Barcelona: “209 Reunion”

Well, I said I would make it back to Spain one day to drink the sangria, and I most certainly did!  It didn’t hurt that I also got to hang out with two of my college roomies KID FREE!  While visiting Normandy, France over Columbus Day weekend, my college roommate that met up with us mentioned that she and my other college roommate (who is stationed in Belgium at the moment) were planning on going to Barcelona the following weekend to wrap up her months of European travel.  I told her how much I loved Barcelona and wished I could go with them….well, my wonderful husband helped to make that a reality–he told me I should go with them since he had just recently been on a work trip to Scotland and left me at home with the kiddos for a week and half.  I had plenty of mama milk stored in the freezer for Marybel, and I figured it was kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I said what the heck and splurged on last minute tickets to meet up with them.

{By the way, our house number in college was 418, and there were 6 of us that lived there, so since it would be half of us reuniting, I thought it would be funny to call it a 209 reunion instead of a 418 reunion.  Lame, yes…but don’t be a hater 😛 }

Anyway, I had to work Friday, so I caught a late flight out from London Stanstead to Barcelona El Prat, arriving around 11:50pm.

**Sidenote: flying (and traveling in general) without my babes was super weird–no stroller to push, baby to wear, backpack/diaper bag to carry and store my stuff…  I got to actually attempt to sleep and listen to music on the plane!  Also.  Going through airport security with an electric breast pump is sort of comical; they weren’t really sure what to think 😀

I had prebooked my Aerobus roundtrip tickets so that I wouldn’t have to worry about buying them once I got in super late.  The bus dropped me off at Plaça Catalunya, one of the main squares in Barcelona.  Since it was so late, I decided against taking the metro to the hotel, and (after wandering around looking for an ATM to no avail) got in a cab instead.  Luckily the hotel was close, and the €6 that I had in cash leftover from France was just enough to get me there!  My roommates had already booked the hotel by the time I *ahem:invited myself:ahem*, so they just asked to add a cot to the room for me.  It was beautiful and right in the middle of everything too, which was awesome!  I briefly said hi to my roommates and then we all crashed.

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Saturday I got to sleep in (for me, at least) before leisurely rolling out of bed and getting ready for the day.  We stopped at the bakery across the street from our hotel, El Fornet, for a pastry and some coffee before strolling down to our first stop of the day, Casa Batlló.  Case Batlló is one of Antoni Gaudí‘s masterpieces [I also referred to him when I visited his Sagrada Família and Park Güell, both also in Barcelona].   My roommates prebooked the tour, so we were able to skip the line and go right in and start our videoguide.  The videoguide tour was really cool, as it contained both an audio portion and a sort of virtual reality video portion that showed how the interior of the house would’ve looked with furniture.  The house was absolutely beautiful and captivating.  The curves, angles, tiles, colors; everything was just amazing!  I am so glad I got to see the interior and learn about the history too!

Our only other set item on the agenda for the day was the Picasso Museum, but we didn’t need to be there until 1pm, so we decided to hop on the metro and head toward the Gothic Quarter to wander around a bit and get a bite to eat.  The Barcelona metro was super easy and cheap to use-last time I was in Barcelona, we used the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus to get around since we were seeing most of the big sights in the city, but I would definitely recommend the metro as well!  We strolled along La Rambla, saw the Barcelona Cathedral, explored La Boqueria, and ate lunch at a little cafe along the way.  **Oh. We also had a midday SANGRIA….because why not?!  🙂  Remember, last time I was in Barcelona I was pregnant and missed out on the deliciousness.  So tasty!! **  Anyway, I just love the buzz of the city; the markets, the hum of the subway, the little streets and alleyways you can get lost in for hours, the towering apartment buildings with clothes hanging out to dry, everything is seems homey and friendly in Barcelona.

We had prebooked our tickets again for the Picasso Museum, so we skipped the line and went straight into the museum.  Being an art teacher, this museum was awesome to me.  The girls I was with were also art lovers, so it was nice to be able to take my time and not feel rushed because someone was bored or because I had kids with me.  I wish B and I could’ve gone together (without Benjamin) when we were there, he would’ve enjoyed it too!  It was fascinating to see Picasso’s transformation throughout his life.  The museum housed paintings from when he was FOURTEEN years old!!  And they were beyond amazing!  For anyone who sees his later works and says “Oh that’s art?! I could do that/my kid could do that/etc”, I want them to go here and see his talent at FOURTEEN!  The exhibits took us through different stages in his life, and related his art to where he was working and what was going on at the time, which was pretty interesting.  My favorite collections in the museum were his Las Meninas series, which was a study of Las Meninas by Velazquez, and  his Pigeons series, which he did while on a short break from his Meninas works.  I was also excited to see some of his sketches; I love seeing impromptu sketches and plans from artists.  The exhibit also included etchings and ceramics of his, which I had not seen before.

After our museum outing, we meandered our way through some of the neighborhoods back toward our hotel to shower and get freshened up for the night.  We decided to be super European and didn’t eat dinner until around 9pm.  I finally got my paella and more sangria at Güell Tapas.  It was delicious.  We tried to find some relatively low key bars, but most of what we found in Barcelona were clubs, and that was not our scene…  We ended up at Flaherty’s Irish Pub, because you can’t beat a delicious beer at an Irish pub, even in Spain, right?  Although we were out late for me (2:30am), the city was hopping and it seemed like some people were just starting their night!  There were people everywhere!!  Barcelona definitely has nightlife, but I just felt old!  😛

We slept in again Sunday, and picked up breakfast and coffee from the bakery again.  We all packed up and checked out around noon, but I left my bags at the hotel, as my flight didn’t leave until that evening and I wanted to be able to explore without my big backpack.  My roommates’ flights were at 3, so we all hopped on the metro toward Plaça Catalunya.  They got off there to catch the bus back to the airport, while I continued on toward the beach area.  I really wanted to see Parc de la Ciutadella, as my friend had taken pictures in front of a beautiful fountain there, and I hadn’t gone there last time we were there.  As I made my way there, I discovered that I actually had sort of been there, as it was on the same grounds as the Barcelona Zoo, which we had visited.  The fountain was pretty, but the park wasn’t anything super out of the ordinary.  It was nice and relaxing wandering through the green space though, without an agenda in mind.  I saw the Arc de Triomf, then started making my way back toward the metro to get back to the hotel and collect my bags.  I allowed myself to get lost in some of the neighborhoods again {thank goodness my phone works in other countries, otherwise I really would’ve gotten lost} and popped into a few shops.  I had a quick bite to eat before getting my bags from the hotel and heading back to Plaça Catalunya to catch the bus back to the airport.

Overall, it was a nice little getaway from “the real world”, even though I missed my hubby and babes dearly!  It was relaxing to not be on any sort of schedule or feel like I was missing things since I had seen much of the city before.  And, of course, it was awesome to get to spend time with some of my dearest friends from college, whom I hadn’t seen in forever!  I am sticking with my previous statement that Barcelona is still one of my favorite cities!

 

Trading Turkey for Tapas: Thanksgiving in Barcelona

Ahhh Barcelona.  Spain’s second most populated city.  It has definitely claimed itself a spot in my top cities that I have visited so far.  The architecture, the beaches, the excitement and commotion of the city, everything appealed to me.

I apologize in advance, as this is a long post…we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Barcelona and I of course took a bazillion photos :).  Some of the highlights I talk about and highly recommend include:

-La Sagrada Familia

-Park Guell

-The Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour

-Font Montjuïc

-Barceloneta/beach area

This past Thanksgiving, we decided to forgo our normal tradition of having a huge turkey dinner with our overseas “framily” and opted to travel with them instead.  We tried to get all of our friends to join us in Spain, but alas, only four of them were able.  Anyway, the seven of us (six adults and 1-year-old Benjamin) found a great apartment on AirBnB {almost always the first place I check for accommodations when traveling!}.  Unfortunately, the listing is no longer available, so I can’t post a link to it, but it was perfect for our group!  It was just outside of the super touristy part of the city, making it quiet and relaxing, but easily accessible via public transport and the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus [which I will talk about in a moment].  The apartment had a fantastic balcony, which was used extensively by our crew, especially in the evenings in conjunction with some adult beverages.  {Once again, I was pregnant and unable to enjoy the many perks of such grand travel destinations….I will be back to Spain one day, if only to enjoy a Sangria!}

As I mentioned, Benjamin joined us on this trip, and though it wasn’t his first flight, he did amazing on the plane!  We flew into Barcelona El Prat airport on Thanksgiving Day (November 26) and landed around 11am.  {For those curious, we generally fly out of London Stansted Airport, which is a little over an hour away from where we live, and we typically use Ryanair  flights, as they are cheap!}  Once we arrived in Barcelona, we took the Aerobus from the airport to city centre, then had about a 20 minute walk to our apartment.  We got our luggage situated at the apartment and found some lunch at Piazza D’Italia.  It was DE.LI.CIOUS!  Seriously, a perfect way to kick off our weekend of overindulgence. 🙂

After lunch, we sort of just wandered around to get a feel for the city.  I don’t think any of us realized how big Barcelona is.  There are lots of different districts with different vibes.  We somehow ended up down by the coast, so we decided to take a boat tour of the harbor.  This could have been a really enjoyable experience, but we did not do our research well enough.  First, B had to use the restroom really, really, really badly, and we bought tickets so quick that he didn’t have time to find a bathroom before we boarded the boat.  [I won’t go into detail on how that problem was solved…]  Second, the weather had been incredibly nice all day, but the sun was starting to set and it got really chilly, really fast.  We were definitely all a bit unprepared for that.  Third, we booked the 45 harbor minute tour instead of the 90 minute one, thinking that it would be a nice, relaxing quick ride, and that we didn’t need to be on a boat for an hour and a half.  Well, the 45 minute ride only took us around the marina and shipping yard area of the harbor, not out by the actual beaches and such.  It was a relaxing little break from all of the walking we had done that day, but we definitely should’ve looking into it a bit more.  Oh well, ya live and ya learn, right?

As the sun set, I did get some really great night photos by the port of Barcelona area!

We ended our day with “Thanksgiving Dinner” tapas at Maitea Taverna, near the apartment–highly recommended by our AirBnB host.  B and I had never really gotten into the tapas fad in the states or elsewhere, so we weren’t exactly sure what to expect.  We tried lots of different tapas, usually bread or toast topped with various toppings (most of which we had no idea what it was).  While we enjoyed a lot of them, we both agreed that we aren’t really “tapa people”, as we much prefer a full, hot meal for dinner.

Our whole group decided to do the two day Barcelona Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour Friday and Saturday.  We all agreed that it was well worth it- because Barcelona is big and somewhat spread out, there is no way we would’ve seen nearly as much as we did without the bus tour.  With a one-year-old in a stroller, the hop-on, hop-off bus was also ideal– he loved sitting in our laps on the top deck, watching everything around him.  He even snuck in a nap or two on the bus!  I thoroughly enjoyed the audio commentary- very informative for my nerdy self!  There are two routes included in the tour, an East route and a West route.  Conveniently, there was a stop just a couple of blocks from our apartment.

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We started our Friday at La Sagrada Familia, probably Antoni Gaudi‘s most well-known work of architecture.  We purchased tickets in advance for 10am, another smart move on our part, especially with a stroller.  The outside of the basilica is absolutely incredible–and it’s not done yet!    I have seen a lot of cathedrals in Europe, but this one was really different- Gaudi’s style definitely shines through!

I was actually fairly surprised by the interior.  It was much more modern-looking than I expected.  It was still incredibly beautiful!  The way the light reflects and infuses the entire place is almost ethereal.  I love the peace and tranquility of the inside of a church, no matter where in the world you are.

From the Sagrada Familia, we hopped on the bus toward Park Guell.  Though there is a “Monumental Zone” that costs money to enter, we just wandered around the free area, meandering through the beautiful landscape.  The park is nestled on a hill, so we came upon some breathtaking views of the city.  Even at the end of November, the weather was perfect– mid-60s and sunny!  In Park Guell, we also picked up some street art- B and I try to get street or local art as souvenirs from our travels- we eventually want to create a gallery wall filled with our adventures {but for now we are using every extra dollar to continue traveling…framing and hanging shall wait :)}

We stopped at Lata Berna for a yummy lunch, then headed back to get on the bus.  After the lengthy walk around Park Guell earlier, we were happy to sit on the bus, listening to the commentary as it chauffeured us around Barcelona.  We saw and heard about many of the historic and famous sites, such as Casa Batllo {another Gaudi masterpiece–we did not visit} and Plaça Catalunya, the central square in Barcelona.

At Plaça Catalunya, we switched to the other route to see the other side of Barcelona.  This route took us uphill through Parc de Monjuïc.  This gave us fantastic views from the opposite side of the city.  I didn’t realize how varied the landscape of Barcelona was.  It contains a little bit of everything!

After a relatively  uninspiring dinner, we ended our day at the Font Mágica/Font Monjuïc.  It has a phenomenal light and fountain show each evening, choreographed to music.  All of us enjoyed it!!

Saturday was our second day of the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour, and we set out mostly to just explore the hustle and bustle of the city.  We found an amazingly deliciously scrumptious and indulgent {to say the least} sweets shop called Chok.  Holy cow, guys.  Find it.  Indulge. Love it.  I got a pastry topped with Nutella and mint chocolate shavings….I’m drooling just thinking about it.  The shop was located right along Las Ramblas, the main touristy strip in Barcelona.  There were lots of little kiosks, shops, restaurants, and bars along this boulevard, which is busy day and night.

Our next stop was La Boqueria, the most well-known market in Barcelona.  It reminded me a little of Borough Market in London {one of my favorite places!}.  I love how lively, bright, and colorful markets are!

It was a gorgeous afternoon, so we hopped on the upper deck of the bus and rode down to the beach area of the city.  Ironically (or maybe not, who knows?), we found a Mexican restaurant for lunch overlooking the water.  I really wish I knew the same of the place, as I would definitely recommend it!  Eating Mexican in Spain with a view of the ocean is a memory I won’t forget!

B and one of his friends had tickets to the FC Barcelona soccer football match Saturday afternoon, so the rest of us headed to the zoo to entertain little man for a bit.  Once again, we should’ve done our research a bit better, as our timing wasn’t great.  We got in just fine and began walking around, but shortly after we arrived, they made an announcement saying they were closing in 30 minutes.  We got to see a few animals, but I was overall not incredibly impressed.  The big cats (jaguars, etc.) were all in tiny areas and quite a few of the animals (elephants, hippo, giraffes, etc.) were nowhere to be seen at all.  There was a petting zoo that we visited, but Benjamin was not a huge fan of the goats!

The soccer football match was over as we were leaving the zoo, so we met back up with the boys at the apartment.  One of the guys decided to call it a night, but the rest of us headed toward the Barcelona Cathedral to see the Fira de Santa Llúcia Christmas Market.  The city was all lit up at night with Christmas decorations, which I loved {I am a bit of a Christmas junkie!}  The market was cute, but not overly exciting (especially compared to the grand Winter Wonderland in London!!).  We bought some Christmas ornaments and watched some street performers before heading to find a yummy Italian place for dinner.  All of us cleaned our plates, stuffing ourselves full of delicious pasta and garlic bread.

Sunday morning, 3 of the members of our group headed back to London, so the rest of us checked out of the apartment and into our hotel for the night (by the airport, since we were flying back to London early Monday morning).  We planned the day to be kind of a relaxing day since we had been so busy all weekend.  Once we got back into the city, we made our way toward the beach area again, checking out Barceloneta, a cute little area with shops and restaurants.  I absolutely loved this neighborhood.  It felt really authentic and reminded me of some of the hipster kind of areas in Atlanta and other cities I’ve been to.  We had lunch there and spent most of the early afternoon wandering the streets and beaches.  The old ladies in Spain adored Benjamin.  I can’t tell you how many googly-eyed ladies ogled him–I even had a handful of broken Spanish conversations with a few admirers who just went on and on about how cute he was.  What can I say, B and I make cute babies 😉

*Sidenote: speaking of speaking Spanish, I did pretty well for myself conversing with the locals, even though the area speaks mostly Catalan, which is a bit different than traditional Spanish.  There were definitely a few cab rides and interactions that may not have gone quite as smoothly had I not known as much as I did!  High-five, high school Spanish classes! 

Our last stop in Barcelona was the aquarium.  I think I was spoiled living in Atlanta, as the aquarium there is amazing!!  The one in Barcelona was ok; there were lots of fish, sharks, and some penguins, as well as a pretty cool interactive area for kids.  Benjamin seemed to enjoy himself, which was the ultimate goal.  🙂

We made it a relatively early evening, as we were exhausted from the excitement of the weekend and had an early flight the following morning.  It was bittersweet to leave Barcelona; I hope to visit again one day [after I make it to all of my other bucket list destinations!].

Barcelona Travel Journal