The Wanderer’s Guide to Barcelona, Spain

wan·der·lust

ˈwändərˌləst/

noun

  1. a strong desire to travel or explore the world.

    “a man consumed by wanderlust”

Barcelona 2018
View of Barcelona from Montjuïc Castle

I’ve put off writing these posts about my trip to Spain and France for weeks (omg, I started writing this when it was just weeks ago…now it’s months).  I told myself I was avoiding it because of all the pictures I had to sort through to try to give you some sense of what I saw and experienced.  That was part of it, but in truth, I avoided it because I didn’t know how to find the words to describe my feelings on the experience.  I didn’t know if I would be able to format this in a way that made sense and brought you along with me.  After Anthony Bourdain’s death, I started seeing this quote floating around the Internet and it perfectly represented the ache in my heart left from coming home.

“As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”-Anthony Bourdain

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Random street & architecture in Barcelona
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Random street & architecture in Barcelona

You hurt for the places you’ve seen, the places you still have left to go, and for home…always home. Sometimes I feel like I never went. This was my first trip to Europe and only my second trip where a passport was required.  It was an out-of-body experience, one where I kept asking myself, “Am I really here?  Am I really lucky enough to call this my life?”  To see things I’ve only seen in pictures, to walk where history tells its tales, to eat food I’ve always wanted to try, to meet people from different cultures who speak different languages, to see how life is lived in other cities and countries…these were things I’d only dreamed of.  It seemed everywhere I turned there was a new plant I had never seen, a color I didn’t know existed, a beauty of which I couldn’t take my eyes off. I just wanted to twirl around and shout, “I’m in love, I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it!” like Buddy the Elf.  And then you come home.  You settle back into your same life, your same routines but you’re not the same. You’ve seen things you didn’t know were there, experienced things you didn’t know existed.  It left a hole in my heart, one where I don’t feel fully complete anymore, because there’s so much world to see and I fear I don’t have enough time.  I came home and immediately started figuring out how I could go back.

Anyway, enough with that…let’s talk about Spain!

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The view from Montjuïc Castle

Barcelona is a city with spirit! And the honor of being the first place I stepped foot in Europe and dipped my toes into the Mediterranean.

What is it about the Mediterranean that seems so exotic and luxurious?! Maybe it’s all the photos we see of Beyonce and Jay-Z on a yacht there every year.  Anyway, it’s a beautiful and magical sea to behold.

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The Mediterranean
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The Mediterranean

And I got to see this adorable dachsie gallivanting around the beach!

The vibe in Barcelona is fast-paced (literally, they drive like maniacs!) but also super chill and a perfect mix of modern and historic.  A huge coastline along the sea and high hills and mountains give you views for days.

I approached this trip like I seem to approach every trip: a few must-see sights or to-do’s, a few restaurant or food must-have’s, but then everything else is exploration and discovery.

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Random street & bus in Barcelona

The people are friendly and kind and just seem to want you to have fun in their city, unless you get the one grumpy cab driver who does not want you to speak your 10-year-old college Spanish to him (“JUST SAY IT IN ENGLISH” he told me, even though his English was very poor).  Yes, I realize Catalan is the primary language in Barcelona, but many also speak fluent Spanish.

First things first, I had a meltdown from a combination of exhaustion (I can’t even call it jetlag because I for real had not even slept in like 24 hours), a fall in the poorly designed bath/shower, and a breakdown of my super-awesome, brand-new travel fan when the motor fried within 5 minutes of plugging in.  I MUST HAVE A FAN TO SLEEP.  So my genius mother recommended I find a fan noise app, which was enough to suffice.  (More on the fan situation later.)  A nap was definitely in order.  But then, we have to go, go, go!!! We only had a few days in Barcelona because we snagged a great airfare/hotel deal in and out of Barcelona, but France was where most of the trip was spent.

After these little/big issues and my much-needed nap, I finally felt like a real human being again and remembered how to check my emotions.  We met our group at the Olympic Village to venture up to Montjuïc Castle, which was built in 1640(!!!) and provides sweeping views of the city along with a big dose of history.

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We were in Barcelona on Saint Jordí day, which is a day of romance, books and roses.   Vendors are selling books and roses on every street; lovers and loved ones exchange gifts…books for the men, roses for the women. It was packed to the max everywhere we went as people travel from all over Catalonia to Barcelona for the day.

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Casa Batlló with roses for Saint Jordí Day

Gaudí archicture is mixed throughout the city-one night in a taxi we just happened to drive right past the Casa Batlló like it wasn’t some masterpiece.

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La Pedrera

Obviously, La Sagrada Familia is a must-see.  I had no idea this was a Gaudí masterpiece until we were about to see it and I did a little research.  It is absolutely incredible and so hard to put into words just the magnitude of the structure, architecture and detail.  Even if you’re not religious, it is very moving to experience it.

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The Passion Facade side of the Sagrada Familía

Considering it has been under construction since 1882, I suppose it’s inevitable that every picture of the entire exterior would have construction equipment visible somewhere.  Someday, it will be finished and I hope to see that day!  Obviously, by then, I will have researched the best place to get the perfect picture too, instead of a partially obscured, tree-laden picture like above.

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Ceiling of the Sagrada Familía

And the inside! It’s truly unbelievable.  And super art-nouveau.  Would Jesus approve?

He definitely would approve of this little old ladies praying in the silent prayer area.

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Roses for Saint Jordí Day at the Sagrada Famili

And this fascinating Magic Square on the Passion Facade…all the numbers along the columns, rows and diagonals add up to 33, the age at which Jesus is believed to have died.  Who knew Sudoku had roots here?! Jk, jk.

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The Magic Square on the Passion Facade of the Sagrada Familia

There are so many beautiful buildings to see at just about every turn…and churches everywhere!

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La Catedral de Barcelona (Cathedral of Barcelona)

One of our travel partners told us a funny story about traveling through Italy with his wife; he told her for every church they went through, he got to have a glass of wine afterwards.  I can get on board with that!

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Courtyard at La Catedral de Barcelona (Cathedral of Barcelona)

I can definitely picture some romantic Romeo & Juliet-type scenes happening on this balcony…

Since I’m a food lover and food blogger, I always have to check out the local markets.  Head over to La Boqueria, a huge outdoor covered market, to see all the food offerings Barcelona and Spain have to offer. You’ll see stalls with huge legs of ham, sausages hanging from the ceiling, fresh fish and seafood on ice, fruits, veggies, spices, nuts, bread, cheeses, and the list goes on.

 

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Jamón stall at La Boquería

I drank excessive amounts of cava and ate so many tapas in Barcelona!  Seriously, what’s not to love about tapas?! Appetizers are my favorite and I love to make a meal out of a mix of them, so it’s logical that tapas would be a highlight for me.

And most places have picture menus, menus in English and/or have the tapas in a glass case so you can see exactly what you’re ordering (like a bakery but TAPAS!). We actually walked into one restaurant thinking it was a dessert tapas place because it had that bakery display vibe, until we realized there were toasts with sardines and vegetables and cheese. You have to try some paella in Spain, which I did even though I’m not a rice-lover.  We had an incredibly delicious, super creamy tomato-based one at a seafood restaurant right along the water.

This place was right along the water and SO CUTE INSIDE.  This was the first place we had tapas and it was all so delicious!  The restaurant was called Tapa Tapa and I think it was a chain…the shame…but then I’m over it because LOOK AT ALL THAT FOOD.

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Hungry, hungry people!

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Patatas bravas, seafood, creamy paella, filet mignon with foie gras (my final meal!)…

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Filet mignon with foie gras

You will walk A LOT in Barcelona which is cool since you’re going to be eating and drinking all the time, so bring your most comfortable tennis shoes (who cares what you look like).  There is a metro, but it didn’t seem to be as organized and efficient as subways in bigger cities like New York and Paris and didn’t have as many stops.

One regret: I didn’t get any churros!  But I did come home with a ton of jewelry I definitely did not need for the cutest store (like Claire’s but for stylish grown-ups) while we tried to find a non-existent tapas place on our tapas tour.

And I got to witness a few afternoon siestas happening…shops closing up and re-opening after a mid-day break.

Traveling through Europe I was truly surprised with how many people spoke English; many could tell we were American before we even said a word.  Maybe our fashionwear?  We definitely did not match the stylish Europeans.  Or it could have been our travel purses and fanny packs?

Sadly, we only had a few short days in Barcelona on our way to France, but I definitely want to explore the city again and travel throughout Spain.  Who’s coming with me?!

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Sand dragon on the beaches of the Mediterranean in Barcelona
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Rooftops over Barcelona

“”It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn. Maybe that’s enlightenment enough – to know that there is no final resting place of the mind, no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom, at least for me, means realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”-Anthony Bourdain

 

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