When many people imagine living abroad, they picture castles, fairytale winding roads, and relaxing in cafes every afternoon. I will be the first to tell you, after living in Europe for seven and a half months now, that life over here is what you make it. After graduating from TEFL Worldwide Prague in August, I have found myself in a day-to-day routine. This is okay sometimes, but other times, you need to break out. So how do you edge out of your routine and experience the life you dreamt up for yourself? You do the thing you moved over here to do in the first place: you travel.
Barcelona, Spain. February 2018.
We arrived in Barcelona on a clear Thursday night around midnight. Both my boyfriend and I had to work throughout the day Thursday, but we wanted to make sure we arrived as early as possible, giving us enough time on our long weekend to explore the city.
We stayed at Citadines right on Las Ramblas. The hotel was perfectly situated in the center of the city, and was cheap, coming in at around 250 euros total for three nights, including one morning of breakfast. Not bad.
Las Ramblas is an interesting street. It runs smack dab in the middle of the city, and separates two popular quarters of Barcelona; the Gothic Quarter, or Barri Gòtic, on one side and El Raval area on the other. Walking along it at night when we first arrived was quite an interesting experience. Think young men coming up to us trying to sell us single cans of beer. After denying them each time, we couldn’t help but to find the situation hilarious. Trying to sell single cans of beer on a February Thursday night? What a job. During the day time, Las Ramblas is a lively, happening street. Although it is mostly filled with tourists, it still is a beautiful place lined with palm trees and souvenir stalls.
Friday morning, our first full day in Barcelona, we made our way first thing in the morning to La Boqueria, a giant market located on Las Ramblas. The market had everything from tropical fruits and fresh, beautiful vegetables, to legs of pig for fresh ham, and deliciously slurpy oysters. It’s a busy and bustling place, crowded with tourists and locals alike. If you’re looking for a place to get fresh food and also experience a bit of the Spanish culture, look no further.
We wandered along the stalls, regretting that we had just eaten a mediocre hotel breakfast. After meandering the market for a bit, we decided to take on Barcelona on our own two feet and just walk the city. We walked along the streets: busy, loud, and colorful. We found ourselves in the midst of tall orange trees lining the buildings, and realized we had stumbled into a beautiful, centrally located garden. The garden is set inside a courtyard of a very old what-used-to-be hospital. It was absolutely beautiful in there, and we enjoyed marveling at all of the fresh fruit growing on the trees in the middle of February.
We enjoyed a quick brew at a local side street cafe, and continued on to Port Vell. The port has been extremely important in the history of Europe, and Catalonia specifically. We had an enjoyable time, just sitting on the steps near the water and taking in the sunlight (something both of us miss living in Germany and the Czech Republic). It was a nice area with a number of shops and stalls lining the streets. We only had a small amount of time before we began our tapas and wine tour that we had scheduled for later in the day. It was one of those awkward times where we knew we would be eating a lot soon, but we were also so hungry. Of course, we decided to grab a quick tapas to cure our hunger pangs. We decided to meander out of the touristy area and travel closer to where our tour would begin. We found another side street gastronomical restaurant, and had our first tapas of the trip. I enjoyed a cold, house white wine, and Kyle a beer, and we indulged in some fresh, fried calamari while listening to the street music and watching the hustle and bustle of the city happening all around us.
Shortly after, we found our guide and began our tour. We decided on a tapas and vino tour to attempt to get the authentic taste of Spain, and more specifically, the Catalonian region. As most of you reading this might know, Catalonia has been striving to become its own independent country for quite some time now, and historically is quite different from the rest of Spain. The region even has its own language, Catalonian, so we were excited to thrust ourselves into the food and drink of their specific culture. We were absolutely blown away with the knowledge of our guide, and the tasty tapas that paired so perfectly with the wines we were trying. I highly recommend this tour for anyone visiting Barcelona and looking to get a delicious taste of the gastronomy culture. We booked the tour through Viator. I’m not going to list all of the restaurants we visited, as to not ruin the surprises of the tour, but below are a few moments captured on the tour.
On the tour, we met a kind and fun couple and decided to continue the night with them after the end of the tour. Again, we embraced the famous gastronomy culture that Spain, particularly Barcelona, is known for, and found ourselves in a couple different gastronomical bars, indulging in good wine, local beers, and some delicious nachos until the clock struck way too late. It was an incredible time and a phenomenal way to experience the easygoing, wine-drinking culture that is commonly associated with this region of Europe.
The next morning, Kyle and I were up and ready for a good and filling brunch. We were lucky enough to stumble on Caravelle. It quickly and easily became one of the best places we have eaten at abroad so far. With a small menu (always a sign of a good restaurant) that included items like huevos rancheros, lemon and ricotta pancakes, and tall bacon burgers, you really cannot go wrong. Kyle and I have similar tastes so we both settled on huevos rancheros and oat milk cappuccinos. To say the least: we were not disappointed by any of it. The atmosphere was funky, hip, and all of the food was local and homemade.
After our brunch, we again took to the city by foot. We explored back roads, saw the incredible la Sagrada Família, stopped and enjoyed espressos, and made the hike up to Park Güell. The park is situated a bit of a distance from the city center, but absolutely worth the trek for some of the most incredible views of the city. If you climb high enough, you will find a panoramic view of the bustling city below, and the ocean in the background. I highly recommend this spot for a relaxing, quiet, and beautiful moment to escape the rambunctious city that is Barcelona.
For dinner that night, we decided to finally try the dish that surrounds Americans minds when we think of Spain: paella. However, finding an authentic paella restaurant proved to be quite a feat. I spent about an hour and a half researching different restaurants, reading blogs, and glancing through restaurant guides. I was so overwhelmed with information that we ended up settling for a place we had passed by quite a few times, situated a few blocks from where we were staying. Unfortunately, this paella was nothing to rave about. I have had paella quite a few times, and I was disappointed that Kyle’s first time trying it was only mediocre. My advice for this: talk to locals and have them recommend places. We should have done more of this, but alas, we settled for only okay. This just leaves room for improvement next time we visit.
The next day, we had a limited few hours left to spend in the lively city before we boarded our flight back to Prague. We stopped in at Bar Mendizábal for brunch and indulged in two, delicious, cheesy sandwiches, tempura asparagus, and one more giant helping of patatas bravas. The food was excellent and the atmosphere very low-key and hip. I highly recommend this stop, especially to try some of the best bravas the city has to offer.
And lastly, we made one more stop on our whirlwind weekend. We went back to the incredible Caravelle (our brunch spot from the previous day) and indulged in a few beers before our flight. Caravelle not only has incredible food and coffee, but they also have a microbrewery, brewing some incredible craft beers. Definitely recommend this spot to stop in, relax, and try a few of these brews.
Those beers concluded our time in Barcelona. After spending only two and a half days in the city, my conclusion is that I have never been in a city that felt so alive. If you are looking for a place where the food is fresh, the wine is local, and the conversation is lighthearted and flowing, look no further than planning a trip to Barcelona. A living, breathing, city that offers a colorful, human experience that all of our souls yearn for.