow. A redeye flight later, I was FINALLY in Europe. Upon checking into my apartment, I took a quick nap and was out the door about 3 hours after checking in and on my way BACK to the airport bound for Spain and finally onto some traveling! Ya I know, kinda nuts I know, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
City Facts – Barcelona
|Languages Spoken||Spanish, Catalan|
|My Trip Dates||March 22-24, 2013|
|Airport Transport||9 (10 being easiest)|
|Time Zone||GMT + 1|
Upon Arrival and Getting Around
After scrambling to get back to the airport, the flight was just a quick 2 hours and 30 minutes and 240$ from London Heathrow. Seriously, most Europeans have no idea how good they have it. 300$ max and 3 hours later, you are pretty much able to go anywhere around the continent; to countries that have completely different cultures and speak entirely different languages. In the states, 2 hours from New York doesn’t even get you to Chicago and if you’re any less centrally located, forget about it. On the plane I sat next to a very nice young British couple that were also visiting Barcelona for the weekend (if you guys are reading this, was great to meet you guys!) and we chatted about many things including the good things to do in London. It’s always refreshing to sit by talkative but not annoyingly talkative people on planes. What really made me laugh was the fact that they had never heard of the movie Eurotrip and that movie’s unfortunate influence on European perception among young kids in the states. After summing it up for them, I did have to say the one positive thing the movie taught me and probably many others was that white smoke is what to look for when electing a new pope. They seemed very eager to watch the movie when they returned home. Oh and let’s not forget that any flight on British Airways going abroad, no matter how short the flight, you get free liquor, which I exploited fully.
After landing, there are a few options of transportation to the city center:
- Cabs – About 30-35 Euros to the city center
- Public transportation via the bus
- Aerobus shuttle
Tipsy off the 5 shooters I had on the plane, I stumbled to the Aerobus Shuttle and I have to say it was one of the easiest and cheapest options I’ve seen. You pay 10 Euros for a round trip pass (credit card friendly) back to the Terminal you arrived in (there are only two terminals in Barcelona’s airport) to sit in nice and newer buses. It takes a little less than 30 minutes to get into the city center and stops at 3 big stops before ending in Plaza Catalunya. Even in my inebriated state, it was incredibly easy, quick, and convenient. Dropped me right next to my hostel. The only easier transportation I’ve seen is in Hong Kong where the trains are seriously IN the airport not more than 100 feet from the baggage claim. Would highly recommend this option if you are visiting.
Cabs and Mass Transit
The cabs in Barcelona are very cheap in comparison to NYC. 10 Euros will usually get you anywhere you need to go. They are very safe as they are owned by the city, and are readily available all over town. They do not accept credit cards so make sure to have cash on hand. The subway system is very good. Subways will take you pretty much anywhere in the city and the trains come often. The trains themselves are nothing to brag about and seemed to be somewhere in between the new and old NYC subway designs. Fares are 2 euros a ticket and credit cards can be used to purchase tickets at the machines. One thing that I noticed about the subways are the tracks are widely spaced apart, almost as if they anticipated people would regularly fall into the pits and if they did, they could easily maneuver to the middle of the tracks and be safe (unless the rails electrocute them).
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The subject of actually staying in hostels while traveling abroad always gets brought up so I’d like to clear the air now. Although we are grown up, make money, and feel like we are too good for hostels, what the hell are you going to do at a Hotel when traveling alone? It’s not like you’re gonna be watching the local TV and ordering room service because if you are, why the hell are you traveling? I absolutely love staying at hostels when traveling alone. Sure I don’t have my own king sized bed and I probably won’t be sleeping much but if you are doing a weekend trip to a city, not a beach resort, then you shouldn’t be sleeping that well anyway if you’re doing it right. You’re there to have fun, be active, and explore the city. What better place to do that, then at a hostel where you can meet other like minded people? Not to mention, the hundreds of dollars you’d save on the hotel could be better spent experiencing the local cuisine or going out. Just gotta open yourself up to meeting new people and that I did for sure.
The hostel I stayed at was called Alternative Creative Youth Home. Strange name for a hostel, but it was centrally located close to but not on La Ramblas (the touristy area), and had great reviews on hostelworld. I paid 30 euros for two nights which is seriously nothing. The hostel itself was difficult to find even while being on the street it was on because it was located in a nice medieval apartment building. From the outside, you would never expect it to house backpackers of any sort and I walked by the building numerous times thinking that it could not be it until I really had to pee from drinking so many cocktails on the plane and I finally just buzzed everyone in the building until someone let me in. The hostel was very clean and the rooms very quiet and beds comfortable. The one downside to this hostel is it only has rooms of 8 so you’re pretty much will not sleep well unless you are blacked out because people will be coming in all throughout the night. Nevertheless, for 15 Euros a night, you can’t ask for much more.
Onto Friday Night And Going Out
I must say that one of my main draws to visiting Spain was for the food and I’d be lying if I said that food wasn’t one of main reasons for me to go. As much as I love food of every sort, Spanish Tapas, Seafood Paellas, and Sangria have always been one of my favorites. After dropping my stuff off, I was immediately introduced to a group of Italians and a Swedish guy that were getting ready to go to dinner. However, they told me they were about to go to a Mexican restaurant that they were “told was great” and having had my heart set on paella and sangria for the night, I reluctantly agreed because they seemed like a great group of people and would be more fun to go out later with a group. Fast forward to the food itself, I can summarize it in one sentence. If you’re in a city like Barcelona, foods like Mexican that you know are foreign to the region, probably will not be mind blowing especially if you come from a place that does Mexican the right way. Safe to say that the food was pretty awful. Pretty sure I’ve had better mexican at one of those Chinese/Mexican hybrid dive restaurants in New York. Nevertheless, it was an awesome night as we went out to some bars later in the night and had some amazing Sangria. The Spanish do it later than any others I know. After having some drinks after dinner (around 12:30), the group wanted to go to a club but it hadn’t opened yet and this was already 130. An hour later, we roll back and it finally starts filling up. Having caught a redeye into London that same day and not sleeping for a night, I decided to call it a night but the group stayed out and partied until at least 6. Very standard fare for the Spaniards.
The next evening, after having an incredibly hilarious and fun dinner with a group of French folks I met, we went around Las Ramblas area to find some Irish bars where I proceeded to introduce to them some American style drinks, AKA Irish Car Bombs and Jaegerbombs, the latter of which they loved and could not get enough of. Hanging out with them really made me wish I had kept up my French. I could communicate with them enough to make them laugh, especially when I was about to say something funny in English, but instead said it in French. Btw, if you guys are reading this, it was AWESOME to meet you all! We went to the club Razzmatazz after some pre-party bombs, and stayed there until around 5 when I just could not keep up but the entire club was absolutely bumping. Most of the European clubs I’ve been to have not really been my favorite. I’ve never been a big fan of that scene and along with the strange trance/unnecessary remixes of pop songs/I need some E asap to appreciate type of music, it just doesn’t do it for me. Drinks in these clubs are also not cheap at all so be ready to drop at some solid cash if you want to have a good time here. Nevertheless, there are plenty of people that love this scene so if you are one of them, Razzmatazz was definitely a solid spot.
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What to Eat?
Spanish food has got to be one of my favorite cuisines. My love of seafood knows no bounds and neither does Spanish cuisine. The seafood tapas and Paella I had were exquisite and far exceeded whatever expectations I had. There were many amazing looking restaurants I found on tripadvisor but I did not plan my culinary tour out as well as I should have. Nevertheless, I still went to some pretty amazing restaurants so I will share them now.
Upon the recommendation of the hostel, I came here for lunch Saturday and it did NOT disappoint. You could tell this place had a solid mix of spanish locals and tourists eager to sample the local cuisine. Also doesn’t hurt they have over 1000 reviews and 4.5* on Tripadvisor. I arrived around 2:30pm which is pretty standard I would think and the place was packed. I was just by myself but even that was a 40 minute wait according to the host. However, I managed to sneak a spot at the bar which is really where you want to be because you get to see all the raw ingredients laid out in front of you before it goes to the back to be cooked.
I immediately made friends with the main guy working the bar as I straight up told him I want to eat a lot of tapas and paella so give me everything you think is good. Also asked for a glass of Sangria but they only came in pitchers so what the hell, I’ll take the pitcher. To start, I got the Shrimp cooked in some exotic tasting sauce I’ve never had before and I wolfed all 8 of them down in a minute or two. Next game some fried calamari which I don’t recommend since it’s just fried calamari and available at any restaurant in America. Next came the some steak sliders (AMAZING), followed by the absolutely delicious paella. I scarfed it all down in maybe 15 minutes and was still hungry so I ordered some sliders only because the guy kept raving about them, and a ham salad dish the people next to me said I had to try. It was indeed delicious and I ended up sharing my sangria with them as I had more sights to see that afternoon and did not want to be drunk. The bill came out to be about 40 Euros which is a little steep but the food was amazing and I’ve certainly spent more than 40 Euros worth on shittier food.
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Came here later that same night with a group of French guys and girls I met at the hostel. This was also recommended to us by the hostel and while the paella was very good, I don’t think it was as mind blowing as Ciudad Condal or even the Paella I had at Soccarat in New York, which I think is far better than La Fonda. The restaurant itself is very big and you could tell catered towards tourists as it was right off Las Ramblas, the main tourist street of Barcelona. Nevertheless, the food here was quite cheap and the Paella was filling and will easily please you if you’re hungry. Between 7 of us, we had 4 full paellas, a liter of sangria per person, and some dessert for about 20 Euros a person. What surprised me about this place was when midnight hit, we were the last patrons there and they were literally about ready to kick us out. For a city where the clubs don’t even open until 1:30, what was there to do until then??
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What to see?
It was very clear to me Barcelona was built to be a walking city. It is very small as far as large cities go and I was able to walk around most of it in a day. If you’re of the lazy variety, the hop on hop off buses looked very convenient especially on the sunny day that I was there. However, I really think walking the city makes all the difference as the architecture is beautiful and unique, heavily influenced by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi from back in the 19th century. So amongst many many things to see, I will just list a few of the must dos.
Sagrada De Familia
This is an absolute must when visiting the city. The people at the hostel told me it was a famous church so I had expectations of any old cathedral but this certainly was not that. The building was designed by Antoni Gaudi back in 1882 and has gotta be one of the longest standing construction projects of mankind. The building was not even consecrated until 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI! It is STILL under construction 130 years later as you will be able to see cranes all around it. Is not slated to finish until 2028 as they apparently are still constructing it the “old school way”, whatever that means. I did not go into the church as there was a line down the street and from what my hostel mates told me, it was not worth the 1-2 hour wait, or the 13 Euro entry fee. Nevertheless, DO at least stop near this church and marvel at its ridiculous beauty.
Barcelona is situated right along the Mediterranean and as such, a neighborhood was built back in the day along the beachfront. Easily reachable by foot, this area is the city along the beach, much like Montevideo, Uruguay. There are palm trees, nice beach-side restaurants, surfing, swimming and anything else associated with the beach front lifestyle. If it’s sunny and warm when you are there, be sure to at least spend some time walking through Barceloneta. Takes no more than an hour to walk end to end. Also, I came here in the early spring so the beach was quiet and calm but I could totally see this place being a huge shitshow in the summer time. Best to come here when it is warm but not hot.
La Parc Guell
I think a panaromic birds eye view of any city warrants visiting and this is as close to that as it gets for Barcelona as there are no giant skyscrapers to hop an elevator to the top of. You must head to the northernmost part of town either walking or catching the metro, walk another 20 minutes to reach the top of Parc Guell. Yet again, this is another area designed by Antoni Gaudi and you can see breathtaking views of Barcelona from here. As far as I could tell, this was the highest point in the city that you could get to feasibly and note that everyone else knows this too so the place can get pretty packed. However, aside from the views, I’m not really sure what part of this really constitutes as a “park”, it seems to me to just be more of a vantage point than anything else. Be sure to visit, I’d recommend during the day.
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Other noteable things to see
Las Ramblas – the tourist street, definitely walk down this street at some point and check out the La Boqueria market while there
Barcelona FC Museum – Obviously, if you’re a soccer fan, Barcelona FC is one of the most notable teams in the world and you can have a tour around their stadium and learn about the history
La Pedrera – Another Antoni Gaudi building, this one has some very wavy styles to it that looked cool. Literally means, The Quarry.
Picasso Museum – If you’re into art, this place organizes all of Picasso’s paintings in chronological order. Free after 3pm on Sundays.
All In All
What a great weekend trip. Even though I struggled mightily after I returned to London, this was totally worth it. What’s interesting to me is even though Spain is completely F’d as far as its economy goes, I couldn’t see or feel any such thing while I was there. Perhaps only the areas out of the big city are hit hardest, or maybe the Spanish government is doing a lot of work to keep up the cities so it is tourist friendly but either way, I didn’t not feel like I was in a city that was going through 25% unemployment. Overall, the city is not the cheapest that I’ve seen so if you’re on a shoestring budget, I’d not recommend this city. However, if money is not of problem and if you have a weekend to spare or are doing a Eurotrip wondering where to go, Barcelona will not disappoin. Be sure to sample all the local eats and pound lots of redbull to stay up like the locals. Had an absolute blast meeting new people and definitely won’t be my last trip to Spain!